ENTERING THE LED FEATURES BATTLE
March 2020 £4.99
BLOOD WORK Production breakdown
of Dracula episodic SHOOTING THE FARCE The Personal History of David Copperfield
ALSO INSIDE SPACEX REVIEW | 8K THE AERONAUTS | SAMSUNG SSD T7 BIRDS OF PREY | GOPRO HERO8 REVIEW | CAMERA LISTINGS WONDER WOMEN MEET THE FEMALE POWER PLAYERS IN VFX
EDITORIAL Editor Julian Mitchell firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer Chelsea Fearnley Contributors Adam Duckworth and Phil Rhodes Chief sub editor Beth Fletcher Senior sub editor Siobhan Godwood Sub editor Felicity Evans Junior sub editor Elisha Young ADVERTISING Group ad manager Sam Scott-Smith 01223 499457 email@example.com Sales manager Krishan Parmar 01223 499462 firstname.lastname@example.org Key accounts Helen Coston 01223 499461 email@example.com DESIGN Design director Andy Jennings Designer Bruce Richardson Ad production Man-Wai Wong DIGITAL Head of digital content Daisy Dickinson PUBLISHING Managing directors Andy Brogden & Matt Pluck MEDIA PARTNERS & SUPPORTERS OF BRIGHT PUBLISHING LTD, BRIGHT HOUSE, 82 HIGH STREET, SAWSTON, CAMBRIDGESHIRE CB22 3HJ UK
The new Cineo Reflex liquid-cooled light
T here was some great technology at the recent BSC Expo – and some warmer places to eat lunch, so everyone was happy. Putting the new indoor eateries aside, highlights for me included the new NBCUniversal Cineo Reflex light and its liquid-cooled core, amazing tech that we will be featuring more of in our NAB Show issue. However, the most mesmerising sight was the new range of Zeiss Supreme Prime Radiance lenses – or the flares they were producing to be precise. We hope to be reporting on their use in Fargo Series 4 in a forthcoming issue. If you’ve tried these new lenses from Zeiss, do let us know. For this issue, we’re concentrating on the evolution of lighting with our report on the new products we saw at the BSC Expo. We’ve also gone big on BBC’s take on Dracula and The Personal History of David Copperfield, with production stories on both. As part of our series showcasing women in the industry, we have pointed our all-seeing eye on the VFX industry and have been inundated with stories from our female readers from this world. We could have included many more in our feature and are looking at including them in our digital issue, so keep your eyes peeled!
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JULIAN MITCHELL EDITOR
COVER IMAGE Wonder Woman 1984. Warner Bros.
Definition is published monthly by Bright Publishing Ltd, Bright House, 82 High Street, Sawston, Cambridge CB22 3HJ. No part of this magazine can be used without prior written permission of Bright Publishing Ltd. Definition is a registered trademark of Bright Publishing Ltd. The advertisements published in Definition that have been written, designed or produced by employees of Bright Publishing Ltd remain the copyright of Bright Publishing Ltd and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. Prices quoted in sterling, euros and US dollars are street prices, without tax, where available or converted using the exchange rate on the day the magazine went to press.
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 03
SET- UP 06 TITLE SEQUENCE
This month we’re witness to a nervous chat between stars and director in Birds of Prey .
New Xeen cine lenses, and Video Europe starts Stateside rental supplier business. DRAMA We break down the BBC/Netflix production of Dracula . DRAMEDY Armando Ianucci’s comic re-imagining of Dicken’s semi-autobiographical novel. DRAMA How 8K cinematography was essential for this tale of Victorian aerial pioneers. SPECI AL Fresh from the 2020 BSC Expo, we look at the new lights and perhaps more importantly, the new features. FEATURE
12 BLOOD WORK PART 1
20 THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD
28 THE AERONAUTS
30 LIGHT SHOW
42 WOMEN IN VFX
New for our series of articles about women in our industry.
GEAR TESTS 52 SPACEX USER REVIEW Finnish gaffer Jani Lehtinen evaluates Creamsource’s new high-powered light.
54 GOPRO 8
Is the action camera giant still as innovative as it was?
55 DJI RONIN SC
DJI’s attempt at stabilising mirrorless cameras.
58 CAMERA LISTINGS
Our unique camera listings now offer kit essentials and recommended accessories.
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 05
Producer and star Margot Robbie (as Harley Quinn) talks through a scene in Birds of Prey: and the (Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) with co-star Rosie Perez and director Cathy Yan. DOP Matthew Libatique chose the Arri Alexa Mini and SXT, both with the Cooke Anamorphic/i SF lenses. Camera rentals through Camtec.-- BIRDS OF PREY
06 DEF I N I T ION | MARCH 2020
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 07
SET- UP | NEWS
XEEN COMPLETES ITS LINE OF CF CINE PRIMES
Samyang Optics has announced the compact, lightweight Xeen CF 16mm T2.6 and 35mm T1.5 cine primes for PL, Canon EF and Sony E-mount, completing the line-up of five Xeen CF models. Xeen CF was introduced in late 2019, with a compact design and flexible usage, integrating carbon fibre, while maintaining high image quality for large sensors. Thanks to the two new additions, the Xeen CF cine prime line-up is now complete, offering five focal lengths, including 16mm T2.6, 24mm T1.5, 35mm T1.5, 50mm T1.5 and 85mm T1.5. Xeen CF stands for ‘Compact and Flexible’, which highlights the compact size and versatility of the lenses. For example, the Xeen CF 16mm weighs just 0.9kg (2lbs)
ABOVE The complete range of Xeen CF cine primes
and measures 82.3mm (3.24in) height. This compact size is not only for large cinematography camera set-ups, but also for drone and gimbal set-ups, which require a more compact and lighter lens. Xeen CF is also compatible with large image sensor cameras, with its 43.3mm image circle. Cinematographers can now create countless images with one lens, enjoying the flexibility of equipment operation. Vice-president of the ASC, Bill Bennett, commented: “The new Xeen CF
lenses show faces in a most beautiful way, with smooth and subtle transitions.” With 8K support and unique X-coating technology, internal light reflections are effectively controlled to create a distinctive look and dramatic effects. They provide smooth, soft and dreamy bokeh when wide open and become crystal sharp when stopped down. This allows directors to maximise the delicate emotions of performers, while richly depicting the scene.
VIDEO EUROPE GOES STATESIDE UK video rental company opens up LA-based Camera One to service burgeoning market One of Europe’s largest video rental companies, Video Europe, has launched into the West Coast of the US with a new rental company, Camera One. The new US business is specifically designed to service and support Los Angeles’ growing rental house market, providing them with the latest kit, the highest levels of service and possibly best prices. Camera One is headed by Eric MacIver, who was formerly president of The Camera Division, fulfilling a long-held ambition to create a business-to-business rental house. MacIver is leaving The Camera Division in the safe hands of Rufus Burnham and looks forward to a great working relationship. Matt Marner, director of Video Europe, is working with MacIver to ensure all the required kit is on-site from launch, and an initial $5m investment is seeing Camera One launch
ABOVE Eric MacIver, now president of Camera One in LA
with one of LA’s largest stock of brand-new cameras and lenses for the rental market. MacIver commented on his appointment: “This is a dream come true for me. Obviously leaving TCD is a huge wrench, but Rufus and the team will remain friends. This was an opportunity not to be missed to satisfy a huge gap in the market here in the US, servicing rental houses, and I couldn’t have picked a better partner than Matt and Video Europe.” Marner added: “I’ve known Eric for a while now and, as we looked at the US market, it became clear he was the perfect president for a new business supporting LA’s growing rental scene. We’ve invested to ensure the best possible people, kit and service is embedded in the DNA of Camera One.”
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SET- UP | NEWS
NCAM LAUNCHES ITS AR SUITE OF TOOLS The Ncam AR Suite is available as either a lite or standard version. Both versions include all the essential tools, an open-source framework and augmented reality pipelines to help bring real-time, photorealistic augmented reality to productions. Ncam AR Suite Lite is compatible with Unreal Engine 4.23.X or 4.24.X and is included with Ncam Reality. Features include a complete solution for producing Virtual Studio and Virtual Overlay augmented reality within UE4. It’s built from the ground up using native UE4 frameworks and has a greatly improved performance over the previous NcamAR plug-in. The Ncam AR Suite includes all features of Ncam AR Suite Lite and extends it with advanced rendering pipelines that allow photographic effects like depth-of-field (so you can naturally pull focus to and from virtual objects), Screen Space Reflections (where you can see the video stream reflected in the virtual objects) and a virtual overlay (where you can render and composite virtual objects into a live video stream). There’s also a virtual studio, which is a virtual replacement of green screen and compositing with keyed elements like 3D Garbage Matte, to mask areas of the video and extend your virtual scene past the edges of the green screen; support for the Ncam Keyer and Real Depth; plus two extended rendering modes that add more experimental and advanced features, like Lens Flare and Bloom.
MPC LAUNCHES NEW VFX DIVISION FOR STREAMING AND EPISODIC CONTENTS
Technicolor’s MPC has announced the official launch of its new episodic visual effects division. The entertainment industry is currently experiencing one of its biggest shifts, brought on by the burgeoning of streaming platforms now available and an unprecedented demand for content. Pair that with the quality of viewing devices, which has enabled consumers to enjoy the highest-quality picture and sound when and wherever they want, there is now heightened consumer expectations around episodic content. Those expectations are often answered through increasingly complex and dynamic stories, putting new demands – and creating new opportunities – within visual effects. As a result, MPC, renowned for its photoreal VFX and animation work, is offering episodic directors and producers access to the pioneering technology and talent behind recent blockbusters such as The Lion King , 1917 , Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Godzilla: King of the Monsters . The division will be headed by managing
director, Thomas Williams, who was previously chief operating officer for MPC Film. Before joining MPC, Williams spent ten years at Sky, working in production planning and technical development. The MPC Episodic team is led by executive VFX supervisor, Pete Jopling ( The Bourne Legacy , Captain America: Civil War , Chernobyl ), head of creative, Gurel Mehmet ( The Witcher , Avengers: Endgame , Inception ) and senior producer, Therese Zambra ( Mars , Frontline ). Williams said: “The episodic landscape has changed at an extraordinary pace, and now feels like the perfect time to launch this exciting new division. MPC has been behind some of the most awe-inspiring film and commercials work of the last decade and is well positioned to bring its phenomenal expertise to the episodic community.” The Episodic division will have its headquarters at MPC’s London studio and will expand on Technicolor’s portfolio of film and episodic VFX studios: Mill Film, Mr. X and Mikros.
The episodic landscape has changed at an extraordinary pace, and now feels like the perfect time to launch this exciting new division
10 DEF I N I T ION | MARCH 2020
DRACULA | DRAMA
BLOOD WORK Lighting vampires, painted backdrops and shooting morphs. We speak to DOP Tony Slater Ling about how he filmed an old-school Dracula for a modern audience
WORDS CHELSEA FEARNLEY / PICTURES BBC / NETFLIX
B ram Stoker’s Dracula has seen countless movie dramatisations, none of which have been a completely faithful translation of the novel. But it seems every other filmmaker is motivated to add their own flavour to it. It’s an almost century-old custom that began with F WMurnau’s Nosferatu (1922). In his film, it is Germany, not England, where the strange, fanged creature aspires to live, and his name is Count Orlok instead of Count Dracula. Surprisingly – for what is now an acknowledged silent classic – Nosferatu was a pirate production, so these cosmetic alterations weren’t so much inspired as they were imposed. Nonetheless, it’s what inspired the dozens of other Dracula movies that succeeded it, and, alongside the verminous and utterly malevolent Orlok, we’ve seen caped seducers in the manner of Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi. As well as comedic, cringe-worthy performances of the famed vampire… but we don’t need to talk about those. “The tradition is that you go your own way with it,” says Tony Slater Ling, who was the DOP on episode 1 and 3 of the most recent adaptation, co-produced by the BBC and Netflix. “And that’s what we’ve done.” Claes Bang plays a debonair and viciously funny version of Dracula in the new TV series. The story starts in the same was as the book, from Jonathan Harker arriving at Castle Dracula at the hands of a red-eyed coachman, to escaping and finding his way to Hungary. Episode 2 takes place on the ship Demeter and is a 90-minute expansion on Stoker’s four-page account of Dracula’s journey aboard the ship, so some pretty obvious changes had to happen there. But the furthest departure occurs in episode 3, when Dracula is catapulted into our present day, which clearly didn’t happen in the 1897 novel.
“That was the biggest challenge – and people really got upset about us moving the story to the present day – but we wanted to create our own version of this well-trodden tale that’s been reproduced many times,” explains Slater Ling. LOVE LETTER TO THE CLASSICS Still, the third episode takes place in Whitby, with the Yorkshire seaside town starring as itself in the TV series. “The writers felt strongly about using the real location as a way to stay faithful to the book, so I shot all of the exteriors in and around Whitby,” says Slater Ling. Whitby Abbey, which is popular with fans of the macabre thanks to its inclusion in the novel, also features in several shots, as it’s where the Harker Institute [a
clandestine organisation that was set up by Mina Murray, Harker’s fiancée, for the sole purpose of capturing Dracula] is located. But the writers weren’t just keen to gesture back to the book. Slater Ling divulges that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are classic horror film fans and, throughout the TV series, there are several nods to their love of the genre. The first episode takes place at Castle Dracula, with Slovakia standing in for Transylvania, and its exterior shots use Orava Castle, which is the same castle as the one that appeared in Nosferatu . Orava was difficult to get any light into, however, so its interiors were shot in the less-than-mysterious Bray Studios, in Berkshire, which was also not making its first appearance in the long series
But we wanted to create our own version of this well-trodden tale
IMAGES Claes Bang plays Dracula in the 2020 production, co-produced by Netflix and the BBC
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 13
DRAMA | DRACULA
The tricky part was getting the lighting to match, because fire can be unpredictable PRACTICAL MAGIC Episode 1 mostly takes place inside the set of Castle Dracula, built by the set designer, Arwel Jones. It is dimly lit, but not too dark – as Slater Ling chose to supplement the torches and candles in vision with lighting units off camera. Ingeniously, he stays true to his love of elementary light by using candles in reflective boxes to add light details to faces and architecture. He jokes: “Murphy called them Barker lights, after Ronnie Barker and the fork handles gag, because we had small boxes that could hold four candles and large boxes that could hold 12. They sat in a tray with a curved high back that was covered in soft silver reflective material and they were placed all around the castle.” Above the staircase, Murphy fitted a 30ft by 30ft softbox with controllable Arri Skypanels inside. When Dracula was asleep during the day and Jonathan attempted to seek out the mysterious woman living in the castle, the lights evoked daylight ambience. At night, they were changed to have moonlight ambience. In the dining room, with its flagstones and dinner set for one, there were three ceiling tabs above the table that could be opened separately or as a unit so that the ceiling was never in frame. It also created a space for more
ABOVE Jonathan Harker, played by John Heffernan, arrives at Castle Dracula, which is actually Orava Castle in Slovakia
of Dracula adaptations, as the 1958 film that starred Christopher Lee was filmed there. It’s not obvious, but the transition from Slovakia to studio transpires as one shot. Jonathan arrives at Castle Dracula and enters through its doors. The camera continues to track him as he walks through a tunnel. He then looks towards the ceiling and begins to take off his hat. As his hat brushes past his face, the exterior disappears and the camera pans around him to reveal the maze-like staircase inside the castle. Slater Ling explains the process behind capturing the shot: “I managed to squeeze
a small machine that was capable of going quite high on the arm into the entrance of Orava and my gaffer, Paul Murphy, lit the ceiling with a balloon. I was able to continue the tracking shot by lighting the tunnel with torches and candles and then Matt Wood, our VFX supervisor from Space Digital, did a clever morph that brought us back to Bray Studios. “The tricky part was getting the lighting to match, because fire can be unpredictable. You’ve just got to make a lot of notes, and make sure you’ve jotted down the exact placement of the lighting and its distance from the actors.”
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DRAMA | DRACULA
The shadows had a velvet, silky look. We pushed for the feel to be quite monochrome softboxes, which Slater Ling used to add a cool ambience to contrast with the gold candles below. Because normal lighting rules don’t apply to vampires, Slater Ling had to create shadows or block direct sunlight for Dracula’s daytime appearances. In episode 1, Dracula takes Jonathan to the castle’s rooftop at sunset. He is stood in the shadow; Jonathan is laid in the light. Slater Ling reveals: “The rooftop was a set extension, built by Arwel, and the sunset plates were made by Matt. For that scene, I used a single
daytime again, but all the curtains are shut. The curtains are a mixture of pastel pink, green and orange, and are visibly weighted to soften the light that is coming in from the Mac Vipers on the outside. “The Vipers are traditionally a theatre light,” says Slater Ling. “But I like to use them, because they create a strong beam that can be controlled by colour, angle, width, brightness and density. I used a lot of LEDs in that episode, actually. I used Skypanels, Digital Sputnik DS1s and DS3s and Astera Titan Tubes, and I did that because I wanted it to feel heightened and colourful. The idea being that Dracula is seeing the new world with fresh eyes, so everything sits up.” FLARES ARE BACK Along with the selection of lights, Slater Ling opted for Arri Master Primes to exaggerate all the new light information and colours of 2020. He switched between coated and uncoated depending on the shot, because although the coated lenses gave a clean image – which helped emphasise the modernity of episode 3 – they were
24K Fresnel for the sun, with the set creating that all-important shadow line. Above and at the side of the set were softboxes with the usual Skypanels that I used to control the ambient light on Dracula.” In episode 3, Dracula is invited into the home of a drunken, trusting fool. It’s
IMAGES As part of Dracula’s nightmare, a trough was filled with real blood to reflect the trees and actors
CHIAROSCURO EFFECT TECHNICOLOR’S KEVIN HORSEWOOD DESCRIBES THE APPROACH HE TOOK TO GRADING DRACULA
Dracula ’s main delivery was HDR, which allowed me to find a greater tonal range in the colour palette. This was especially important for episode 3, where magenta was used as a stylistic choice. Having a greater range and therefore more control in the highlights made a huge difference to the show’s dark scenes, where candles are the only source of light. The approach we took for the look was brave. But, by using all the tools in the grading suite, alongside the talent of Tony and Julian, I think we succeeded in bringing the drama, tension and horror of the story vibrantly to life.
had a velvet, silky look. We also pushed for the feel to be quite monochrome, but for the light sources and, in particular, the candles to give off vibrant pods of colour. The director of episode 3, Paul McGuigan, wanted to push the magenta lighting that Tony had introduced. This was something Paul liked when we worked together on Sherlock , so it didn’t come as a surprise. The pre-shoot tests gave us a LUT to work with that the DIT could use on-set and in the dailies pipeline. This was useful for the main grade as everyone in the room was on board with the strong look.
Before production started, I went to Bray Studios to chat with Tony Slater Ling and Julian Court [DOP for episode 2]. Being on-set and seeing first-hand what they are trying to achieve with their lighting and lenses is an important part of my process. We did some reproduction grade tests for all three episodes and Tony and I spent time looking carefully at the costume and makeup tests, finessing them in conjunction with the cinematic references he supplied. We achieved a grade with a contrast range that was developed from Tony’s photography, with some tweaks in post. The shadows
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DRAMA | DRACULA
DRACULA IS CURRENTLY STREAMING ON NETFLIX AND BBC IPLAYER at Dracula , delving further into the series’ spine-tingling visual effects, including individually crafted CGI flies, sex toys and tiny contortionists. up the pathway from the beach. The tricky part about shooting that scene was the lighting. You can’t have any light pollution on the screen, because it dilutes the image. We had to put large skirts on all our softboxes so that the light would always be directed downwards.” Also in episode 3, we enter Dracula’s nightmare after he drinks Zoe’s poisonous blood. In it, he and Zoe are standing in a river of blood against a painted backdrop of abbey ruins next to silhouetted trees with razor-sharp branches. Slater Ling explains how they created this scene: “Arwel built a huge trough that was filled with real blood [from a butcher, might we add] – about three inches of it, which was deep enough to achieve a reflection from off the trees and actors. The trees were lit with LEDs, so I could change the colours and levels in-camera, and I shot the whole scene on a Technocrane, which enabled me to get around the actors without having to stand in the blood.” He concludes: “ Dracula was all artwork; it was a collaboration from the art department, camera department and makeup department.” In our next issue, we continue to look
When Dracula comes ashore in episode 3 [directed by Paul McGuigan], 123 years after his voyage on the ill-fated Demeter, he is standing on a beach that was crafted by Jones, in front of an 80ft by 30ft projection screen that was provided by Dunton Projections. The projected images are of beaches, which were shot by Stephen Lang, and turned into moving plates by Wood at Space Digital. Slater Ling adds: “We had three plates, so every time we changed the camera angle, we changed the projection; one was out to sea, one was to the side and the other was
“almost too clean at times” and he liked a bit of flare. “The uncoated lenses have distinctive flares and create pastel colours that are a thing of beauty, but that can also feel like too much of one thing, so it’s nice to have options.” A lavish filter from Vantage called Glare Effect was used to intensify the flares. It’s a resin filter containing various types and sizes of crystals and prisms, and when the light hits it, it creates long, rounded flares that dart across the frame. This was used throughout the episode, but is especially noticeable in the nightclub scenes and on the headlights of cars. Vintage lenses were used for episode 1, which was set in 1897. The Canon K35s aren’t quite that old, but helped Slater Ling achieve a period look. He enthuses: “They’re from the seventies and have a lovely fall- off about them, which worked really well against all the practicals.” The Sony Venice was Slater Ling’s camera choice, which he shot at 6K for the first episode, but had to downsize to 4K for episode 3, since his favourite focal lengths on the Arri Master Primes didn’t cover the full 6K sensor size. The whole project was shot at 2500 ASA to achieve speed for the practical lighting elements. ANALOGUE “The directors, Paul McGuigan and Johnny Campbell, were keen to keep the visual effects in-camera as much as possible. They both love images and I loved that about working with them,” says Slater Ling.
RIGHT The beach from episode 3 was filmed in front of an 80ft by 30ft projection screen
The uncoated lenses have distinctive flares and create pastel colours that are a thing of beauty
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THE AER I AL F I LM COMPANY | ADVERTI SEMENT FEATURE
THE AERIAL FILM COMPANY GOES GREEN ACROSS EUROPE Innovation and sustainability are at the core of the newly formed Aerial Film Company, as it seeks to answer production’s every need on-set and beyond
IMAGES Using a lorry to transport the Airbus H125 helicopter saves around 185L of fuel an hour
EVEN BEFORE ENTERING the BSC Expo 2020, you were greeted with a company’s latest efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. Parked outside the main Evolution venue was The Aerial Film Company’s sustainable, cost-effective and weatherproof way of getting a complete aerial unit to a location: an Airbus H125 helicopter on the back of a large articulated lorry – not something you see every day. The environmental impact of any production is now something to be considered at all levels and The Aerial Film Company takes this very seriously. Will Banks, co-founder of The Aerial Film Company, explains: “This represents a serious investment in our commitment to move, as a company, towards carbon neutrality. With this custom trailer and the latest in low-emission tractor units, we are able to move the helicopter, our Shotover and GSS gyro camera systems, drones, mounts and monitors to anywhere in Europe, in one go. Look at the numbers: this lorry burns 35L “We are pumping out less carbon in the first place, so we are lessening our footprint before we start”
of fuel an hour, coupled with the latest clean- emission technology. The helicopter burns 220L an hour. And with lorries set to be all electric in the near future, our footprint will continue to drop.” EVERY BRIDGE IN EUROPE There’s more to the story, which explains howmuch planning has gone into The Aerial Film Company’s idea. Banks describes how the truck can go anywhere in Europe. “The truck is fully customised to our spec, with its own ramp to load and unload the helicopter. When we’re preparing for a trip, the aircraft drops down into the centre of the trailer to get the overall height of the wagon below 4m. This allows us to take that vehicle anywhere within Europe, where the minimum height for bridges is 4m. This truck also allows us to reposition a helicopter, regardless of the weather. The storms we’ve seen in the last fewmonths were bad enough to ground helicopters and prove a real headache for productions. The truck ensures we can always make it to set on time.” NEW COMPANY The creation of The Aerial Film Company is the merging of GB Helicopters and Spirit in the Sky to form a new company with the aim of delivering seamless, end-to-end aerial filming services. The two companies have generally focused on different areas. GB Helicopters focused on TV, sporting events and commercials with helicopters, while
Spirit aimed itself at feature films, using drones and providing a massive range of modern and historic picture aircraft. for production. “I think up until now production has had to pull people together from different companies. What we can do is take on a job and provide that entire team under one umbrella, from start to finish.” Banks sees the merger as a big advantage
MORE INFORMATION: aerialfilmcompany.com
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 19
COMEDY | THE PERSONAL H I STORY OF DAV I D COPPERF I ELD
20 DEF I N I T ION | MARCH 2020
DOP Zac Nicholson explains how to shoot period comedy on a location-heavy new movie from director Armando Iannucci FILMING THE FARCE S urely, Armando Iannucci’s brand of comedy couldn’t live anywhere other than television. His shtick is to revel in nonsense and absurdity but couch and which are contained in a 90-minute block of content called a movie. For WORDS JULI AN M ITCHELL / PICTURES LIONSGATE / ZAC N ICHOLSON
THE PERSONAL H I STORY OF DAV I D COPPERF I ELD | COMEDY
KEEPING FAITH WITH IANNUCCI “Armando is watching very, very closely and he’s logging in his mind all the things that he needs from the scene,” says Nicholson. “While you’re operating you’re concentrating on the framing and trying to catch the dialogue so you have to put your faith in him when he says that he’s got what he wants. He’s not interested in being rigorously methodical about shooting every single line on the correct eyeline for instance. He wants to ‘feel it’, wants the camera to have lots of energy and he’s logging what he’s got and what he hasn’t got.” Where Avenue 5 was shot on the largest stages at Warner Bros Studios Leavesden,
instance, Iannucci’s Avenue 5 is an eight- episode HBO show and his current movie, The Personal History of David Copperfield, is one two-hour film. Both are shot by BSC member rated cinematographers and filmed as cinematically as possible. In fact, Avenue 5 ’s DOP Eben Bolter wouldn’t have done the show if it didn’t have that aesthetic attached to it. Where Avenue 5 was Bolter’s first experience of working with Iannucci, BSC member Zac Nicholson had already shot The Death of Stalin, so was used to multicamera shoots and not getting in the way of the ensemble.
it in scenarios so serious and vanilla that they supercharge the dialogue’s babble. Apart from maybe his Alan Partridge shows, all his work is based on ensemble pieces; The Death of Stalin , In the Loop , Veep and more recently Avenue 5 . You could compare the Iannucci banter with, say, Quentin Tarantino (especially in Reservoir Dogs ) but where he uses babble as a precursor to violence, Armando insists on improvisation to glory in the farce. It works brilliantly. But what is a film and what is a TV series in 2020? Those who watched Netflix’s The Irishman over three and a half hours were even advised where to press pause by film fan sites taking on the managing role of the broadcaster. This avoidance of a serial was probably an edict from Scorsese who famously railed against the idea of anyone watching his films on a phone, but ironically could only find Netflix as a financial backer for the movie. It would be interesting to know who decides which screenplays become series
IMAGES Dev Patel as David Copperfield and Peter Capaldi as Mr Micawber with Armando Iannucci
Armando really likes the handheld camera. He doesn’t like it when cameras get too fixed
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 21
COMEDY | THE PERSONAL H I STORY OF DAV I D COPPERF I ELD
If I’m lighting and operating I find I need as good an eyepiece as I can get; and that’s the Classic
LEFT A typical high-energy Iannucci scene
Copperfield was mostly a location shoot with some small interior builds and locations. So more than two cameras didn’t really work, even though for some scenes a third was brought in. More than two cameras, both handheld, becomes a problem of keeping either of them out of shot. “Quite often Armando would want to go down to one camera even if we had started with two. He might feel that two would be diluted the scene,” says Nicholson. Exterior shots also used drones to emphasise the ‘big sky’ Norfolk landscape. FILLING THE FRAME If you’ve seen anything directed by Iannucci, you’ll know that his signature scenes are largely full of the ensemble who are usually at loggerheads with each other in a trivial way about a serious matter. This is classic Iannucci, to fill the frame with the farce. The Death of Stalin was shot 1.85:1 and Copperfield was 2.39:1 ( Avenue 5 was widescreen at 16:9). Zac shot both. “In Copperfield there were lots of scenes with lots of people in it and I think Armando
was interested in some of the big, wide landscapes, the flatness, and I think that he thought that the slightly wider aspect ratio played in to that nicely. Whereas The Death of Stalin was slightly more modern architecture, with taller buildings and taller rooms. It made sense to shoot it 1.85:1 from a location and style point of view but Copperfield was much more outside with landscape to photograph. One of the visual themes was the flatness of Norfolk with that flatness referred to in the script – it plays out nicely with the wider format.” WORK WITH WHO YOU KNOW As we learned from talking with Eben Bolter for Avenue 5 , when you’re looking for a camera operator for an Armando Iannucci movie it’s good to use someone you know and who has similar experiences and similar skillsets. Nicholson had used Iain Mackay when he shot The Death of Stalin : “When you’re looking for a camera operator there are a couple of considerations. You need someone who can think like a cinematographer or think like I do about
operating. Someone who has the same sensibilities as me and who has had similar experiences. Iain is also a Steadicam operator so he brings that with him as well. He can also splinter off and shoot pick-ups or splinters. “Armando really likes the handheld camera, he also likes Steadicam. He doesn’t like it when cameras get too fixed. We did
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THE PERSONAL H I STORY OF DAV I D COPPERF I ELD | COMEDY
IMAGES DOP Zac Nicholson with crew members including camera operator Iain Mackay and grip Jody Knight
clear the floor for the inevitable ensemble scene, no C-stands allowed. To this end Nicholson and his gaffer Harry Wiggins decided to use window light with minimal light inside the rooms. “Sometime we use a big ten-foot soft box with a light in it that could also flag the sun and diffuse the light. Other situations, like the bottling factory, we had three fairly hard LRX lights which are remote controlled and waterproof HMIs – you can focus them, spot them and flood them remotely. It was augmented in the room a little bit. We would do as much as we could through the window.” Harry Wiggins, the show’s gaffer, further describes the lighting design. “The bottling factory was all LRX lights coming in the windows on the south side; this is an 18K parabolic light on a robotic stirrup. You use a little handheld joystick to control them. We also had some practicals inside
have Dolly and track and did some things that were a little bit more controlled with their tracking and camera moves. But his favourite way to shoot is to be in the thick of it with the camera on the shoulder or with the Steadicam. We expanded it a bit by using the drone, not to some fancy flying shots but to be able to look down on the scene a bit like an author, or as a godlike vision.” CLASSIC CAMERA You’d think that with all this desire for handheld and Steadicam movement, Nicholson might pick an Alexa Mini or smaller form factor camera; but you’d be wrong. In fact, he picked a classic, the Arri Alexa Classic which is basically the original, over ten-year-old model. But why the Classic? “If I’m lighting and operating I need as good an eyepiece as I can get. For me the digital
camera with the best looking eyepiece is the Classic. It has a great image in terms of colour and contrast. It feels like the closest thing to the monitor that I’ve seen. “If you’re shooting with Armando and you’re shooting all the time, you ’ re catching things all the time and a lot of those things can’t be repeated. So if you’re operating and lighting you need good idea that you’re happy with it in the moment.” PERIOD LIGHTING Period comedy movies are a little bit thin on the ground and especially Armando Iannucci comedies that steal your attention with their machine gun one-liners. That’s not to say that Copperfield wasn’t taking its 19th century pre-electricity status seriously. Interiors still had to evoke the semi-dark candlelit rooms as in any other period drama. The only difference would be to
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THE PERSONAL H I STORY OF DAV I D COPPERF I ELD | COMEDY
LEFT Hugh Laurie and Dev Patel with Armando Iannucci BELOW The opening scene shot at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds
Tommybars is new to Zac, but the lighting system was actually designed and built by Harry Wiggins, the gaffer for David Copperfield, with a colleague. The company has only been going for about a year, renting the lights out. Tommybars is a weather-proof lighting system made up of eight- foot-long bicolour LED units that create a high CRI (90+) softlight without using a cloth. Rigged in single eight foot-wide banks or double 16ft-wide banks, they have been designed to be used in multiples of eight. A 45ft boom lift will lift eight, 12 or 16 units, and a bigger cherry picker will get to maximum reach with 32 units. In bad weather and high winds, machine operators are much happier not to have the sail factor of a diffuser in high wind speeds. Tommybars are very efficient and 16 of them can be run on a local 13A supply. Harry Wiggins comments on their use on the movie: “On Copperfield , we used them on the north Norfolk coast because we were limited on our machine size and weight by geological factors and location access. Because Tommybars are lightweight and cloth-free, our machine operators were happy to keep them up in windspeeds of up to 12m/s.” tommybars.com
as if they were gas lamps. We also shot in the office and we also had some Kino Flo Freestyle 31s, as they’re called now, on the floor with some practicals.” For daylight exteriors they were shooting either available light or maybe bouncing some 4K HMI lights to give some light push across a street or an alleyway. “So as the characters walked down a darkish alley they would catch some side light.” PEPPER’S GHOST Nicholson used one set of Master Primes and a couple of Arri Alura zooms (he owns a 45-250mm Alura) over the course of the movie and between the cameras. “The Master Primes are quite fast so we never really ran out of light. We did some night systemmade up of eight foot-long bicolour LED units Tommybars is a weatherproof lighting
exteriors on the beach; there was a storm on the beach with lightning for dramatic effect. We also used a new fixture, which were LED batons called Tommybars. They can be rigged as 8x4ft panels, and we had three of them. The big drama at night, especially on cliffs, is the wind and worrying about whether the gels are going to blow off. But because these LED batons are structural and the wind passes through them, that’s not an issue (see Tommybars panel, left). The Personal Story of David Copperfield doesn’t do much for the enhancement of pro video tech – with use of the original Arri Alexa, Master Prime lenses and limited use of LED lighting, technology-wise this movie could have been shot ten years ago – but skills will always win over technology. In an Iannucci show the golden comedy moments are the most important thing and even the production can’t get in the way of that. Nicholson did have some fun though, especially when he had to create a Pepper’s Ghost for some of the scenes. THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD IS ON GENERAL UK RELEASE
LEFT Tommybars were used for a beach scene under windy conditions
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 25
ADVERTI SEMENT FEATURE | G -TECHNOLOGY
PORTABLE SSD TECHNOLOGY UNLOCKS CHINA
French filmmaker Stéphane Couchoud has followed up his film Paradex 1, set in Bora Bora, with a second part filmed in China. G-Technology portable drives were the perfect form factor and recording solution for the trip
From your Instagram feed, you can see how passionate you are about your art; where did your love of film and creativity come from? Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved cameras. When I saw that you could capture something from the present, and watch it whenever, I knew there were unbelievable things I could do, like telling a story, or showing how I perceive the world.
The goal of Paradex is to show the greatest paradises on the planet.
Practically everything, from language, culture, food and heat, to
This time, I wanted to break all the rules and regulations I had made with Paradex 1 . Choosing China as a location meant it was much more complicated for a French person, especially when it came to language and transport! I also found that lots of people have a bad impression of the country, which however for me remains one of the most beautiful I’ve ever visited.
kilometres travelled and arranging permits for accommodation and transport. Also, obviously enough, trying to take as little as possible in our baggage. What were some of your favourite locations during the trip? I did a lot of detailed recon for the trip before heading over and for me, the five most impressive locations were the Great Wall of China, Shanghai, the Zhangjiajie National Park (the Avatar Mountains), Guilin and the Longsheng Rice Terrace.
After the incredible Paradex 1 in Bora Bora, you based the stunning
What were some of the biggest challenges you found yourself
follow-up Paradex 2 in China. What inspired you to choose this location?
facing on the project?
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G -TECHNOLOGY | ADVERTI SEMENT FEATURE
IMAGES The G-DRIVE mobile SSD became an essential part of the team on the Paradex II shoot
has been flying for quite a long time now and has reached a pretty amazing level while I had only been training intensively for about four months at the time. I have to admit that I had great teachers from the start as well as good contacts who made it easier to progress very quickly. I trained on a simulator for up to ten hours per day at times and exhausted about 30 drone batteries a day in training. It’s worth noting that I’ve been flying drones for about ten years, but FPV was something new for me, but at least I came to it with some pretty solid fundamentals. How did you plan your overall storage workflow for the trip to ensure you had a painless offload and secure backup? Each of our team had two G-DRIVE mobile SSD drives as well as two high- capacity ArmorATD drives as secondary backups and two G-DRIVE ev RaW as extra security backups.
“Every time the drone landed, we could transfer the footage without needing a laptop”
What was your choice of camera for the project and what resolution
For offloading the drone footage, I relied completely on the Western
did you shoot in?
Digital My Passport Wireless SSD 2TB so every time the drone landed, we could easily transfer the footage without needing a laptop. I wasn’t taking the risk of taking off again without offloading the images first as with the risk of drones crashing, at least I’d have the footage from the last flight!
The main camera was the Sony FS5 with the Atomos Shogun (4K, 60fps
or 4K Raw, 120fps), with a secondary Sony A7R III (4K video and Raw photos). For the drone work, I chose the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom (4K, 30fps) and all of the FPV shots were made using the GoPro Hero6 at 4K, 30fps. You use a lot of drone footage in the film. Can you describe your storage workflow for backing up your drone content?
The drone footage is exceptional; how long did it take to achieve that
Do you use an SSD as a part of your overall storage mix and has it
level of expertise?
accelerated your workflow?
There were two of us involved in the FPV (first person view) drone footage, Josselin Cornil (J-True) and myself. Josselin
In fact, the entire Paradex 2 project was completed using the G-DRIVE
mobile SSD connected via USB! People that know me, know that I’m very fussy about workflow and I’ve absolutely no latency issues working with SSD. If only video editing software was as reliable.
MORE INFORMATION: g-technology.com
MARCH 2020 | DEF I N I T ION 27
DRAMA | THE AERONAUTS
UP, UP AND AWAY How 8K shooting made all the difference in this retelling of Victorian aerial pioneers
WORDS JULI AN M ITCHELL / PICTURES AMAZON V I DEO A t BSC Expo 2020, cinematographer George Steel, colourist Simone Grattarola and post-production supervisor Miranda Jones were part of a discussion about the production of The Aeronauts, which was based on
meteorologist’s James Glaisher’s 1862 ascent with balloonist Henry Coxwell to a record altitude of 37,000 feet. With actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones on board and Amazon Studios backing the release, the challenge that faced director, Tom Harper, and George Steel was authenticity. VFX would of course play a vital role in the world creation, but to bring a huge and detailed vista to the aerial shots – which made up 20% of the finished aerials – the Red Monstro 8K camera was used. Incidentally, the 8K also helped the Imax deliverable that was decided on in the middle of production. IN-CAMERA SHOOTING As mentioned, Harper was determined not to create a fantasy world, but to make the story as true to life as possible. “This was because the script grounded the story in the context of its period setting (late 19th- century London), but we also needed to sell the VFX, make it believable,” Steel explains.
From that tonal conceit stemmed a decision to shoot as much practically in-camera as they could. Steel tested combinations of cameras and lenses to gauge look design, as well as camera movement while flying in a hot air balloon high across the Oxfordshire countryside. “The odd thing about being in a wicker basket 3000 feet in the air is that there is so little movement,” Steel reveals. “The feeling was incredibly smooth and when
The flashbacks used Black Frost filters, but as they rise, we start pulling out diffusion and lessening it
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THE AERONAUTS | DRAMA
from Skypanel LEDs to HMI Molebeam and a box full of gas that could be coloured in different ways to mimic the relevant atmospheric conditions. While this was a challenge, it was a creatively gratifying aspect of production for all concerned, according to Steel. The flight not only passed through different altitudes with light changes at different heights and at different times of day, but there were weather conditions (and even migrating butterflies) to contend with, too. “All these factors came into play and we needed to help the audience believe we’re entering clouds or a storm on the way up and on the descent,” explains colourist, Simone Grattarola, another serial collaborator with Harper and Steel. “Our characters reach the top of the world where they are looking up to the stars with clouds far below them and, as they descend, they are going through snow and the harsh daylight transitions to dusk.” Steel elected to shoot at 8K raw compressed 7:1 largely to accommodate VFX. The raw files were converted to EXR for export to the VFX teams at Rodeo FX and Framestore, and to Grattarola who was grading in parallel on DaVinci Resolve. “We would review VFX one day, then be sent new VFX shots, which we’d refine again and feedback to VFX,” says Grattarola. “That process between VFX and colour grade built up over a few weeks and had everyone working to create something that felt very realistic.” Steel concludes. “When I watched the finished picture, I found myself carried away by the story.” THE AERONAUTS IS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO OUTSIDE THE UK
board, as well as by Steel from within the basket rigged to a crane and extended 200 feet into the air. Even on stage, the action was recorded airborne with the camera swooping around on a 90-foot crane. Steel chose the Red DSMC2 camera with the Monstro 8K VV sensor for its small size. “When you’re in an eight-foot wide basket with two actors – and I’m not exactly small – having a more compact camera has to help,” he says. “It also has the ability to capture skin tones, colour and texture, capturing the change in hues from terra firma to the heavens.” CAMERA TESTING Steel tested a number of digital cameras alongside 35mm film and Monstro was the format that won the blind tests. “People reacted favourably to it,” he says. “The full-frame sensor really captures colour in clarity and detail. Data size wasn’t a factor, because of the way Redcode manages data.” He paired the Red camera with Panavision Primo 70s, which offered a sharp, but not too harsh picture with a gentle focus fall off. “We knew we were going to shoot spherically to give the aerial sequences a wide-open vista in 1.85:1 and to contrast this with a cropped aspect ratio for the flashback scenes in 2.39:1,” he explains. Steel and Harper favoured wide encompassing shots – often 360-degree views – and lighting was key. The illumination for earthbound sequences was softer and grainier whereas the light nearer the sun was harsher, more mercurial. Steel worked with his team to invent a vast lighting rig designed by gaffer, Wayne King, that was positioned at the top of the blue screen stage, using an array of fixtures
IMAGES Stills from The Aeronauts, now on Amazon Prime, though not yet in the UK
we reviewed footage it looked like VFX, everything was just too crisp and even. The way focus fell off looked unnatural. “This informed us what stop to shoot at so we could have more of the background in focus during close-ups and it led us to create a look that ends up somewhere neutral – in between reality and fantasy.” A lot of diffusion was used on the ground. For instance, the flashbacks used Black Frost filters, but as they rise “we slowly start pulling out diffusion and lessening it”. Steel adds: “At the very top, we’re totally clean of diffusion and have the best quality we could get out of the camera. In fact, we added back in some diffusion to soften it off, it was just a bit too much. The authentic feel of the project meant performing as much balloon filming in the sky as the weather and safety would allow. This included footage taken from a helicopter of a life-sized replica of the original 1862 craft with the actors on
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