Friday, February 24, 2012

Mulieris Futura: Behind-the-Scenes Part I

I hope those of you who took the time to check out the short film Mulieris Futura enjoyed it. We certainly had fun making it and this is how we did it...

My main goal going into this shoot was to test out some newly acquired gear. Do you need this gear to shoot video on a DSLR like the Canon 60D? Absolutely not. Does it make a big difference to the shots you can capture? Hell yes!

Arriving at the location I decided to get the "heavy lifting" out of the way first by getting a bunch of steadicam-like shots. For this I used the awesome Glidecam HD 2000 which is a poor man's version of the $8,000+ pro steadicam rigs used for those smooth-moving, floating shots we see in Hollywood movies.

I love experimenting with camera movement as a director but like smooth, STEADY movement even more. On any kind of a camera this can be challenging never mind on a DSLR. The advantage of shooting video on a DSLR (among other things) is it's small size and weight to image quality ratio. These cameras can capture amazing images if used properly. However, the small size and weight is also one of their big disadvantages too because 99% of the stability of every shot is dependent on how steady your hand and wrist are as opposed to using your arms, shoulders and upper torso to help stabilize as is the case with larger, shoulder-mounted cameras. Adding to the image capture problems are things like moire and aliasing but that's a whole other issue!

The Glidecam is a low-budget solution for taking the shake out of your steps by using a gimbal mechanism that allows the camera to "float". The key to it is a) Balance and b) Operation. There are many Glidecam type stabilizers available on the market (like the Flycam for example) but very few allow micro adjustments for balancing which is crucial in finding that perfect center of gravity.

For a great video tutorial on balancing a Glidecam go here.

In terms of operation it's a very tricky piece of gear and like any instrument requires a LOT of practice! As you can see from my first real attempt shooting with it in Mulieris Futura I have a long, long way to go with it - Standing still I'm fine; Walking backwards or forwards I'm fine (providing I don't have to suddenly stop then move again); Walking sideways and tracking the subject as well as tilting up or down is a whole other challenge... The key is in a very subtle finger-touch of the gimbal - Grab it firmly and you defeat the object of the delicate balance, too light a touch and the rig wants to pendulum on its axis. A lot of the moving/tracking shots in the film I'm not very happy with - the horizon should NOT be swaying from side to side like we're at sea! I have a steep learning curve ahead...

Finally, when loaded up with the camera, battery and lens (in this case the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5) the rig can be quite heavy. All together it weighs around 5.5 lbs/2.5 Kgs which is a lot of stress on one's wrist. I found a cheap forearm brace (its the pad/velcro thing beside the rig in the picture above) on eBay that makes a huge difference in spreading the weight and allows me to shoot longer shots without grimacing in pain!

To reduce time screwing bolts in and out of my camera between Glidecam and tripod etc. I have a Giottos quick release plate system. The plate's tightening knob didn't quite clear the side of the Glidecam so I added a couple of layers of fabric tape to the bottom which also stops things from loosening and/or spinning off axis.

Mulieris Futura was shot on 3 lenses: The Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 on all the Glidecam shots and the wide shot that closes the film, the Super Takumar 28mm f/3.5 and the SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.4. I've blogged before about the old Pentax Takumar M42 lenses and every time I use them I like them a little more! They are especially good when shooting video because they have a good amount of turn to their focus rings making it much easier to follow the subject and adjust during the shot.

Take a bow fellas - you too trusty fotodiox M42 to Canon-EF lens adaptor!

If you have any questions, fire away, I'd be happy to help!

Until next time folks, I hope I was able to share some useful info here. I'll cover another important new rig element next time as well as touch upon the Post Production side of making Mulieris Futura.