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HomeCraftsBob Primes shoots Fuel logo

Bob Primes shoots Fuel logo

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By Henry TurnerIn shooting the 30-second logo spot for FUEL, Fox TV’s new extreme sports channel, cinematographer Bob Primes, ASC has upped the ante in terms of how far digital technology can be pushed by a DP’s creative ingenuity.Shot on a massive 140’ x 140’ sound stage at Hollywood’s Raleigh Studios, the spot is single-take, time lapse, motion-controlled, photographing a group of renowned graffiti artists as they paint a giant cube, two massive polygons, and every other area of space in the room. The spot also incorporates an incredible optical illusion.The illusion came from the directors, Peter Uys and Jake Munsey, according to Primes. They wanted to blur the viewer’s perception of looking into a corner of a room, or looking at a vertex—the outcropping edge of a cube.“If you set the intersection of two planes at right angles to each other, and you are looking right into them, unless you’ve got a cue about depth, you can’t tell whether you are looking at a corner or an edge,” says Primes. “They gave me an animatic of someone standing in a corner, and you can’t see the floor or the ceiling and there’s no lighting cue, so you don’t know whether it’s a corner or a vertex. Then the idea was to pull the camera back, and reveal that it is a cube. The camera would start circling the cube, and you’d see there were two other elongated, irregularly shaped polygons beside it. The camera would circle around those, going higher, until you were above the cube, and then you would circle around some more, and finally see what became the logo, painted across the bottom of the cube and polygons. The intent was to do this very elaborate move circling around and spiraling up very high, looking down on the whole set, starting from a close-up. And the cube and polygons would be painted and worked on by six graffiti artists during the move, and all this would be time lapse, so all the graffiti would be moving in very quickly.”To create this shot required the use of the Bulldog, the massive motion-control crane from Tom Barin’s company, Image G. “The Bulldog is a very tightly controlled repeatable motion control crane,” Primes says. With a three-day shooting schedule planned, Primes had to devise a way to speed up production, especially the handling and positioning of the lights.“I knew the lighting was going to be very tricky because the crane was circling all around, and there would be camera shadows. Rather than wait until shooting began, I had a meeting with [producer] Mike Miner and Todd Dever, the production editor. Todd was doing a lot of the conceptual animatics. I said I would like to do a computer simulation of the lighting. We had the stage already dialed in on the previsualization program, and we had the camera move pre-vised. I said I’d like to put some lights in there. They thought this was a really smart idea, because otherwise we would be sitting around waiting for the crane to be built before we could work on the lighting, and because of the 360-degree pan, everything had to be hung from the perms 35 feet up; it’s not a trivial thing to be done trial-and-error, especially when we have all the information on the computer.”Working with his gaffer Andrew Smith, Primes imported the data computer-generated on Maya into Lightwave, which renders light quicker. “I looked at the move and decided that at a particular place we could have a massive key light without throwing any shadows, and I worked out the size of that, which turned out to be a 12×20 softlight. Then my key grip Tony Anderson asked if I’d make it 10×20 without any harm, because it was easier to build. We worked on how high it should be and decided that the center should be 28 feet away, at a certain angle away from the cube, so the light fall-off would be even.”Eventually, Primes and his associates designed a lighting set-up including an additional 6×12 soft light as secondary key, and eight ceiling-hung Source Four lights that have internal flags to cut out excess light.“A Source Four is a unique and special light that takes a very tiny point light source—it has four filaments crossing each other almost in the same place, instead of one big 120 volt filament. And because they are 30 volts they are tiny and you can get out of these four a point source of light much smaller than you could out of a normal 120 volt filament. Then there’s a parabolic reflector called an ellipsoidal light, and lenses that focus it very sharply, so you can take these lights and from a long distance away, with a long lens on the light, make cuts in them. They are extremely sharp cutting lights, much more so than any other light we have. So way up in the perms, we put one of the source fours, and we filled in just one plane on the cube, because we had to make sure it could cut and get beneath the shadow of this giant crane with the 35-foot arm that was circling about. It was very dramatic situation.”Primes chose the Panasonic Varicam from Clairmont to shoot the spot, “because it would do time-lapse and we could play back our results instantly.” In calculating the ASA, Primes, “decided to use that curve which puts my middle gray at 250 instead of 640—basically a stop and a quarter down. We chose a Fujinon 5 to 15 studio zoom lens from Plus 8 Digital. I also carried a 10mm digiprime from Clairmont.”Primes saw that the lighting was almost perfect. “I did need a fill light and chose two 5,000 watt Seniors with medium Chimeras, and I put a 30 degree grid in the Chimera so it would project where needed to fill and not burn up or flare. So with a 30 degree grid we were able to keep the floor clean of any spills. But that light looked a little sourcey, so we built an 8×8 very soft light just to smooth out the shadows. What we were lighting was of course the as-yet unpainted objects—the cube and polygons.“So we had virtually all the lighting up before the crane was built—because of the previs we had done—and we brought the lighting dimensions with us and we went onto the internet to confirm the dimensions, and that pertained to hanging the big lights on nylon ropes very high up in the air.” By the afternoon of the first day the lights were up, even though the crane was still being built.“For the beginning of the commercial, the plan was that we would determine we were in a room by shooting time-lapse stills of three 8×12 graffiti walls. Six artists were brought in from New York and they would go to work on something, one of them painting, say, the outline of a skull, and then a different artist would shade it in, and then another artist would take a paint roller and paint right over the skull, obliterating the work just done. We shot for quite a few hours, taking time-lapse still pictures with an 11-megapixel Canon camera, with the idea of being able to do zooms and pans and tilts within the 11-megapixel image, and also be able to take two of the images that we shot at identical heights and angles, and distort them so that they formed a corner. We even had little lines where the artists couldn’t go because they would cross over from one plane to another and be in the middle.“The way the spot was supposed to work was we’d be on one of these planes and then we’d pan over to the other one; it was clearly in the corner of a room, and eventually we would pan into a side of our cube, one that a viewer would presume was also the corner of a room, and then when we panned into the next facet, we would think we were again in a corner, and then we would pull back and realize we were on the vertex of a cube, and things are not as they seem. For a reverse angle we also set up a green screen shot and set up a panel for the artists to paint on and cut a hole the exact size of the frame, so we could shoot them seeing their faces as they sprayed, because in the time-lapse shot, when they are fa
cing the wall, you could not see their faces. The green screen would have people painting in the background. So this is all ancillary to the big shot, and we filled up this 140×140 set pretty well—we filled the giant stage. Then we did our first test shot and saw we needed the stage dark in the background, so we hung big teasers, teasing off the big soft lights.“We had to determine the shutter speed. We chose a sixth of a second because the image should have some motion blur. It looked like things were going to time out at a frame every 10 seconds. The graffiti artists needed over an hour to paint everything. We did the math and figured we could shoot one frame at every 2.4 seconds, and because it was a 30-second commercial and we wanted 60 discreet frames, we needed to shoot 1,800 frames, and this would take 72 minutes. So the length of one of our takes would be 72 minutes, to do the 30-second shot. So we put everybody in—we didn’t have the right coordination of all the people yet, but we did a test, and sure enough the motion looked fine and the lighting looked fine, and it all timed out right.“On the morning of the third day we practiced the FUEL logo. We had a big stencil that we painted the same color as the floor and we tacked it down, so it was invisible against the black floor. The graffiti artist then comes and sprays green over the stencil and it looks like he’s just spraying paint on the floor, then at the bottom he paints an accent of yellow across the green, and then he grabs one end of the stencil and pulls it back, revealing the logo: FUEL. We did that all in live time, we had painters on top of the cube, ladders coming in and out, paint dribbling, people handing things down from the top of the cube, we had all this interaction between the graffiti artists—it was a very complex 72-minute take. Then we made a few changes with the graffiti, did another take, and we wrapped the show.”

Written by Henry Turner

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