(a) What project are you working on now or have just recently completed?
“DaVinci’s Demons”, a 10 part TV series commissioned by Starz in the US, a co-production with BBC Worldwideand shot in Swansea,Wales.
(b) What format was the project shot on?
I was one of several DoP’s, who followed Fabian Wagner who was the lead DoP on the 2nd Season. He and Julian Court photographed the first season. We shot on three Alexas, the XT, XT Plus and an Alexa Studio supplied by Films@59 in Cardiff. The Alexa Studio was the “A”camera and lived on a dolly or crane of some sort at all times. “B” camera/Steadicam was operated by Steve Murray and he had a “C” camera body based on his rig- he operated an AR Revolution rig on his steadicam which allowed him to switch from high mode to low mode and back again in less than a second, and the ability to shoot from ground level to 8 feet mid-shot, whilst maintaining a perfectly level horizon. The production had other bodies at it’s disposal and these were used as backup bodies as well as being used for“Digital Sprite” capture for various elements and plates required by VFX, who in this occasion were Union VFX and supervised by VFX producer Tom Horton.
(c) What challenges did the project present you with?
Mostly it was about getting my head around the fore-planning needed to light a job of this kind. The short telescoped prep was so critical because it involved the pre-rigging of large a amount of pre-fabricated sets. The production was housed in a vast custom adapted warehouse facility where besides some large piazza exteriors, all the sets, both interior and exterior Florentine streets, were built by Production designer Ed Thomas and his crew throughout one vast open plan interior area.
Gaffer Brandon Evans was instrumental in the success of this which meant constantly being ahead in pre-rigging sets and locations well in advance with his rigging gaffer Pete Chester. They were constantly trying to stay ahead in the planning and it often meant my leaving set to go through lighting plans and rigs for locations and sets often weeks ahead of time. It was something I hadn’t done before and it’s slightly unnerving to committing yourself to an approach so far in advance of a set being completed- very satisfying when it worked but unnerving when it didn’t. It is the recovery of the plan when the lighting really wasn't working that was the the most challenging issue I think for me. You’ve just got to make it work and you never really know how successful you're going to be until you stand in the space and just experience the light as it falls. You can plan it but really can never know for absolute certainty.
(d) What was the look you were going for?
The look was initially created by Julian Court, the very first DoP in Season 1 of the show and followed by Fabian in the first series. They utilised on Set LUTs and used a standard LUT box/Livegrade system which applied on set generated LUTs to digital lab created Processed rushes (on site) and meta data for this passed down the post chain to the final grade. However in the second season, Fabian along with David S.Goyer and Jet Omoshebi at Deluxe 123 in London elected to use a set of about a dozen pre formulated grades which were converted to Look Files and directly loaded into all three main camera bodies. Depending on where we were, what set we were on, the day/night variations, each DoP could draw or derive from this selection box of Look Files. The rushes were processed with the look applied and sent to editorial. Jet then performed the final grade based on these twelves initial grades. And as she had graded the first series, she naturally was able to evolve the look of the second and find a cleaner workflow along with Fabian for this season.
(e) What did you take away from the project and was there any
particular camera technique/lighting effect or deign/new concept
you felt engendered a more creative approach to the project?
I think for me it was the first time I had to deal with really large scale environments and sets. Of course the size of the set is often irrelevant as the human face never gets any bigger and it is this form ultimately that created the drama, this that creates the connection to the viewer and story. So it was important that the characters didn't get lost in the environments but that they contributed visually and thematically to the characters. Once I realised this I stopped worrying about the size of the spaces: after all, all one needs are just bigger lamps and many many more of them. And the key to this was making sure there were enough. It’s easier to switch a pre-rigged lamp off than it is to find out you need another one and have to get up there, rig it and focus it - because then, as they say, it’s too late.