THE RIDE with Master Anamorphics
Karl Walter Lindenlaub, ASC, BVK, was one of three cinematographers asked by ARRI to shoot test material for a showreel highlighting the exceptional optical performance of the new ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses. Lindenlaub opted to carry out his evaluation of three focal lengths from the range of seven Master Anamorphics in the form of a short film titled THE RIDE, which he directed and shot on location in Los Angeles. He combined the MA35, MA50 and MA75 lenses with an ALEXA camera, and writes here about his experiences on the shoot, as well as his thoughts on the anamorphic format.
THE RIDE is a short film that was directed and shot on location in Los Angeles by cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub, ASC, BVK, using an ALEXA and the MA35, MA50 and MA75 ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses. Lindenlaub was especially impressed by the consistency and lack of distortion of the Master Anamorphics.
I have shot six or seven movies in anamorphic and love the anamorphic format. Using anamorphic lenses you get the scope and the width for the wide vista or wide shot, but at the same time you have more compression because every lens consists of two lenses -- the vertical is twice as long as the horizontal, so the space is compressed and faces feel more a part of the frame. You also get these beautiful out-of-focus backgrounds that are very painterly, which is something I really like about the format. With Super 35 mm transferred to anamorphic faces tend to get a little bit lost because there's so much negative space, whereas with real anamorphic the face takes up more room in the same frame.
THE RIDE was more of a dramatic test than a theoretical test. Technical tests can get boring; shooting lens charts is one thing, but the human eye wants to be directed into certain areas when watching an image. It is very important to see faces, and how a lens renders skin tones, so I think a practical test is really important in order to get a feel for a lens.
Anamorphic was originally designed for epic vistas -- big event productions like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA -- but since then a lot of dramas and more intimate movies have taken great advantage of it, so those rules don't really matter.
I was very inspired by early Mike Nichols movies, like THE GRADUATE. He always shot anamorphic for drama. I don't think most cameramen like over-covering things; if we could, we'd all do great master shots that move around and we'd get very little extra coverage! But of course anamorphic isn't right for everything. In preproduction you have to evaluate if it suits the project, because if the spaces are small then it can mean you're never going to see the actors' feet. You have to weigh the pluses and the minuses.
THE BANGER SISTERS for example -- a small movie I shot a couple of years ago in Cinemascope -- is about two middle-aged women in crisis who remember their old days in the rock and roll world. It was a perfect use for anamorphic, I thought, because we could have two great actresses, Susan Sarandon and Goldie Hawn, in the frame together; we didn't have to cut all the time, and we didn't have to get a lot of coverage, which helped with the small budget.
On THE RIDE, the first shot we did was a big landscape with the sun coming over the mountain and telephone poles all along the road. We did that with the MA35 and it was pretty amazing that it didn't distort the vertical lines like a 35 mm anamorphic normally does. This was at sunrise and we shot right into the sun to see if the lens could hold the image, and it worked nicely. Even with the car against the sun, there was nothing in the frame that bothered me -- the coating is extremely good. The 35 mm was so nice that I did four shots with it, which is probably more than I've used a 35 mm anamorphic lens my whole life!
Go behind the scenes during filming of THE RIDE, directed and captured in true anamorphic by Karl-Walter Lindenlaub ASC, BVK, on ALEXA with the MA35, MA50 and MA75 ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses. Music by Statler Brothers, "Flowers on the Wall."
For the end I thought it would be interesting to try dusk for night -- magic hour. It is this sweet moment with our couple where the city comes to life as all the lights come on. We used the MA50 and the MA75 for this sequence. The foreground gets a little dark and so you have to light it a bit, which in the past would have been tough with anamorphic, but we shot at dusk with one M18 light and lots of double scrims bounced in a 12x12, and it was interesting to see how long we could go on for, with ALEXA's sensitivity and the speed of the Master Anamorphics. I had never shot anamorphic with that little ambient light before. You can see how the old headlights of the car actually light the face from the side.
Skin tones are extremely important, and how color tracks. It's terrific to get a new set of anamorphics that is completely consistent across the range. In the old days, every anamorphic lens was custom built and you had to check them out and find a good 50 mm, but even then it wouldn't look like the 40 mm, so it was hard to get a good set. The Master Anamorphics all perform in the same way, which is great.
The three focal lengths we had made a nice group. I'd add a really long lens to this because I think they are especially pretty for close-ups in anamorphic. Once you're up to 100 mm or 135 mm, something else starts to happen [The MA100 starts shipping from December 2013 and the MA135 from April 2014]. Sure, if you had to you could shoot a whole movie on a 50 mm; it's not like you need 20 lenses to shoot a film, but for tighter over-the-shoulder shots I usually like the 75 mm and for closer shots something over 100 mm.
I found that the Master Anamorphics are sharp but in a very pleasant way, especially in the range of skin tones.
Flares are a matter of taste. I'm not a huge fan of blue streaks, so I like that these lenses don't do that easily. I try to pull people into the story and those things can take them out a little bit. Sure, a lens flare can look great and sometimes a blue streak can look great, but to have it always there can get too much.
I found that the Master Anamorphics are sharp but in a very pleasant way, especially in the range of skin tones. These days this is not always the case. Certain lenses are very hard and contrasty, and certainly with digital cameras, you have to use much heavier diffusion than I like to.
In general we had no technical hiccups and everything fell right into place. To no surprise the Master Anamorphic lenses all match each other very well. I had a lot of fun on our shooting day; my LA crew gave me great help and support! Watch the making-of video as well, to see for yourself.
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