The American Society of Cinematographers

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"Carousel" Showcases Philips' New Widescreen TV

Produced to show off the features of the new Philips Cinema 21:9 widescreen television, the 2½-minute spot “Carousel” (
/cinema) begins with a gang of robbers, dressed in jumpsuits and clown masks, trapped in an alley by a police blockade. As a gun battle rages, the camera moves into an adjacent hospital, where more criminals face additional resistance. Rather than presenting the action with quick, kinetic cuts, director Adam Berg chose to focus on a moment in time and survey the violence with a fluid, extended take that ends on the same frame with which it begins.

Cinematographer Fredrik Bäckar, FSF recalls his initial impression of the idea: “I didn’t know if we were going to be able to do it in the short amount of time we had.” But Berg had executed a similar concept — albeit on a smaller scale — for a European jeans commercial, and he brought that spot’s visual-effects supervisor, Richard Lyons of Stockholm’s Redrum Post, to “Carousel.”

With only three shooting days, the crew set to work in a building at a university in Prague that would serve as the hospital; Berg worked out the actors’ blocking while Bäckar, Lyons and production designer Petr Kunc, working from detailed storyboards, measured every nook and cranny of the space. An animatic was assembled that showed the filmmakers exactly how the shot would play out, with the dimensions of the wire-frame building exactly matching those of the practical building.

The camera move actually comprises seven separate shots stitched together in a Flame console to create one seamless take. “We wanted to make it work repeatedly, with a reveal at the end, so when the film ends, you learn something new and can watch it again with a different perspective,” says Berg. Bäckar adds, “The linearity of the shot is true. You can walk [the location] the way it’s played out in the film.”

“Carousel” begins with the camera focused on the face of a police officer atop the roof of a patrol car. The camera then pans left to reveal an armored truck in mid-explosion, its shockwave launching nearby bodies and vehicles into the air. Pushing through flames and burning cash, the camera maneuvers around a wrecked station wagon from which a masked bandit is pulled. All of this action was captured in the first shot, and much of what ended up onscreen existed practically on the set, leaving the visual-effects team to handle wire removals, a few set extensions, and environmental effects such as fire, shattering glass and bullets. “We had a bunch of people hanging from cranes and wires,” recalls Bäckar. “And we had cars on cranes, hanging from wires. We filmed [those elements], cleared the set and then filmed it again.” Using a Milo motion-control rig, the first pass was shot with an Arri 435 rolling at 50 fps to help the actors maintain their poses. A clean pass was then photographed at 12 fps, and effects artists later filled in background elements that were obfuscated in the first pass.

Working with what was essentially a static image allowed Bäckar to get creative with his lighting, and he knew the lamps would ultimately be masked by digital fire effects. He filled the back of the exploding truck with tungsten Pars pointed in every direction. “I let them flare into the camera, knowing all of the lights I was using were emanating from the source of the explosion,” he says. “In a sense, that made things easier. If we’d actually blown that car up, it would have had to come down, and to continue lighting the scene, we would have needed lights on the ground or on Condors, which would have been a lot harder to hide.

“Although we wanted the images to have an otherworldly look, we wanted naturalism in the blown-out highlights around the explosion and the way the explosion spreads across the scene,” continues the cinematographer. In the background, the crew placed tungsten 12Ks to rake the walls, along with 650-watt, 1K and 2K lights for accents. “If you scroll through the film, you’ll notice I’m not using a tremendous amount of backlight to lift objects out of the background — light falls the way it would if this were actually happening,” he notes. “It was intimidating because everyone could see every possible mistake I could make. I went through each shot with my gaffer, Pavel Kroupa, about a thousand times!”

The second shot, which takes the camera inside the hospital, begins on a SuperTechnocrane 50 manually operated by Bäckar. To match the final position of one shot with the first position of the next, 1st AC Franta Novak marked the lens location with a lens donut rigged to a C-stand arm; when the first camera was moved, the donut would remain to give the crew the proper position for the next setup. Editor Paul Hardcastle, who was on set with an Avid Xpress system, took a feed from the video tap and created low-resolution transitions to make sure the positions matched as closely as possible. “All of these transitions are very open,” Lyons emphasizes. “We didn’t use the standard frame wipe to hide the move from one shot to another.”

Once inside the hospital, the third shot again had the camera on the Milo, this time for a 360-degree move around a nurses’ station, where a robber kicks a cop through the glass enclosure; the CG debris was rendered in 3ds Max by Lyons’ team at Redrum. A dollying Scorpio crane with a 3-axis manual head then picks up where the Milo leaves off, revealing a SWAT officer and a clown vaulting over the edge of the second-floor staircase. In addition to erasing the actors’ harnesses and wires, Lyons’ team had to create a CG ceiling because the real one was blocked by a truss.

On the second floor, the camera returns to the motion-controlled Milo for a hallway shootout, then goes to a Fisher dolly, and finally ends on the SuperTechno for a dizzying push out of a window and back down to the officer atop the patrol car seen in the film’s first frame.

Bäckar shot “Carousel” in Super 35mm. The Philips TV boasts a 2.33:1 aspect ratio, and the filmmakers planned to use the extra space on the bottom and top of the frame to reposition the shot if necessary. Bäckar originally wanted to shoot the spot in anamorphic, but he couldn’t rationalize the economic and logistical tradeoffs. “You need to stop down an anamorphic lens above T4 to make it sharp, and with this kind of setup, we couldn’t do it,” he explains. Instead, he maintained a T4 and shot with two Cooke S4 prime lenses, a 21mm for interiors and a 27mm for exteriors.

He shot the commercial on Kodak Vision3 500T 5219, which he chose for its “tremendous latitude” and “crisp detail,” he says. “It holds details below stop in a very good way. Also, it fit the look I wanted: there’s a beautiful, pastel-like transition between the shadows and the mid-tones.” The film went through two 1080p telecine transfers at The Moving Picture Co. in London under the supervision of senior colorist Jean Clement Soret. The first transfer produced a flat, technical grade for the visual-effects team and to bend the shadows and highlights toward the desired look. The digital footage was then up-rezzed to 2K and printed back to film, then telecined at 1080p a second time. Bäckar explains, “By that time, we had all of the effects in there, and when we transferred it again, it helped blend the CG work with the live-action elements.”

Considering the effort that went into “Carousel,” Berg muses, “We spent a lot of time on small things that a casual viewer might not notice, because we figured others would stop and look at it frame-by-frame to see how everything works together. It was a great challenge, but it was also a joy to make.”

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