Need For Speed: Innovation, Gear and Cinematography
- March 13, 2014
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Pulling Back the Curtain
In a few days, all of you will be able to see what I have been discussing on the HurlBlog for over a year. March 14th is the domestic release of Need for Speed in 2D and 3D. Seven thousand screens in the US will project a film that, in my opinion, is the future of filmmaking. We used an array of sensor brushes to tell our story, not just one brush. Each brush had unique attributes and abilities that we used to paint a beautiful creation. What does this all mean? It means that the old days of making a movie with one camera manufacturer is not the wave of the future.
Being a pioneer, one who takes the trail that has not even been traveled by goats, is exhausting, difficult, exhilarating, creative and fulfilling all at the same time. On Need for Speed, like Act of Valor, we used many different camera sensors and camera formats to tell the story. Many people thought I was off my rocker taking a small untested still camera and blowing the 1080 image up onto a 60 foot screen. IMPOSSIBLE! Was it easy to mix these formats? No. Was it the right way to tell this engaging story and immerse an audience like they had never seen before? YES.
This post will give you an inside perspective on why certain creative decisions were made by director Scotty Waugh and me. It will also give you insight into how we pulled everything off. Need for Speed was shot on four different camera sensors.
Each camera delivered a unique look. It was my job to morph these into one consistent image, one that transports you into a contemporary race culture with an homage to the classic films like Bullitt and Road Warrior. I had to make it feel like one camera system, one brush but shot with four.
Director Scotty Waugh wanted to do this whole movie practically, without CGI cars, planes, choppers, etc. He wanted it to be realistic. If a car went rolling off a bridge on fire, the driver did not jump out of the car in mid-air, grab hold of the light pole, grab a hot chick in mid-flight and land 300 feet below unscathed. With this directive, we were looking for a camera that delivered a very realistic look, but was beautiful, captivating, and provided an image filled with vitality, youth! Using a camera that no one had seen on the big screen felt just right for our story.
We needed a camera that could shoot 4K resolution for reframing and possible zoom ins in post to give us the feeling of a different lens. Our schedule was almost unachievable and we realized early on that this would be essential for post and for our director.
Now you say post? “I thought there was no CGI.” I hear you all saying this. There was CGI in that the style of shooting is what we call blue on blue photography, a military term held over from Act of Valor, which means you shoot yourself. When you have 32 cameras capturing one stunt event, they are bound to see each other. This is where Kevin Baillie, Atomic Fiction and Sean Cushing at Cantina Creative came in and hand painted out every camera, camera person, wire, rig and pipe ramp. You name it, they painted it out.
We needed a camera that was not 20 lbs. and 20 inches long. We needed a compact camera that we could embed into the super cars that had no back seat or passenger seat. Remember the back seat of a super car is the engine.
The job required a camera that could handle the rigorous abuse of the hard rigs mounted to cars going in excess of 180mph, flipping over, locking it up, etc.
We needed to shoot 4K at 120fps. This camera would do this at a HRAW, which we tested and loved. With all the accidents, explosions, crashes, etc., it was necessary to tell this story.
To shoot all night interiors and exteriors in the film, we chose the C500. In our camera tests, we found that the C500 saw into the night sky and had much more subtle color and shadow detail than the Alexa. We could increase the camera’s ISO to 4000 and not have much noise. This was huge to us. With our tight schedule and budget, I knew that I could light 4.5 miles of a street racing course with no condors and no huge generators. It was lit by turning off street lights, spraying them down with black hairspray because they were a little too bright and then looking at the course and saying, “let’s add some neon in that store front. Let’s add an accent light on that fire escape. Let’s add a back light down this alley on a roof.” Very minimal and they were all powered by putt putt Honda generators. No monster cable runs, just a lot of red gas cans. We lit a drive-in sequence with the bounce off of the 60 foot screen from a 2K Xenon video projector with the actors 150 feet from it. That has never been done before. This camera enables you to light how your eye sees it. You do not have to “Hollywood” the effects, with lighting gags like we have done for decades. Now this light that I described is all ready for cinematic capture.
Night aerial work was an important feature for us to open this movie up. It’s what we call “Expansive Intimacy.” We turned to Space Cam to engineer a whole new system to take the C500 and use its sensor sensitivity to shoot chopper to Cessna at night with just the bounce of the street lights off the pavement, which lit the Cessna flying at 500 feet over Macon, Georgia.
Our director wanted to use a storytelling device to the full extent of our camera inventory. That device was the crash cam. We built a C500 version and a 1DC version so that we could lay eight to ten crash boxes on a road in the hopes that our awesome stunt team would blast them. This was part of the immersive nature that Scotty wanted the audience to experience.
I turned to my team of trailblazers and asked them to design a system from the ground up that would turn this lightweight plastic camera with an incredible sensor into a functioning movie making machine. My Elite Team was headed by Key 1st AC Darin Necessary, who is a major gear head. He can build, weld, screw and cut anything as well as any master craftsman. Additionally, he is an amazing focus puller. After all the designs were put on the table, we turned to Element Technica to build the support system. This meant keeping all the support to the size of the camera. If the support meant it would be the size and the weight of the Alexa, then it was not going to work. We settled on seven pieces to complete the brick and mortar.
We took all the C500’s unique attributes, size and sensor sensitivity and moved forward with choosing it for all the scenes where it delivered the look that Scott Waugh wanted.
All hard rigs that were not going to get rolled over, burned up or dropped off of a bridge.
All night exteriors and interiors. We took advantage of the ability of the Canon camera to see in the dark.
The Arri Alexa
This camera was my “get out of jail free card,” so to speak. It was my latitude hero, my high speed in miles per hour not in frames per second, the day exterior warrior.
The Alexa is an amazing camera. It has 14 stops of latitude and very good color. The way that we had to make the race sequences required me to be in pit row where all the interior and exterior rigged cars were located. Scotty and my key 1st AC Darin Necessary would be shooting with the ultimate arm, Bandito Saleen Car or the Porsche with a rear post without exposure supervision. I trusted Darin, the wave form and the latitude of the Alexa to save the day if anything was over or under exposed.
The comfort zone of this camera is so ingrained in all assistants, operators and DPs that when it came to all of our day exterior work, I knew that our amazing Aerial Cinematographer David Nowell would feel more comfortable with the Alexa as well.
Arri has a complete system that has been vetted, so this was plug and play.
The high-speed camera car platforms were the Alexa playground.
A first driver perspective is what the EA Need for Speed video game is all about. Scotty’s first and foremost storytelling objective was to crack this first person driver in 4K. All the other players were way too heavy to mount to a stunt driver’s head. We knew we needed the resolution to reframe, to zoom in and possibly stabilize. The only answer was the Canon 1DC, weighing in just under 9 lbs once everything was put on there. This became our audience immersion device to sit all of you in the driver seat at 180mph.
A camera capable of showing the skill, grace and the world of driving a race from the perspective of a racer was necessary. Many have used the old device of the car’s POV, which is easy. To put the audience in the driver seat, where they can touch the steering wheel, where they can see the speedometer read 234 mph was good storytelling and paid homage to the video game. We had done this with Act of Valor with our first person shooter perspective and wanted to give the audience the thrill again, but in a different environment.
A camera that could be sacrificed was necessary to continue to immerse the audience in new unique ways just like the video game does, where these crashes are coming right at you, punching you in the face. The 1DC was our go to 4K internal recording device. We would line them up for 70 yards and tell the stunt personnel to have at them.
To build a helmet camera that could keep the stunt driver safe as well as deliver the goods was tasked to my mad scientist 1st AC Darin Necessary again. He used carbon fiber technology to develop the ultimate helmet camera that is so user friendly and adjustable for your creation. Using a parallax strategy to deliver the feeling of looking through the driver’s eyes while he is drifting, spinning 360s and going at speeds no one has done before with a helmet cam on, we turned to Zeiss and their lightweight 15mm ZE prime at t2.8. Yes, in NASCAR and Formula One, you have those amazing angles, but they would never hold up on a 60 foot screen.
When we needed to line up ten 1DCs in the line of stunt drivers, we turned to Geo Film Group to design and build 1DC crash cams. This had never been done before. They designed a hybrid box, an aluminum structure surrounding a heavy duty Pelican Case back. A steel membrane goes around it. This enabled us to have very quick access to change lenses, focus and exposure. It was our go to tool.
GoPro Hero 3
We needed a camera that could take the abuse of car tonnage landing on it, tolerate being lit on fire and flung off of bridges to a 150 foot death fall. One camera came to mind and that was the GoPro Hero 3.
Using the Hero 3 at 2.7K resolution and pro tunes to increase image quality was paramount in our filmmaking process.
Think about unique angles that have never been seen before. Think about your cutting style and how these will increase the immersive experience.
That two seconds of brilliance is all that we are looking for and knowing that they will seamlessly cut together was one of my many missions. This will take a whole other post workflow blog post to describe. Stay tuned.
We needed to be stealth; we needed to be quick and nimble; we needed to not involve the grip rigging department; we needed to do it all ourselves. Camera department rules.
This required my team to quickly understand the GoPro rigging systems and how to deploy them with accuracy. My 1st AC Derek Edwards was tasked with these responsibilities and knocked it out. Check out some of his angles.
All of the GoPro accessories can be purchased at Best Buy. Nothing was custom or fabricated in any way.
We needed to keep it simple and quick. For a more in depth look into how and why, check out last week’s blog post on the Hero 3.
“Pulling back the curtain time”
Now here is a special treat for all of you. Since the Super Bowl Need for Speed spot with its detailed camera and lens breakdown got such a positive overwhelming response, I wanted to go into much more detail on why and how I used these formats.