MotoArt

 A few months ago I decided to shoot a piece about an extremely talented group of artists that work just a few blocks from my office.  One of the key goals for me was to go back to the basics – keeping things as simple as possible.   No Steadicams, fancy helicopters, or generators for lighting:  just simple and straightforward.    I wanted to shoot in a style very similar to the way I used to shoot as a still photographer:   one camera,  one prime lens at a time, one small light – handheld.  

I think it’s very important to exercise these type of "simple" ways of working on a regular basis.  While technocranes, jibs and dollies can do amazing moves, you’ll often find that you don’t always need those complex moves to tell a story.   Sometimes using your body to slide left to right is the way to go – even if you don’t hit the move on the first go.   I find that I can actually save a tremendous amount of time by doing a small move by hand 3-6 times with most of them being "bumpy" or technical "failures" – and nailing just one out of 6.    Doing this allows me to be much more fluid and reactive as well to what happens in front of me.  It’s physically much more demanding (and will lead you to discover muscles you never knew you on the following day,) but it often leads to great results with much greater variety than you get when you set up complex shots with complex equipment.   This is a lesson that took me awhile to learn as a filmmaker – but I think a key one that would benefit almost anyone out there.    Take a look at the video above – it was shot over three days – each time I would spend 60-90 minutes max on location – in other words we shot very little and didn’t treat these as full day "commercial" shoots.   Below you’ll find a list of the gear I chose and why, as well as a behind the scenes look on the shoot at the bottom of this post.

 

 RED EPIC – M  The RED Epic is one, if not my, favorite cinema camera these days.    I love using the Alexa, the Phantom cameras, or of course the C300 or 5D MKIII.   But the first two cameras don’t allow me to shoot handheld and solo – due to their weight and size (alhough I can’t wait to try out the Phantom Miro!)    The Epic gives me an incredibly sharp image, that can be tweeked in post (due to the raw recording format) and graded beautifully.   The fact that I can shoot up to 400 fps is a HUGE factor for me as well – not to mention that I can use both PL , Canon EF, Leica M and Nikon lenses by quickly switching mounts on set.    This spot was shot between 72 fps and 300 fps (for the sparks.)   I find that the fact that this was shot in natural light under fluorescent lighthing, handheld, at 300 fps is amazing – especially when you see the quality of the imagery.    This camera will continue to be my go to camera for this type of shooting for the foreseeable future.  Another thing to keep in mind – if you’re shooting handheld without sliders/JIBS etc – shooting at a faster frame rate will allow you to effectively hide your "bumps" better in your movement given that the footage plays back much more slowly – a nice trick.   Shooting in 5K will also allow you to stabilitze quite a few shots in post using Adobe CS6′s Warp Stabilizer tool that is available in both Premiere and After Effects.   Warp Stabilizer can do wonders when you don’t see too much paralax in your shots – it can make a handheld shot look like it was shot on a tripod (and locked off) and make a handheld slide look like it was shot on a slider.   Warp won’t fix everything – but it can definitely do some pretty impressive magic when you know how to use it – and what if can’t fix when you’re shooting…  two quick tips:  1. Make sure you keep in mind the flickering of HDMI or fluorescent light when you shoot at high speeds – you’ll need to select frame rates that don’t cause the image to flicker when played back in real time (you may not see the flicker when you are recording live – so be careful and make sure to playback each time you shoot a clip.)  2. It is VERY important to put a piece of glass between the sparks and your lens when you shoot them flying at your lens… they are extremely hot and CAN damage your lens and even the glass of the front element if you get too close.

 

Zeiss CP.2 Lenses These too have become my favorite general purpose lenses.  I also think they are the PERFECT investment for new cinema shooters for a few reasons.   First the quality of the glass holds up to almost anything out there – you will continue to use these lenses long term.  These lenses outperform all of my still lenses, notably in terms of sharpness and notably when wide open.    You will of course find that there are Arri/Zeiss Master Primes and Cooke and Leica cinema lenses out there – but those will hurt your wallet quite a bit more than these will.     This video should clearly show you how razor sharp these lenses are.    The CP.2 series is also a set that will grow with you as they come with both Canon EF and PL mounts that you can switch out in the field.   Therefore you can start with your  Canon 5D MKIII or other with the EF mounts, and use these for the rest of your career on PL cinema cameras.    The size and weight of these lenses is also a huge factor – I’ve found DPs I work with have gone to using these lenses at times over their more expensive Cookes/ Master Primes due to the small size and weight relatives to the Cookes/MPs.     You can of course also pull focus exponentially more easily with these lenses (and their detailed distance marking) than you can with EF lenses and Zeiss ZE lenses.   Therefore if you are looking to make a long term lens investment but don’t have the mega budget the Cookes/Arri/Leica lenses command – this is the way to go.   I would even recommend you overextend yourself a bit and buy the CP series over the Zeiss ZE lenses if you can at all afford to do so.   

 

 

O Box -  This has come to be my favorite Matte Box for several reasons.  It can snap on, or be rod mounted.  It can also be rod mounted from both top and bottom actually which is especially useful for DSLRS and Epic packages that are small…  having top and bottom rods will allow you to fit many more gadgets than you would on a single rail set which is a significant factor.   I also love the fact that you can use grips (see below) directly on this matte box and operate.   You often find yourself trying to find the space for handle sets on the rods on these tight camera packages – and will also find that the handles are too close to your body.   This allows you to put the handles at the end of your camera.    This O’Box also has 1/4-20 mounts all over the edges and allows you to mount a bunch of accessories.  In my case I routinely mount my LCD or RED LCD on the top lip of the O-Box with a quick release Cine-Lock (below.)   That gives me plenty of room for a top handle and EVF on my Epic body – and the EVF up front.

 

 

O Grips - These have always been a well hidden secret.  They’re my favorite handles/grips for handheld as they actually lock dead tight and do so quickly.   You can articulate them easily and also use them as a poor man’s tripod or high hat by adjusting these handles to point your camera while low on the ground.  I also use these as top handles.

 
 
 
 
 
 
CFF-1 Follow Focus - This might be a bit of a heavy duty follow focus unit – but it’s stellar.  O’Connor is making smaller ones and follow focus units that are meant to work with still (non-geared) lenses and I’m looking forward to reviewing those shortly.  That bring said – you can slide this on or off incredibly quickly, switch focusing sides in seconds, use different pitch wheels, and the mechanical build is flawless.  There is absolutely no play in the mechanism of this device.
 
 
 
 
 
16×9 Cine Lock Mount - Here is one of the single best little accessories you can possibly buy for any cine camera out there.   They work perfectly for quickly mounting and unmounting EVFs, LCDs and pretty much any accessory onto a 1/4-20 mounting hole on your camera or cage.   Once you slide it your LCD or accessory it’s locked in TIGHT.   There is zero swiveling movement which is key.  This is also an incredible accessory for people who like to travel (like me) with a camera kit that is nearly ready to go in your bag – i.e. I don’t like to break it all down into 10 pieces….  These Cine Locks allow you to quickly mount and unmount accesories that may make the camera unable to fit in a compact backpack or bag.  Gone are the days of endlessly twisting EVF/LCD arms into your cages/cameras which is time consuming and potentially incredibly frustrating when you are in a rush – and having the endlessly swivel out of position.
 
 
 
 
 Manfrotto Ball Head - These are simply ball heads we use on our slider when we don’t want to deal with the bulkier fluid heads (and are locking off the camera on the slider – we don’t attempt to do moves with this head.)  They lock tight and support a full Epic kit without a problem – not to mention just about any HDSLR or still camera package.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Kessler Stealth Slider and Kessler Kwik releaseWhile I still use my Kessler Shuttle Pod for big moves – I find that the majority of my moves can be done with this small Stealth slider more than adequately.   Setting this slider up (and moving it by yourself) is significantly faster than using a Shuttle Pod and most large sliders.    This is also the best travel slider (that can also be motorized for time lapses) on the market in my opinion.   A must have in any shooter’s kit.   It had not problem supporting the epic and was used for the last shot of the video (the push in to the group of guys.)
 
 
 
 
 
MPRO 536 Tripod - I’ve used these sticks for years now – and they are perfect for silders.   Add a quick release plate to them (such as the Kessler Kwik release pictured above) and you can built and take apart your sliders even more easily and by yourself.   Those quick release plates sure beat having to rotate these tripods into the base of your sliders which can be a pain to do by yourself or out in the field – especially when you’re in a rush.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Kessler Pocket Jib - This is the perfect travel jib for me – and one that I can build and operate by myself.  Although we didn’t use it much on this shoot given my desire to shoot mostly handheld – it contributed a wonderful shot from the bottom of the wing revealing the posters above 2/3rds of the way through the video.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bi-Focus 1×1 Unit - I think that these are a must have for anyone’s lighting kit.   They are great as interview lights, key lights, fill lights and accent lights.   I power them off of my Anton Bauer batteries and keep them incredibly mobile.   We use both the Spot/Flood models as well as the Bi-Color that switch effortleslly from daylight to tungsten with a switch.   These are also extremely dimable – so it’s the perfect portable light when you’re shooting by yourself and need a quick and easy fill (without power cords to trip over or deal with!)  I have sworn by these lights for years and don’t go to a shoot EVER with at least two of these units.   These units also gel very well as you can slide color correction or diffusion gels (included with the kit) in instants in front of the light.

 
 
 
 
 
Sola ENG Fresnel - These are my new secret weapons.  Don’t be fooled by the size – they pack a very nice punch.   A set of 3 will give you a pretty superb interview lighting kit.   I used just one as an accent light for a lot of the shots in this video – powered off an Anton Bauer battery (again no cords!)   If you look carefully you’ll see that most of the portraits and detail shots in the video above had a little side or kicker light.   This allows me to shoot with the natural light as my key light – and to give the lighting a more professional 3 dimensional look by adding a little kiss of light from the side of behind.   This is a very nice little trick to add a higher degree of production value to any of your shoots.
 
 
 
 
Manfrotto 9′ Light Stand - Simple, sweet, light, sturdy light stand for both my Litepanel 1X1 and Sola units.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
Dionic HC Battery - These batteries power EVERYTHING.   I travel with 2-6 of them (depending on the length of the shoot) and power my Epic, and on board monitors (via the P-Tap plug) and other accessories.   They also power all of my monitors (9" Orchid)  and lights (the 1X1 and Bicolor lights) without a hitch.   You can also get an adaptor from Anton Bauer to have this battery power your laptop while out in the field which is a nice little trick.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Below you’ll find a behind the scenes view on how this gear was used on the shoot.   We shot an audio interview with the Tascam DR-40 audio recorder and Sennheiser ME66 mics and Sennheiser EW112 lav kit we always use.  Everything was edited in Adobe CS6 Permiere (without any transcoding) and graded with Adobe Speedgrade.   The last shot (with the colored couch) was done with After Effects.  
 
I’m very happy with the results given that it ecompasses a total of 3-4 hours of shooting and that I was able to shoot everything solo.   I did have Jon or Justin help me each time to move the lights and swap lenses just so that I could keep moving at a quick pace and to move the lights from place to place swiftly.  Although I wanted to keep the team/prodcution minimal – I couldn’t have done it without them… you always need to find a good balance as going TOO SMALL will hurt you…  you’ll miss key moments, fail to move a light or worse…drop equipment by trying to do too much yourself…
 
A special thanks to Takeshi Furukawa of Snowingmusic.com for composing and RECORDING (!) such an incredible piece of music for this piece.  Another special thanks to Jon Carr for producing, editing, interview/audio, grade and Justin Hamilton for producing, additional cinematography, and interview – couldn’t have pulled it off without them given my hectic travel schedule over the past few months!
 
Below is a great peak into the behind the scenes (BTS) of how this was all shot!