MANILA, THE PHILIPPINES
In mid-March, a multi-challenging HDTV production scenario unfolded in Manila:
Document the world-famous classic rock band Journey in concert before 20,000-plus fans in an outdoor tropical location, use a conglomeration of digital cinema and EFP technology, with a diverse crew from the United States and Asia, using 10 RED cameras hard-lined for simultaneously live-switching to a big screen, while recording 4k footage to hard drives onboard each camera—at four times 1080p resolution.
Event programs like this have traditionally been shot using 2/3-inch HD camera systems. Though our end product would be HDTV, Blu-ray, and DVD, the band members of Journey and our production team wanted to future-proof our acquisition format by taking it up to the next resolution level: 4k RAW. When processed correctly, 4k down-samples beautifully to color-saturated 1080p. With its high quality and low cost, RED One was the logical camera to use. RED shoots in 4k, 3k, and 2k, and can be used with cine lenses, 35mm stills lenses, or B4 2/3-inch lenses (2k only).
"Shooting RED not only gave us the opportunity to capture in 4k RAW, but it also gave us the ability to ISO 10 cameras," said co-DP Champe Barton. "We shifted the critical decision making for edits, color and overall look to the post process where we have the luxury of more time."
MANUAL LENS FUNCTIONS
Steve Gibby, using a RED camera on an ET Mantis shoulder mount system, gets up close to Arnel Pineda of Journey on rehearsal night. ©Pamala Gibby Two lens types covered the 4k frame: S35mm cine and 35mm stills. With 10 RED cameras used for coverage—some stationary and some very mobile (shoulder held, Steadicam)—we decided to use S35mm cine long zooms for the dolly and stationary cameras (multiple Optimo 24-290mm and Angenieux 25-250mm zooms). We adapted Nikon zooms for the shoulder held cameras and jib camera. The Nikon zooms are optically good, small and lightweight (for mobility), many have the longer zoom ratio we needed for this type of production, and the aperture range for the Nikon lenses fit our requirements. The external zoom motors we had for the Nikon lenses didn't work quite right on the shoulder-held rig cameras, so the camera operators performed all lens functions manually—definitely a challenge, but something we were able to do quite well.
All shoulder held cameras were mounted on Element Technica Mantis shoulder systems, which proved to be very comfortable. We modified the Mantis units, with only a right handle, and the operator's left hand worked the Nikon lens.
All cameras were set to shoot 4k HD. Since the band members were going to move around a lot, we used a frame rate of 29.97 fps, and a shutter speed of 1/100th second. Timecode was jam-synced to all cameras. Each camera was hard-lined to the control room via HD-SDI, which was live-switched throughout the concert for audience viewing on the huge IMag screen above the stage.
Since we needed to record for more than two continuous hours to the camera-mounted hard drives, we decided to use the 320 GB RED Drive, which records about 3 linear hours of 4k REDcode footage. To solve sound vibration problems on cameras close to speakers, we mounted the drives on Element Technica Shock Mounts—which worked well; there were no dropped frames on any hard drives. Overall, we experienced no problems of any kind with any of the RED cameras.
'A FLOWING CONNECTED SEQUENCE OF SHOTS'
"The DP positions are key to the success of this project," said Dan Barnett, executive producer, Wizard Entertainment. "We used no HDTV truck because we recorded RAW footage to each camera's onboard drive. Our two DPs delivered amazing footage."
Each RED camera acquired footage to its own drive in isolation from all the other cameras. But we also had the 720p outputs from our cameras going into a switcher, and monitor wall, so the director could call a "traditional" live show. Being able to call the show live allowed him to pace the shots to the music and allowed the cameramen to move according to his calls. Thus the core of the program was a flowing, connected sequence of shots, as opposed to a bunch of shots just put together in post. "Everyone involved with the show could see immediately what it looked like and how it flowed," said Director Eli Tishberg.
Two lighting directors worked on the project—Jeff Ravitz from Visual Terrain oversaw TV and audience lighting, and Kevin Christopher adapted the live show as Journey's LD. The results were stunning. "The best way to accurately experience this collaboration will be to watch the DVD, which will be in stores in fall of 2009," said Barnett.
Jib operator Dave Hilmer and the RSVP Films crew set up a RED camera. ©Steve Gibby Barnett and Tishberg added a 24-foot-long, four-foot high thrust, which allowed band members to walk out into the audience. We also used neutral colored, hanging "soft-goods" which were hit by a constantly changing palette of colors as the background. Since they were fabric, they were easily shipped and set up on site, which allowed us to shoot from every direction.
A FUSION OF CINE STYLE TECHNIQUES
The production featured a fusion of cine-style techniques used with the RED cameras with multi-camera television production techniques. This put more pressure on the DPs and LDs to ensure consistent lighting—extremely difficult in a live rock concert situation.
Recording in the camera, as opposed to external decks, makes the production simpler. But the cameras still have to be wired for audio, video, communications, timecode, etc., and these signals are all on different connectors. You still have all the same signal distribution to the router/switchers/monitors. This solution also puts the responsibility on camera operators to monitor the amount of drive space remaining and to do drive swaps.
A key element to any production is capable on-location support and dependable equipment rentals. Our Manila support was top-drawer.
"Oli Laperal Jr., of RSVP Films [Manila], and all his personnel were fantastic," said Engineer Mike Noles. "The RSVP facility in Manila provided us with top-quality equipment on site."
A 6-channel RTS system provided two production channels, an IMag channel, lighting, dolly operator, and jib operator channels.
In retrospect, Journey seriously dazzled their fans with a dynamic performance—and our crew captured every exciting minute of it—in 4k.
"Both the hardware and the crew were much better than I ever thought possible," said Tishberg. "I can't wait to see the finished, color-corrected show."
There were technical and operational challenges to overcome to integrate a digital cinema camera like RED One into what has traditionally been an EFP camera production, but we accepted those challenges, and the results were very encouraging.
"Using the RED camera allowed us to create a top-quality production at an affordable price, recorded in stunning 4k resolution, which I believe will become the acquisition format of choice for this type of project," said Barnett. "This Journey production was a great example of having the right people and equipment on a project. We'll definitely champion RED cameras to other major music artists for our future HDTV and DVD productions."
Steve Gibby is an Emmy-winning producer, director, DP, and cinematographer. He's a veteran of several hundred international and national television programs. He can be reached email@example.com.