Magazine article American Cinematographer

Zoic Shifts into High Gear on Drive

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Zoic Shifts into High Gear on Drive

Article excerpt

"Feature television" is how the effects experts at Zoic Studios are describing the new Fox series Drive, and with good reason. The Culver City visualeffects house has been pushing the capabilities of CG effects on TV for five years, providing effects for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel, Firefly. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Battlestar Galactica. Drive, which follows a cross-country road race, offered a whole new set of challenges. "[Firefly and Angel executive producer] Tim Minear was pitching a driving show about a gumball rally from Florida to Alaska," recalls Loni Peristere, Zoic's creative director and visual-effects supervisor. "He said he didn't want to make it a plain old driving series. He said, 'I want to come up with a distinctive device for our show, and I don't want it to have ever been done before.'"

The signature Drive shot was inspired by a driving sequence in the recent feature War of the Worlds (AC July '05). In the scene, the camera moves in and out of a van as it speeds down a highway. "Tim wanted to know if we could do that but actually move up the road to other cars," recalls Peristere. "I said I had no idea but would figure it out."

On Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. Peristere and his team decided to take the rules and limitations that apply to practical cinematography and apply them to a CG environment. Virtual operators, cameras, lenses and support systems were used to define the boundaries of setups and camera moves in a given shot. For Drive, the Zoic team adopted a "no limits" approach. The show's pilot, shot by cinematographer Cort Fey, originally boasted a sevenminute sequence during which a "Godcam" zoomed in and out of cars and covered the characters' dialogue as they sped down a busy highway, in what looked like one seamless take. (The single take was eventually shortened to 2 ½ minutes and then cut into three separate shots.) The effect was accomplished with the help of CG, but nearly every element in the sequence was captured photographically - with the notable exception of an alarmingly realistic motorcycle, complete with riders. "When I saw the pilot, I wondered how the hell they did that," says cinematographer Chris Manley, who is currently filming the series. "Then the Zoic team demystified the process. I knew coming onto Drive that the show would be an opportunity to learn more about shooting for effects, and the environment has proven to be both flexible and incredibly creative."

For Zoic, the process of setting up a "Drive shot" begins with the script and concept meetings with executive producer Greg Yaitanes. Because the action of the show relies heavily on the objectivity of the camera, specific moves and other details are often written into the story. The next step is to design the shot around the action. Everything is previsualized in 3-0 using Zoic's software-based "cameras" to simulate what's possible practically on location (as opposed to what's possible within a CG environment). "When shooting for effects, it is very typical to be as lockedoff or controlled as possible," says Manley. "In Drive, the camera is a central character, always moving and taking the audience to new places within the action. We start with an idea and then decide how to make it work. That's where previz is key. [ensuring that] the right combination of tools is applied to get the desired sequences."

On location, Drive makes extensive use of a Cadillac-mounted camera crane (referred to as the "Caddycam") that can reach as far as 18' in almost any direction. By describing the rig's parameters in previz, the effects team knows it will only reach a certain distance before it fails. …

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