A major ad agency for a leading automaker recently asked cinematographer Dana Christiaansen if he could shoot three full commercials in 48 hours on the streets of Atlanta. The spots would include nighttime car-to-car photography of a moving vehicle, close-ups of a celebrity spokesman at the wheel and scripted vignettes. It was a challenging assignment even for a veteran shooter of car commercials. For image capture, Christiaansen turned to Canon’s EOS C300 digital cinema camera.
Christiaansen recently shot an 11-minute film using six EOS C300 cameras, a wide selection of Canon EF series prime lenses and the Canon CN-E 30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S cinema zoom lens. The film included nighttime street scenes of San Francisco, action shots on board moving cable cars, POV angles from speeding motorcycles, daytime footage from Yosemite National Park and sophisticated effects shots captured on a greenscreen stage.
To confirm that the Canon EOS C300 camera could provide the performance needed for this ambitious project, the production process for the film began with extensive testing.
“We shot a series of lighting tests on a little greenscreen stage of a young girl with fairly dark skin, a color chart and a black flag,” Christiaansen said. “We shot the ISO right on up to 20,000 in these steps – 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800. The latitude test was shot on a backlit latitude chart. I had 13 shots of detail. We took that EOS C300 camera data back, processed it at the studio and were amazed by how good it looked on their big projection screen.”
Working in a production style Christiaansen called “lean and mean,” he and his director averaged 50 to 60 set-ups per day (and night) shooting with C300 cinema cameras in both hand-held and Steadicam configurations.
“The EOS C300 camera is very light and its ergonomics are good,” he explained. “We shot an entire greenscreen sequence using the studio pre-visualization system, a fairly radical night scene in very low-light and then a day exterior sequence. The camera’s latitude is excellent and our ability to pull keys on the greenscreen was fantastic at all the different ISOs.”
Facing a challenging trio of car commercials requiring cinematic image quality, extreme mobility, lots of night shots and a production schedule of just 48 hours, Christiaansen relied on three C300 cinema cameras and a run-and-gun style of shooting consisting of him operating the “A” camera, another DP on the “B” camera for extra coverage of master shots and vignettes of a celebrity spokesman, and a third operator acting as a “hungry wolf with a great eye,” capturing inventive wide-angle atmosphere shots and other B-roll. The team used minimal lighting powered by batteries and a small generator in the back of a pickup truck when additional lighting was needed.
“The EOS C300 camera has such incredible low-light sensitivity and such great image quality at 3200 ISO, we were able to shoot in almost any environment as long as there were street lights or something that gave us some ambient light,” Christiaansen explained. “The more lights there are – like storefronts and shops and interior lighting – the better it looked. We walked around using battery-operated LED lighting and two small 125-watt HMI par lights. We didn’t need a load of camera cars following us around with big generators, cabling and a bunch of gear to light up the streets.”
In combination with its low-light capabilities, the C300 camera’s light weight was also a major benefit to the production team’s ability to capture ample amounts of challenging coverage in a short space of time.
“The EOS C300 camera is so small we were able to be very flexible,” he noted. “It was easy to get handheld angles inside the car for interior-driving dialogue scenes of our spokesperson. We used Canon prime lenses in there. The lightweight design of the EOS C300 cameras made it easy to rig them to the outside of the cars as well. We hung an EOS C300 camera off a remote head on a spring-mount suspension arm bolted to our pickup truck for moving car-to-car shots, both leading and chasing the car we were photographing, as it drove through the streets. You can also ‘bungee-cam’ the EOS C300 camera very easily off of anything.”
Christiaansen reported that he shot all of the footage in Canon Log. “Coming from a film background, I am used to shooting a well exposed negative and then finishing with a colorist,” he said. “Canon Log is a great way to shoot for getting the best image quality out of the camera. On-board CF card recording adds so much to the usability of the camera. With Canon Log you can shoot, pull the CF card out of the EOS C300 camera and ingest it directly into whatever editing system you want to use. It opens up natively and you go to work on it right then and there. Editors and producers really like that. You can also record out of the SDI port in an even better format if you want to.”