ENHANCED VIDEO EDITION
Felix Wiedemann breaks genre conventions with clean visuals on Behind Her Eyes
VFX REALITY How capture tools are bringing post-production to set
NEW HORIZONS Is Canon’s new C70 the future of Cinema EOS?
PURE CINEMA Egil Håskjold Larsen discusses B&W silent film Gunda
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CHELSEA FEARNLEY DEPUTY EDITOR Chelsea Fearnley WELCOME S pring is here – and I can definitely feel a change in the wind. Yes, the literal chill from the air has gone, and soon the frost from what has been a particularly rigid year for the UK box office will thaw, too. With cinemas set to reopen later this month, there have been whispers about how these businesses will operate in a world where new films are released on home entertainment before they hit the big screen. Some say the room was already on fire, and that Covid-19 just poured lighter fluid around the house. Others, such as senior box office analyst Delphine Lievens, are more optimistic. After speaking at length with her about how cinemas can work in harmony with home entertainment, and even benefit from it, I am also hopeful about the future of box office. More of this on page 27!
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CONTENTS 05 IF LOOKS COULD THRILL
31 C ANON C70 REVIEW
Felix Wiedemann eschews convention, opting for clean visuals in new Netflix thriller, Behind Her Eyes .
Could Canon’s first RF mount video camera hint at the direction of next-generation Cinema EOS bodies? LENS SPECIAL 18 DUSTING OFF RETIRED LENSES We explore the advantages that rehoused older optics can provide, in comparison to the arguably superior modern lenses. 22 THE BEATING HEART OF FILM Delving into the genetic makeup of lenses, querying to what extent they can be prescriptive of certain genres.
10 PURE CINEMA
Egil Håskjold Larsen’s Gunda displays tactile naturalism to offer an intimate window into the lives of a sow and her piglets.
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14 VFX REALITY
As camera capture evolves to encompass the virtual world, we explore how it is bringing post-production to set.
27 A REASON TO TAKE OFF YOUR PYJAMAS
We discuss the future of cinema with a senior box office analyst. What effect will the new home entertainment norms have?
COVER IMAGE Behind Her Eyes ©Netflix 2021
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BEH I ND HER EYES | PRODUCTION
GOOD, CLEAN THRILLS Going against the thriller grain, Felix Wiedemann
captured clear and detailed imagery for
Behind Her Eyes. He talks naturalism, nightmares and baring souls on screen
WORDS LEE RENWI CK / P I CTURES NETFL I X
ABOVE RIGHT Wiedemann decided upon a clear, detailed image, not wanting to establish a heavy thriller mood that would detract from the viewer’s own decision making
P icture any psychological thriller you know. What do you see? A grimy urban hubbub, or desolate, yet oppressive rural locale? Brooding cinematography with constant shadows, heavy grain and a desaturated colour grade? They’re staples of the genre. So much so, it’s hard to imagine someone creating the very same content without them. But this was the somewhat surprising approach of Felix Wiedemann during the making of Behind Her Eyes . The Netflix hit is an unusual, but enticing blend of psychological thrills, romantic drama and supernatural elements. One that’s backed by cinematography giving the remainder of the production, and the audience, much-needed room to breathe. The end result seems to have landed with viewers, and while there’s some division over the show’s number of twists
– as will always be the case with such endings – there’s something new and exciting on show. Thanks to visual genre bending, we’re cast adrift, left to make up our own minds without the clues we’re used to. For a viewer, it’s all the more thrilling. MENTAL CLARITY “The tone we set with the image was a big decision for us,” explains Wiedemann. “It’s a psychological thriller, but also a character-driven drama. We questioned to what degree it should live in the dark, foreboding world you’d expect – and how that would impact the audience. Ultimately, we settled on an image with real detail, clarity and naturalism. “Heavy textures and grains, coloured filters, and so on, are a great way of visual storytelling, in that they let you infuse the image very strongly with a mood. In this
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PRODUCTION | BEH I ND HER EYES
We used many wide frames and they were so packed with detail, the gaze could really wander. In the close-ups, they revealed so much in the characters’ eyes
ABOVE Felix Wiedemann mans the Alexa LF with the Cooke S7/i 40mm T2.0, watching closely over Adele (Eve Hewson). Adele turns her own gaze to Louise (Simona Brown) and David (Tom Bateman) as the season progresses.
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BEH I ND HER EYES | PRODUCTION
To gain control, the crew created a sunlight effect, with an Arrimax 18K on a Genie boom, plus a rig of less powerful HMIs on a truss on the house’s garden side. “David’s office was a set build, including a translight to mimic the space outside the windows, space lights for ambient daylight and a 24K tungsten sunlight equivalent. At the institute, we just made the most of the rare Scottish sunlight, and having the characters all in white gave the perception of a brighter image. There was also a lot of vibrant green that was absent at the London locations,” Wiedemann explains. “Editing and sound design went a long way in communicating much of what the visuals left ambiguous, such as jumps in time in the case of the institute here, or mood elsewhere. Then, of course, there were elements of cinematography that we did use in those more traditional thriller- genre ways, such as camera movement.” BUILDING DREAMSCAPES Strewn among these many placid scenes – as far as looks go, at least – were a number of stylised moments. Unsurprisingly, these raised specific challenges. One such choice was a recurring voyeuristic angle, used less subtly as episodes went by and its significance was revealed. but how do you communicate that effectively? You can’t give it away too early, so it’s almost subconscious. It couldn’t be too jarring, but it couldn’t be lost on much of the audience, either,” Wiedemann says. “There was a lot of testing, but we settled on this high-angle shot that could move through the space when needed, “The script read ‘someone is watching’, zooming in on details of interest. We used a crane in a few cases, but mostly it was a dolly built up with pods. I was up there at about ceiling height and the key
“Just because the camera has a high pixel count, doesn’t necessarily mean it looks displeasingly sharp. It felt like a really true, lifelike representation and a way to draw the audience in. We used many wide frames and they were so packed with detail, the gaze could really wander. In the close-ups, they revealed so much in the characters’ eyes.” Throughout the series, lighting was also largely naturalistic – often jarringly so, given the genre convention. The practicalities of ensuring this varied across location interiors, exteriors and built sets. “Lighting was influenced by what we’d naturally expect from the location, light sources and time of day,” he says. “David and Adele’s home, for example, looks like a catalogue – which forms a nice juxtaposition thematically with what’s going on beneath the surface. That came down to allowing the windows to play and not stifling them.”
case, though, we had a stronger desire to leave the viewers free to draw their own conclusions about everything – where they are in the story and even genre, their character allegiances, their perspective on who’s manipulating who and beyond,” Wiedemann continues. “Erik Richter Strand, the director, was also enthusiastic about allowing the drama element of the series to play out. The emotional beats are just as real as the thrilling ones, so we didn’t want to create some sort of barrier between the audience and the characters with the look.” A large part of this clarity came down to thoroughly modern tools. Wiedemann put the Arri Alexa LF and Cooke S7/i lenses to work in an enjoyable combination. “Using most of that sizeable sensor in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with the spherical lenses and their full-frame coverage, really played its part in helping us achieve exactly what we wanted.
BELOW In some of the recurring
nightmare sequences, Wiedemann washed Louise (Simona Brown) in stark, red light. Some snippets were captured using a Phantom camera at 1000fps.
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PRODUCTION | BEH I ND HER EYES
IMAGES Each setting influenced lighting – David and Adele’s home resembled a catalogue, while London’s urban feel is embraced
Dreams and nightmares were another common thread through the show, and they offered a perfect opportunity to push the visuals into the extreme
grip, Elliott Polley, would wheel me around the room as I zoomed in on singles, pulled out to two shots, or took the frame wherever else we wanted.” Dreams and nightmares were another common thread through the show, and they offered a perfect opportunity to push the visuals into the extreme. Frightful moments were taken into horror territory, while the dreams offered moments of mild respite, albeit surreal. Wiedemann offers some insight: “Louise’s sequences in her mother’s home were a set build, which the team painted a monochrome, sand-grey colour. That immediately puts you in a strange space. Then, we flooded the whole set with a colour to heighten that. When the corridor and rooms began to burn, there was a mix of SFX and VFX alongside that lighting.” For the dreams outside Louise’s mother’s house by the pond, the crew used a real location, but again, some VFX extended the background into surreal rolling hills and too-pristine clouds. In fact, that was the only instance where Wiedemann and his team lit an outdoor daytime location, forming an idyllic summer look. “The closest collaboration between myself and the VFX team was in the creation of the shimmers,” continues Wiedemann, referencing the floating orbs of ‘soul’ light that make a late appearance in the show to spectacular and story-altering effect. “We had puppeteers with LED spheres on poles, flying through the house emitting light. To get the effect we needed, they were moving these orbs through space, creating shadows and casting hues on the walls.
Often, the puppeteers would have to be secured on the dolly, either side of camera. “Remotely controlled LED orbs were created by gaffer Chris Georgas, in different sizes and light outputs based on a given shot. Some were even attached to drones for the sequence where they fly across the fields surrounding the home. After that physical capture, the VFX team turned those orbs into the shimmers you see in the show.” Upon reflection, there was one key starting point for Wiedemann. “The series begins with a date between two young lovers that establishes a tone, but you are subtly taken elsewhere. Everything about the show truly evolves and it was important we let the viewer examine that. But all of that, for us, began with the idea of clarity.” BEHIND HER EYES IS NOW AVAILABLE ON NETFLIX
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A PIG’S LIFE Gunda is an astonishing documentary, employing careful filmmaking techniques to offer an intimate look at the lives of a sow and her piglets WORDS CHELSEA FEARNLEY / PICTURES ALT I TUDE I n many ways, Gunda is a remarkably simple 93-minute documentary. It follows the life of the eponymous pig, her newborn piglets and their farmyard companions. However, while director Victor Kossakovsky and DOP Egil Håskjold Larsen only shot six hours of footage, a tremendous amount of care went into capturing the personality and intellect of the animals. For example, the film’s black & white grading encourages viewers to rethink their perception of pigs. Larsen explains: “Without any colour, that postcard image of the pink pig, green grass and blue sky disappeared and brought about a new character – one that didn’t have so many connotations. It takes away the sensation that Gunda is anything less than an individual.” The decision to shoot Gunda in black & white was made very early on in prep, while Larsen was testing camera angles on his Leica M Monochrom. “I wasn’t trying to see if we should convey it in this style,” he says. “But when we looked at the digital stills, we noticed details that weren’t visible in the colour photographs. We hadn’t noticed Gunda’s eyelids or the different textures of her skin, as we were too concerned with looking at colour repetition. “It was a huge decision, because every photographer knows the best photos have an underlying sense of purpose – a hint the images were deliberately captured in a PRODUCTION | GUNDA
LEFT Larsen used a Panther dolly to hoist the camera up and down
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GUNDA | PRODUCTION
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PRODUCTION | GUNDA
particular way. Therefore, we made sure to compose the shots in black & white by tuning the monitors to reflect this.” ART, NOT JOURNALISM Gunda is a passion project, and one which stemmed from Kossakovsky’s own curiosity and sympathy towards animals – and pigs in particular. Larsen explains: “He spent most of his childhood in the countryside and away from people, so his best friend at the time was a piglet. Then, one Christmas, that piglet became the family’s dinner and it devastated Victor, who became Russia’s first vegetarian – or so he says!” But the film wasn’t borne out of activism. There’s no music, on-screen text or Attenborough-esque narration telling you how to live your life. It’s just an intimate window into the lives of animals. “His approach isn’t to lecture, but to visually represent something using the tools of cinema. He’s forcing the viewer to see things from a different perspective, while still enabling them to interpret it in their own way. For me, that’s what got me into making documentaries,” says Larsen. “However, the genre has suffered in recent years. It’s become less about the art and visual representation of the world we live in, and more about the journalism. It’s an important and huge topic, but is difficult to speak about in specific terms. Either we need to call what we’re creating by a different name, or we need to normalise documentaries that are more than just rhetoric.” Gunda doesn’t have a happy ending, but it leaves you with an important connection to the animals, just as you
ABOVE Gunda’s personality as a caring mother is developed throughout the documentary
would experience after watching a documentary about human beings.
were filmed at a closer range, reflecting the viewer’s growing familiarity with them. “They became more comfortable with us walking among them, so most of the second half of the film was done on a Steadicam, using either a 14mm or 32mm Arri Master Prime lens. The camera equipment took quite a beating here, but it didn’t matter. The most important aspect of creating this film was the distance and closeness we were able to develop.” The movie opens with Gunda lounging on a bed of hay, her body inside the enclosure and her head framed in the doorway. The shot is held long enough for you to admire the details and compositional symmetry, before a piglet the size of Gunda’s ear scrambles over her head and on to the hay. “We worked so hard to maintain the shots as long as possible,” says Larsen. “The ending is almost 14 minutes long, which is quite rare for a documentary. But it’s also interesting, because it immerses the viewer in that environment. The task is to ensure the footage is mesmerising, using dynamic camera movements to enhance the feeling that you, as a viewer, are spending time on the farm.” After 93 minutes in pig heaven, we can confirm that Larsen and his team passed with flying colours. WATCH GUNDA IN UK CINEMAS ON 11 JUNE
“After getting to know these characters, I understood they each had a personality, and a special way of treating each other. Gunda is a really caring and beautiful mother. If you manage to see some of that in the film, you realise how important it is to respect these animals – and also how insane it is that we do whatever we want to them, just because it’s beneficial to us as a species,” says Larsen. TACTILE CAMERA Kossakovsky found Gunda on a Norwegian farm not far from Oslo, on the first day of ‘casting’. Once she was in place, the crew constructed a replica of her enclosure, which allowed them to shoot from a distance to gain her respect – and that of her (soon to be born) piglets. Larsen explains: “We laid dolly track around her barn, which had modulated walls, so we could carefully track and crane the Arri Alexa Mini LF [paired with an Angénieux Optimo Style 25-250] from the outside looking in. It was a huge physical job, because we were always digging dolly track into the ground, so the camera was at the right height for the animals.” This more observational approach to filming the pigs at a distance was crucial, developing their characters throughout the documentary. As the pigs became accustomed to the crew’s presence, they
Most of the second half was done on a Steadicam using an Arri Master Prime lens
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PRODUCTION | CAPTURE
VIRTUAL HORIZONS Ever-advancing capture tools are merging on-set action and post-production VFX more than ever. We get the overview of modern innovations
Currently, there are limitations with pixel density, leaving options of a shallow depth-of-field and soft background, or a composite later on. It’s showing much promise across the board, but green screen remains the most viable option. Moreover, some of the same tracking tools are also being applied there. “It comes back to having a real-time position of the main camera,” Lawrence explains. “There have been cameras before with gyroscopic positional sensors, but there was never a significant outlet for it. Now, there are systems like Ncam that use that data to offer visualisation, meaning you can understand what’s on a green screen. “With the LED arrays, everyone can see what’s on them, but this does offer the ability to gauge the mood of a green screen scene. The DOP can light it beautifully, for example, thanks to this feedback. It’s becoming really critical for good filmcraft.” While this takes care of an actor’s surroundings, what about the actors themselves? Well, one development in performance capture is camera arrays. “You typically have a small process stage with an arcing array of five to seven movie cameras,” Lawrence tells us. “When your actors perform in there, it captures their faces around that arc, and we can solve that in a computer to create very high-fidelity
WORDS LEE RENWI CK / P I CTURES VAR I OUS
F ilmmaking technology is colliding in beautiful ways. Tools are being developed that alter the gamut of workflows (on set and in post), entirely new roles and processes are being devised, and new creative potential is being unlocked. Consider it a cinematic singularity. In our January issue, we explored HDR and its ability to combine cinematography and editing in ways previously unseen. Now, the word of the day is capture. It’s an area that’s seen innovation after innovation, and has been truly transformative for VFX. But how does that landscape look today? Hot off the back of an Oscar nod for his work on The ABOVE For The Midnight Sky, Chris Lawrence and the team captured Felicity Jones’ face using a camera array, then placed it on to a body double for moments that would have been physically impossible for her. Courtesy of Framestore
Midnight Sky , VFX supervisor at Framestore, Chris Lawrence, sheds some light. “One of the big recent breakthroughs is LED arrays,” he explains. Definition covered this topic from a DOP perspective in the January issue, but its use is evidently shaping production elsewhere, too. “It’s a technique that was really brought to the forefront on The Mandalorian , and one we implemented on The Midnight Sky . At its simplest, it could just be a photo on the screens, or it could be CGI or a set of plates you captured elsewhere,” Lawrence says. “What’s clever with the LED is that you can move the background through the illusion of parallax to create more depth. That happens by tracking the motion picture camera, typically with infrared motion capture cameras. You can place it at any depth, even one that’s further away than you’ve got the studio space for.”
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CAPTURE | PRODUCTION
camera to close the feedback loop, meaning directors can understand what the digital effects in their shots are going to be, while they’re shooting them. He explains: “More generally speaking, data acquisition removes the guesswork from VFX, which makes for a more faithful reproduction of whatever we’re looking at. Visual effects is like a magic trick – it works best when you can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.” Envisioning the dream, Lawrence surmises: “To me, it’s all about avoiding the green box paradigm, where you walk into a set and it’s a big, green stage. The lighting and other elements are very difficult to design in a way that integrates perfectly with the final results. But once they become something you can feed back to the DOP and director on the day, all of these technologies will allow us to do that.”
the cameras used in these arrays, it’s a case of ‘chasing resolution’. Often, this means high-res, large-sensor cinema cameras. When a computer is faced with the challenge of solving the positions of every facial detail, every little helps. So, the question is, to what degree are these new capture technologies shaping the VFX process, and what does the future hold? “The first thing we do for VFX on a shoot is define where the camera is in space. The infrared cameras are excellent at that, because they work quite accurately, even in real time. When those aren’t needed, there are other ways of matching the camera’s position – even ones as simple as a drawing with scale measurements and some supporting Lidar survey data,” he explains. “I just got a new iPhone and I’m determining whether its capabilities could supersede some of those things. An app that composites elements into augmented reality, like showing you how new tiles might look on your bathroom wall, is still virtual effects. Are we at the level of replacing old methods with new ones like this? Not just yet, but we’re getting there, even with consumer technology.” Lawrence adds: “It depends on your needs, as well. You may not require incredibly accurate tracking data for a very basic locked-off shot, and the LED array may not be the right technology for adding a fully digital character to a scene. But if you have a person in a motion-capture suit, being tracked in real time, you might be able to show your director what that looks like on a laptop, in the context of a fully lit film set.” For Lawrence, the holy grail of capture is when there’s enough feedback from the LEFT For Rebellion Studios’ Percival, DOP Eben Bolter shot against a more detailed LED array. The short film is believed to be the first ‘all virtual’ production. Courtesy of Eben Bolter
INTELLIGENT GLASS How are cameras and lenses being designed for on-set processes, and how are those processes shaping the products? To discover more, we spoke to an engineer of Cooke’s /i technology, Patricia Greene. “With the exception of the miniS4/i range, these lenses offer two means of communication: one through the lens mount and one through a side port. These channels can operate independently. “Within the dynamic data, there’s continual output from the lens’ on-board gyro, accelerometer and magnetometer sensors. This information can act as an adjunct and fill small gaps in other camera tracking methods, like rapid camera movement. We’re told that having that available is becoming very desirable to VFX teams. “Another significant step is using geometric, shading and distortion data to map our lenses. Where this would have been done by VFX teams manually, it’s readily available through the lens or via the cloud. This is in place for all spherical lenses and will soon be rolled out to our anamorphic lenses, which pose more challenges to VFX teams due to their more significant characteristics. We hope it’s feeding into creative processes in that way.”
tracking data. From that, we create digital doubles that can be seen from any angle.” This technique is utilised in cases of physical limitations. On the set of The Midnight Sky , it was used to place a heavily pregnant Felicity Jones’ head on a body double’s torso when she wasn’t able to be suspended on wires. “Think of anything where you can’t conceive of physically shooting, but want the actor’s performance at the heart of it,” Lawrence says. However, this isn’t going to overtake more traditional forms of production any time soon. “It won’t be the case that every actor stands in a black room and performs to an array – because nuances such as matching eyelines are very difficult,” he emphasises. Essentially, when it comes to
ABOVE The LED array on the set of The Midnight Sky was used in conjunction with infrared camera tracking to create a seemingly endless horizon
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ADVERTI SEMENT FEATURE | SAMSUNG
IMAGES The Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch’s durable build is just as important as its nimble speeds
It takes a special kind of portable drive to service a complete production single-handedly, but as filmmaker Neil Horsman discovered, the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch has got exactly what it takes
“We’ve been producing content for a number of South East England’s historic high streets,” he says. “For this part of the project, we had a team of three on location, shooting across three cameras: a cinema camera for primary use, a drone for aerial footage and a mirrorless body for B-roll. The portable drive impressed us all throughout the entire shoot, as well as post-production.” FAST TRANSFER There are few things worse than undue delays on location. When enduring technical issues, teams can merely sit and wait, with precious shooting time
“I OPERATE FREELANCE when required, but I launched my umbrella company ten years ago, so that’s how I often operate on a lot of productions,” explains Neil Horsman. “My background is in live television production, spending many of my early years in studios. As a company, we cover everything, from corporate and commercial videos, to social media content and documentary work. The storytelling side of filmmaking is what I love the most.” On a recent commission for a public body, Horsman eagerly welcomed the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch as a new addition to his – and his team’s – kit bag.
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SAMSUNG | ADVERTI SEMENT FEATURE
IMAGES The portable drive vastly enhanced workflow on set, enabling swift playback to review shots
them on a laptop provides reassurance that you’ve got the right shots.” The portable drive’s performance left Horsman in no doubt that it made workflow more efficient. “Playback was perfectly smooth, even using a standard laptop. Being an external device, the teammembers could do this across multiple machines, too. We did what we needed to do, then continued on with the project,” he enthuses. With USB 3.2 Gen 2 connectivity and internal PCIe NVMe technology, the portable drive achieves read and write speeds of up to 1000 and 1050MB/s, respectively. That’s reliable speed.” Horsman also highlights the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch’s physical attributes. “Its durability is reassuring, because on run-and-gun shoots, jumping in and out of the car from location to location, kit gets thrown around or dropped. Knowing a portable drive can withstand that without corrupting, instils that confidence you want in kit.” Size also proved a crucial factor. “It’s tiny and doesn’t require external power, so you can slip the drive into your pocket, or a small slot in your camera bag. On those busier shoots, the less you have to carry, the better.” MAKING THE GRADE P ost-production is often seen as an entirely distinct part of the creative process. However, applying this portable drive’s power, moving from shoot to post, doesn’t have to mean different kit. “Following those shoot days, we’ve been editing off the portable drive. It performs outstandingly as a scratch disk,” says Horsman. “There’s no perceivable difference to the internal drive of my highly featured PC, but having that power in a
portable package gives it a real edge. Plus, there’s no buffering, even in demanding moments, such as colour grading. “Taking it through an entire production has highlighted the portable device’s strengths. Ordinarily, we’d work with hard drives in the field, moving the data for a second time on to our PCs, before editing. That’s one less step to consider with the portable drive, and it’s a big one. Transferring 2TB of data could mean a three-hour wait using our previous drives, but with the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch it was immediate.” Another unique feature is its fingerprint scanner, based around secure AES 256-bit encryption. This proved a winner in Horsman’s eyes. “We’ve never used a storage device with tech like that,” he explains. “Usually, you either need additional software to protect files, or you have to accept that anyone could access them. For larger shoots with more crew members, or where sensitive information is shared, restricting access to myself, the producer, the data wrangler and an optional fourth member in such a convenient way is really useful.” Overall, Horsman was mightily impressed with the enabling portable drive. “I didn’t find a single negative issue with the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch. The portable drive handled
“The portable drive handled
everything thrown at it – without even breaking a sweat” flying by. That’s because every link in the cinematographer’s figurative kit chain is an essential one. And, in Horsman’s experience, the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch proved a very strong link. “Shooting in 4K across three cameras, the volume of data builds up quickly. We were capturing about 300GB per location, so handling that quickly was imperative.” For the team, swiftly storing that amount of footage on to a portable drive was vital for two reasons. First, it provided a secure backup, but it also meant the footage could be reviewed. The varied media used in the cameras was transferred simply on to the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch via a card reader. “The backups were a necessity, but the on-set playback was particularly useful with the drone footage,” Horsman explains. “You can see a live feed of the footage as you’re shooting it, but it’s easy to miss details on a small display. Viewing
everything we could throw at it – without even breaking a sweat.”
MORE INFORMATION: samsung.com/uk/memory-storage/
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GEAR | LENS SPEC I AL
With the push for higher-resolution cameras, using vintage optics seems counterintuitive. But there are many advantages to rehousing older optics – not least their unique character and flare
t would probably be quite difficult to establish who first realised that lenses
from ancient Asahi Takumars, Soviet-era Russian lenses with all their optical extravagance, and Canon and Nikon’s greats of the pre- automation era, to current designs. Rehousing, though, is not cheap; often not cheaper than a good PL mount lens. Anyone contemplating it needs to make careful decisions. Matthew Duclos, of the eponymous Los Angeles lens company, suggests that the drive for old, quirky lenses is because people want to be noticed. “Digital cinematography has really lowered the point of entry for so many, it’s difficult to stand out when you don’t necessarily have a unique paintbrush. The lenses have become those paintbrushes.” Duclos’ company has been helping to provide those defining characteristics for a while. “One of the earliest rehousings was the Tokina 11-16mm,” he recalls. “The customer just wanted to be able to use it, full manual, for cinema. We did the conversion, designing all the bits. Then we realised there might be a market. We made 20 more and they sold like hot cakes... 50 more. There have been projects that start as a one-off and snowball.” Since then, Duclos has rehoused lenses including the Zeiss Contax, Leica R and Nikon Ai-S, as well as a huge amount of custom work.” If there’s an incumbent on the eastern side of the Atlantic, it is True Lens Services, based in Leicester. Managing director, Gavin Whitehurst, echoes Duclos’ comments about the search for something unique, but is keen to highlight the drive for large,
built for stills could work quite well for movies, too. There’s long been some crossover between the two – though for much of filmmaking history, it wasn’t particularly easy to try. Before the current popularity of modifying and rebuilding, lenses for popular stills mounts – such as Canon FD or EF, Pentax K and Nikon F – could not be easily adapted to fit most movie cameras. It was certainly done in special- purpose applications. At least some of the motion-control camerawork for the original Star Wars used remounted Leica glass, because it could cover the large VistaVision negative – an engineering feat that’s recently become more convenient than ever. Lens manufacturers repackaged their own stills designs at source, too. Sigma has done well with that approach recently, and Canon’s K35 range, renowned for films as prominent as Aliens , famously used glass elements identical to those in some of its FD mount stills lenses. Even so, the idea of rebuilding stills lenses for movie work has exploded over the past few years. Almost everything’s been rehoused, “IF YOU BUY A VINTAGE LENS, YOU’VE GOT DIFFERENT QUALITIES”
WORDS PHIL RHODES / PICTURES TLS & DUCLOS
BELOW Vintage lenses can offer cinematographers an unusual style, thanks to their aberrations and vignetting
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full-frame sensors. “If you look at the cost of a new full-frame lens, it’s high, especially to get something interesting,” he says. “If you’re looking at the low end, they’re all the same. Sharp, nothing too interesting. But if you buy a vintage lens and get it rehoused, you’ve got certain different qualities.” While manufacturers such as Cooke sometimes reissue past greats, Whitehurst confirms the ‘special sauce’ of old lenses is simply impossible today. “Some of the ingredients that went into the glass back then can’t be used, like lead, which they say helps flare. There are certain things that can’t go into the glass now to replicate that look. A lot of the older lenses – if they have a lot of thorium – are quite radioactive, some more than others. It’s at a fairly low level, but that’s why they stopped. A lot of the Super Baltars are somewhat radioactive. It depends on the focal length and what was used.” TLS’s rehousing portfolio includes Canon FD and K35s, Zeiss B Speeds, Bausch & Lomb Super Baltars, Kowa Cine Prominars
ABOVE Many old lenses can’t be recreated, because their glass contains lead or radioactive thorium!
and more. Perhaps the company’s most storied work involves the Cooke Speed Panchros, of which Whitehurst estimates TLS has handled over 500 sets. There is, he promises, more to come. “The Mamiya 645s are close, we’re about to start rehousing those shortly.” He adds: “We’re looking at an anamorphic ourselves. We have our own front element specifically designed for us. We’re halfway through the prototyping stage – a 1.65:1 that covers full-frame.” Whitehurst’s intention is to base TLS’s anamorphic on a vintage spherical prime, like celebrated anamorphics of yesteryear. “It doesn’t matter whose they are, especially the older stuff – it’s very rarely an entirely in-house design. When you have the Cineovision, the Nipponscopes, they all have a base
lens in the back, whether it’s a K35 like some of the Todd-AOs, a Canon FD or Nikons.” The rehousing process varies depending on the donor lens. Often, the only parts left of the original lens are the glass elements and metal tubes that hold them in their groups. Duclos confirms that “some are relatively simple – maybe a dozen pieces to the rehousing”. However, some are far more complex and require finesse to get the parts working correctly and feeling good – the number of moving parts depends on the lens. “Some use floating groups; they’ll have one, two or three parts for
WHAT’S POSSIBLE – AND WHAT ISN’T TLS’s Gavin Whitehurst confirms the original design of some stills lenses can make rehousing options impractical, often because crucial parts of the lens would simply intersect with the lens mount. He explains: “We’re looking at the Canon Rangefinders, and PL is a bit too difficult. We’re going to be doing LPL mount, because you’ve got that little extra bit of room. There’s a larger diameter, which means you can have glass that fits inside the mount.”
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discuss P+S without mentioning the Technovision 1.5:1 and Evolution 2:1 anamorphics, which are based on historic designs and very much in the spirit of the greats. Aspects that the original designer of a lens would have considered a fault are now a matter of opinion, says Duclos. “The contrast, the veiling flare, focus fall-off, the quality of the bokeh… all those characteristics make a desirable lens. One customer may scoff at the Helios: they want the sharpest lens, the least flare, the least aberration. Thirty seconds later we get another call: ‘I want flares, I want softness.’ There’s no such thing as a bad lens.” It’s something Duclos has been hammering into people for the past five years. “If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. Doesn’t matter what brand is engraved on the side of it, if there’s a really low-priced lens and you like the way it looks, then use it, great. There’s nothing wrong with it!”
LEFT TLS rehouses lenses such as Bausch & Lomb Super Baltars, but it is also looking to develop its own anamorphic lens
“A LOT OF THE OLDER LENSES ARE QUITE RADIOACTIVE”
have too much of a protrusion that vignettes when you’re at infinity.” Rehousing – by any company – is inevitably an expensive process, though there are alternatives. Duclos tells us that the term ‘Cine-Mod’ was originated by his company, although it’s now become somewhat genericised. The result of a Cine-Mod is more elementary than a full rehousing – the lens still looks like a stills lens – but adds focus and iris gearing, consistent front diameter, and mount conversion, which is likely more capable than just putting an adapter on the existing lens. It’s a less thoroughbred option, perhaps, but it is much more affordable. The opposite end of the price- performance scale is probably something like P+S Technik’s rehousing of Kowa Anamorphics, a design from the late seventies. P+S also rehoused Leica R, Canon FD and K35s, although the huge current enthusiasm for anamorphic, as well as their surprisingly modest size and light weight, makes the Kowas popular. It wouldn’t be complete to
focus. Sometimes they’re moving in opposite directions, sometimes they’re moving in the same direction, but at different rates.” Beyond the optical qualities, rehousing also helps much-loved classics fulfil modern expectations of ease and convenience. A set of lenses in 2021 might be expected to have the same front diameter and positioning on the focus and iris gearing, as well as smart industrial design. Improvements might also include well-spaced markings that don’t bunch up towards the far end of the focus range. The achievability of this, Duclos says, depends on the focus mech used. “If it’s cam-based, we can put the focus marks wherever we want. If it’s a helix system, we’d figure out where the lens focuses at infinity, and how far we want to move it forward to achieve minimum focus. Sometimes we stick with the original manufacturer’s intention, but sometimes we can stretch it for better close focus, sacrificing some image quality. We don’t want to make the housing too large or
COST CONSIDERATIONS A good rehousing, Matthew Duclos says, is not a low-cost option. “We get requests like: ‘Hey, can you rehouse this Canon 24-70?’ When we ask why, they say: ‘Because it’s cheap, light and small, and I can’t afford the cine version.’ But by the time you’re done, you could have had a Zeiss cine lens with a warranty and factory support. Someone trying to rehouse a lens for budget reasons is a red flag. If you can’t afford a cine lens, then you can’t afford for a lens to be rehoused.”
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Is it really possible for lenses to define certain moods or genres? We delve into their genetic makeups to find out THE LENS LOOK
WORDS PH I L RHODES / P I CTURES VAR IOUS
IMAGE The look of Game of Thrones differs entirely with Altered Carbon – but Cooke lenses shot both works
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“IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE TWO MORE DIFFERENT LOOKS THAN GAME OF THRONES AND ALTERED CARBON, YET COOKE LENSES CAPTURED BOTH”
and historical environments. The characteristics of a lens are clearly far from prescriptive – and neither is the technology. With its Anamorphic /i line, offered in a modified variant called Special Flair, Cooke is not the only company to have deliberately modified lenses to form ‘character’. Sigma’s conventional FF High Speed Prime line began to appear in PL, EF and E-mount in 2017. These full-frame, high-speed primes fulfilled a requirement for large format coverage before that need had fully matured. The minimalistic industrial design went down well – it’s also hard to dislike the speed: T2 in even a 2:1-ratio zoom is rare, especially for the money. The conventional Sigma primes are fairly conservative, leaning towards centre sharpness and low chromatic aberration. Claudio Miranda ASC famously chose them for parts of Top Gun: Maverick – yet to be seen by most of the world. Conversely, that neutrality is enthusiastically abandoned in the Classic line, which emerged in early 2020 with fewer coatings to provoke extra flare. Given the decline in global production coinciding with their release, perhaps the best example of Classic lenses in action is the short, Operator , photographed by Timur Civan. The flares turn point sources into rings, and soft lights into veiling that picks up the colour of the light source. In accompanying interviews, Civan
or people who sometimes seem most interested in chasing the technical ideals
AND ZOOMS Cinema zooms emerged in the fifties with the Pan Cinor. They’ve spent most of the last 70 years being maligned for an undesirable kind of softness. The extra parts required to alter focal length, without changing focus distance, inevitably cost us something in terms of speed, size, weight and price, even if modern designs avoid sacrificing too much. No single company has been entirely responsible for improvement in zooms, though Fujifilm’s offering is common, even on productions headlining a well-known set of primes. Often – very often, actually – quiet conversations at the back of camera trucks reveal the extent that some productions are shot on Fujinon zooms. With Fujinon now offering the Premista range, covering larger formats, and the high-speed Premier lenses to complement the compact, yet slower Cabrio series, the only objection is that quality zooms are so good, they may demand filtering for personality.
of resolution and sharpness, camera people often seem, in practice, to have a soft spot for the deliberately imperfect. But discussing what that means for productions and their stories quickly becomes difficult, because opinion comes in many shades. Consider Cooke. The company needs almost no introduction; it’s rare for a business to have an entire look named after itself. Words like ‘gentle’ or ‘warm’ are often used, and they seem to agree, describing a “subtle, smooth rendering that provides dimensionality and high contrast”. For that reason, the Cooke S4 is an understandable choice for the period drama Belle , photographed by Ben Smithard BSC, chronicling the life of a young woman in 1770s England. But it’s not quite that easy. The S4 series was also used by Enrique Chediak ASC on The Maze Runner , a dystopian science fiction depicting chases through an imposing concrete labyrinth, by cybernetically altered monsters. That’s not the only example. It’s hard to imagine two more different looks than Game of Thrones , with its pseudo-historical fantasy ethos, and Altered Carbon , which resembles a Blade Runner sequel. Yet, Cooke lenses captured both. With this in mind, it’s little surprise to see the brand deployed on Westworld ’s sci-fi
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LEFT Leica’s Summilux-C range is fast, but not so sharp. It was deployed to great acclaim on Stranger Things
describes how the veiling caused by heavy backlight makes a noticeable difference to effective exposure. Aware of the need to depart from the original design’s neutrality, Sigma has engineered something bold and expressive. Another company operating successfully in stills and motion, Leica’s earliest association with motion-picture technology began in 1913, when the company produced possibly the first compact stills camera using 35mm film – at the time, intended for work with moving images. This established the 24x36mm stills frame we continue to use. Lately, its Summilux and Summicron ranges – each projecting an image circle that generously covers Super 35 cameras – have found success in cine formats, too. Again, it’s hard to pin any particular lens to a certain style of production. The Summilux-C range is generally faster, but not quite as
“THE BLACKWING7 SERIES HAS EVEN SEEN ACTION IN A CARAVAGGIO-INSPIRED SEQUENCE FOR DIOR”
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straight, transitional and extreme – each denoting a different level of specialness. Demonstration footage shows pronounced rings and sunspots, featuring deep blue and pale amber. These might suit anything, from action movies to car commercials. The Blackwing7 series has even seen action in a Caravaggio-inspired sequence for Dior’s 2021 collection, photographed by Benoît Delhomme AFC. It’s also been used on a short for Thom Yorke’s album, Anima , photographed by Darius Khondji AFC ASC on the Alexa 65. In the end, it becomes clear why high-end lenses are invariably rented. Various companies offer lenses with interchangeable elements, allowing variability in the look a set can achieve – but it’s hard to imagine any one set of these big-ticket items proving ideal for every job. With so many layers of opinion involved, so few fixed points of creative reference and infinite arguments, it makes sense to have a few options ready in the back pocket.
sharp. They’ve been deployed on TV series, including Stranger Things (with a big team of DPs) set in the early eighties, and Mindhunter , credited to Christopher Probst ASC and Erik Messerschmidt ASC, which is set in the late seventies. On that basis, we might be forgiven for assuming the lenses evoke a slightly period look, though modern-day action thriller Gemini Man , with cinematography by Dion Beebe ACS ASC, also involved Summilux-C – as did Avengers: Infinity War , the work of Trent Opaloch. The Summicron lenses are generally slower, but sharper. Even so, they were used in tandem with Panavision’s deliberately historical PVintage lenses on The Magicians – and again on Thirteen Reasons Why , using the 1.3:1 anamorphic Hawk V-Lite Vintage’74 lenses. If there were more consistency in the world, we might expect to see faster, softer lenses matched with anamorphics – the opposite to what we see here. Still, on any production crediting several types of glass, it can be difficult to determine what was used where and why. Any number of special circumstances may have arisen during time on set. Certain companies build lenses to order; while many service centres offering rehousing have a custom shop, where wealthy individuals might pursue new designs. Yet, it’s not commonplace. Some businesses require a down payment in the high four figures even to begin work. It’s an option at Duclos, as well as True Lens Services.
Another provider is IB/E, based in Freyung, Germany. The company is famous for filters and other lens-adjacent gear. Notably, it was involved in Angénieux’s Optimo Prime series. IB/E also has a set of macro-capable primes called Raptor, available in focal lengths from 60 to 180mm. With true, cinema-oriented macro lenses rare in the first place, it’s somewhat surprising that the Raptors also cover full-frame in their native configuration. IB/E is also known for manufacturing converters. It’s produced two devices, providing 0.7x or 2x optical conversions to either double, or reduce, the effective focal length of the four Raptors, consequently changing exposure and coverage. The resulting combinations are hugely flexible, although it’s not quite clear if macro – with its typically very shallow depth-of-field – and full-frame can be combined without risking the focus puller’s sanity. Still, anyone shooting a high-end watch, jewellery commercial, or even wine poured on a motion- control robot will find something to like here. As useful as macro is, perhaps IB/E’s magnum opus is the Blackwing7 lens series, custom-built for Tribe7. Founded by Bradford Young ASC and lens specialist Neil Fanthom, Tribe7 clearly wanted to create something with options. The lenses are, according to the company, “based on designs from the early twentieth century”, coming in three variations. These are called
ABOVE On Thirteen Reasons Why, Summicron lenses worked in tandem with Panavision’s PVintage glass
THE RAGGED EDGE Optical engineers who sweated bullets to reduce spherical aberration might be a little chagrined to find that filter manufacturers have put similar efforts into the exact opposite. Designs such as Vantage’s squeeze dioptres are, as the name suggests, a dioptre, but with the centre area ground and polished to optical flatness – that means the change in focus exists only at the edges of frame. The complete set includes nine lenses, with up to +3 dioptre and three sizes of clear centre area. For even more dramatic effects, consider the Clairmont Squishy Lens. The glass performs in exactly the way it sounds. It can be varied on-shot using a joystick to alter the degree of, well, squish. Plenty of effects are available, from almost nothing, to a completely defocused frame. It’s not subtle, as the Vantage dioptres can be, but it certainly is flexible.
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