ProRes for the big screen
The ARRI ALEXA family of cameras offers a whole range of different recording and workflow solutions to suit television and feature film productions of all kinds. Top-level movies are handled by the system with distinction, as evidenced by the visual effects and cinematography Oscars garnered by Martin Scorsese's ALEXA-shot film HUGO at last month's Academy Awards.
Recently, a great many of the motion pictures being shot with ALEXA have chosen to record ARRIRAW using external recording devices, for the ultimate in image quality. However, it is important to note that in-camera recording of ProRes to SxS PRO cards can also deliver images of fantastic quality for exhibition on the big screen.
Two features that have taken the ProRes route are the dark, LA-based cop drama RAMPART and the smash-hit British comedy THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE. Though very different in subject matter, these two films both had to balance schedule and budgetary restrictions with the need for high quality images in difficult lighting conditions, while maintaining freedom of movement for the actors and camera crews; a tall order, but one that was perfectly catered to by opting for the fast, simple, ProRes workflow.
RAMPART was shot with spherical lenses but a 2.39:1 crop was extracted from the 16:9 ProRes 4444 Log C image for a truly cinematic aspect ratio. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski took advantage of ALEXA's wide dynamic range when he used extremes of light and dark to reflect the troubled psyche of the film's central character, played by Woody Harrelson. Bukowski notes, "The director and I talked about how we could visually represent someone who is 'fading away.' One thing we came up with was to shoot him against windows where it's very bright outside, so the very edges of him start to deteriorate."
At the end of each day we would often view an edited sequence of something we had shot that morning.
The lack of external recording devices or excessive cables kept the camera configuration lightweight and nimble, allowing the actors to go anywhere and do anything they felt was right for each scene. Bukowski recalls one particular shot that made full use of ALEXA's dynamic range and maneuverability in a ProRes setup. "We were shooting inside a house and the actors decided to go outside, so the two of us operators followed," he says. "I glanced at my monitor and everything looked completely blown out, so when we cut, I went over to the DIT's station to see if any of the shot was salvageable, and it was all there! Six stops over and plenty of detail!"
On THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE, the story of four hapless adolescents on holiday abroad, cinematographer Ben Wheeler knew that the location shoot in Mallorca would test whatever camera equipment he chose. "We were going to be shooting in very bright Spanish sun and moving at an incredibly fast pace," says Wheeler. "We would also be shooting a lot of handheld and I found the ALEXA to be very ergonomic and lightweight."
Again, the preference for handheld shooting made recording ProRes to in-camera SxS PRO cards the most operator-friendly solution. Even more helpful was the fast and easy access to recorded footage. "Filmed material was synced on set and delivered to editorial, which was on location at our hotel, ready to cut," continues Wheeler. "At the end of each day we would often view an edited sequence of something we had shot that morning. The director returned at the end of the shoot with half of the film rough cut on an iPad -- the turnaround was phenomenal."
All in all, Wheeler had no doubts that the advantages of ProRes 4444 Log C recording made it the right choice for THE INBETWEENERS MOVIE. "I think the cinematic look we were achieving convinced the producers of our choice pretty quickly," concludes the cinematographer. "The speed at which we could move didn't go unnoticed either."
With DNxHD 444, ProRes 2K and ProRes 4:3 coming soon, in-camera recording options for big-screen ALEXA productions will look even better in 2012.