Master Anamorphics take on the elements

Master Anamorphics take on the elements

The English-language thriller DON'T GROW UP is cinematographer Matias Boucard's second collaboration with director Thierry Poiraud, following GOAL OF THE DEAD. Both films were shot with ALEXA, but for DON'T GROW UP Boucard chose to work with ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses. Shot in just 26 days on location in the Canary Islands, the Franco-Spanish co-production recorded in ARRIRAW despite a fairly low budget, making the most of the Master Anamorphics' light weight, compact size and tough build quality. Boucard speaks here about his work on the film.

For me the Master Anamorphics are in a new category, combining the quality and ease-of-use of spherical lenses with classical anamorphic features.

Why did you decide to shoot anamorphic with ALEXA?

 

With a limited budget, we had to be careful with the choices we made to maximize production value. I love the texture of the ALEXA and how it reacts to colors; its sensitivity was also important because we had lot of night scenes in the city and in forests. The ALEXA's reliability was another factor. We used the camera on location, with a lot of different configurations and not enough money to have a backup body, but we never had any problems. It's vital to feel secure with the equipment when you're shooting on islands in the middle of the Atlantic.

 

In terms of shooting anamorphic, this was a special request from Thierry, because he wanted to do something more epic, with a classical cinematic look. We liked how anamorphic can change the viewer's perceptions of reality, as Thierry said, "Anamorphic gives you the feeling that you are watching a movie," and it was really important for him to tell this story in a cinematic way.

 

Why record ARRIRAW?

 

Although shooting in ProRes might have been cheaper, I knew that the texture of ARRIRAW would be more interesting for us and I explained to our producer that its flexibility would make shooting big parts of the movie much simpler. We all agreed that we would save money by being fast and light on set, so it was really convenient to have the XR Module and be able to record ARRIRAW in-camera; the more simple and lightweight the camera setup, the better I feel.

I worked hard with my assistant Francois Vigon to find the lightest accessories with the best possible performance. The ARRI WCU-4 (Wireless Control Unit) is a good example because it's compact, but the wireless performance is really good -- it can control the menu of the camera and it has so many tricks to help you on set. For one sequence on a beach we put the ALEXA in a splash bag; Francois was really far from me because I was in the water and the waves made it a bit dangerous for the equipment, but he was still able to pull focus all day without any problem, and he could do things like changing the frame rate without having to open the splash bag.

What about your workflow?

In Tenerife I had the good fortune to find Raphael Rodriguez, an amazing DIT who has a company called Blackout, with a lot of postproduction facilities. Together we built a data box with the dual dock system and we did the shoot with only four Codex drives. He helped us organize dailies in DCP that we saw in a local cinema in Santa-Cruz, and he also worked on set doing the down conversion for the edit. Each week we sent his work, with the backup, to our main digital lab in Paris. With Raphael beside us, the director and I never felt like we were far from a big postproduction facility; he made it really easy to shoot in ARRIRAW.

How did you rate the optical performance of the Master Anamorphics?

For me the Master Anamorphics are in a new category, combining the quality and ease-of-use of spherical lenses with classical anamorphic features. I think they offer a really modern look; they're not just another anamorphic lens set. The very good optical performance, together with the fact that they are so easy to work with and need such little attention, gives you the freedom to be creative.

Which focal lengths did you have?

I did 90 percent of the movie with the 35 mm, 50 mm and 75 mm; the other 10 percent was shot with vintage KOWA anamorphic lenses, to get crazy flares and milky images for a dream sequence and a love sequence. Sometimes I like to have limited focal lengths because it simplifies the cinematographic language and helps me to make fast decisions on set. The hardest part was actually finding an available set of Master Anamorphics, but fortunately I got in touch with Stijn Van der Veken (ASC, SBC), who helped us out with his own set and also gave me a lot of valuable advice, so I'm very grateful to him.

The fact that all the Master Anamorphics are the same size and weight helped us to work fast on set.

Were the lenses fast and easy to work with on location?

 

The whole movie was shot on location, which was one of the reasons we chose the Master Anamorphics. The first 20 minutes of the story is set in a children's home -- a place full of vertical and horizontal lines, with corridors and small rooms. The minimal distortion of the Master Anamorphics allowed us to work handheld and do a lot of panning movements in this environment, without any disturbing distortion.

 

I love to use natural light to build my images, and if I do use lights I prefer to put them outside windows. The way the Master Anamorphics react to highlights and flares really helps me to light daylight interiors as if I was working with spherical lenses; the fact that they are so contrasty also helped me keep and respect the color choices made with Thierry and the production designer. 

Were you able to shoot action and work handheld with the lenses?

We had to shoot a lot of action scenes in really different conditions, and perhaps 60 percent of the film is handheld. The fact that all the Master Anamorphics are the same size and weight helped us to work fast on set. Our final sequence was the scene on the beach, with the waves; we wanted to create a feeling of being close to the action, so we decided to be in the water with our actors. The Master Anamorphics easily fitted into the splash bag with the camera, allowing me to operate handheld with an Easyrig. I ran behind the actors and in the footage you can really feel the power of the elements. We were shooting in backlight with extreme contrast and highlights, but the Master Anamorphics in combination with the ALEXA's internal filter helped us build the scene. 

Did you use the lenses wide open at T1.9? 

Having the possibility to work at T1.9 was one of the main reasons to use the Master Anamorphics. Of course you have to be careful with the depth of field, but the optical performance of these lenses at T1.9 really helped me shoot night and interior scenes with a minimum of lighting. When you have big creative ambitions for a movie, but a small budget, the Master Anamorphics solve a lot of problems. This film would have looked completely different without them and I can't wait to use them on another project.