Sony F65 4K CineAlta Cameras used to shoot latest Jim Loach movie in Australia
SYDNEY, 21 November 2014: During 2013, Denson Baker ACS shot the New Zealand-based independent feature film The Dark Horse with a Sony F65 4K CineAlta™ camera. Partly because of that experience and partly due to his collaboration and shared vision with director Jim Loach, the decision was made to use the F65 on Loach’s next movie in Australia.
“I shot The Dark Horse on the F65 and had a great experience with the camera on that film,” Baker explained. “I wasn’t the only one who was really happy with the look we achieved. Park Road Post Production had also been really enthusiastic about working with the F65 images. I was fortunate on The Dark Horse to do extensive comparison tests in pre-production with three other cameras and a variety of lenses and filters. The F65 stood out above the other cameras and that, followed by 33 days of principal photography, meant I knew the camera very well and what it was capable of by the time it came to talk cameras for Jim's picture.”
When Loach and Baker started discussing the approach they agreed that shooting on film was out of the question. The pair had shot their previous feature on 35mm film. For the new movie, not having access to a lab in Australia and the fact that they were shooting in remote locations with a fast turnaround made film unfeasible.
“Jim, like myself, is a film purist,” Baker continued. “Production flew me to Sydney to shoot a series of camera tests that I could screen for Jim when he arrived in Australia. I knew the F65 was the way to go, so for me it was about looking at lens and filter combinations. I tested pretty much every lens set that I could get my hands on and I shot tests that I knew would reflect the lighting style, framing and lensing that would excite Jim. I then took the tests to South Australia where Marty Pepper from Kojo put a juicy grade on all the tests and we put them up on the big screen in 4K at the SAFC. When Jim walked in we had a nice frame up on the screen and he immediately said, “Whoa! That looks great doesn’t it!” and with that he was convinced that the F65 was going to deliver cinematic, big screen-worthy images. We chose to shoot with a set of Leica Summicron-C T2.0 lenses and also a set of Kowa Anamorphics for flashback sequences. I also used a variety of filters to achieve a subtle warming, textured feel which also added a bit of filmic halation to the highlights.”
Having read the script, Baker knew that the greatest challenge on this movie would be dealing with the amount of night scenes, particularly in the desert. As a result Baker and Loach chose to shoot most of these scenes with a day-for-night technique that uses the light of the sun to emulate that of the moon and then replace the skies with stars, creating a night look in broad daylight.
“This worked well until we had some tough weather and a fly plague to contend with which made the shoot very challenging,” Baker added. “To achieve the day-for-night in the Flinders Ranges and in open desert plains, I needed a format that would capture a very wide latitude of exposure. I wanted to be able to control the shadow detail in the harsh Australian sun and the day-for-night was never going to work if we had blown out highlights. That’s where the F65 came in as it gave me the ability to capture a lot of detail in a wide range of exposure, darker skin tones, dark and moody interiors, hot backlit exteriors, and some big night exterior set-ups. Production designer Felicity Abbott and I had talked at great length about textures and a subtle colour palette throughout the film. This meant we needed a camera that would capture those textures in a pleasant way with lots of clean detail but still have a softness and non-digital quality to it. It is something which is hard to put into words but you really feel it when you see the images from the F65 projected on a 40 foot screen. I am also a fan of the mechanical shutter on the F65 as it gives a much more smooth and natural motion blur, particularly with fast motion action or a hand held shot.”
The shoot was fast paced and very involved, two factors that Baker not only had to deal with but to embrace if he was going to get the look and feel he wanted. Again Baker used the F65 to its full capacity to help him with the speed of the shoot.
“A big plus for me is the integrated ND filter wheel,” he added. “It allows for incredibly quick changes if I want to adjust for exposure between takes or want to quickly alter the depth of field of a shot. When the actors are primed and ready to shoot, the last thing you want to do is halt production while you swap out a filter. The F65 lets you do it with the tap of a button and a flick of the jog wheel. I also used the iPad app which allowed for very quick changes to camera settings and remote operation.”
In pre-production Kojo’s Marty Pepper and the “A camera” team of Jules Wurm and Maxx Corkindale set up two separate LUTs for the production. One was a general LUT which Baker determined would best reflect the look of the final grade and the other was a DAY 4 NITE LUT. The latter was incredibly useful, enabling Baker to shoot a number of tests before arriving at the best way to achieve the look he wanted.
“This way everyone on set could get a sense of the final look of those scenes while we where shooting them in broad daylight,” Baker explained. I found that our general LUT wasn’t always the best choice for all lighting situations and turned more to the REC 709 (800%) setting to get a truer sense of how the images where looking. I find it is good to be judging your pictures with a consistent LUT and monitoring set-up and it took us a few days to get our OLED monitors showing us a true representation of what was being captured. It felt great when we had calibrated everything in pre-production – cameras, monitors, LUTs, the DIT’s workflow and the rushes screening room all the way through to the edit suite monitors. Then we had a situation where what Jim and I were looking at on set is exactly what we saw projected in rushes and what the editor was looking at in their suite. It took a while to get to that point but when we did it gave us a confidence that allowed us to focus on the creative and think less about the technical concerns of cinematography.”
Baker tested the F65 camera in both RAW SQ and RAW Lite. When Kojo put both images side by side, zoomed in and were able to pull a clean key of blue skies equally with both, he knew they could shoot the film in RAW Lite which is nearly a quarter of the file size of RAW SQ with a negligible visual difference. The movie was then shot in 4K with DIT Ian Routledge creating rushes for editorial, Loach, Baker and the producers all with the same LUT.
Baker was keen to stress the uniqueness of the movie and why this meant the choice of camera was even more important than usual, adding “This film is different to Jim’s and my previous work, it has a lot going on visually and thematically. We have moody, intimate interiors, epic big scope exteriors, crane shots, hand held action, delicate and subtle camera moves, a number of VFX sequences, deserts, vineyards, car rigs, go-cart rigs and helicopters. We got to use the F65 on all set-ups and sometimes found ourselves using different camera bodies with specialist camera mounts when we went hand held or for tight car interiors. We shot with two F65 cameras (Miles Rowland was our B-Camera/2nd Unit DP) and the cameras performed faultlessly. We only had one issue in the final week of shooting when our A-camera went down due to a communication issue between the camera head and the recorder mounted to it but that was resolved the next day. We shot aerials though the Flinders Ranges with Aerial Film Australia in their ShotOver K1 gimbal mount. It is a beautiful set-up and it allowed us to use the F65 with a 24-290mm zoom, our same filter package and control the camera from a laptop. Being able to swing ND filters while in the air was a massive bonus as we could shoot an afternoon backlit landscape and swing the rear ND filters out one by one as we went into dusk.”
“We shot a wide variety of locations, under a wide variety of conditions starting in the Barrosa Valley, in vineyards and on dirt roads, and then we spent two weeks in the Adelaide Studios shooting interiors. From there we moved to the Flinders Ranges for day and night exteriors where we had some big set-ups and some long drives into gorges and open plains. When we started our day-for-night shooting in Parachilna we encountered what many were calling the worse fly plague in over 20 years. It became near impossible to shoot as the cast would have so many flies on their faces and up their noses during a take. So to overcome them we built a makeshift studio in a marquee at the Prairie Hotel and shot our mid shots and close-ups in a contained environment and our wide shots on location with a bit of fly removal in post. This part of the shoot was pretty grueling but great fun and the landscape out there is absolutely stunning. All in all, this was a great shoot and although intense at times that didn’t stop our F65s performing brilliantly, giving us amazing images.”
For post production Baker and Loach used Met Film Post in London. Data was backed-up initially on set and depending on the location conditions, further backup and transcoding was undertaken at base camp with custom LUTs being applied in Resolve. Editorial used Avid HD DNX 185 material to maximise the detail in the image due to the challenging day-for-night work that would be undertaken. Noise and other details were not compressed out or into the editorial images so that quick and efficient assessment of the footage could be made without always having to look into the RAW. The film was cut in Avid and preconforms of various VFX sequences were split off early on in the editing process to allow VFX work to commence.
The grade on the movie was carried out by Senior Colorist and Online Editor at Met Film Post, Mat Troughton who said, “The grade was completed from the RAW Lite data in Baselight. We worked from an S-Log2 base, debayering from the 4K RAW data into the 2K distribution format that would form our DSM. We worked in P3 RGB colour space, relying on Baselight’s excellent integrated colour management to allow perceptually identical versions for the Rec709 broadcast version. From day one I was impressed with how much of the latitude of the F65 camera sat within the S-Log curve. I was surprised at how rarely I had to produce split exposure composites – going into the RAW and altering the exposure indexes for especially bright or dark parts of the scenes – then comping them in. This especially so given the huge exposure ranges present in a landscape like Australia. From the dark oppressive, shuttered interior of the family's house, to the bright skies and parched sands of the outback – the camera never once gave out in detail or noise. Rarely would we be in a position where a creative choice to bring out detail in the shadows or highlights would be thwarted by having too much noise or not enough latitude. That’s as much a result of Denson’s cinematography, but the F65 really felt like we were free to do as we wished, never being trapped by an overcast take or a chance highlight as the sun returned.”
Whilst completing the grade Troughton saw that the day-for-night portions of the film relied heavily on maintaining detail across the characters’ faces, whilst holding a full range within the sky and clouds that, if clipped at all, would ruin the day-for-night effect and make it obvious something was amiss.
Troughton continued, “Whilst a lot of cameras have the range to do this – the F65 managed to keep a very natural tone curve in both regions for us – avoiding the sometimes unnatural effects seen in skin and sky as things get pushed. The encoding of the Lite content provided clean key lines even as we found ourselves having to pull some of the day-for-night VFX work from the Baselight without the more detailed tools often required to work with very high contrast foreground/background keying. I found that with material from the F65 the images are particularly clean across a wide dynamic – I imagine that there are particular advantages for VFX-heavy films, especially when shot at the higher data rates. All in all working with the F65 material was a very good experience. The quality of the images and the dynamic range, the way that the tone curve of the S-Log recordings falls very nicely on faces and skin was a great thing to see. It’s always the case when choosing a camera, but always test the thing before you make a choice. People chase numbers and tech specs, but ultimately – each camera has its own texture and feel, especially when the going gets tough and the exposure index starts to get stretched. The F65 certainly has a great character.”