The new look on wild Brazil
Utilizing a variety of customized camera techniques, Emmy award-winning cinematographer Cristian Dimitrius delivers a new and exciting view of the wildlife found in his native Brazil. CÂMERA SELVAGEM is a new type of reality show now available to viewers of Brazil’s National Geographic Channel. With the help of ARRI cameras and LED soft lights, Dimitrius brings a dramatic series look to this reality wildlife series. When asked about the quality of the images coming from the cameras, he says, “On a scale from 0 to 10, 10! The texture we have on the show is something I have never seen on similar shows on this channel. And I can’t imagine achieving this with any other cameras.
Dimitrius tells us about how he utilizes AMIRA and ALEXA Mini, and the ARRI SkyPanel soft light, to create the look and feel he is after.
Utilizing a variety of customized camera techniques, Emmy award-winning cinematographer Cristian Dimitrius delivers a new and exciting view of the wildlife found in his native Brazil.
This is a pretty unique wildlife series. Can you tell us a little about it?
This series is unique in many ways. The plot is about the process of getting a unique image of a unique wildlife sequence using a unique gadget. The way we present it is what makes this show special. We use a very cinematic look for a reality show, and we highlight the conflicts between the three main characters. A wildlife filmmaker, an engineer and a science-nerd, with totally different personalities, need to successfully complete a mission together. The show has drama, comedy, adventure, action, and, of course lots of wildlife.
In every episode we devise a different type of camera shot so we have to build new equipment to achieve it. The process is divided into three parts. The Lab, where I explain what shot we need and we brainstorm ways to create the specific gadget required to get it. The Factory, where we transform the idea into a real gadget and build it from scratch. If everything is good, we move out to The Field where we go to get the shot. Here we don't have any control of the elements and the camera gadget is put to the test. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Were different visual approaches taken for the various phases of the show? How did you decide on a look for each?
Every part has a different visual approach. The Lab is the most cinematic. It is very colorful and full of props, like a kindergarten for adults, with lots of toys. The Factory is more metallic and hard, with colder lights. It’s a real factory so we had some control of the light, mixing ambient and artificial sources. It’s the part where we use short clips to show the building process, with lots of slow motion, macros and point of view shots. In The Field is where we move to a more reality look, just natural light, more on shoulder camera movements, where everything happens really fast. We tried to keep a very shallow depth of field so we would not lose the feel of the rest of the show.
It seems that most shoot days may have been unpredictable and fast-paced. What cameras did you choose? Why?
Like any outdoor wildlife shoot, it was really fast-paced and really unpredictable. We chose ARRI AMIRA for most of the show and ALEXA Mini for special shots. Both were chosen principally due to the quality of the sensor and the look of the image. Next was their versatility and ability to work in diverse environments, and of course the reliability. The cameras needed to work all the time. We could not afford any failures. Also the size, ergonomics and weight were great for a reduced team like ours.
How did the AMIRA and ALEXA Mini hold up under the hot, humid, conditions?
Very well. We didn't have one single problem with either camera. AMIRA was our workhorse, shooting in all environments all day long, from the beautiful island of Fernando de Noronha to the heart of the Pantanal. The Mini was great to use for different angles and on a Steadicam. I believe it’s a great combination, delivering exceptional quality and making the post-people very happy. It is definitely a great camera set for a series like this.
Did you use the in-camera LUTs and ND filters? What do you think of those?
We shot all sequences in ARRI LOG C due to the variety of different environments and to have more flexibility in post. The internal ND filters on AMIRA were essential for outdoor shots because we had no control of the light. NDs could easily be added without changing f-stop and keeping the same depth of field. I think it’s a great feature and I can’t imagine a shoot like this, so fast, so intense, having to add external ND filters. We would lose too much time and sometimes even the whole shot.
I understand you also used an ARRI Sky Panel LED soft light for some scenes. What were your impressions?
The SkyPanel is definitely the next generation of light, that I can now take anywhere. I had an S60 in The Lab and in The Factory scenes and an S30 that was very handy in The Field. Using two V-lock batteries we could easily carry it to our night shots in the field. It puts out just the right amount of light, in the right color, to match the moon. It gives that little push so that we could shoot night scenes in the most natural way possible. The look is great. I’ve been dreaming about a light like this for years. In The Factory and in The Lab it was our main light source and with the easy adjustment of the light temperature it was no problem to match the colors of the different phases of the show. Also, the integrated gel library feature made everything faster and easier to work with a small team.
When will Nat Geo air this show? What is next for you?
The show has been airing since July 16th. We have eight totally different episodes. I’m sure people will enjoy this new format.
What’s next? Season 2, some more stories from around the world for my TV Globo show and a new wildlife series about the coast of Brazil. There is still so much beauty in this world that needs to be shown to the greater audience and I’ll keep looking for that unique shot to share with everyone.