365 Days of Sci-Fi #115
April 25, 2011
Let the Avenging Begin
April 25, 2011

FLYING IN: JAMES CAMERON CHEATS ON ARRI WITH RED

flying in

verb \ˈflī – iŋ ˈin\ – common call on a film set indicating that a specific tool or piece of equipment is being brought on set | acknowledgement of a request to “fly in ____”

A true Chewer is marked by a curiosity into every aspect of filmmaking, from theory to craft. To put a little more spotlight on the latter, I bring you Flying In – a wide lensed look at the various developments and goings on in the film tech world. Some of the things covered will be on the DIY, indie filmmaking level and others will be at the cutting edge, but it will all be interesting.

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It’s amazing to keep up with the digital image capture renaissance of late and watch prices drop on absolutely incredible cameras, because while you focus so much on accessible that makes them to lower and lower-budgeted filmmakers, it also means someone like James Cameron can just fuckin’ buy 50 of them all at once! This is quite a change from an industry that used to be based around productions getting their hands on one or two massively expensive cameras that could not be owned, only rented (Panavision shifted to a rental-only model in the 60s and have since retained ownership of their cameras and lenses).

The camera that James Cameron has bought 50 of is the RED EPIC-M, a hand-machined and constructed motion picture camera that sports RED’s most advanced sensor, the Mysterium-X. The custom built and special-ordered packages cost $58,000 each, meaning the “retail” price of this purchase would land right at $2.9 million dollars. For that cost (or whatever special bulk arrangement they came to) Cameron now has a true-blue fleet of what is arguably the most powerful, advanced motion-picture camera on the planet.

For what purpose? Well many started dividing that by two and immediately assuming Cameron now has 25 3D rigs to divide up between shooting units for Avatar 2, but that’s premature speculation and a bit reductive. More likely Cameron will use the cameras for all sorts of purposes- principle photography, second unit shooting, as part of motion-capture rigs, light testing, even assignment to EPK crews and probably on many more projects than just the next Avatar… Who knows how one of the world’s formost image technicians will employ 50 cameras in the years to come? This also isn’t the first bulk purchase of the cameras, as Peter Jackson nabbed 30 of them for the The Hobbit shoot.

What really makes this notable is that Cameron’s now-famous Cameron-PACE Group (CPC – they develop 3D systems and such) recently announced a high-profile alliance with Arri- the biggest competitor of RED. While the two camera companies are both finding their own successes, Arri has had a strong push into the high-end digital market recently with their ALEXA camera. Among other strengths, the ALEXA has incredible latitude (meaning you could shoot a scene on the surface of the sun, or 300 feet underground with a match) and has already converted cinematographers like Roger Deakins definitively to digital photography.

Along with CPG, Arri is developing a new version of the ALEXA that is more modular and well-suited to 3D rigs. The ALEXA-M essentially separates the image sensor and lens mount (head) from the camera processor body, allowing them to communicate with a fiber optic cable. This shrinks the portion of the camera that needs to be fitted into a rig, making it valuable for 3D filmmaking. You may have seen a few digital 3D rigs, and you’ll agree that they tend to look like something Holly Hunter and James Spader would fuck on top of. Of course, as you can see above, the RED Epic is pretty slim from the get-go, so the competition is hot.

So Cameron is sleeping in both beds of the cutting-edge digital photography world. Ultimately what cameras are used to shoot what shots in what films are irrelevant to most people, but it’s undeniable that Cameron is a huge influence in this part of the industry. This is a big deal. A 50 camera purchase is a huge endorsement, and one that speaks volumes even if your actual company has partnered with a competitor. RED developer Jim Jannard announced this news on his forum (as he often does), adding one more feather into his company’s cap. As the shoots for Avatar 2 and Cameron’s other major projects approach, it will be interesting to see what camera gets out in front, and how more productions to follow hop on the bandwagon.

I like hearing from readers that find some of this behind-the-lens stuff interesting, so let me know what you think, whether you’re a pro or all of this stuff is new to you.

(via Gizmodo, Arri)

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