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Radiant Images Develops 3D Camera Rig for IMAX Documentary on Panama Canal


Radiant Images' customized 3D rig with twin F65s and a modified CC3D Gen-2 rig at work at the Panama Canal.
Radiant Images’ customized 3D rig with twin F65s and a modified CC3D Gen-2 rig at work at the Panama Canal.
Radiant Images recently provided two 3D camera rigs for the producers of Panama: A Land Divided, a World United – an IMAX 3D documentary about the Panama Canal. The rigs – featuring a modified CC3D Gen-2 rig and twin Sony F65 digital cameras – were used to capture some of the film’s most challenging shots.

Even though the customized rigs carried two full-sized production cameras, they were light enough and well-balanced enough for cinematographer Reed Smoot, ASC to use them in a variety of ways during the Panama shoot, which wrapped in late February. The custom rigs were mounted on platforms in trees and on zip lines, hung in mid air and placed on Steadicam, cranes and stabilized remote control heads.

“You don’t always have the luxury of using a different rig for every setup,” said Nick Lantz, head of technical services and R&D at Radiant Images. “In this case, even with the difficulty in shooting in large format, we succeeded in creating a rig that did pretty much everything and could be quickly moved from one platform to another without compromising high quality.”

Radiant Images worked closely on the project with Steadicam operator Scott Hoffman and Marty Mueller of Converging Concepts 3D, the designer and creator of the CC3D Gen-2 rig.

In addition to the two 3D rigs with F65s, Radiant Images, an L.A.-based rental house, also provided the lenses, gear and accessories to outfit the IMAX 3D production.

LR-image004The Sony F65’s captured crisp images in Sony RAW 4K to maximize the potential of the digital camera system and work with IMAX. The production was a huge undertaking as two movies – one in large format 3D and the other in 2D – were filmed simultaneously. Multiple cameras and camera systems were operated by three to four units each day. Smoot, well-known for his work in large-format documentary filmmaking, also shot with IMAX 15/70MM film.

Keith Melton, a large format and 3D pioneer, is directing the 3D film and Abner Benaim is directing the 2D film. Craig Hosking, one of Hollywood’s top camera pilots with 150 feature film credits (Flight, Dark Knight Rises, Inception), coordinated the aerials.

The documentary will capture the massive scale of the shipping vessels passing through the locks by matching the spectacle with the larger-than-life 3D IMAX format. Because the Sony F65 offered the best image to convert to IMAX, Smoot enlisted the expertise of Radiant Images, who had created a stationary 3D rig using F65s for his recent IMAX documentary shot in Jerusalem. That film, Jerusalem 3D, is now in postproduction and will premiere this fall.

In pre-production for the Panama project, Radiant technicians were able to develop a workflow for Smoot’s team to make the F65 less intimidating during the shoot and in post. But the most difficult pre-production challenge for Radiant involved creating a 3D rig with two full-size F65’s that could be mounted on a Steadicam without weighing down Hoffman, enabling him to capture fluid and natural shots in Panama when a crane was not feasible.

LR-image006Lantz and Hoffman spent weeks on the prep floor at Radiant’s Los Angeles facility. They chose to mount the F65’s on Mueller’s lightweight CC3D Gen-2 rig.

With Mueller’s help, they started on modifications to trim the size and weight. Hoffman was not expected to use the Steadicam for five-minute walk-and-talks or running up stairs, but he did need to be able to wear it comfortably to get the shots Smoot wanted. So, every ounce would make a difference. The twin F65s on the CC3D rig initially weighed in excess of 70 pounds.

Michael Mansouri, co-founder of Radiant Images, said his team shaved every ounce they could. “We chiseled everything down to the bare minimum,” Mansouri said. “When you are thinking in terms of ounces, when you have that kind of approach, it adds up. We were determined to make this system work for Scott.”

By the time they were done, the rig weighed in at 59 pounds – nearly a 20 percent reduction.

Everything that could be removed without compromising function was stripped away. Existing cables were replaced with custom-made, ultra-slim, lightweight cables that were the exact length needed. Feather light brackets were made to replace heavier ones.

The company also worked to redistribute weight of the modified 3D rig to create the right balance and stability. Once the twin F65’s were placed in the CC3D rig, Lantz and Hoffman determined the cameras needed to be lowered by a half an inch to maintain the appropriate center of gravity and center of mass. They took their request to Mueller, who machined a new plate to bring the camera down ever so slightly.

Once finished, Smoot was able to utilize the two completed 3D rigs in a variety of ways on the shoot, from stabilized heads to stationary shots.

“I’m truly proud of our team at Radiant Images and the work they did and just as excited to be a part of this incredible 3D IMAX project,” Mansouri said.

GSCA Conference

Mansouri and Lantz will share their experiences working on the Panama production on Thursday at the Giant Screen Cinema Association‘s Film Expo and Digital Symposium in Galveston, Texas when they join Mueller, Melton and others for a panel discussion titled, “The Latest in Digital Capture: Capture Tools for the Giant Screen.”

The panel discussion will be followed by three concurrent workshops where participants get a first-hand look at the Sony F65 on CC3D rig, plus RED Epics on the 3ality and Screenplane 3D rigs and the Nikon D800-E cameras on the camBLOCK motion control system.

Mansouri and Lantz also will discuss key developments in the giant screen filmmaker toolkit, including new approaches to data wrangling.

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