British cinematographer Tony Coldwell recently used ARRI ALEXA cameras and ARRI/ZEISS Ultra Prime lenses on the BBC children's series WOLFBLOOD. Here below is his report:
13 x 30-minute episodes of television for a BBC/ZDF co-production in 13 weeks of shooting, and very ambitious CGI to factor into the mix: that was my task in January this year. Shooting was to take place in Northumberland, in the north-east of England, in what turned out to be the wettest spring and early summer for 100 years.
WOLFBLOOD is about two teenage school kids who can transform into wolves every time there is a full moon, and their efforts to hide this fact from their friends and the rest of the local population. The ambitious script required even more ambitious CGI, so the effects house Trixter -- neighbors with ARRI in Munich -- came onboard as CGI partners, under the guiding eye of the very talented VFX supervisor Jan Stoltz.
The main locations were a school and nearby forests, with one episode devoted to a trip to Holy Island just off the Northumberland coast. A high daily page count was answered by shooting with two ALEXAs all of the time -- both wireless and both mainly handheld. Some days we could hit 60-70 setups between the two cameras. Of course, scenes with large elements of CGI were not as prolific and it's fairly impossible to keep that kind of pace up all the time, but with two ALEXAs, a set of Ultra Prime lenses, wireless monitoring and a handheld approach, you can fly through setups.
The shoot involved about eight weeks of night shoots with difficult access for lighting huge areas of forest. Consequently, shooting time was even more curtailed. With three directors on the series, some kind of continuity of style had to be achieved and a look of urgent, energetic handheld moves began to develop as the house style. As a DP who did years of documentary work on film, I find the ALEXA gives me the same flexibility and ergonomics as a Super 16 film camera. The quantum leap forward, however, is the sensitivity to light and the latitude that the ALEXA delivers.
One attribute the transformed Wolfbloods had in the show was an ability to run at superfast speeds. The producer didn't want this to be a CGI solution, so we worked through combinations of shutter angles and frame rates to achieve the effect in-camera. With the right foregrounds and various methods of transport, we worked out some very impressive solutions - sometimes shooting from the back of quad bikes, cars and rickshaws, and sometimes running with the ALEXA. By the end of the shoot my grip, Dan Inman, had designed and constructed a ZipCam style rig on wires between the trees for my Canon 5D Mark III, to get great swooping aerial shots. His next version of the rig will take an ALEXA so we can get even better pictures.
Throughout the shoot we collected frame grabs on nearly every scene and the DIT and I would explore looks with the ARRI Look Creator - sometimes for use on set but mainly to bank ideas for the grade. We generally shot in ProRes 422 (HQ), but sequences that were going to have CGI content we shot ProRes 4444.
It seems remarkable now, after shooting has finished, that we managed to shoot a series of 13 30-minute films in just 13 weeks. It's a testament to the crew and the camera that we managed to pull it off. Of course most of the weeks extended beyond their originally intended five days and everyone on the crew was at the top of their game, but the ALEXA cameras remained consistent and trouble-free for the entire period of the shoot, through the cold and rain of early 2012 in the UK.
A basic explanation of the XT Fan that is available as an upgrade for all ALEXA Classic cameras and how to distinguish it from the ALEXA Classic fan.