Before thanksgiving 2010 we set out to finish our shoot for the documentary Formula One: Life on the Limit by Spitfire Pictures, Flat-Out Films and Diamond Docs. If you read my post from our last Formula One shoot, you’ll wonder “how do you follow up an Epic 2d/3d shoot like that?”


Directed by Paul Crowder, written by Mark Monroe, produced by Michael Shevloff and Nigel Sinclair and co-produced by Rodney Frazier, with the onboard racing segments produced by Alex King, the film tells the story of Formula 1’s ‘golden age’ and is due to be released in 2011. It’s from a time when F1 the cars became terrifyingly fast and the drivers were like rock stars with raw talent – and whose chances of not surviving a single season could be as high as 1 in 15….real and raw.

F@ck ya part I

As Cinematographer, my job was to shoot the racing segments of the documentary, so they could merge with the archival footage and immerse the viewer in the racing experience. We headed up to Infineon raceway in Sonoma again. For our last shoot we were rigging cameras onto the F1 cars during a charity race. It was extremely hectic and nerve wracking. This time we had the luxury of renting the track all to ourselves with two beautiful Formula One cars, James Hunts 1978 Mclaren driven by the amazing, soon-to-be-indy-car-rookie-of-the-year JR Hildebrand and Jackie Stuarts 1972 Tyrrell 006 driven by Owner John Delane.

The film will be a 2D theatrical release, however we shot in 3D as well to amp up the race car driving experience. This was a huge shoot in terms of equipment and crew. Once again Michael Mansouri and the HD Camera Rentals team really came through for our equipment package. We had LARGE package from them that included 1 Red MX camera, 4 silicon imaging SI-2k cameras, 3 Cinedecks, 1 IDT Diablo Y5 slow motion camera, 1 Panasonic 3DA1, 1 Canon 1DS Mark IV, 2 Canon 5D mark IIs, 3 canon 7Ds, a whole bunch of lenses (Arri, Angeniuex, Schneider, Fujinon, Zeiss), a few prototype 3D cameras and an assortment of Go Pro and Drift mini cameras,  a prototype beam splitter rig side by side 3D rigs, an Ultimate Arm, a Steadicam and a my Iphone…whooo taking a breath.

Camera Prep at HD Camera Rentals

A shoot of this magnitude should be carefully planned. With all of the cameras and varied equipment we knew that we really needed a two day shoot, yet for budgetary and logistical reasons it had to be crammed into one day. In pre-production Alex King (Producer of the onboard racing segments), Paul Crowder and I designed the shots that Paul needed for his edit. We had an extensive storyboard with pictures of each setup we needed.

Daft Punk invaded the track


Alex and I then figured out how to get these shots with the equipment we had. Ultimate Arm came through for us big time with their gyro stabilized camera crane mounted on a Mercedes. We planned shots for the crane versus onboard rigging, and then 2D versus 3D. Lastly we went through the task of setting out a schedule that prioritized our shots and divided the day by various cameras, rigging and equipment. With all of the gear we had, we knew we couldn’t get every shot, and so it was important to be realistic in decisions…whatever that means.

Super AC Leoncio Provoste (Behind Camera) sets up the RED MX on the Ulimate Arm. In front crane operator John Betancourt makes sure the camera wont fall off by applying duct tape.


So what did we do with all those cameras? Everything we could! Because I had such an amazing crew we were able to get so many different types of shots throughout the day. Did we get everything we wanted? No of course not. Sometimes when you’re on a tight/overloaded schedule not everything can go according to plan. The F1 cars were late, it rained and we suffered from lack of daylight (something to do with winter). But that’s why you shoot for the moon and at least try and hit a bird.  We began the day rigging both the Ultimate Arm with the RED MX camera and once again the amazing Key Grip Kenny Davis and super grip Kurt Harding rigged the sh!t out of the F1 cars.


Onboard racing producer Alex King going over the driving plan with JR. JR later drove the way he wanted

Our main camera mounted on the cars was the new SI-3D mini system from Silicon Imaging. We rigged the cars with these cameras in 2D setups. In the pic (below) you see super AC Michael Merriman holding the Cinedeck while I position the camera for Kenny to rough in his rigging. Because we rented out the track, Kenny and Kurt could take the front end off the F1 car and rig straight to the chassis. Once they had the base of the grippage rigged to the car I could line up the shot exactly where we want it and they could lock it in.With the SI-3D mini system you have two SI-2k cameras that are ingested into the Cinedeck through HD-SDI, with each feed recording separately. The cinedeck allows you to correct your shots in 3D or see each feed individually. The added advantage for us is that when we wanted to shoot in 2D, we could position each camera for a different shot and feed them both into the cinedeck at the same time. Really saves time space and money for a shoot like this where we are short on space, short on time and have very little space on an F1 car. Really love these cinedecks! (More on that in 3D section below).

I should note that the higher up the camera is away from the car body, the more rigging it needs, and also the more vibration it gets (because of stability). This was ok with our shoot because we needed the longer lens shots and thus the camera had to be further away….yet we wanted it to feel like you’re in the race and so the vibrations added to the effect. With the 5D we would have gotten crazy unusable jelloing of the image, but with the SI2k it handled it very well.

Kenny Davis and Kirt Harding wizardy grip rigging

Paul loved the crushed depth of field from our previous shoot. So we put longer lenses on two Si-2ks and positioned the cameras so they were each filming a different angle. This is the great advantage of using the Si-2ks Cinedeck 3D system. You can take the different feeds from the cameras and ingest them into the Cinedeck through the HD-SDI cable and record the different videos to the SSD hard drive at the same time. We used the Cineform codec in film scan 2 which allows you to record raw files.

The Duclos 11-16mm on the SI-2k Mini

For other cameras we had these great small DRIFT HD170 cameras that you see below. We were able to position the camera right into the foot area and get great shots of the driver working the pedals. I loved the drift camera because it has an LCD screen on it so you know what you are getting and the menu system is straightforward, no guess work. HD camera rentals even rigged two of them together to get a 3D setup with a very small I.O. We also had a pethora of GO PRO cameras which were great to throw in anywhere and get action shots during the race in ways we couldnt with the bigger setups. Go Pro now has snap on LCD backs that seem to work really well for viewing what you’re shooting.

Off the track we had a high speed IDT Y5 Diablo, shooting at 1000FPS. Like I said we tried to get EVERYTHING in. Michael Mansouri braved the rain and speeding cars to get the shot and it looks great. Everything looks great in high speed. I cant wait to do a shoot exclusively with this highspeed camera. It has a high 1000 ISO so there isn’t a need to bring out the big lights…a huge money and time saver. The Y5 shoots at 2K as well and has an internal 16gb memory.

I was recently a panelist for Studio Daily titled, Shooting Stereo 3D: The State of the Art, Demystified. My Co-Panelists at World War Seven and HD Camera rentals did a great job of explaining the process of making 3D pictures. In my previous post I go over the basics of stereoscopic 3D from a cinematographer’s perspective. If you have the right team in place, stereoscopic 3D shooting is not nearly as complicated as it seems and can be done on a budget that is reasonable if you know how to select your gear.

As far as setting up the camera on the cars, rigging was virtually the same. For the on car rigging we used a side by side 3D rig. This rig allowed us to control the I.O. and the convergence and lock it in without worrying about the camera slipping. The side by side rig was small and light which was essential to anything we mounted on the F1 cars.

notice a similarity between Kirt’s hair and how he built the rig?

AC Michael Merriman, the SI2k 3D rig and two Duclos 11-16 lenses

Cinedeck in 3D mode

Also had the Panasonic AG-3DA1 again which I’ve wrote about extensively in the past. Here we have sexy Bobby Mansouri demoing HD Camera rentals new hand held setup with custom EVF eye piece. Its really come a long way since the UCLA medical 3D shoot we did and can come complete with mattebox and ND filters. Again this is a great camera for just pick up and shoot 3D and we were able to pull off a lot of on the fly shots that we normally wouldn’t have been able to get.

Bobby Mansouri of HD Camera rentals and the Pansonic AG3DA1


Lastly we had our other SI-2K 3D rig on Pedro Guimaraes’s steadicam rig. On the Si2K we had two angeniuex 14-40 zooms on PS technik’s new Freestyle beam splitter rig. The Freestyle is a  super light rig that allows you the freedom to go handheld, steadicam or whatever you’d like. Attached we had Pedro’s Cmotion Cvolution 3D control which is an 8-motor FIZ unit. There really isn’t anything like it in its class, allowing you to do FIZ and control IO and convergence. Pedro is a master of the steadicam and got some fantastic shots tracking the driver to the car.

Two masters at work with Pedro rocking the steadicam and Stereographer Ian Spohr adjusting the I.O.

Me lurking behind Pedro as he lurks behind JR suiting up.

Shooting F1 cars with an Ultimate Arm has to be the most fun you can possibly have with a camera. George Peters owner of the Ultimatearm was incredible to work with and very accommodating to help us achive our goals. Driven by “Moose” Mussetter, with the head operated by Michael “Ivar” Nelson and the crane operated by John Betancourt we ran the crane all day, fitting the shots in any chance we got. We would follow the cars one or two at a time on the track. It felt like breakneck speed but in reality the tops we were really going was 50mph on the straight away. There Mercedes is fast but the F1 cars are much faster…especially with JR Hildebrand driving. JR is racing now for Panther Racing in the Indi car series. He is fast, quick and an INCREDIBLE driver. Following him with the ultimate arm was crazy fun! He’s so quick it was hard to catch up with him and caused so much quick turns in the car that I nearly threw up (and maybe a couple of the crew did)!

That’s my seat in the back. I thought I was going to get motion sickness but it was so fun I was able to keep it in check. You can see my little monitor on the side. Using the ultimate arm is really a team sport. I give suggestions to Ivar the head operator who then breaks it down to moose (driver) and John (crane operator) even further. Shooting on a track allows you to alternate between set shots and just going with the flow and getting the best stuff you can.

Me, Michael and Ian looking at footage on the the 3D beam splitter rig on the crane.

F@ck Ya Part II

At one point we were whipping around the track following the JR Hilldebrand and barely keeping up. I remember we banked around a turn and we swerved in and got the camera superclose to JR’s face, at which point he turned, winked and sped off. John Betancourt (Crane operator) with a huge smile on his face turned to me and shouted “I can’t f@cking believe we get paid to do this!?”

I couldn’t agree more.

Keep on the lookout for our Formula One doc…coming soon to a theater near you!

for more highly informative and somewhat entertaining cinematography info check out the rest of my Image Hunter blog
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