Cinema Cinema

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By Noah Kardner Wyoming production house Brain Farm, which specializes in high-end action-sports cinematography, recently used the Phantom HD camera for an ad campaign for surf wear and board sports manufacture Quiсk silver that featured a number of world-famous surfers catching waves in ultra-slow motion. Brain Farm came to Quiсk silver’s attention through That’s It, That’s All, a snowboarding feature co-sponsored by Quiсk silver and Red Bull, according to Chad Jackson, Brain Farm’s lead producer.
James Tierney, a producer for Quiсk silver, calls That’s It, That’s All “the
best action-sports film ever made.” When Quiсk silver was ready to
launch its Cypher line of high-performance board shorts, he continue, “we wanted to showcase both [the Cypher shorts]and the top
global surfers in a truly groundbreaking way. We wanted to show
surfing like it had never been seen before.”

As discussions began, director and Brain Farm President Curt
Morgan showed the Quick silver team what the high-speed Phantom
could do. “That sparked a lot of interest on their part into how those
ultra-slow-motion effects might look in water,” says Morgan.

At that time, the Phantom had not yet been used for extensive
water work, so no compatible underwater camera housing was
readily available. “Before the project was even a go, we turned to
Erik Hermstad at Del Mar Housing Projects in San Marcos, California, to inquire about a custom housing for the Phantom,” says
Morgan. “The housing took about six weeks to build and was
completed maybe a week before the shoot.”

With the housing in hand, the Brain Farm team was off to

Oaxaca, Mexico, where they met surfers Dane Reynolds, Kelly Slater,
Julian Wilson and Jeremy Flores. “Because of their crazy schedules,
it had been four years since Dane, Kelly, Julian and Jeremy had all
been on a trip together,” notes Tierney. “Having them all surfing
together was huge, and they really pushed each other. We got a
ridiculous amount of footage in two days of surfing.” Brain Farm
brought in Australian cinematographer Chris Bryan to handle operating
responsibilities with the Phantom rig. Morgan recalls, “We
were set up to take shots from the beach and right in the water with
the surfers. The very first shot we got was even cooler than we
thought possible. The waves, the water droplets — everything was
moving so slowly, and you saw so much detail. We instantly felt like
kids in a candy factory who’d just been cut loose by our parents!”

“Even on a small monitor, we could tell right away we had
something special,” adds Tierney. “You can really see the subtleties
of surfing: the way a board flexes when it lands on the wave after
an aerial, the way riders weight and un-weight during turns, the
way water drops fly off the rail. It was like seeing our sport with new

To maximize shooting time on the beach and avoid having to
frequently re-open the underwater housing to change lenses,
Morgan shot mostly with a single  Ultra Prime 8R rectilinear
lens. “It gives you a wide-angle shot with no barrel distortion,” he
explains. “It’s a really funky look that added a lot to the image.”

The latest iteration of the Phantom camera, the Gold, can
shoot at speeds exceeding 1,000 fps, depending on the resolution
that’s selected. As Morgan points out, however, the camera’s frame
rate also affects the aperture. “When you’re shooting at 1,000 fps,
as we were, you’re typically at T2.8, even when you’re outdoors infull sunlight,” he explains. “That means you have a very shallow depth-of-field, and when you’re out there in those violent waves, it’s pretty difficult to rack focus. The 8mm lens gives you more depth-of-field to work with, and when those shots are done
right, they look really cool.” On average, the Brain Farm team
was able to capture about 19 takes on the
Phantom’s Cinema recorder before the
camera needed to be reloaded. “Jamie Alack at Abel Cine Tech
helped us set up the
camera controls so we could hit record and
the camera would shoot the full buffer and
save an entire take off to the Cinema,”
explains Morgan. “The camera would then
reset and go right back to recording mode
without our having to hit another button.
That enabled us to get our shots with the
camera in the water housing.”

The Phantom’s footage can be transferred
as RAW data files or played out of
the camera’s HD-SDI port. “Dumping the

Cinema’s RAW files takes a while, and we
knew we couldn’t spare any time with the
surfers in the water,” says Morgan. “Having
the RAW footage as DPX files is great, but
I’ve done side-by-side tests with HD Cam-SR,
and there’s not that much of a difference to
the eye. We had a Sony SRW-1 HD Cam-SR
deck at our base camp on the beach, and
we decided to transfer the footage by playing
out from the camera’s HD-SDI connection
directly to HD Cam-SR tapes; it took
about 40 minutes to dump the whole
Cinema. This method was critical to maximizing
our time.”

In addition to the surfing footage,
Morgan notes, “we added a bit of a documentary
-style lifestyle element. For example, we placed three or four mirrors upright
on the beach and had the surfers run by
them. We tried to keep our approach simple
while still making a stylized piece.” (Some
material was shot with a Panasonic AJ-
HPX3700 VariCam.)

When production in Mexico
wrapped, Brain Farm headed back to the
Wyoming office to handle post. “Depending on the type of final output a particular
client needs, sometimes we’ll outsource the
final grading and sound,” says Jackson,
“but in this case, we did all the editing,
grading and sound for four complete
commercials. We also composed, recorded
and mixed the full sound score with our in-
house musicians.

“Our post facility is based on Final
Cut Studio,” he continues. “We edit in Final
Cut Pro and grade in Color. We also have a
fully equipped sound studio with 36 channels of Pro Tools HD. It’s not a massive studio,
but it’s more than enough to do some cool
sound design.”

“We use a RAID-based Ethernet
array to support seven edit bays,” adds
Morgan. “It’s about 48 terabytes of total
storage running off a Mac shared server. We
generally do all our post work in Apple’s
Pro Res HQ codec in 1080p HD, but if our
client requires a specific format deliverable,
we can go back and online to any other
format, such as uncompressed HD Cam-SR.”

When final color grading was
complete, Brain Farm delivered the four
spots as HD QuickTime files directly to Quick silver via an FTP connection; the spots were
then pushed out to Quick silver’s website, Fuel
TV in the U.S. and other broadcasters world-
wide. “We’re more than happy with the
final product, and the viewers’ reactions
have been incredibly positive,” says Tierney.
“It’s been really rewarding to partner with
Brain Farm.”

Morgan is thrilled with what the
Brain Farm team accomplished. “Moving
into this project, I was very unsure,” he says.
“I like to show confidence, but we were
planning to do so much that had never been
done before. Plus, surfing is so unplanned to
begin with! You roll in and hope the waves
are good, and if they are, you just shoot. It
was a lot of work and trial-and-error, but
after two days of shooting, we were
convinced we were capturing something
that was really new and exciting, and Quicksilver was extremely happy with what we
produced. That’s a good feeling, and it
encourages us to keep coming up with new
ways for people to see the world.


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