Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Prometheus 3D Tricks Revealed in Latest American Cinematographer Magazine

Hey everyone, Tim here with some interesting news out of the latest edition of American Cinematographer Magazine. This is a great magazine for any would-be filmmakers out there, and is a great magazine for filmmakers. I've been hooked on it since college where Drexel University provided Film & Video students with copies for free. The writers get in-depth interviews with the cinematographer, director, gaffer, and all other crew members.

This month's issue got to talk with Dariusz Wolski, ASC, the cinematographer of Ridley Scott's Prometheus. We already knew that they shot on the RED Epic with 3ality Technica Rigs, but now we get a little more information.

Wolski shot all four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, including the 3D On Stranger Tides. He had to say of the location they shot for the alien planet, "Iceland is phenomenal. It had daylight for 20 hours a day when we were there, and the sun was always low and beautiful. If it was cloudy, it was also stunning. It’s an amazing place to shoot — and I’ve shot four Pirates of the Caribbean movies in the tropics, so I know the difference!"

Although he shot Prometheus at the 5K resolution of the RED Epic, with a 5:1 compression (occasionally switching to 3:1 for fine detail scenes) Wolski revealed that the original photography had to be converted to 2K in post in order to match the visual-effects resolution. Wolski noted, "On a movie with this many visual effects, going to 4K would have quadrupled the visual-effects budget." He went on to say that with 4K projectors now available that we'll be able to shoot in 5K, do visual effects and post in 4K, and project in 4K to make it as good as IMAX.

This was Ridley Scott's first foray into shooting digital. Scott had this to say about the RED Epic, "I really love the picture quality of the Red. But when you have that kind of clarity, it’s very easy for your lighting to become harsh, so you definitely have to pay attention to that." He sums up with "I think Prometheus is a pretty good showcase for Red. Dariusz made it look absolutely beautiful in both 2D and 3D."

With regards to the the switch from 2D to 3D Scott said, "If you’re used to shooting, there is no goddamn difference between 2D and 3D — you’ve either got an eye, or you haven’t. And if you’re a director who hasn’t got an eye, you’d better make sure your cameraman does!"

Lens choice wise, Scott and Wolski chose spherical over anamorphic, which is the hallmark style of Alien. When asked about the difference Scott had this to say, "I do like anamorphic, but spherical is a much better enabler — I like the sharpness. I have a great preference for spherical now, unless I’m really going to go for that shallow-focus look." And Wolski chose to shoot most of Prometheus on Angenieux Optimo zooms, as he explains "In 3D, lens changes are complex, and re-aligning the cameras is time-consuming. Ridley likes to move fast, and he likes to use multiple cameras, so I decided on four main rigs: two with 15-40mm Optimos, and two with 28-76mm Optimos. We also used a Steadicam rig with Zeiss Ultra Primes, which shaved the weight as much as possible. I think the short Optimo zoom is the most revolutionary lens in the industry right now. You can shoot a whole movie with two zoom lenses!"

Scott's multi-camera technique has been a hallmark of his sets since Gladiator and he especially loves them for dialogue scenes, not just action sequences. It is because of multiple cameras that he was able to shoot Prometheus in 82-days. That's an incredible amount of time to shoot such an effects heavy movie as Prometheus.

Lighting is as important to how the image is captured as the camera and lenses, and Wolski had his work cut out for him on that front. He states that "This film lent itself to using modern lighting, and we designed the spaceship with a lot of LEDs controlled by very complex dimmer boards." Wolski chose a consistent setting of 4,000˙K on the Epic, which lent to the color scheme inside the ship and for the exteriors nicely. What you got was an interior distinguished by a rich variety of blues, greens, and yellows, and an exterior that felt slightly cool.

Gaffer Perry Evans, whose uncle Ray Evans was gaffer on Alien, recalls that Scott asked for the ship's lighting to be dynamic in order to interact with the actors's performances, "Once Ridley saw that we could play with the lights, he pushed it to the limit. He’d say, ‘When he walks in the room, bring those lights up, and when he touches this desk, switch those things on.’ I don’t recall doing a single shot on the spaceship without a light change. I must admit, Ridley put us through our paces. There was never a dull moment!" The filmmakers used 200 "off the shelf" industrial fluorescents, which were outfitted with dimming electronics. Evans added that the dimming board could be remotely controlled with an iPad on the set.

Now the stereographer, James Goldman, who also worked with Wolski on the 3D Pirates, explained that Prometheus was primarily shot parallel and that the convergence was accomplished in post. His reasoning is that shooting parallel facilitates visual-effects work because the artists don't have to compensate for keystoning of toed-in, converging cameras. Goldman would monitor the stereo image on 3ality Technica's Stereo Image Processor, and Brainstorm's Qtake was used to create a converged 3D image for the filmmakers to view on set.

Goldman supervised the changes in IO (interocular distance) in coordination with Scott and Wolski. He notes that Scott favored a big IO with more depth, but that he saved extreme 3-D effects, like jutting foregrounds, “for the big moments when he wanted people to jump out of their chairs.” In general, he continues, Scott “adjusted his style to 3D and tended to put less in the foreground than he usually does.”

Ryan Nguyen was Prometheus's digital-image technician, and on set he monitored the images at a station next to Wolski, who set color "in camera." Jeroen Hendriks, camera-data supervisor, prepared the files for editorial at an off-set station. As Wolski explains, "We did everything in-house. Downloads from camera went to Jeroen’s station, and then the image went straight to editorial and stayed there all the way to the final color correction, which was actually minimal." Wolski chose a 24" Sony monitor as the absolute image reference on the set. Hendriks explains that each take’s settings were saved in a Red MetaData file that accompanied the footage through the workflow. “Ridley loved what we saw on the monitor,” notes Wolski. “He said, ‘This is it. Don’t mess with it.’”

Richard Stammers, visual-effects supervisor defined a window of 4,800x2,000 pixels in the 5K image to create the 2.39:1 widescreen frame, leaving 100 pixels on either side to allow for convergence adjustments and some vertical room for reframing. After Hendriks and his crew cloned the 5K originals, they used RedCine-X software to verify the RMD file, and then defined a convergence setting for each take (as provided by Goldman). This metadata was then sent via Skype to the off-set station, where color-corrected and converged 3D dailies were created for the editors. The final 3D convergence was accomplished toward the end of post during a convergence run, in tandem with the final grade.

And that is how the 3D cinematography was accomplished for Prometheus. Very interesting stuff. Looking back, Scott offers his final thoughts about Prometheus: “Working with Dariusz was absolutely marvelous. It was fun to revisit science fiction, an old genre, and he and his crew made the whole thing a great ride!”

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