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A Flexible Finish
American Cinematographer Magazine
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Each of the 3-D cameras used on the film is run by 14 motors and 11 microprocessors. The format's unparalleled resolution meant that the camera assistants - Lavender, Stuart Macfarlane, Vali Valus, Fred Weigle and Justin Bergler - had to follow an elaborate inspection procedure each time new film was loaded, regardless of the time-pressure demands of live racing. "Each 3-D camera requires two assistants to load both sides of it, and one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in shooting any Imax film is the length of the film load," observes Neihouse. "The longest standard load is 1,000 feet, and it goes through the camera in about three minutes. In the end, we didn't miss too many shots because things happen so fast in the NASCAR world - a pit stop takes less than 15 seconds, and on all but the longest tracks, the lap times are under a minute. The ACs were under a lot of pressure."

What made the production even more challenging was the filmmakers' desire to incorporate as much camera movement as possible. "Imax 3-D is very friendly to constant camera movement," observes Wincer. "It adds an edge to the story and accentuates the 3-D elements. James Neihouse and I discovered early on that keeping the A-camera on a Shotmaker crane much of the time was the most effective camera platform, because the camera is so difficult to move around. The Shotmaker meant we didn't have to lay track, and we could move in all directions and follow the action." Neihouse confirms, "The Shotmaker is a wonderful tool that enabled us to move the camera quickly between locations inside the track. We even used it on the track during pace laps and to position the camera up the high bank turns at Talladega Speedway. The Shotmaker driver, Lyle Christensen, did a great job of putting us where we needed to be. We used a Chapman Hybrid III as our primary dolly, and we did a lot of dolly shots. There were times when we were on the dolly on pit road as the cars rolled out for the start of the race, and then we'd have to hustle to get all our gear back behind the pit wall before the start of the race."

Wincer and Neihouse knew that their camera positions were critical. "It was not only important for 3-D, but also for improving upon the excellent live-television coverage [of the races] that audiences have become accustomed to," says Wincer. "It was important that we got on the track, and we did. Two cars from Fastrack and Roush Racing put our cameras on the track at racing speeds."

"Because the Imax screen is eight stories high, you have a very large 'stereo space' to work with in 3-D," notes Neihouse. "This means you can bring objects farther out from the screen than in conventional 35mm or 5-perf 70mm systems. But this has to be done carefully, because you can actually bring objects closer to the audience than they may be able to view comfortably; when you're shooting close-ups, or any shot that might move a subject toward the viewer, you have to constantly consider where the object is going to appear in the theater. You also have to keep in mind how the sequence is going to be cut, because it's hard on the viewer to go from a shot that is converged at three feet to a shot that is converged at the screen. We can control the distance the object appears [to be at] by converging/diverging the lens pairs, but this can lead to other problems, like the walleye effect on background objects, so you have to be careful."

Another challenge in the 3-D large-format process is "ghosting" - image bleed-over between eyes that creates secondary images on screen. "High-contrast subjects are the worst offenders, so you have to try to control the lighting ratio," says Neihouse. "Therefore, you tend to light on the flat side. There are times when you don't have that much control over the lighting, especially when shooting documentary-style, as we were for this film. We always had an assortment of flags standing by to knock down a bright spot, or a can of Streaks and Tips to quickly give something a darker color.

"When shooting in 3-D with wide lenses, you can run into miniaturization problems, where your subject appears to be smaller than it should," the cinematographer continues. "It's especially noticeable with human subjects, so you have to be careful when you start getting people close to the camera on a wide lens. Of course, the best 3-D is usually up close. We used the 50mm a lot because it's a good compromise; it's a fairly wide lens but doesn't tend toward miniaturization.

"With Imax 3-D technology, the spectator is right where the camera was, so maximum depth of field is extremely important," he adds. "The depth helps enhance the 3-D effect. If someone wants to look at some detail in the background, they expect it to be in focus, and because there's so much detail in the Imax frame, you need to get as much of it as sharp as you can. I like using [Kodak Vision 250D] 5246 for exteriors on 3-D projects. In most cases, it gives me all the stop I need to carry the depth, and in full daylight I end up shooting with an ND to stay within the sharpest range of the lens. Interiors present the biggest challenge - even with the new high-speed stocks and a lot of light, I still end up shooting at a stop of around 5.6. As for interiors and night scenes, I believe we were the first 3-D film to use Kodak [Vision 500T] 5218. When I saw the tests, I was really impressed with the way it held detail in the blacks and underexposed areas. I knew that we weren't going to be able to put enough light into the track garages and race-shop interiors, so having the tremendous latitude that 5218 offers really made a big difference. It was also very useful for shooting the night racing, where the track was at about a 5.6 but the stands and infield areas fell off to nothing. I think the stock carried detail we would not have gotten otherwise."

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