A Master Anamorphic In Paris

The first three focal lengths of the highly anticipated new ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lens series are due to start shipping in May (the MA35, MA50 and MA75). In the build-up, ARRI loaned the first production model, a 50 mm MA50 lens, to the respected French DP and Co-President of the AFC, Michel Abramowicz.

Master Anamorphic showreel: A TRIP TO REMEMBER

DP Michel Abramowicz, AFC, recently used a 50 mm ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lens on a short film titled A TRIP TO REMEMBER, which was shot on location in Paris.

The MA50, which recently won a prestigious iF product design award, was put to use by Abramowicz on a short film titled A TRIP TO REMEMBER, which was directed by Roberto de Angelis and shot on location in Paris over three days in January. Combining the Master Anamorphic with an ARRI ALEXA camera, Abramowicz put ARRI's new state-of-the-art lens through its paces and found that it combined the convenience of modern design with the unmistakably cinematic look of classic 'scope' movies.


ARRI: Had you worked with Roberto before?


Michel Abramowicz: Yes, I've known Roberto for about 15 years. I met him in Italy when he was a young Steadicam operator; we stayed in touch and did a few movies together. Roberto's main wish is to be a director and he has done some second unit work on movies. His name just came up for this shoot naturally because he's a very dynamic director as well as a talented Steadicam operator. He came in with a script and we adapted the testing we wanted to do to that script.


ARRI: What were your thoughts going into the shoot?


MA: I agreed to do the test but I wanted to do it like a movie, under the normal conditions of filmmaking. Our main concern at the beginning was how to make a short film with only one lens, but when I was a focus puller I did a movie with the great French director Robert Bresson, who only worked with a 50 mm lens. He had been a painter and he felt that the 50 mm was the normal view of people. The DP was Pasqualino De Santis and he never went on recces, so I would go, and I remember that the main problem was finding locations that worked with the 50 mm lens. It was the same on this shoot; when we recced the locations we looked for places that would work with the one lens we had, so it wasn't a problem.

ARRI: What kinds of different situations did you shoot in?

MA: Having to work with only one lens pushed us into discovering everything that the lens could do, which was really the purpose of the exercise. We decided to shoot Steadicam quite a lot, as that enabled us to get both wide shots and close-ups. The idea of the movie is to show off the anamorphic format as a fantastic one for cinema; for me it is the format for cinema.

I was very happy with how the Master Anamorphic performed at T1.9 because there was no distortion and no loss of the color structure.

When you work in anamorphic you need the right locations and you need to build your frame carefully. For people of my generation, who worked for so long with film negative, leaving behind the texture of film grain is quite painful, but if we can carry the anamorphic format into the digital revolution then we retain something really cinematic.

ARRI: Did you try the lens at its maximum aperture of T1.9?

MA: We decided to work a lot at T1.9 to keep the background out of focus and keep a shallow depth of field. With ALEXA's sensitivity it would have been easy to work at T4 or T5.6, but we really wanted to restrict the depth of field. I was very happy with how the Master Anamorphic performed at T1.9 because there was no distortion and no loss of the color structure, the colors remained completely stable. Zeiss obviously worked very hard on this lens because it gives a very nice quality of picture. The flaring is nice but not too strong.

ARRI: What did you think of the focus performance?

MA: We were trying to maximize the out-of-focus backgrounds and highlights, and we loved the effect. When you focus on something specific in the frame then you are really telling your story; with the Master Anamorphic there is a graduation as the focus falls away that is very nice. I do notice that a lot of films shot digitally can look the same, but with anamorphic you have possibility -- if you have a good focus puller -- of creating a truly cinematic picture and getting back to a feeling of real cinema.

With the Master Anamorphic there is a graduation as the focus falls away that is very nice.

ARRI: Were you pleased with how the skin tones were rendered?

MA: Yes, absolutely. For the nice skin tones I think it was a combination of four elements: the most important is the lens; then the ALEXA; then the lighting; and finally the make-up girl! When we showed the film on a big screen at Micro Salon a lot of people asked me if I had actually lit it, because there is a misconception that shooting digitally at 800 ASA or higher means you don't need to light anything, but it's not true. Cinematographers need to adapt to digital but we also need to continue to light the image -- this is fundamental. However, it is true that this lens helps a lot with getting a very nice skin texture and color; in fact these were the nicest skin tones I have ever seen on digital. The film looked fantastic at Micro Salon with a 4K projector, it was just incredible.

ARRI: Were you able to work quickly and efficiently on set with the lens?

MA: I have done a lot of films in the past with other anamorphic lenses and they tend to be so heavy -- every lens is like a suitcase and if you want to move around a lot you need a big crew. Today, with this kind of smaller and lighter lens, you could do a low budget movie on anamorphic, which was impossible before. A Master Anamorphic lens is really no heavier than a normal lens, which is a dream.

On this shoot we had to move fast. Of course we only had one lens, which made it easier, but it was clear to me that with the Master Anamorphics you could do a movie in the same way as a regular spherical movie; you wouldn't need additional people and changing location wouldn't be any harder. Always in the past I would push to work in anamorphic but the producers knew it would be more expensive in terms of people and transportation, but now those days are over, which I'm very glad about. Now, if anamorphic is right for the movie, then there is no reason not to use it -- everybody can work in anamorphic today.