Magazine article American Cinematographer

Gourmet Photography for Flight

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Gourmet Photography for Flight

Article excerpt

To save money on the costly effects demanded by Flight of the Intruder, visual effects supervisor Mark Vargo parcelled out the components of the job - miniatures, motion control photography, opticals-to various firms, which enabled him to hire specialists in each area. Don Pennington built several huge landscape miniatures, while Introvision, Rhythm and Hues, and Pacific Title handled various aspects of the film's photographic and optical effects work load. The task of filming Pennington's elaborate miniatures of Hanoi and the Red River fell to a firm called Image G, known to fans of the little screen for work keeping the Enterprise whizzing through space on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"We were brought in as the miniature photography unit," Tom Barron, Intruder's motion control director of photography, confirms. "Our particular area of expertise is state-of-the-art motion control work. On Intruder, we got a chance to apply the kind of gourmet photography we do primarily for TV commercials to a large scale assignment."

Image G's contribution to the Flightofthelntruderwas the flight itself-elaborate, swooping motion control moves over Pennington's miniature to simulate the point of view of the Intruder planes. Right from the start, the dynamics of these shots, the scale of the model and other factors necessitated creative problem solving from Image G. "Don built to a given scale so we were locked into a size," Barron says, "plus we had to shoot our background plates on 8-perf VistaVision for the greater resolution and clarity the Introvision front projection process demanded. That posed an interesting challenge to us because we wanted to be able to scrape the street without having a giant VistaVision camera knocking down Pennington's miniature buildings at the same time."

Prior to filming the miniature, Al Heshong, Intruder's production designer, laid out the original Hanoi street map full scale, enabling Barron and his crew to "walk" the blueprint of the city which their motion control camera would fly through in miniature. "Using a video camera, we could anticipate how much room we would have and how low the camera needed to go," Barron says, "so we had a pretty good idea of what the shots would involve before Don began constructing his miniature."

The walk-through confirmed what the motion control cinematographers at Image G most feared: "We realized we were going to have to build a camera specifically for this show in order to make these shots," Barron recalls. "Normally, we would use a snorkel prism or snorkel relay lens to film in such a tight space, but here the dimensions were so close, we realized we'd have to try something else.

"We took an Oxberry animation camera, which is basically an aluminum bread box, and added an Oxberry 8-perf movement to handle the VistaVision film. The distance from the center of the gate to the edge of the movement on our Oxberry box was less than the distance to the center of the lowest low angle snorkel prism or relay snorkel lens available, which meant we could actually get lowerto the set by just shooting directly onto the film rather than going through a snorkel.

"We discovered the camera box was big enough to hold a 100' spool of daylight film, so with a 100' daylight load assembly installed within the box we ended up with the smallest possible VistaVision camera given a pin-registered movement. It was very narrow, very low and extremely long. Width was still an issue, but the Oxberry box was only slightly larger than the film loops, so by building the camera in such a way that the drive motor and all of the accessory motors were mounted vertically rather than on either side of the lens, we were able to keep it narrow."

This is not to say that Image G's newly redesigned Oxberry camera did not present its own special problems. "The Oxberry camera was originally designed as a 4-perf movement," Barron says, "In order to pull down 8-perfs, the camera had to have a dark cycle, so my camera technician, Gordon Seitz, designed a cam to open and close the fade shutter on the Oxberry without resorting to a lot of auxiliary electronics. …

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