ALEXA makes low light Kylie promo possible

Cinematographer Will Bex turned to the ARRI ALEXA when he was given the task of shooting Kylie Minogue's music video for Get Outta My Way, the second single to be released from her current album Aphrodite. The video is a visual Kylie feast, with blonde dancers, glorious costumes and incredible lighting effects that were all created on the day, not in postproduction, using live interactive projections by Frieder Weiss.

Directed by promo team AlexandLiane and produced by Jon Adams for Factory Films, the video involved shooting in low light and high contrast situations – the perfect scenario for the high sensitivity and dynamic range of ALEXA's sensor. The ALEXA camera package and grip equipment was supplied by ARRI Media.

 

The directors had toyed with the idea of incorporating Weiss' light-bending projections into a music video for some time, but it wasn't until the arrival of ALEXA that their concept could become a reality. "It was all about timing I guess – the right idea with the right artist, at the right time, and with the right tool," says Bex, who shot the entire video at 1600 ASA, recording to HDCAM SR in 4:4:4 Rec 709 with an SRW-1 deck. "I just had great faith that we were in a good place with the ALEXA to work at such low light levels. Anyone who walked on that set realized just how low it was and I think with any other camera we'd have struggled."

To have the option of the ALEXA image, which seems so intuitively like film...that's exciting.

Having only seen the interactive projections on a laptop before the shoot, there was always an element of the unknown for Bex; not only was the shoot just one day, it was also his first experience working with ALEXA. "In my opinion, one-day music videos are mostly about risk, and you really need to stick your neck out for an idea," he continues. "To try and achieve something interesting or even great in a single day is always a risk and you kind of work with that. But still, it was quite a relief when we were looking at our first setup to actually see an image we'd planned, that I wasn't going to have to push. It was also reassuring to have enough of an exposure to facilitate both the projections and the beauty lighting that I needed for Kylie."

 

Bex found that ALEXA's sensitivity meant he was much less restricted in his use of gels, so he took full advantage of the opportunity to fill his frame with primary color. "I have certain lighting gels that I love to use on film," explains the cinematographer, "but you put an effects gel on the single lamp that you've just about been able to afford on the budget and it kills the light, depending on the density of the gel. Eventually those gels just become useless to you, unless you're really up close; but I was finding I could use the gels, and I was only able to do that because the ALEXA saw them at an immeasurable exposure."

In fact, Bex was pleasantly surprised by just how much ALEXA could see and very quickly discovered that the camera required a different approach to lighting than he was used to. The cinematographer found himself considerably pulling back the key light he was using on Kylie. "It was practically out the door," he claims, "and I had to put twice the number of frames in front of it just to soften the light right off; that was the one moment on set where I actually gasped. I was shooting wide open and couldn't stop down because of the exposure of the projections."

Working at 1600 ASA and having to pull lamps back as far as they would go, Bex found that ALEXA's extraordinary sensitivity to light rendered his usual methods of measuring exposure almost redundant. "Do cameramen shooting with the ALEXA in an environment like we were in have to retire their light meters?" asks Bex. "Probably not, but my light meter was a little useless to me on the day." He jokes, "I just kind of kept hold of it to look like I knew what I was doing, but I couldn't get a reading on it. I could just about read it on Kylie's key light, but I couldn't read it anywhere else. So my light meter was useless, but the ALEXA was seeing everything – that was the point."

Postproduction was at Rushes in London, where colorist Simone Grattarola – who has an established relationship with AlexandLiane – carried out the grade. The decision was taken to treat the ALEXA material as having the same latitude as 35 mm film. "Interestingly, our last two or three shoots with AlexandLiane directing and Simone color grading were on 2-perforation, so we had been in that 35 mm mindset," says Bex. "I think that after a while we actually forgot what the format was, because sometimes in digital filmmaking that can be a major distraction, but we were really just doing fairly standard things to the image."

The fact that so much of the video's final look was created on set meant the grade was relatively uncomplicated, although a certain amount of background had to be painted out due to ALEXA's ability to penetrate the shadows. "There were all sorts of things in the shadows of the frame – like a bit of black drape on stands," notes Bex. "On any other shoot I would not expect to see it in the back of the frame, but of course the ALEXA saw it and therefore it required cleaning up. That just gives you an indication of how much the camera was seeing.

"Mainly, though, we had a great time in the grade," continues the cinematographer. "I knew we were in a good place because normally after a shoot we're exhausted, but we were all in high spirits because of the images we had. The color rendering held; every color hue I put into it just really, really held and everyone looked fantastic. The key is how subtle you can be with it and I've found that in the big rush of DSLRs and all those other branded cameras, it's been really hard to find that low light subtlety. I felt it on that Kylie set because I would never, ever have achieved it in the past with another digital camera – it just wouldn't have been possible."

Bex concludes, "To have the option of the ALEXA image, which seems so intuitively like film – that's exciting. I think in terms of a direct comparison with 35 mm, I would say it's close; I'm not going to call it film, but it is close. I would call it digital film."