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ARRI cameras and lighting behind the many works of Italian DP Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini AIC

From fashion commercials to series teasers, cinematographer Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini chooses to work with ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, ALEXA Mini, Signature Primes, TRINITY, and SkyPanel.

Proficient in a wide range of genera, DP Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini AIC has lent his skills to the world of TV with the series “Curon” and cinema with “Holidays on Mars.” He has also gathered years of experience in the field of commercials for well-known brands, including high-end fashion houses. Throughout his projects, Brandstetter de Bellesini relies on ARRI products such as the ALEXA Mini LF, Signature Prime lenses, TRINITY Stabilizer, and SkyPanel softlights whenever he can. Some of his most recent work includes advertising campaigns for Armani and Dolce & Gabbana, as well as teaser videos for the final season of TV series “Gomorrah.” ARRI sat down with the cinematographer to gain some insight about his choice of equipment and hear how the tools perform.

Armani Exchange

Still taken from the Armani Exchange Spring Summer 2021 Advertising Campaign

Black and white with a rich and dense gray range: Still taken from the Armani Exchange Spring Summer 2021 advertising campaign

What visual style were you looking for in this project? 

I had worked for this brand before and knew that Armani Exchange has a well-defined aesthetic: elegant black and white with some touches of color and the use of a LED wall. In this case, I was in charge of the main campaign, the eyewear campaign, and the watch campaign. The brief proposed by the creative direction and director Michele Bizzi proposed abstract graphics on the LED wall—positioned on four sides and able to aid in lighting the subjects—with very dynamic images and wide-angle lenses in motion. We were looking for black and white with a rich and dense gray range. Motion graphics determined the lighting and produced reflections on glasses and watches so there was a colorimetry problem that required paying close attention to saturation and de-saturation. You had to get the white of the LEDs to match the white of the camera, and I had to work with Michele to have the graphics mapped in order to get interesting light and shadow patterns.

Why did you choose the ARRI ALEXA Mini?

Shooting with the ARRI ALEXA Mini means that you will be absolutely comfortable with the colors and latitudes. It's a camera that solves problems rather than creating them. It allows you to be sure you'll get the job done without surprises. In this case it was perfect for the richness of the shadows and the gentleness of the highlights. A second camera body hand-operated by Alex Crovi allowed even more coverage and availability of B-roll to enrich the editing. We also used ARRIRAW as our recording format.

Were there any particular difficulties while shooting? 

We had to pay attention to the reflections on the glasses. We programmed ARRI SkyPanel front lights overhead so that they followed what was happening as closely as possible and increased the dynamics of the scenes. We mounted ring lights on the camera for aesthetics on close-up wide angles; the fall of the light helps to emphasize the movement of the camera. As soon as the subject gets closer or farther away, the image goes very quickly from underexposure to overexposure and you feel even more that it is moving. 

A still taken from the Armani Exchange Spring Summer 2021 advertising campaign

"We had to pay attention to the reflections on the glasses," says DP Brandstetter de Bellesini on the Armani Exchange eyewear campaign

How did you maintain camera stability? 

I have been using the ARRI TRINITY with Luca Sportelli. I use it a lot because it offers flexibility, and that helps so much in fashion film photography. TRINITY allows you to better capture the dynamism of wide-angle close-ups and half-heights. This is always a problem with Steadicam because you have to be in hi-mode or low-mode. Particularly in fashion commercials, when you want to tell the story of outfits, you often find yourself with the camera between 90 centimeters and 6 feet, and that's exactly where Steadicams fall apart. Instead, with TRINITY, you can stand at that height, but also make very interesting changes in elevation seamlessly, without stopping anyone's work between takes. One can frame the logo tag on the pant at the height it is, and then continue shooting while moving comfortably. On projects of this kind, I now always ask for ARRI TRINITY. 

To what extent did you use monitoring on set?

With DIT Claudio Palumbo, we were directly monitoring, de-saturating, and enriching the gray range and separating the different channels. Claudio would do color corrections in real time, then save them as LUTs to be passed to postproduction—a very convenient system that allows you to present the client and director with something very close to the final result right away. This was a fashion job, an environment where you are used to having a certain skin texture acquired with filters and retouching in postproduction, so you add or take away sharpness where you need it. It's mostly cosmetic corrections to look for the right density of grays while maintaining good contrast and giving the correct tone to different skin colors. It is a job closer to photo retouching than to traditional color correction.

Baci® Perugina® Dolce Vita® Limited Edition from Dolce & Gabbana

For Baci Perugina, “bright colors that popped out of the screen” were used to mimic the chocolate’s packaging

For Baci Perugina, “bright colors that popped out of the screen” were used to mimic the chocolate’s packaging

What visual cues did you have for the Baci Perugina commercial?

The idea of director Giulio Volpe was to stay very simple in order to focus as much as possible on the human aspect of the film. Since we had to portray the most diverse types of people—from children and young adults to the elderly of the most diverse ethnicities—the interesting challenge was to create portrait setups of light that could enhance everyone in the best way. 

What precautions did you use to achieve the result? 

A lot of casting work was done. This was a film about people, technique had to be invisible. There was a lot of work done on looks, with a focus on humanity, without flare and backlighting. It was necessary to create a light that would work well for both a middle-aged man, emphasizing his masculinity and more pronounced features, and the face of a young girl, without it looking flat. 

What camera did you use, and why?

I used the ALEXA Mini LF. We had to handle bright colors that popped out of the screen, a saturated aesthetic typical of Dolce & Gabbana's style. We started with the pattern of the set design, which was similar to the packaging of this version of Baci Perugina chocolates. 

Why Large Format? 

I wanted to approach the world of portraits with the wider format. I'm not a big fan of wide angles, but on large format portraits they look better; they have a great rendering of three-dimensionality and space. The larger the sensor, the better the rendition. 

What lenses did you use? 

We used ARRI Signature Primes because they are transparent and beautiful on complexions.

What has been your experience with Signature Prime lenses?

It is impressive how Signature Prime lenses can simultaneously render very high resolution and be kind to skin and people even in extreme close-ups. Their micro-contrast is an ideal starting point for creating elegant images that are not overly artificial.

Did you use a LUT? 

Yes, the one prepared by colorist Giorgia Meacci, which lowered the greens a bit, increased the contrasts, and enriched the complexions, all in order to get closer to the pop aesthetic required for the product. 

What was the lighting system?  

Depending on the subject, we used slightly different systems to change the tone: discharge lamps for one subject and ARRI SkyPanels for the other. For one subject we opted for a kinder, institutional, soft light, for another something closer to sunlight, with discharge lamps. I am excited about the combination of the ALEXA Mini LF and SkyPanels. Their strength is that they speak the same language, that they are developed from the same color science. They produce beautiful shades, there are no tint problems, and they do not emphasize dyschromia on the skin, on the contrary. 

“Gomorrah”

Italian DP Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini AIC behind the camera. Courtesy of Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini AIC

Italian DP Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini AIC behind the camera

For the very short promotional videos introducing the characters of the final season, your visual reference was clear: the other seasons of the TV series “Gomorrah.” Would you elaborate on this a bit?

Together with director Marco Pianigiani we drew on the splendid work done previously on the series. We tried to make it more stylized and embellished, more suitable for the short form. Everything was more polished and a little more emphasized. When you work on a video of a few seconds you have to be punchier.

What camera system did you opt for in this case?

Again ARRI’s ALEXA Mini, to stay in line with the TV series. We chose a dirtier lighting on the complexions but kept the same lenses, so as not to stray from the excellent work started by my colleagues. I always worked with a fixed camera or on a dolly, never using a handheld camera.

What lights did you choose?

We used Astera tubes rigged on booms and some ARRI SkyPanels S30, S60, and S120, which allowed us to use preset effects quickly.


Camera and lighting equipment for these projects provided by Moviepeople and Cameraservice

Opening Image: Michele Brandstetter de Bellesini AIC