Cinematographer
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Take a look under the hood and see what I'm working on

George Ezra Motion Control/Previs

Little Ugly http://www.alittleugly.com/ came to me with a simple idea: A square set needed to rotate vertically as our singer and talent performed on each side. They knew we’d simulate this and stitch together each side by capturing with a circular motion control camera move. Directors Nelson de Castro and Carlos Lopez Estrada came up with this unique yet simple concept that proved a great challenge to accomplish technically.

Nelson created this animatic to explain the finished idea to everyone upfront. 

Not wanting to wait for our 3d guy to get us a previs, I knew I’d have to start breaking this down myself using a tool I’ve grown to love for these technical types of jobs. Cinedesign on C4d allowed me to figure it all out in the computer well before the shoot. 

Still it would not be straightforward. We were to shoot on a Monday and Prelight on Sunday. Production was already holding the milo moco rig and a stage space in LA. I started breaking it down a week before on Monday and we would need all the days we could spare as every little detail would hinge on all the others.

The first thing I started with was how high the camera would have to be above our square set and see off the edges. The set was originally planned to be 12x12 and I started building it out with a 35mm size sensor. We’d have to be around a 12mm lens at about 18’ tall, but we soon learned that Alejandro Taylor, our VFX supervisor wanted to raise the set to be able to wipe our talent. Ideally that meant the set should have been something like 12 feet in the air, which became a safety concern, but we tabled that conversation for another conference call.

So I hopped back into Cinedesign and immediately knew that our stage at 20’ to the grid would no longer work. At 12+18, 30 feet ceilings would be necessary and we’d have to build out our Milo long arm on a tracking platform as well. But there was another option. We could size up to the TITAN. The Titan is a 30’ telescopic motion control crane. There are only 2 in the world and only one in the states. It’s the largest moco rig there is. Knowing that building out the smaller Milo on a platform would take a considerable amount of time and manpower on our prelight day it became more cost efficient to go Titan and not look back.

The next question was what exactly would be behind the set. Although originally it was going to be a black void, the idea came up to put a dynamic moving sky behind which meant greenscreens, But the move determines what needs to be green and no green cyc stage existed that covered a halfpipe shape, let alone more that 180 degrees of halfpipe. The camera has to go below the stage so the green would have to come up above and around the set. So we’d have to build these greenscreens and they’d be BIG. The only way to know how big was to build them in 3d and see it from the camera lens.

Okay, back to camera. Ideally (there are a lot of ideallys here) we wouldn’t have to be on a 12mm lens for a couple reasons. 12mm would warp the square too dramatically when moving around it and finding a great super wide angle zoom is hard, even in LA. So I figured we could always shoot Alexa open gate for the larger sensor size and be on a longer lens. Best case scenario we’d be on an 18-20mm that we could test on set.

We’d be making about a 16.5’ radius circular move and that with the camera at open gate on an 18mm lens I’d need about 40 feet wide of coverage in bluescreens (we ended up blue because of al the fine detail in the green sets) So it would amount to 4 20x40 bluescreen frames that would be hung from the ceiling and the draping 2 more 20x40 on the ground. Because of availability and maneuvering inside our new stage (with 27’ ceilings) it was split into 8- 20x20s. Danny Sosa, my key grip worked out all the pieces from there and delivered flawlessly and within time on the day getting all these rags in the air. It was truly a sight to be seen.

Things moved back and forth throughout the week but ultimately we ended up on a 10x10 square, 8 feet up and created a safety lip of steel platform 4 feet wide at a height of 4 feet all around the set. The Titan would get us the move, camera was worked out, grip was solid. The only thing left was how to light it all.

We ended up lighting the set with Digital Sputnik Beams and Skypanel 360s and running everything into a lighting console. Gaffer Josh Hensley/Arclite Rentals made it so we could make changes on the fly and with little time wasted. Everything RGB and dimmable. The bluescreens we lit old school, with simple cheap tungsten skypans. 

It was a very challenging shoot and prep process but with the time spent in prep everything on set went well and we delivered the ambitious creative. 

And here's a TLDR version of all that above. A BTS someone put together. 

Final Video here

John Schmidt