ALEXA, Alura and aurora borealis
Both as a filmmaker and an acclaimed musical composer, Philip Clemo defies classification. This multi-talented and multi-faceted British creative is an experimentalist who is continually aiming to evoke an immediate emotional response from his audience through his art.
His current work, perhaps the mirror image of his earlier career with the BBC (editing the hard-hitting politics and current affairs weekly PANORAMA program) requires a new style of photography, where the viewer becomes completely absorbed by the beauty of the sound and pictures. To this end, Clemo uses the ARRI ALEXA and an ARRI/FUJINON Alura Zoom lens, as well as 14 mm and 17 mm ARRI/ZEISS Master Prime optics.
"I have a background in postproduction and although my productions often reveal nature in an unfamiliar manner," he says, "I like to achieve results through the lens, and not rely on extensive grading, editing or CGI to render the world as I would like to show it."
Clemo is currently working on several productions about environment: an immersive multimedia installation, a series of short films and a feature-length piece entitled BREATH: JOURNEYS THROUGH THE LANDSCAPES OF LIFE, telling a story of human evolution in the context of changes witnessed in nature, in the environment and even on a planetary scale. That is why he ended up on a location shoot in the frozen landscape of the Norwegian fjords.
Interested in the possibility of synesthetic responses to the environment and the interplay of sounds, colors, movement and shapes, Clemo travelled north in order to shoot transitional arctic landscapes, seascapes and the wonders of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.
"We assessed a number of digital camera systems in advance of the trip, performing tests in a darkened cellar," says Clemo. "The ALEXA's low light performance was simply outstanding; it was the clear choice, as night shooting was such a key component of the trip."
In the field, Clemo put the camera through the rigors of long exposures of the night sky and in the daytime captured shots of foliage, fauna and ice, often against very bright sunlit snow.
"Norway's midnight sky light show can be incredible," he notes. "The lack of noise in the pictures I captured truly does it justice, and the way the ALEXA handled the extreme contrasts of the daylight shots was no less impressive. I've attempted aurora shoots previously on other digital cameras and the results were not satisfactory."
Clemo has particular praise for the Alura 45-250 mm. "It's a very robust piece of kit that needs a sturdy tripod -- there's no doubting the mechanical or optical quality," he says. "I had no issue cutting between the Alura and the Master Primes, the only real difference is in the T-stop range. With the Alura Zoom, there was no sign of chromatic aberration, flare was well controlled and, in the grading suite, it matches well with the Master Primes."
As soon as I checked the scopes and put a clip through grading, I realized that the ALEXA had retained huge amounts of detail.
Filming under clear skies, temperatures dropped as low as -20°C. Clemo was relieved that the ARRI kit worked without fault throughout. Finding the ALEXA's controls very intuitive, he was able to set up shots with ease and rely on the camera to deliver the results. He notes, "Operating the equipment in these climates was not the stiff challenge I had anticipated. I was able to work the camera quickly and accurately, even with gloves on."
Recording in ProRes 444 onto SxS PRO cards gave an excellent balance between image quality and file size. It also facilitated a fail-safe workflow, with cards being transferred onto twin external hard drives for total data security.
"Shooting remotely means having confidence in the kit and in the media itself," says Clemo. "I found that every piece of equipment -- every element of the production chain was flawless."
Clemo set the camera to capture in Log C. This involved something of a learning curve: "I was concerned about blown highlights shown on my laptop when I converted some of the shots to Rec 709," he says. "However, as soon as I checked the scopes and put a clip through grading, I realized that the ALEXA had retained huge amounts of detail and visual information, even in some of the most extreme lighting conditions."
The resulting pieces, currently edited into short promotional videos, are visually stunning and highly evocative. The films cut fluidly between microscopic, macroscopic and panoramic shots, with the vividness and natural textures of the images pointing to a bewildering and unorthodox masterpiece in the making.
"I'm trying to communicate visually, not verbally, to elicit a kind of childlike, pre-linguistic, visceral experience," Clemo concludes. "The ARRI kit, and the ARRI team, has been an invaluable part of the project."