Monday, August 08, 2011 12:41 PM
What do the movies Iron Man II, Captain America, and the upcoming Lucasfilm World War II epic Red Tails have in common (aside from big budgets)? Parts of all three were shot using standard DSLRs as second or third unit video cameras. Once only a gleam in the eye of many an independent filmmaker, the DSLR is making it’s way into mainstream Hollywood fare.
The reason, at least in the case of these three films, is the quality of the image from the cameras for their size. Nothing else in the toolbox at the studios could match the quality of the images for the size of the camera producing it. This was especially important in Red Tails, the story of the first African American fighter pilot squadron in World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen. Much of the action takes place in the cockpits of real or simulated WW II fighter planes, with space at a premium. It simply wasn’t possible to use larger conventional video or film cameras to obtain the desired shot. Even out of the cockpit, some scenes on a practical set, no breakaway walls for cutaways, recreating the pilot’s barracks at their airfield were also shot with DSLR’s . This was because the director liked the control over the depth of field he obtained with the single 35mm sensor sized cameras and the tight quarters involved.
In the movie Captain America, size was the reason again. A motorcycle chase sequence called for camera placement that wasn’t practical for anything larger than a DSLR. Not only did this give the director angles he couldn’t get any other way, it also kept the B and C unit cameras out of sight of the wider coverage “conventional” cameras.
Even with these examples of mainstream use of video produced from DSLRs, it’s wise to remember some of their shortcomings. Aliasing on fine lines is always possible, and rolling shutter (jello effect) on fast panning or tilting are usually lurking in the background. Hollywood studios can (and did) afford lots of post processing to remove these artifacts in the final product. Know the limits and strengths of your tools and apply accordingly.
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