Viper woos Red Riding Hood

As more directors take up digital cinematography, they begin to swear by different cameras. Here, Digital Studio gets in touch with director Randal Keiser of Grease fame and asks him why he chose to use Thomson Grassvalley’s Viper camera to shoot his musical Red Riding Hood.

  • E-Mail
By  Vijaya Cherian Published  April 7, 2004

I|~|redb.jpg|~|Filming children is more convenient with the Viper because of a longer recording time. |~|The digital revolution is on. Perhaps one industry that has felt the impact of the D-factor most is the film world, especially in the digital post production area. The Lord of the Rings could not have succeeded without its power. Even movies like Cold Mountain, have had to rely heavily on digital finishing. No doubt, most films are still shot on 35 mm film. But producers who shoot on film, still have to process the negative, and scan it into digital form. This process is costly — film stock is expensive and requires processing — which adds additional time and expense, both for the processing, the transfer of the film to data, and video dailies for viewing and off line editing. Today, there is the promise of a technology that can project superlative quality digital images in cinema. Although until now, digital uptake has been slow, there is a likelihood that it will win more favour in future as more vendors develop more sophisticated solutions. And once cinematographers discover the cost benefits, and more importantly, the quality of what they have shot with digital technology, they are likely to be hooked. When George Lucas, for instance, started shooting on HD, he decided never to go back to film. The route he pioneered was to take an HD video recorder and modify it to accept movie camera lenses and accessories. For movies such as the Star Wars series, where the live action is just a part of what goes into the final frame — most of it being computer generated — this approach is not a bad one to take. However, according to Thomson Grassvalley, there are alternate digital solutions available. The vendor says one of the biggest disadvantages of using HD for movies is that although it is relatively high resolution — almost equivalent to 2k — it is still a video format. This means it is optimised towards broadcast and reproduction on a monitor, which implies that compromises are locked into the video signal. For example, an image using an HD camera is first processed at the camera head, giving it the gamma characteristics of video reproduction. Then it is colour sub-sampled: the original red, green, and blue colour signals are matrixed, and the colour signals are reduced to half the luminance resolution. While this approach is a good match for the way the eye works and how things are viewed on a monitor, it is in reality a significant reduction in image quality. This, according to Thomson, can pose real problems in post production, particularly when the final result is destined for the silver screen. The ideal solution, then, according to the vendor, would be to have a digital camera which captures full 2k resolution. However, instead of putting it through video processing, this camera must be capable of delivering a complete, raw, uncompressed, uncompromised RGB signal to the recording device. The answer, according to Thomson, lies in its Viper FilmStream camera system. ||**||II|~||~||~|While this is a matter of personal choice, directors like Randal Kleiser of Grease fame, David Fincher (Fight Club) and Michael Mann (Ali, Last of the Mohicans) seem to agree that this solution is ideal, especially for their requirement. One of the most recent users of the Viper camera is Tag Entertainment, which is finishing work on a new musical version of Red Riding Hood, directed by Kleiser. The company was aiming for an effects-rich production style on a limited budget. There were concerns about the original plan to shoot Super 16mm for a digital finish, and in discussions it quickly became clear that using the Viper would be an easier route through post production without compromising on quality. The deal was done, and principle photography took place late last year in a blue-screen studio. Kleiser very quickly took to shooting on the Viper camera and saw in it a whole host of advantages. One significant advantage is that the recording time is a lot longer than the ten minutes maximum of a film camera. “It was wonderful for this project,” says Kleiser, “because we were working a lot with children. Often they did not know when we were shooting. I did a lot of improvisation with them, which gave a great deal of spontaneity to their scenes.” The extended recording time is a real bonus, not just in allowing actors to move into a performance as in Red Riding Hood but in all sorts of other applications, from very long scenes to shooting in difficult environments. The Viper allows a director to shoot from a helicopter without landing every few minutes to change magazines, for instance. Red Riding Hood posed an additional set of challenges, though, which were also ideal for the Viper. As already noted, the entire movie was shot blue-screen, with both backgrounds and additional foreground elements composited in. Normally this is a real challenge during a shoot, as a director has to trust that the live action will match later with the backgrounds. By shooting digitally, the producers were able to use techniques borrowed from television to allow them to see how each shot was going to work. “We had pan, tilt, zoom, and dolly encoders on each camera, linked to a vizrt virtual set system which allowed us to see live compositing on the set,” explains Kleiser. “It was easy for me and for the crew to see how it was going to fit together. It meant we could shoot everything on the same set, which really speeds things up. “None of us had done anything like this before, but with two Vipers going the whole time we shot everything in just 18 days,” he continues. Kleiser also revealed how digital origination using the Viper camera could create huge cost savings without compromising quality or workflow. Red Riding Hood is set in a forest which would normally require specially shot background plates for the composite. Because of today’s digital-quality, Kleiser was able to use less expensive library footage instead. “Because it is tough to match grain, using stock footage in films usually ends up looking bad. It is a tremendous advantage to be able to use stock shots seamlessly, without that telltale grainy look that shouts out ‘library shot’!,” says Kleiser. At the editing table, the final versions of the computer-generated backgrounds and elements have been added. Textures and lighting have been added, and Kleiser is pleased with his low-budget result. “It’s kind of like the way movies were made in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s. They would shoot movies set all over the world and never once leave the set. We have also made a story set in the redwood forest without once setting foot outside the San Fernando Valley,” concludes Kleiser. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code