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DP Alexandre Léglise on the documentary “Animal” shot on ARRI AMIRA with Master Grips

As a cinematographer and camera operator, Léglise was looking for tools that were robust yet lightweight. He wanted ease and flexibility without having to compromise on skin tone or color rendering. The AMIRA camera together with its ARRIRAW recording option and the ARRI Master Grips provided the support he needed in all conditions.

After the success of “Tomorrow” by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent, director of photography Alexandre Léglise chose the ARRI AMIRA and ARRI Master Grips for “Animal,” Dion’s latest documentary. Currently in postproduction, “Animal” examines mankind’s place on planet Earth. In an interview with ARRI, Léglise reminisces on filming all over the world, the grueling conditions of such an undertaking, and how he was able to make the most out of the AMIRA’s ARRIRAW recording option.

“Tomorrow” by Cyril Dion and Mélanie Laurent was a great success in 2015. How did you approach “Animal,” the director's new project?

I have been friends with Cyril Dion for over 20 years. I know how he operates. One must be able to adapt throughout the filming process. This is not always easy in terms of organization and technique. “Animal” is a film about man's place in the animal kingdom; how we fit into the living sphere. Like on “Tomorrow,” Cyril Dion is looking for positive solutions. He is not into punitive environmentalism. In terms of the storyline, we used a similar principle as in “Tomorrow” where we accompanied Mélanie and Cyril as they met people in the field who were working on actual projects. Our team followed two young activists around the world: in Costa Rica, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, India, Kenya, Normandy and Charente in France. I needed a solid tool that could support me in all these diverse conditions.

What tools did you choose to work with on this film?

I made comparison tests with several cameras and the AMIRA stood out immediately. The ARRIRAW recording delivers extremely attractive skin textures because it works with the same sensor as the ALEXA. Some things also struck me with the camera when I handled it: the ergonomics, the way it balances well on the shoulder, the very nice viewfinder. Since I'm also the operator, I knew that I would have to shoot handheld for five to six hours a day. I immediately understood that it was the tool I needed. And this was confirmed in the field. There is something organic about AMIRA. Its rendering of skin tones was superior and the latitude of its sensor is exceptional. Also, the subtlety of the color rendering, the softness in the shadows, the lightly dense rendering of the ochres and greens. This aspect was very important on this film as we shot a great deal of footage in nature.

What were some benefits that you experiences while shooting ARRIRAW with the ARRI AMIRA?

Cyril's desire was to follow the protagonists as they moved through their environment. So, the shooting conditions were very active, even acrobatic. There was no option to add or diminish extra light; I was always dealing with reality. We filmed a lot outdoors with varying degrees of brightness that I couldn't control. ARRIRAW gave me enormous latitude. For example, I filmed the characters moving from an undergrowth to a clearing where suddenly, the light exploded! ARRIRAW allowed me to cope with these big differences. I have so much latitude with AMIRA that I can recover in postproduction. Even for the face-to-face outdoor interviews, I often had to settle for a white sheet as a reflector. ARRIRAW allowed me to cope very well with backlighting. In fact, it gave me room to maneuver. It was very valuable on this film.

You also used the ARRI Master Grips for the film. Could you tell us a bit about your experiences with them?

Yes, they are an exceptional tool! I wanted a system that would allow me to freely choose my lenses. This was the case with Master Grips. With the zooms, I mainly worked at 35 mm, which gave me the ideal distance from the characters. The challenge in “Animal” was to film people in their ecosystem. With the 35 mm, I was able to stay close to their faces without bothering them. At the same time, I kept a relation with the organic background; the setting was still present in the background. With the Master Grips, I could activate the zoom, crop the shot, adjust the focus. I worked a lot at T 2.8 to isolate the characters. This forced me to make adjustments all the time. At this aperture there will be blurring, but we still recognize the environment, even if it fades. The Master Grips allowed me to play with this all the time in the moment. It is the ideal tool when working handheld while being very responsive.

Did you use any LUTs with AMIRA?

We were a very small team but I wanted to have a DIT on the set. It made me feel very secure to have my DIT, Brice Barbier, there. He followed us around the world with his suitcase of equipment. We did some tests together and realized that my way of lighting was perfect at 640 ASA. With my eye, I tend to underexpose a little, so we prepared some curves. Since Brice was on set, he was constantly adjusting them. This allowed him to pre-calibrate. After a while, we were so confident with AMIRA that we wanted to push it to its limits: “Come on! Let's see what she has in her guts,” we would say. And although we were constantly on the ridge line, AMIRA always managed. It was all thanks to the richness of the ARRI sensor. Not to mention the quality of the camera unit. We even brought along a spare AMIRA, but we never needed to use it!

“Animal” image team

DP: Alexandre Léglise

1st assistant: Charlie Renier

DIT: Brice Barbier