Magazine article American Cinematographer

Lethal Dance Moves

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Lethal Dance Moves

Article excerpt

In the Web series The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (The LXD), dance has emerged as the newest battleground in the struggle between good and evil, The show follows a disparate group of individuals whose mind-blowing dance moves make them a new breed of superhero. Each has a specific talent: hip-hop, krumping, popping, break-dancing, jazz, and even some tap and ballet.

The Paramount-produced series is one of the most ambitious ever mounted for the Internet; now in its second U.S. season on HuIu, The LXD has consistently ranked in the site's top 1 0 most popular shows every week. Director Jon M. Chu ÎSîep Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3-D) created the show specifically for the Web, and one of his first calls was to cinematographer Alice Brooks, a former classmate from the University of Southern California's undergraduate film program. Brooks entered USC knowing she wanted to be a cinematographer, and she honed her skills shooting a lot of thesis films, including Chu's 2002 thesis, When the Kids AK Away. When Chu called her about The LXD1 she immediately signed on.

"We are doing stuff on this show that is experimental and different," says Chu. "We wanted to create a world where, even though it's fantasy, you feel the texture and the light, you see flares and patterns on patterns.

"Shooting dance isn't easy," he adds. "There's a choreography not just of what's within the frame but of the frame itself. Alice understands that there is a duet between our audience and the dancers. She and the choreographers work together, figuring out how the camera can move with the dancers' bodies. Each dancer has such a different style; Alice has to pick up a new language with each one. She has really [helped to] define our tone."

"When you think of a Web series, you think presumer cameras, but it was always our intention to shoot The LXD as if it would play on the big screen," says Brooks, who recently began shooting the show's third season. When shooting began on the first season, in February 2009, the Red One was the new kid on the block. It also turned out to be the easiest camera for the production to acquire: digital-imaging technician Dan Haas, another USC classmate, already owned one. (Haas also served as cinematographer on one episode of the first season.)

Production on the first two seasons was spread out over 18 months, and when it ramped up for season two, Brooks upgraded to Red's Mysterium-X sensor, which, at 800 ASA, is considerably faster than the camera's original chip. Brooks shoots the series in Raw mode, Redcode 36 or Redcode 42, monitors in Redspace, and records onto CF cards and hard drives. "We shoot 3K HD, 4K 2:1 and 4K HD, depending upon the aspect ratio and frame rate, and those vary depending on the dance style and genre of each piece.

"We originally hoped to shoot the entire series 2.1, but because of different delivery standards, we decided to stick with 16x9," she continues. "However, a number of episodes begin in 16x9 and are matted to 2.40 at different story points. The great thing about a web series is that there are no rules, so we get to make them up as we go, including playing with the aspect ratio within an episode."

Brooks tested a number of lens and fitter combinations before choosing Zeiss Super Speeds. "I found the Red lenses too crisp, whereas the Super Speeds, in conjunction with different increments of Schneider Classic Softs and the use of smoke, produce the soft, magical feel we wanted." In order to get fulllength shots of the dancers, shorter focal lengths are used, primarily 18mm, 25mm and 35mm. At bigger locations that involve a number of dancers, a 50mm or 85mm will often be used.

According to Brooks, Chu envisaged the project as "a tapestry of different colors, feelings, tones, moods and genres." Although the series jumps back and forth in time, stretching from the 1920s to the year 3000, "Jon wanted a sense of timelessness," she adds. …

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