SEPTEMBER 2021 | DEFINITIONMAGAZINE.COM
The driving forces behind the evolution of virtual production technology
Don’t shoot the messenger Wireless video transmitters that can go the distance
DOPs favour an intimate camera in Swan Song and It’s a Sin to engage with the narrative of LGBTQ+ rights
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Production 06 THE SHOW MUST GO ON
What to expect from this month’s Cine Gear Expo.
08 SMALL-TOWN BOY
Chasing the sun and getting up close and personal with the actors in Swan Song.
41 THE NEW STAR ON SET Production mixers and manufacturers reveal the latest tech in audio. 46 CAMERAWORK UNPLUGGED Free up your trainees from cable bashing, with reliable, low-latency wireless video. 53 BIGGER BIT BUCKETS Take away the pain of IT by choosing the right storage solution.
H ello and welcome to a bumper issue of Definition – our biggest since the pandemic hit. Perhaps there’s something in the air? Love is the noun typically used here, and we’re certainly feeling it on the team, now that life feels almost back to normal. That’s why we’ve got two production stories covering different kinds of love. The DOPs on It’s a Sin and Swan Song conducted with great care, craft and technical insight to engage audiences with the narrative of LGBTQ+ rights and deserve the coverage – especially since this is the issue that goes to Cine Gear Expo in LA. It’s been two years since the last show, but Juliane Grosso, chief executive and director, anticipates a great turnout. And while tech is at the core of its existence, it’s the schmoozing that people have missed. We can’t wait to see you – our readers and advertisers – and give thanks (and love) for the ongoing support of Definition , through what has no doubt been a difficult time for all. DEPUTY EDITOR Chelsea Fearnley P.S. – Big shout out to Emma Di'luorio, our talented designer, who has given Definition a fresh lease of life with a gorgeous new look.
16 IT’S A JOY
David Katznelson’s unique insight on crafting the vibrancy and heartache of Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin .
Industry 27 MOVIE MAGIC
58 MIGHTY AND POWERFUL
How democracy in virtual production is helping evolve the technology. 34 GOING THE STRETCH What do anamorphic lenses offer to the world of television drama?
We review Sandisk’s G-RAID Shuttle 8. 63 CAMERA LISTINGS The camera bodies
revolutionising digital images.
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Cover image Money Heist | © Netflix 2021
3. SEPTEMBER 2021
MONEY HEIST ON THE COVER .
A WORLD OF ITS OWN Money Heist is shot in 7K on a Red Helium sensor and mastered in 4K for Netflix
ON THE COVER Money Heist INNOVATIVE STORYTELLING T his month’s cover image is taken from Netflix’s Money Heist – a widely entertaining collection of true-crime stories that falls
values. More than that, it’s earned the respect of industry manufacturers like Red, whose VP Aaron Jones was all ears to DOP Migue Amoedo’s technological demands. “At present, we’re shooting a Red Helium 8K that has two prototypes fitted inside the camera. We try to put into working images the crazy things that Álex Pina [series creator, director and producer] may write – and technology is never enough. The story we’re telling is new, so we have no choice but to innovate,” says Amoedo. “But I have to stop to think about the luxury of what an international breakthrough like Money Heist has meant for me and my crew – manufacturers are listening to us.”
firmly into ‘you couldn’t make this up’ territory. In forensic detail, Season 5 uses recreations to recall three robberies, interviewing characters on both sides of the law, alongside archive news footage. Each tale is split over two episodes, with one building up to the crime, while the second details the downfall of those involved. While still a cult concern in the UK, this Spanish thriller is the streaming service’s most popular foreign show – earning it an increased budget that has enabled ever-more lavish production
05. SEPTEMBER 2021
INDUS TRY. CINE GEAR EXPO
The show must go on
Our exclusive preview of what to expect from this year’s Cine Gear Expo in LA
WORDS. Chelsea Fearnley
ONES TO WATCH IN LIGHTING Quasar Science
FILMGEAR FilmGear’s RGB Maxibrutes bring the punch of a Brute floodlight, with the versatility of FilmGear’s specialised 4-in- 1 RGBW LED chips. Each of the 4, 6, 9, or 12 LED lampheads output full spectrum white light (2700K-10,000K) and full spectrum RGB, boasting incredible accuracy, with CRI and TLCI over 95. Each lamphead’s colour can be individually fine-tuned using the CCT, HSI and GEL modes, while intensity is precisely controlled through the five preset dimming curves via the intuitive onboard menu. The RGB Maxibrute hosts a wide array of wireless control options, including built-in wireless DMX and USB. The lampheads come equipped with 23° lenses, with external diffusers that widen the angle to 32°/44°, making it a great solution for lighting large areas in any colour with accuracy.
Quasar Science is excited to showcase the full potential of the newly updated Rainbow (R2) and Double Rainbow (RR) Linear LED Lights. Both lights keep Quasar’s commitment to colour integrity, while introducing advances in flexibility and network control. The slimline R2 offers a single row of bright RGBX light, and super- slow dimming control down to 0.1% in Low Output Mode. The RR expands those capabilities into a new realm with two parallel rows of RGBX, providing more output and double the effects realism. Both lights house a full suite of wired and wireless connection protocols, like DMX, CRMX, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, sACN and Art-Net, as well as a full manual interface – no external transmitters or data boxes are necessary to connect. The RR and R2 come with the new Ossium Mounting System, which adapts to many hardware accessories to ease rigging workflow.
C ine Gear Expo will be opening at the Los Angeles Convention Center from 24-25 September 2021. This much-loved event offers the film community an opportunity to meet, learn and experience the newest art, techniques and technology – live – and will be taking place for the first time in over two years. The downtown LA location is very different to the cosy vibes of the Paramount Studios backlot, but it is the area’s most technologically advanced green indoor/outdoor venue, with soaring ceilings and bright, airy spaces – and is the perfect locale for the event in a time when technology is soaring forward. Before the show, we caught up with chief executive and director Juliane Grosso, who was able to give us the lowdown on some of the events taking place. These include presentations from Blackmagic, exclusive insight from the International Cinematographers Guild on the topic of camera prep, and Cine Gear Expo’s very own lighting special. “We’ve been running the lighting masterclass for over 15 years and it’s always a sell-out event,” says Grosso. “Participants this year include DOPs Matthew Libatique ( Black Swan ), Shane Hurlbut ( Terminator Salvation ) and Autumn Durald ( Palo Alto ).” As for new technology, she hints: “Lenses will dominate – and lighting is always changing. Watch this space.” READY TO GO Juliane Grosso is excited to be welcoming back the general public to the Cine Gear Expo
SUMOLIGHT Sumolight is presenting the Sumosky, a new Interactive Lighting System that bridges the gap between classic lighting and dynamic LED volume. With advances in VFX, the Sumosky is the answer for an instant, expandable digital backdrop display, saving time and labour costs. It simply rolls out of a compact rolling case and can be hung in minutes. The Sumosky system has been utilised and proven on large-scale feature films and TV productions globally, and is available for rent worldwide.
A CHANGE OF SCENERY Cine Gear Expo will take place at the LA Convention Center this year
DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor Introducing a new generation of fast editing by combining the cut page with a custom edit keyboard.
Intelligent Edit Modes Cut page editing functions are intelligent and take advantage of the speed of a keyboard. They use the ‘smart indicator’ in the timeline to work out where to insert, so you don’t always need to place in or out points to do an edit! Each time you edit, the cut page saves time by staying in the source tape. It’s much faster as you can keep browsing, throwing clips into the timeline! Sync Bin Multi-cam Editing The sync bin lets you do multi-cam editing by searching through all your media and showing you any matching clips to use as cutaways. It makes multi-cam editing fast! You can select cameras simply by pressing the number on the keyboard. Or you can hold down the camera number while spinning the search dial to paint the cutaway into the timeline directly! It’s so fast! DaVinci Resolve 17 ������������������������������������������������������������� Free DaVinci Resolve Studio 17 ������������������������������������������� £225 * DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor ����������������������������������� £225 *
DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor is designed in conjunction with the cut page to make editing dramatically faster. You get physical controls that make the experience faster than software only editing. The machined metal search dial with soft rubber coating allows accurate search and positioning of the timeline. Plus trim keys allow the search dial to be used for live trimming, which is faster and more accurate! Search Dial Control The search dial is very large and has a weighted feel so it can be spun fast to move up and down the timeline quickly. However the search dial is more than this, simply press one of the trim buttons and it transforms into a large adjustment knob for real time, precise trimming! You can select various trim modes with your left hand and adjust the trim with your right. Source Tape for Scrolling Clips In the old days, editing using videotape had the advantage of all media being on a tape that could be scrolled up and down so you could see all your shots! Now the cut page has a modern version of the videotape called ‘source tape’. Simply push the source button and use the search dial to scroll through all the media in your project! Plus, the current clip is highlighted live in the bin!
Free DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor with purchase of DaVinci Resolve Studio17
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PRODUC T I ON . SWAN SONG
Jackson Warner Lewis talks chasing the sun and getting up close and personal with the actors on the set of Swan Song
WORDS. Emily Williamson IMAGES. Jackson Warner Lewis
A film full of heart, dripping with wit and laced with glitz, Swan Song is, on the surface, a tale about a man from Sandusky, Ohio – home town to the director Todd Stephens. It comes as a spiritual successor to Stephens‘ Edge of Seventeen, and Gypsy 83 , which all share the setting. Our protagonist, Patrick “Mr Pat” Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), is based on a real person who was something of an idol for the director in his younger days. The film itself largely takes place over a single day, chronicling his voyage for one last hairdressing gig for the funeral of his friend, Rita (Linda Evans). DOP Jackson Warner Lewis, who describes the film as a “senior citizen coming-of-age story”, was cognisant of how personal this film would be to the director, as well as the people he met during production. They told him tales of Mr Pat and the local gay bar, the Universal Fruit and Nut Company. SANDUSKY CENTRE-STAGE Swan Song opens with Mr Pat, clad in fur and adorned in finery, sashaying through stage curtains to raucous applause, but empty seats. “I’m Mr Pat and I’m back,” he declares, self-assured. This glamorous glimpse into his heyday immediately dissipates when he wakes up in a much more dour setting – a nursing home. The cold, bleak locale provides the metric to which we compare the warmer, more
SWAN SONG PRODUC T I ON .
09. SEPTEMBER 2021
SWAN SONG PRODUC T I ON .
“This intimacy between DOP and actor bleeds through the screen, helping the audience feel they are personally privy to the film’s events”
TEXTURE Close-ups give an insight into Mr Pat’s journey (right), as do the bleaker colours on screen (below)
revisit the cemetery, the funeral home, the gay bar and town fountain, while Mr Pat becomes more the person he once was. Warner Lewis describes how the delightfully simple, but effective montage shots were born from a desire to get back to basics in response to the film’s budget. ”We approached it as, ‘how do we follow him around?’ Money was pretty slim, so we tried to get a little bit pedestrian with it. We see him travelling right to left and left to right in different sequences.” As a result, we drink in the sights of the town, as well as Kier’s masterful performance – notably, his dandy and dainty gait. These long shots are beautifully balanced with a variety of close-ups of Kier and the rest of the cast, providing the film with a personal, authentic viewing experience. Warner Lewis worked with his versatile Arri Alexa Mini throughout the production. The compact, lightweight camera body facilitated him ditching the
vibrant settings within the film. “We wanted to start there, very desaturated and everything drained of life and colour – there’s not much going on, and as he gets out and starts to explore, the saturation comes up more and more, our lights get prettier and more colourful,” the DOP explains. The narrative is driven by Mr Pat’s feelings, his interactions with people along the way, and reactions to a town undergoing extensive renovations. “He goes through all these changes, not only in the gay community and learning what it‘s like to be in this new age of queer and dating, but rediscovering his town and how much it‘s changed as well,” says Warner Lewis. As such, the film employs a plethora of wide shots, inviting the viewer to experience Sandusky, along with our protagonist. The voyage is often painful and sometimes moves in circles. We visit and
tripod at the director’s request. Though it still presented a significant physical challenge, it was worth it to have an immense sense of control over the camera and develop a close dynamic with the cast. Warner Lewis explains: “Todd wanted it to be handheld, but it was physically demanding on me. Working with Udo Kier in that way, having the camera right in his face – and living in those close-ups a lot of the time – brought a great relationship between me, him and the other actors. I could see how they felt with where my placement was, and if I needed to adjust.” This intimacy between DOP and actor bleeds through the screen, helping the audience feel they are personally privy to the film’s events. As a significant portion of the narrative occurs outside throughout the day, the crew were faced with the usual obstacles of an unpredictable environment. “It was a heatwave when we were shooting
11. SEPTEMBER 2021
PRODUC T I ON . SWAN SONG
and super-windy, so the crew didn’t feel comfortable flying any sort of gear above the actors.” The natural lighting meant constructing shots and angles creatively to maintain consistency, while battling the whims of the Ohio heat. “We had to let this sun dance around and try to augment the camera to find the best angle with the light. I was kind of overwhelmed by how difficult it is working with exterior like that.” This grappling with the elements was not in vain, as the sun’s rays have been manipulated skilfully. LIFE IN COLOUR It’s no coincidence that one could easily mistake the gorgeously grainy, muted look of the film for the distinct vintage aesthetic of 16mm, as this would have been first choice. “Todd wanted to shoot on 16mm, but because of our budget and the location, getting dailies and shipping everything would have been more trouble and money than we had at the time. So, we opted for digital, and I tried to give him sort of a grainy digital look.” Warner Lewis worked with Stephens to find an alternate solution to achieve a soft, dreamy feel, combining intimate knowledge of his camera with the right lens. “I felt comfortable with vintage, so we used Super Baltar lenses. They’re creamy and warm – and we thought we might be able to get a very soft look out of them. Then, by pushing the sensor to a higher ISO, we landed the filmic look we were going for.” This approach results in an extremely convincing imitation and enhances the colour palette – particularly the greens and pinks of Mr Pat’s clothing, and blue of his eyes, through which we experience this cinematic world. It also feels appropriately timeless for a narrative surrounding LGBTQ+ history – ever- relevant and important to remember. The climax of Mr Pat’s story occurs when he attends a drag show at his former spot, the Universal Fruit and Nut Company. When we visit earlier in the film – seeing him dejected, drinking alone and chatting to the young bartender – it is already a stark contrast to the understated palette of the wider world of the film. The venue is flooded with pink light behind Mr Pat, and we start to get a sense of this place as an alternate world, but at this point, it’s relatively empty and still. “It's a very lonely, dark bar, but there's a little “One could easily mistake the gorgeously grainy, muted look of the film for the aesthetic of 16mm”
INSIDE AND OUT The natural elements and a heatwave provided numerous challenges for the crew, but ultimately helped to deliver an authentic atmosphere (top). Vintage Super Baltar lenses also created a warm and creamy look for the audience
a particular feeling that many LGBTQ+ viewers can identify with. It’s a reminder of the first time they found comfort and safety among their community, while watching the protagonist reconnect with his. “I forgot how much I’d missed this,” Mr Pat remarks. “Our people.” Though he ironically laments that nobody will remember him, Swan Song provides a portrait of Mr Pat for posterity. It is a love letter to small-town gays and queer forefathers whose mere existence paved the way for the community as it is today. The cinematic choices allow us to engage with the larger narrative of LGBTQ+ rights on a personal level, while providing an intimate look into the life of a local icon – flawed, but deeply loved.
bit of colour and you get the idea that life happens here,” Warner Lewis explains. It completely transforms when we return later, however. It’s bursting with vibrancy when Robyn’s Dancing On My Own ignites the party. Warner Lewis worked with production designer Kassandra DeAngelis to recreate the iconic venue. “Kassandra built a stage, and we used overhead lighting to get some motion, and hung a disco ball. Then, we just brought in our own LED fixtures and danced those around for different shots.” The atmosphere is intoxicating. There we are, among the crowd, watching the lights flare and looking up at Mr Pat strutting his stuff with a feather boa. It can’t be understated how well this scene captures
ADVERT I SEMENT FE ATURE . SAMSUNG
FINDING CREATIVE FREEDOM Adventure filmmaker Rachel Sarah is used to travelling to wild, distant reaches. But this month, she discovers the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch can take her work further than ever before
SAMSUNG ADVERT I SEMENT FE ATURE .
THE ICE MILE Working on location in a van, away from the luxuries of the studio, requires kit with an impressive size to performance ratio. On that front, the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch is a perfect travel companion
“MY FILM WORK is a mix of documentaries, short narrative films and commercial projects. Whatever the reason for shooting, though, the subject matter is usually centred around the outdoors and adventure sports,” explains Rachel Sarah. “I also try to infuse ethics that are meaningful to me, like an emphasis on mental health or the environment.” Working across every stage of production, from writing to the edit, it’s safe to say Sarah has a broad skill set, and requires professional tools to match. On location of The Ice Mile , which documents the challenging journey of a long-distance wild swim, Sarah found just that in the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch. “I used the portable drive as my primary backup,” she says. “I can live and work in my van for weeks at a time, so storage is a crucial part of the process for me. I’ve also had some bad experiences with corrupted drives, so I’m more vigilant than most.” Needless to say, the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch didn’t let Sarah down. She was also a big fan of its efficiency, with massive top read and write speeds of 1050MB/s and 1000 MB/s, respectively. “With my particular workflow, I’m usually left waiting for my files to transfer before I can get some sleep!” Sarah laughs. “During this shoot, I was able to upload footage to my laptop and review it with my swimmer, Becca, five minutes later. In other cases, I could do this with a client, which would be immensely helpful. “I also edit in the van, with external storage as a scratch disk to assist my laptop. Like most filmmakers, I use high- resolution, high bit rate footage. It’s hard to go back when you’ve seen how good it looks. In this case, without even making proxies, I was playing 4K 100fps clips in my editing software very smoothly.” Naturally, keeping her kitbag light is another key consideration for Sarah, with
“The Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch is about eight times smaller than my current hard drives”
impression is that the drive is revolutionary. “Its physical features are ideal for my needs, but that’s just one side of things. Most of all, I find it so enabling. When you get stressed by slow or unreliable storage, it can completely throw you out of the creative process. To have something that performs exactly as you want, so you can just sit down and work – I don’t think people realise how much that means. “I’ve been meaning to get an SSD like this for a while, but kept putting it off, thinking my hard drives were good enough. Now I’ve actually seen the difference first- hand, I realise how much I need one!”
limited space in her home on wheels and much time spent on foot. “The Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch is about eight times smaller than my current hard drives, and much lighter. I’m often carrying a heavy rope, metal trad climbing tools, then a 70-200mm lens. You feel like your back could break! “It’s one thing to carry any old kit, but it’s another to say, ‘This kit is highly portable and allows me to do a professional job.’ You learn quickly when to leave an extra lens at home, but good storage is essential.” Despite its palm-sized design and a depth of just 8mm, the Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch is a rugged device, capable of withstanding falls up to 2m. Safety comes on another front, too, with AES 256-bit encryption, unlocked via password or a quick and secure fingerprint scanner. As her shoot comes to an end and she prepares to hit the road, Sarah’s lasting
SMALL, BUT MIGHTY The Samsung Portable SSD T7 Touch boasts a secure fingerprint scanner in a compact body
15. SEPTEMBER 2021
PRODUC T I ON . IT ’S A SIN
IT ’S A SIN PRODUC T I ON .
IT’S A JOY
DOP David Katznelson on crafting the vibrancy and heartache of the 1980s gay community for It’s a Sin
WORDS. Chelsea Fearnley IMAGES. Channel 4 & Olly Pillon
BETWEEN THE SHEETS Nathaniel Curtis and Olly Alexander as Ash Mukherjee and Ritchie Tozer – in a rather intimate setting
17. SEPTEMBER 2021
IT ’S A SIN PRODUC T I ON .
R ussell T Davies’ highly acclaimed drama, It’s a Sin , is something of a companion piece to his groundbreaking classic Queer as Folk – a gorgeous fantasy, designed to counteract the historic prejudice surrounding gay urban life. What it did not do was look at the darkness out of which such freedoms emerged, and which shadowed the lives of its party people. In short, it did not deal with the effects of Aids on the gay community. It’s a Sin does. Without losing any of Davies’ gusto, joy or subtlety, the show follows the lives of three young gay men – Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin – who move to London and evolve into each other’s logical family, alongside Ritchie’s university best friend, Jill. But the group
the eyes of people who lost so many friends was a heartbreaking twist on my experience. Still, It’s a Sin is not about death, but about life – and although it’s a tear-jerker, there’s a note of positivity that shines through Davies’ writing.” That positivity was also Davies’ direction for the visuals. The series shuns typical depictions of gloomy Thatcherite London, with colour and verve that is a pertinent reflection of the screenwriter’s own experiences from that time. Katznelson recalls Davies talking about the era with joy: “He spoke of The Pink Palace [the raucous new houseshare of Ritchie and his friends] and the fun he had at parties. But more than that, he said the era was about being free – life was finally being lived by the LGBTQ+ community.” Embodying this memory, Katznelson’s movement of the camera was unmotivated – and he would often shoot handheld to capture the vibrancy of the young characters, with quick push-ins and
arrive in 1981, just as the first reports of a new disease are making their way across the Atlantic. As the series navigates through the decade, never shying away from the gut-wrenching horrors of the Aids crisis, it has plenty of room for joy, too. A balance that is not only crucial in providing a spoonful of sugar to make the historical medicine go down, but to demonstrate that not all was lost when “It was one of those scripts I couldn’t put down,” says DOP David Katznelson, as he reminisces about his time on the production. “I was a teenager during the eighties – and although I remember the Aids crisis well, revisiting it through this disease descended. THROUGH A LENS
A DIFFERENT SIDE Taking place in eighties London, the creators were keen to show the lively side of a time often portrayed as drab
Did you know? Russell T Davies sought a gay director for the project, to make sure that the camera was focusing on the right things. He didn’t want it to be remote, but intimate. Peter Hoar was invited to the role – and he chose David Katznelson as his DOP.
19. SEPTEMBER 2021
IT ’S A SIN PRODUC T I ON .
STARS IN THEIR EYES Ritchie (left) and Colin (below) move to London. DOP David Katznelson (bottom right) and B Cam focus puller Mike Richardson (bottom left) on set
whip pans to enhance the energy. But this wasn’t the tune throughout, because two very distinct worlds inhabit this warm, yet harrowing series. When we first meet the messy-haired and grinning Ritchie, the main character, he is at home with his old-fashioned parents on the Isle of Wight – and although he waves goodbye to them to begin studying in London, they feature throughout. “When we observe his parents, the camera is motivated. It’s always static – either on a remote head or dolly,” says Katznelson. The DOP also went with two types of lens to distinguish between the different elements of the story. He used Cooke S6/i anamorphic lenses for the more conventional scenes of Ritchie’s parents – and a Canon K35 spherical lens for his life in London. Katznelson explains: “Anamorphic lenses have slightly more imperfections, and because of the depth- of-field, you’re prohibited from getting close to the actors. Spherical lenses allow you to be much closer to the action – and were perfect for capturing the sparkle of the characters’ lives.” However, there were times when their worlds collided, and it always prompted a discussion about how the camera should move – and which lens to use, based on where the crew wanted the focus of the scene to lie. “For example, it was important that the scenes with Ritchie, his friends, and his parents at the hospital were from his perspective – he was still full of life and unapologetic about his illness. But, when his parents drag him back to the Isle of Wight and have more control over
how the disease should be managed, it’s from their perspective.” ALL NATURAL Katznelson shot on the Sony Venice – a camera chosen specifically for its Dual Base ISO. He asserts, “The 2500 ISO setting means you can shoot in very low light, which was key for me, since we worked from September to February with a lot of day scenes. This essentially granted me 1520 minutes of extra shooting time per day.” The Venice also has the ability to be split in two, giving filmmakers more agility. This is called Rialto mode, and it’s fashioned using a cable that fits between the sensor part of the camera and the recording part. “It makes it very small. I was able to get it into tight spaces
“The 2500 ISO setting means you can shoot in very low light... this essentially granted me 1520 minutes of extra shooting time per day”
21. SEPTEMBER 2021
PRODUC T I ON . IT ’S A SIN
to create some interesting angles with it. We had two cameras: one in its normal configuration, and one in Rialto mode,” says Katznelson. The usual trials and tribulations of working on a winter shoot were made more problematic by the number of different locations and sets involved – a total of 175 backdrops had to be dressed and lit. This contributed immensely to the lengthy lead time. “Davies wrote these incredible monologues for Ritchie, where he would be constantly on the move, travelling between different locations as he speaks. And although they were only written as one scene, occupying less than a page of script, we were shooting in ten or 12 places – at bars, nightclubs or on the street. They’d take several hours to do because every set had to be dressed and lit, so it was quite dense writing in that sense.” Lighting wasn’t marked, but naturalistic. According to Katznelson: “Although I’m pleased It’s a Sin is being recognised for its cinematography, I didn’t want it to distract from the show’s emotional content. I kept it naturalistic for this reason, but also because it’s my own interpretation of the world. I really like natural light, and mostly try to recreate that with Tungsten lights like Octodome and Rifa – but it’s always as
soft as possible, with extra diffusion close to the actors.” A PHOTO FINISH For Katznelson, It’s a Sin was one of the most joyful productions he’s worked on. But his proudest moment was sitting down with his wife to watch the rough cut before the grade. “She laughed and cried more than I ever remember her doing for any film or TV series we have watched together,” he says. In the grade, the show was given an HDR finish by Jodie Davidson at Technicolor. The first session took place during lockdown, and was done remotely, with Katznelson on his iPad at home and Davidson in a Soho studio. “Within the first session, she completely gained my trust. Having never worked together before, or met in person, we graded five episodes over eight weeks.” When the first lockdown eased in the UK, and Katznelson could see the image in HDR for the first time at the studio, he was blown away. “It looked like I had imagined, but better – all thanks to Davidson and her brilliant eye for detail, colour and contrast.” Although Davies never voiced it explicitly, Katznelson says It’s a Sin is a story the series writer never wanted to tell, until now. And it might be coincidental that it aired during a time of Covid-19, but it certainly takes on special resonance. Viewers will be able to empathise with the fear and uncertainty – and responses, both rational and irrational – to the emergence of a new disease. David Katznelson is repped by Casarotto
CAMARADERIE From left to right: director Peter Hoar, DOP David Katznelson and gaffer Martin Taylor
Production Fact File
LOCATION The series involved
175 different locations and set builds
CAST The cast is comprised entirely of queer actors, by design
SCHEDULE The shoot was long – taking 70 days from start to finish
“I really like natural light, and mostly try to recreate that with Tungsten lights like Octodome and Rifa – but it’s always as soft as possible”
ADVERT I SEMENT FE ATURE . GHOSTFRAME
EFFICIENCY IN VOLUMES
CAPITALISING ON LIMITED time is everything in the world of film. In many cases, if we could capture what’s needed within a day and get out, we would. We’d miss the magic of the process, but we’re talking logistics here. Speak to those who use GhostFrame’s innovative technology, and they’ll tell you colossal levels of efficiency aren’t a pipe dream as you may expect. To hit major productions in a big way, the tech’s potential is clearly vast – and it’s developed by AGS, Megapixel VR and ROE Visual. Three well- established names on the LED volume front. In the simplest terms, it works to serve all levels of production directly. Here’s how. EVERYTHING, ALL AT ONCE The obvious pros of LED volume versus green screen include real lighting, true reflections, a natural space for performers and a reduced
LED green screen replacements are barely through their infancy – but already, GhostFrame is revolutionising the technique in big ways. Here’s a glimpse into the future of production
GHOSTFRAME ADVERT I SEMENT FE ATURE .
Tried and tested “Having worked extensively with Helios and the Megapixel VR team, we recognise the huge benefits GhostFrame offers for film studios and XR stages working with LED volumes,” says Philip Galler of Lux Machina. He’s one of the lucky few to get hands-on with the technology during the development phase. “DOPs and producers will be able to reduce time and cost constraints when using GhostFrame in combination with our camera workflows. We’re excited to be a launch partner for this technology and can’t wait to deploy it in the field.” workarounds in post – even working with four 4K inputs. GhostFrame is based on ROE Visual LED panels, Megapixel VR’s HELIOS LED Processing Platform, and a compact TrackMen camera that attaches to your preferred package. It’s a simple way to achieve excellence. Next time you face a virtual production, consider pushing the boundaries of efficiency. With GhostFrame, the impossible is possible.
A SAFE BET GhostFrame is expanding the already impressive creative potential of virtual production, while reducing time spent on-set – and in post-production. Ingenious design is giving them the edge
Through the same means, camera tracking issues are also eliminated. GhostFrame tracking adds a hidden pattern, unseen in footage. Tracking is possible – and accurate – in environments that marker- based optical systems fail in, like near-total LED surrounding. Naturally, there’s zero installation time. Multiple cameras can be tracked independently, each capturing a different background. Whether using two unique backgrounds, or employing multi-perspective camera movements that require a different response from your chosen backdrop, the shot can be secured in a single take. In total, up to four different hidden feeds can be recorded – but the creative applications are virtually limitless. TECHNICAL SUPPORT The advanced capabilities of GhostFrame are only made possible through the system’s ingenious design. Enjoy a zero-latency environment, with less than a frame of delay and easy synchronisation with a range of industry-standard cameras. The processing power makes it possible to implement the GhostFrame features in the actual LED panel. There’s no huge demand elsewhere, no requirement for upstream
VISUALISATION With multiple sources set to virtually anything, you can choose what’s seen by the naked eye – while multiple
options are captured in-camera, ready to be implemented later
“Enjoy a zero-latency environment, with less than a frame of delay” need for VFX. Other issues arise – new hasn’t replaced old yet – but that could be changing. GhostFrame takes this technology a few steps further, displaying more than just a video on the LED displays. ‘Hidden’ feeds are invisible to the naked eye, but are picked up in-camera. The chroma function allows the use of virtual background and chromakey simultaneously, for example. This degree of flexibility in post is unparalleled – the on-set experience can go exactly to plan.
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VIRTUAL PRODUCTION INDUS TRY.
Democracy in virtual production is causing an evolution in the technology. We look at how these new tools work
VIRTUAL The Mo-Sys Startracker is suitable for AR and VR. It was used on the BBC’s 2020 series of Strictly Come Dancing
WORDS. Chelsea Fearnley
A s VFX becomes a greater part of the industry, virtual production attempts to fix the growing divide between what filmmakers can see through the camera on-set, and what they have to imagine will be added digitally many months later. But the technology isn’t new. It’s something that’s been utilised for a long time, and can even be traced as far back as the 1999 production of The Lord of the Rings . However, because it’s expensive and still needs improvement, there’s been a monopoly on who gets to use it. In the movie business, there’s only so much money for R&D, since there are so few people who need it. 3D is one such
WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD In its simplest form, virtual production is the ability to mix live footage and computer graphics at once, to get real- time feedback and make on-set decisions about VFX and animation. It gets a bit more complex with VR, because the content is almost entirely computer generated. You can pick up a tree and move it, grab the sun and change the light, become a character and give a different performance. The benefits of virtual production are unending. What it’s really good at – and helped pummel it into the mainstream – is how it allows for less travel and lodging for crew, because you can create any
example of an emerging technology that could only reach so far without proper funding, because it was such a pain to use. But the rise in consumer technology is making it possible to fix these problems. When we think about how much time people spend on their phones and laptops, you start to realise they’re living two lives: the physical one we’ve always known, and the digital one inside our devices. Now, all the world’s biggest companies are trying to marry those two worlds together – and it’s going to be enormous for VFX in the film industry. It means virtual production will finally become democratised.
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DIGITAL, BUT PRACTICAL The Midnight Sky used a ‘pop-up’ LED volume stage, thanks to ILM’s StageCraft technology
environment you want and have it in one place: an invaluable perk during a worldwide lockdown. It also helps put the tools of storytelling back into the hands of filmmakers, rather than an army of technicians. Using a combination of LED walls (and ceilings) with camera tracking systems and games engines to render content for playing not only in real-time, but in dynamic synchronicity with the camera’s viewpoint, filmmakers can stage scenes with greater realism. They can finally shake off that “we’ll fix it in post” mentality. But before we start heralding it as the future, let’s first look at what’s been done already – and what needs to improve. LIGHTING COMPLEXITIES For HBO comedy-thriller Run , the production built two cars, outfitted to resemble an Amtrak carriage, on a sound stage in Toronto. These rested on airbags that could simulate movement; instead of LEDs, a series of 81in 4K TV monitors were mounted on a truss outside each train window, displaying footage pre- shot by Stargate from cameras fixed to a train travelling across the US. It was a smaller-scale, less expensive version of Lucasfilm’s production of The Mandalorian – for Season 1, it used a virtual set that was 75ft in diameter, 21ft high, and also had a ceiling composed of LEDs – but the principal was still the same. “It brings the location to production, rather than moving an entire cast and crew to often hard-to-access locations,” says DOP Matthew Clark. Any light that played on the actors’ faces, or on surfaces in the train, had to be synchronised to the illumination outside the windows, otherwise the effect wouldn’t have worked. Clark says, “It was important to line up the picture so, when you’re standing in the car, your perspective of the train tracks and power
“Currently, the industry is using
live event technology. It needs to transition to fit-for-purpose, cinematic LED technology”
lines are realistic and continuous. If the angle of the TV screen is off by just a few degrees, suddenly the wires of a telegraph pole would be askew. When we needed to turn the car around to shoot from another angle, the grips could flip all the monitors around the exact angle.” Although LED lighting has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, output image quality from the panels still has some way to go. “Currently, the industry is using live event technology. It needs to transition to fit-for-purpose, cinematic LED technology,” explains Michael Geissler, CEO of Mo-Sys. Without cinematic LED technology, it’s not possible to light the actors and sets using panels alone – at least not well. Arri Rental’s Andrew Prior recalls a scene from Marvel’s Loki , where the eponymous lead, and another character, find themselves stuck on a hazardous, purple planet, with meteors crashing into it from all kinds of directions. He affirms: “You could tell it was a volume behind them, but it was done very well. The average viewer wouldn’t have known. What was interesting, however,
NEW TRICKS DOP Eben Bolter used virtual production techniques for his short film Percival, shot at the UK’s Rebellion Studios
VIRTUAL PRODUCTION INDUS TRY.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE Season 1 of The Mandalorian used a virtual set – it was 75ft in diameter and 21ft high, with an LED ceiling
was a wide shot of them sitting on a rock that looked all wrong. The purple light reflecting on their faces made their skin tones jaundiced – so even though the colour reflections were accurate [and not green from chroma key], it’s a clear example of lighting quality not being quite where it needs to.” This is something manufacturers will have to figure out – and Mo-Sys’ Cinematic XR initiative is aimed at driving change in the image quality of LED panels. Purpose-built for cinematic and broadcast use, and designed by expert engineers, the solution improves final-pixel Unreal Engine image quality. Geissler explains: “There are two extremes of Unreal graphics quality. In final-pixel LED volume shoots, you sacrifice Unreal image quality for immediacy. That is, you can’t turn the Unreal quality dials up without dropping below a real-time frame rate. At the other end of the scale, post-production compositing enables non-real-time rendering with all the Unreal quality dials at maximum, but at the expense of time and cost. Mo-Sys’ new NearTime
rendering combines the immediacy of final pixels with graphics quality approaching offline compositing, stretching rendering time in a patented and automated workflow.” Another thing manufacturers need to keep in mind is that bigger is no longer better. LED displays are measured in pixel pitches (the distance in millimetres from the centre of one pixel to the centre of the adjacent pixel), and they need to be narrow enough for the images to be photographed. In our industry, panels with a pixel pitch of less than 4mm are known as ‘fine-pitch displays’, and displays with a pitch of less than 2.5mm are called ‘super fine-pitch displays’. From a marketing perspective, fine-pitch displays are indisputably the focal point of many vendors’ products, like Video Screen Services’ Black Pearl display, and boast vibrant colours, clear images and sufficient brightness. By contrast, On-Set Facilities, a rental company in the UK offering LED screens and monitors, advises that the bigger the pixel, the more light it outputs onto the actors. Therefore, very fine pixel pitches
may not be optimum for filming – but until the image quality of these panels improves, a lower output of beauty lighting is probably for the best. CAMERA TRACKING Another essential component is the ability to have the LED volume tracked to the camera movement by a wireless sensor. This means, as the DOP frames the shot on the LED wall, it adjusts to the camera’s perspective – and that’s no small feat, as it requires minimal to zero latency in order to work. Most tracking systems rely
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Extreme LED ROE Visual, AGS and Megapixel VR have come together to launch a new product that pushes the possibilities of LED technology to the extreme. The new GhostFrame solution can display more than one image feed on an LED panel with different inputs that are invisible to the human eye, but visible to the camera. And it is aimed at film, broadcast and event production teams working on virtual productions. Creating multiple and hidden sources in one video feed gives production teams the freedom to operate without restrictions – reducing installation and production time, while allowing for real-time post-production in a near-zero latency environment. The PX1 LED timing controller, an advanced version of what the industry refers to as a receiver card, has a lot of processing power. This makes it possible to implement the GhostFrame features within the LED panel, not the processor, so that you can take maximum advantage of overall system capacity. The system works intuitively. In the processor, a user has control over which parts to enable, thereby reducing the risk for artifacts; it can assure perfect alignment between panel refresh rate and the camera shutter. The system offers four separate 4K inputs, and you can use several feeds in combination with tracking patterns and/or chroma key colours still – and hide these. Another advantage is that there is no need to pre-render or use special hardware to composite a combined feed.
turned on. The Startracker is best for a static studio, as the IR markers shouldn’t be moved often – and was used at MTV’s EMA Awards and on one of the most sophisticated virtual production shoots attempted by Netflix. Ncam’s inside-out tracking system succeeds where others struggle – with daylight, markerless, wireless tracking. Using two sensors on wide-angle lenses mounted underneath the camera lens, the software understands the 3D space, placing virtual elements in the scene. Ncam can integrate wherever you are shooting, with no need to prep a space – but beyond this ease of set-up, the primary benefit of the system is its ability to track outdoors. It’s been used on everything, from Star Wars to the Super Bowl. We haven’t even got to graphics cards yet, and the industry’s growing need for real-time ray tracing to increase image quality (maybe we’ll do that next issue), let alone what AI can do for virtual production (maybe the issue after). Nonetheless, progress is being made – virtual production has become democratised, and is 100% here to stay.
on a series of cameras following infrared trackers, either inside-out (sensor mounted on the camera viewing trackers around the set) or outside-in (sensors mounted on the set viewing trackers on the camera). There are benefits to both, with varying impacts on how you would build a set. Optitrack’s outside-in tracking method has been used for an incredible number of applications, and it is the system of choice for The Mandalorian on its virtual production stage. Traditionally used for character mocap, this method was also used for the recent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare ’s performance capture. The solution uses sensors arranged around a stage, fitted with IR LEDs shining outwards. These track reflective silver orbs – IR markers – around the stage and, for our purposes, on the camera. While not as useful for live stage applications given the necessary visible markers, the accuracy is ideal for film applications, where they can either be hidden off- screen or replaced in post. Other go-to technologies include tracking systems from Mo-Sys and Ncam. The Startracker from Mo-Sys is an inside- out system, with a sensor and IR lights shining from the camera position to track IR markers on either the floor, or ceiling, of the studio. It is flexible; the trackers can be placed with no regard to location or spacing, even above a lighting grid – and after calibration, everything is set, and the system starts automatically when
ON THE SPOT Ncam’s Mk2 Camera Bar can be mounted on a camera, so that all tracking and lens data is computed locally
“Optitrack’s outside- in tracking method has been used for an incredible number of applications”
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