You can shoot a vacation video with an action camera, an amateur camera, or even a camera. Even on a smartphone! What do Hollywood cameramen use to shoot wide-screen? In this article we’ll find out how masterpieces of visual art are created and what cameras are preferred in big cinemas.
In 1895, one of the Lumière brothers assembled the “Cinematograph” camera. And that’s when cinema took off on a global scale. Even then, people knew about animation and could make clips for a couple of seconds. And the Cinematograph made it possible to shoot videos for almost a minute and immediately project them on the big screen. From that point on, people embarked on a journey to real big movies. Check my pic.
Filmmaking has come a long way from the cumbersome “Cinematograph” Lumière brothers to the compact and sophisticated RED Epic. It all started with a short monochrome movie, and continues with large-scale scenes, which are stuffed with graphics and cool effects. Now the movie works wonders: monumental panoramic shots, driving road scenes and scenic statics. From frame to frame, the director can change tools: shoot complex stunts on modern digital, and the body of the film, with a lot of natural in the frame on good old-fashioned film. These are the cameras most often seen on star sets.
Arnold & Richter Cine Technik (A&R), the main supplier of film cameras since 1917. The popularity of ARRI began back in the “tube” era, and since 1995, all advanced studios have shot and are shooting on the ARRIFLEX 435, a 35mm film classic that has a huge number of films under its belt.
The camera can shoot from 1 to 150 frames per second, and also has a reverse and electronic shutter. With such unique abilities at the time, it became so popular that even competitors from Panavision adapted their peripherals – optics, accessories – for it. The model was awarded a Science and Engineering Academy of America Award in 1999. Its track record includes many Hollywood legends. For example, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Twilight,” “The Fifth Element,” “Avengers”.
ARRI cameras only moved into the digital age in 2010 with the release of the Alexa model. Recently, it has been the most popular line of digital cinema cameras – they shoot high dynamic range footage with an emphasis on the proprietary RAW codec. The first model in the family has long been shooting successful projects, including Oscar winners “Green Book” and “Blade Runner 2049.”
This camera has earned its audience because of its special setup. In 2010, when the first camera of this line was presented, other manufacturers were busy developing 4K and HDR formats. True to tradition, the Germans continued to work on high-speed sensors and large pixels, so in combination with the technology ARRIRAW recording “raw” format camera became a bestseller around the world.
Special effects director Jake Morrison of Marvel Studios thinks the Alexa is the best for capturing heavy, CG-intensive scenes. Like in “Transformers,” for example. Anyone who is even indirectly familiar with photography knows that thanks to the low-noise matrix with huge pixels and extensive post-processing capabilities of raw files, photography “tolerates” more experiments on itself without losing quality and turning into visual mush.
The second most popular company after Arri, which also produces professional equipment for filming. The brand was founded in 1953, and already in 1954 began to actively promote their systems on the market. It was a new format Panavision, which displaced the CinemaScope, which gave many distortions when shooting close-ups. In addition, the Americans had already won a place under the Hollywood sun, because they produced high-quality optics for camcorders from other companies.
And in 1974 Panavision pulled off a second revolution in cinematography: the company launched the Panaflex line of camcorders. This line became the first favorite on many movie sets at that time, and then passed the baton of popularity to the new Panaflex Millenium. The latter have been in use since 1999 in parallel with the ARRIFLEX 435 and the digital Alexa. That is to say, even today’s movies are still shot on Panaflex film cameras, and that doesn’t stop you from making mind-blowing effects.
Panavision, like the Germans, continues its own tradition of constantly improving optics for its devices, as well as cameras from other manufacturers. The more optics, the more opportunities to achieve different effects. The Panaflex line has it all. That’s why many directors alternate their shots: they shoot “loaded” scenes with digital or ARRIFLEX 435, and leave the general plans and shots for 35 mm American cameras.
The record of this series is huge. Among the projects shot on Panaflex there are Oscar winners of the early 2000’s and even the most modern films stuffed with computer graphics. There are several parts about Harry Potter, The Mummy Returns, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, La La Land, Iron Man.
The company began producing cameras since 1999, and the first “recognized” model RED One introduced only in 2007. At that time, the camera was just a camera – no better than the ARRIFLEX 435 or Panaflex. A small number of optional accessories and a lot of competition in the niche of film cameras made this model a device of the second plan.
Interest in this company appeared only after the release of the camera series RED Epic. These are compact and “independent” cameras, which are assembled and disassembled as transformers. In addition to the top characteristics of the sensor, as well as a unique range of peripheral equipment, the main advantage of these cameras was the “adult” stuffing at children’s size.
In many ways, this has influenced where and how these cameras are used in filming. Thus, the main task of the “reds” is to be in the epicenter of events. For example, riding on the trunk of a sports car and filming epic chases in Fast and Furious 8.
Epics are versatile digital cameras that already shoot 8K and still have the size of amateur equipment. Just what you need for small studios. And if necessary, they can transform from a baby to a formidable weapon for a world-famous action director.
You could say that RED cameras are stuntmen. When the gentle ARRIFLEX 435 captures the warm atmosphere of a romantic comedy on film, the Red Dragon works in tropical conditions among lianas and thickets of ferns.
Bottom line – the more action and danger, the closer RED gets to the main characters. The cameras shoot action-packed scenes – something that is better done live than drawn in a computer program. And in many ways, the use of such versatile cameras determines the specifics of the picture in the film, not in terms of quality and color reproduction, but rather in terms of realism. The list of completed works includes “Fast and Furious 8,” “The Avengers” and “The Mechanic: Resurrection,” as well as many TV series with special effects.
And what about the others?
In addition to ARRI, Panavision and RED – the three elephants on which the Western cinema is based – there are other producers. However, these three are present both together and separately in almost every project. And it is not about the quality of the picture or the cost of devices. Here it is more a matter of habit. The main task of a director is to set up a film not as a picture, but as a picture: sometimes it is easier to use old, but familiar technology, which does not interfere with the art of “making”. That’s why so many projects are still coming out with the same ARRIFLEX 435 film, even though manufacturers offer much more modern devices with unique capabilities and cosmic characteristics.
A director is like an artist – it’s important for him, not only to paint, but also to do it with different tools, paints, choose canvases and use different techniques. It’s even better if these tools are familiar to the master and he feels comfortable working with them. Familiar camera is easier to set up, easier to process the image. That is why all films are almost always shot with the familiar camera. And the audience, without noticing it, also gets used to the picture. For example, some films look alien if the director has decided to shoot on something new, unaccustomed to our view. This is very noticeable if you compare the atmosphere of “Lord of the Rings” and “Oblivion” – it is obvious what was filmed on natural film, and what on a flash drive – link.