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Camera Tests

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Director Michael Mann and cinematographer Dion Beebe, who worked together on hit-man hit Collateral, are teaming again for the movie version of Miami Vice that starts shooting this spring. Grass Valley’s Viper Film-Stream digital camera system, after its feature debut in Collateral, may also be doing an encore.“They’re still testing, but everything is pointing to Viper,” says Chad Martin, digital manager at Camera House, who has spent months at the head of a team customizing a Viper that is being put through its paces by Beebe. Also in the running for the movie are Sony’s CineAlta and Panavision’s Genesis.“Of course, as we’ve learned, the final decision doesn’t get made until you’re actually on the set,” says Martin. “They can say they’ve made a final decison and still change their mind up to the last minute. But I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.”Competitor Plus 8 customized the Viper for use in Collateral. Camera House initially contacted the Miami Vice team to get the job with its own “film-based” version of the Viper set-up, but did not get called back. “Then they approached us about six months ago,” says Martin, “because they weren’t quite satisfied with some of the other configurations they were seeing.“What we’ve done is taken technology for film and melded it with the digital side of things,” he adds.The Viper has four modes of shooting. To get the best output possible, he recommends shooting in the filmstream mode which has no correction in the camera.“Michael Mann likes to have the decision made on set as to how this thing is going to look; he likes to paint on the set with the camera,” says Martin. Camera House is writing special look-up tables “where you can pretty much apply any look you want right on the set, but you’re not actually doing anything to the recorded side of things.”Camera House has custom-built accessories to make the Viper system more film-like, including two on-board batteries that will run the Viper with all the accessories for about five hours each.“You want dual onboard monitors no problem; you want to put things in different configurations, no problem. We’ve got all the bracketry to do this now,” including a hand-held setup that utilizes existing accessories for film cameras, he explains. “What we’ve done is taken technology for film and melded it with the digital side of things.”A key issue is what will be the recording medium. Videotape always involves some compression, so a more preferable choice is the S2 digital field recording system where that’s not an issue.Another consideration is the use of a Digital Intermediate in postproduction. “The good thing about the S2 is you’re recording exactly what they’re used to recording the DIs on,” says Martin. “Essentially it’s all digital files and there’s no compression loss whatever. It’s also the only recording medium from which you can make an exact clone of what’s shot.”The hard-drive S2, NASA rated for use in space, works better than an SRW videotape machine which is subject to vibrations under high stress conditions. “They plan on really punishing this gear on this movie,” says Martin. “They’re going to be doing 70 miles an hour on a cigarette boat.”

Written by Jack Egan

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