Beethoven in China with AMIRA Multicam

When the Xinghai Concert Hall in the Chinese city of Guangzhou planned the celebratory concert to mark its 20th anniversary, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was an obvious choice. The composer’s final completed symphony is one of the most frequently performed pieces of classical music; yet it remains one of the most artistically revolutionary pieces in the repertoire.  

Two hundred years after it was written, staging the symphony still poses many challenges. The sheer number of performers can be hard to marshal, as the work calls for a large orchestra, a choir and solo singers, comprising a total of 170 people in all. 

The anniversary concert was performed by the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, the WDR Radio Choir and WDR Radio Orchestra under the direction of Jukka Pekka Saraste. In addition to the 15,000 people who watched the concert in the hall, it was streamed live to 50,000 viewers by Tencent Video using eight AMIRA cameras. Dongwei Zhao from Tencent Video Tech Center talked to ARRI about his experience with the AMIRA Multicam system.

ARRI: Please tell us some more about the production.

Zhao:
The Xinhai music hall is famous for its acoustic, which gives great, top-notch sound.  We paired the hall’s high quality audio production with our video feed, to give viewers a high quality visual experience to match. One of the most important issues was the placing of the cameras. The design of the hall meant we didn’t have dedicated camera positions, so we had to put them where they wouldn’t obstruct the audience while also having a nice view of the stage.

ARRI: Why did you decide to use AMIRAs?

Zhao:
We first noticed the outstanding image quality of the AMIRA when the Hunan Broadcasting System used more than 20 AMIRAs on the BTS reality show I’M A SINGER. The AMIRA can be used to shoot movies, TV shows, commercials and documentaries, so it was always an option for us – but it’s the first time we’ve used it, and we found the image quality astonishingly good.  

ARRI: Did the shallow depth of field give you any problems – which lenses did you use? 

Zhao: We used two 19-90mm T2.9 on PL mounts, and a 17-120mm. We also used five B4 mount lenses, including two 40x zooms for single close-ups, one 20x zoom for the lead players and the conductor, and two B4 wide angle lenses for the full frontal and back views of the auditorium. 

We recorded on HD, so we didn’t have a huge problem with the focus. The distances inside were manageable and we had the right lenses to cover them. We also connected the team by our walkie-talkie system, which allowed for smooth communication and that meant we didn’t have many problems in the transitions between different angles. 

We shot scenes according to a priority list formulated by the director. For this event we also had an assistant director, who was familiar with the orchestra and the music. He kept us on the right performer and instrument at the appropriate time. We put our cine lenses near the stage, like the 19-90mm and 17-120mm I mentioned before, to shoot the strings and the conductor, and the AMIRA’s shallow depth-of-field was perfect. For example, when we had a shot with the conductor and the performer both in frame but at different distances, racking focus was a great technique to show the upward and downward trend of the music. That’s a real advantage of the cine lenses.

ARRI: What format did you record on? 

Zhao: We recorded on ProRes 422 HQ in Log C at the lowest bit rate. That’s essential for Log C. The show lasted for about 100 minutes, and the overall data from all eight cameras was about 2 terabytes.

Because AMIRA supports Log C recording on camera, and also supports Rec709 from SDI, we were able to use high quality HDR files in post to produce some pay-to-view content. This version was much better than the live recorded version. With more preparation time we could probably make some LUTs or use LUTs from colorists, or try out the 70 presets on AMIRA. That’s another set of artistic tools a director can deploy. Even in SDR, AMIRA gives great dynamic range.

ARRI: How about the image from the stream? 

Zhao: It gave us a “brand-new” feeling. The grading of skin tone was outstanding, given that we had a wide range of performers from different ethnic backgrounds and of different ages. You don’t get rough edges on faces with AMIRAs.

Other than having rich and delicate skin tones, there’s a sense of beautiful softening in the highlight areas on faces. We love that filmic quality. The lighting was focused on the orchestra rather than the audience. And the image contrast delivered by AMIRA is also very filmic. With different angles for both the conductor and the performers, it looked very engaging.

ARRI: How about the overall lighting condition of the hall? 

Zhao: We didn’t meet too many challenges in that regard - the lighting wasn’t too complicated, so we balanced the white and the operators concentrated on shooting the performance. The low-light areas were quite smooth and the noise level was quite low. It basically met our expectations. If we had more time and people, we might include some colorists in the team to enhance the filmic sense. 

ARRI: What were your take-away thoughts? 

Zhao: Using the ARRI cameras gave us a great feeling about the image, and as we were producing a high-level classical performance that was very important to us. And for our short-term projects in the future, the on-board recording will be useful. AMIRA supports B4 and PL mounts, and so – where appropriate – we could even use primes for certain shots. But, of course, that would be more of a challenge for our crew members. ARRI China’s technical support was also really helpful.  

PHOTOS: Xinghai Concert Hall