Turning Your GoPro Hero 3 into a Cinematic Movie Making Machine
- March 6, 2014
- Shane Hurlbut, ASC
I wanted to give all of you an insider’s perspective on how I use specific camera sensors to their best abilities and then mold them like clay into one beautiful work of art in Need for Speed. The sensor’s power and its size were huge considerations when director Scotty Waugh and I were coming up with the look of the movie. We knew we had a video game franchise to play homage to; we knew that Fast and Furious had a huge following and we needed to create something that was unique and different; we knew that it was going to be important to put the viewer in the driver’s seat at 180mph, and we knew that we had to deliver camera angles that you had never experienced before in a theater. The latter is what we are going to be talking about.
“Why shoot with a 1/3 chip consumer camera”
My philosophy is to shoot with whatever tool will help tell the story and if that tool is an extreme sports camera that is usually seen flying through the air attached to snowboarders, motocross riders, extreme helo skiers, divers, sky jumpers, etc., then I am in, no matter what the pitfalls. Period!!!
“Everything you need is at Best Buy”
Once we tested the GoPro Hero 3 and figured out what it would do best, which was immerse an audience like never before, we knew that the schedule on NFS was tight. Sixty-seven days and we were the first unit and the second unit on the movie, so coming up with a shooting style that could deliver a ton of coverage to help tell the story in a limited number of days was paramount. This is where the Hero 3 came in. I knew that the movie was going to be a stunt spectacular. Scotty wanted all the stunts to be practical. He did not want any CGI cars or fake green screen stage driving. REAL!!!! So I thought if we are doing all these extreme stunts, practically, why not use an extreme camera?
With our time at a minimum to mount cameras to cars and a small SEAL team six crew size, I knew that we had to KISS (keep it simple stupid.) This will be the crux of the article. Everything that I used as a Hollywood Director of Photography, you can go purchase at Best Buy. No exotic rigs, no secret sauce, straight out of the bubble wrap and plastic packaging.
To pull Scotty’s vision off I quickly realized we would need a ton of cameras. I remember walking into the producer’s office when they cut the schedule from 82 days to 67 days and also cut our second unit. I said, “Tim, we are going to need a s$#t ton of cameras.” He asked how many that was, and when I told him 50, he just said, “Oh my God!”
I also knew that each member of my camera team had to be assigned a camera platform to manage and to be held accountable as well. Derek Edwards is one of my original Elite Team members and was assigned as the GoPro and Helmet Cam AC. That was all he did, all he ate, breathed, and slept. He became so efficient with these small cameras and used his DP skills to compose many shots as well.
“Shane’s Need for Speed GoPro Package”
GoPro Hero3 Black Edition Camera
GoPro Hero3 Waterproof Housing
GoPro Hero3 Waterproof Battery Backdoor
GoPro Hero3 LCD Touch BacPac Skeleton Backdoor NON-Waterproof
GoPro Hero3 LCD Touch BacPac & Battery BacPac Frame
GoPro Hero3 LCD Touch BacPac & Battery BacPac
GoPro Hero3 Rechargeable Battery
Gopro 12” USB 2 to Micro USB
GoPro 3”x3” Base plate
GoPro Hero3 Waterproof Touch Backdoor for LCD
GoPro Suction Cup Mount
GoPro Touch LCD BacPac & Case
GoPro Flat Adhesive Mounts
GoPro Extension Arms
GoPro Pivot Arms
GoPro Vibration Dampeners
“Pulling off a stunt”
When we had an accident to stage, I broke my team off into what each was assigned. One was responsible for all crash cams, one for all high-speed camera car platforms, one for hard rigs and mounts, and Derek for GoPros.
Derek would show up with his GoPro Pelican Case and all of the suction cups and sticky mounts, and we would create our unique camera angle vision. We did not use any expensive grip rigging. All we needed was the GoPro suction cup, some swivel GoPro clamps and we were off and trailblazing. Oh, I forgot two more things. The final touches to your exotic hard mount, never seen before angle on a movie screen were a screwdriver and some Gorilla Tape.
What inspired me about the GoPro is that we could not kill it. I mean, we went to extremes once we saw how powerful this tool was becoming — lighting them on fire, throwing them off bridges, grinding them into asphalt and dirt.
The first week on the movie, we staged the P1 McClaren flip. This was a huge stunt where two stuntmen drove at over 100mph into a 45 degree turn on Highway 1 and the rear car side swipes the back of the McClaren. It rolls over about six times until it slides down the road on its roof with fluids leaking everywhere. We mounted four GoPros to the McClaren so that when it rolled you could get that sensation of spinning in midflight. The camera was suction cupped to the rear, where the trunk would be if it had a trunk looking forward. The McClaren is such a work of art and not only did we feel the angle would be an awesome ride for the audience, it was visually stunning.
“Using the Hero 3 to deliver the Key Frame image”
When I am creating lighting and camera composition, there is always one Key Frame that is my brick and mortar for the whole scene. What do I mean by this? Ok, let me break it down. You read the script. You interpret what your actors’ emotions are, what the mood and tone of the scene should be. Then a vision comes to me of one shot in the sequence that will be the first building block that all other shots will be created from.
Let’s take Terminator Salvation as an example of this. There is a scene where Marcus, our half human half Terminator character, gets captured. He was strung up over an old spent nuclear missile silo. The Key Frame that came to mind when I read the sense is a shot of two heads in profile where Christian Bale delivers his speech on how he has survived all this time and that Marcus will not kill him. So everything is built on getting the scene to this point. How do we block the scene to get there? How do we light it to deliver the emotion that is going through both characters at this moment? Everything is derived from this single frame.
Our Key Frame for a huge turning point in Need for Speed was originally a 3/4 wide profile from behind of a car hitting another one at 200mph and the front car drifting sideways and like a piece of paper flying into the air and the rear car driving right under it. OK, that was our Key Frame.
But on the day when we were rigging all of our cameras, I came up with an interesting idea. What if I mount a GoPro to the driver’s side of the car that is hit, aiming down at the ground? When you are rigging GoPros or any camera, you have to envision the shot in motion and in flight, not necessarily what you are seeing when you frame the shot because when I framed this shot, all I saw was as-phalt. I mounted it right next to the driver’s side mirror pointing down at the ground. I envisioned when the car was hit, it would drift into a side position and then launch upwards into the air. When it did this I was hoping that the car flipping up would stay perpendicular to the car that hit it. I also framed the GoPro so that it would use the 2:35 frame aspect ratio from the extreme right and left to be the top and bottom of this frame. This is hard to describe so let me show an example of using the top and bottom.
So with this shot envisioned and mounted to the Koenigsegg Agera R, it flips and my vision of this Key Frame became a reality. This was all done on the fly, serendipity filmmaking. Keep your out of the box creative hat on. Don’t always follow the plan, or let’s say, follow the plan, but always be looking for inspiration on the day to come out as a small flame. Then throw gasoline on that baby!!!
“Stay Tuned for Part 2”
This is a three part series, so stay tuned on how I make small inexpensive DIY modifications to the GoPro accessories to up your cinematic capture. Part three will go into how I treat the GoPro files in post and how they will cut seamlessly into the rest of your film.