Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
They're Gonna Put Me In The Movies II
By Mike Gould
Shooting b-roll: laser lumia on the screen, Mike at the controls, Director of IT Daren Smith supervising the camera. Photo by Assistant to Line Producer Cameron Thuman.
Continued from last month.
My role in the filming (well, video – no actual film was used in this production: it’s mostly all digital these days) was originally supposed to happen in two chunks. There were to be three days of shooting specific effects (plus two travel days there and back), followed by a three week break, then back to Utah for a final four days of shooting in a set that was still under construction when I was there the first time.
Director Ari and cinematographer Pawel had elaborate plans for the way the laser would swoop around a classroom, expanding and contracting as it went, eventually shrinking down and flying out a window. As it was explained to me in our original communications, the laser demon (“Tinkerbell, as they called it) was just going to fly around - no expanding and contracting.
I said I could do this and proceeded to drop around $1.5K constructing a small hand-held projector we could wave around in confined spaces.
Time For Real Time
They were initially adamant that this be shot in real time, as they were going for an organic look. This plan quickly derailed. It turned out that the effect they really liked was created by the large Kvant laser projector that was anything but hand-held. We tried mounting it on a humongous movie tripod, but could not achieve the amount of expansion they wanted – going from a 6” blob of light that moved up a wall to engulf an entire ceiling, and then down and small again.
Being the practical, professional guys that they are, they immediately said something to the effect of “Screw it, we do this in post” (post-production, where FX and shot scenes are merged together digitally). So they had me set up in a spare classroom (we were shooting in a high school), aiming the lasers at a black screen, as seen in the photo above. This footage (yes, it is still called “footage”, even though feet of film are no longer involved) is called “b-roll” and consisted of me shooting every variation of laser lumia I brought with me onto the screen and having it shot with an insanely expensive camera connected to an even more insanely expensive lens.
More about that lens: Director of Cinematography Pawel Pogorzelski worked with Panavision to develop custom lenses for this project. He wanted a specific look and the company was so impressed by his previous work that they created a full range of lenses just for him. So the lenses shooting my lasers were very, very special.
More About That Laser Lumia
In prepping for this shoot, I spent several days cutting circles out of textured glass so I could give the Director a wide variety of effects to choose from. The circles are the diffractive elements that determine the shape and look of the lumia. I labeled each disk and we spent several hours looking at all of them, alone and in combination. I rigged a magnetic system for the motors driving the circles so we could swap out the circles quickly.
Daren Smith, shown in the photo above, is the IT Director. As scenes are shot, it is his job to retrieve the memory chip from each camera, replace it with a fresh one, and take the filled chip to his office. There it is backed up and uploaded to a server in New York City where editors can check it out immediately.
I was very relieved to hear that all my laser footage passed muster, and the editors were very enthusiastic about the quality of the shoot. We shot for around 3 hours, using all of the different projectors I brought, including the Tinkerbell device. I may not have been able to wave it around as planned, but hopefully some of its output will make it into the final film. Also used were some backup projectors I brought: an RGB Lumiator and the very first lumia projector I built back in 2010 or so. Assisting in the shoot were Cameron Thuman and Tyler Campellone, assistants to the producers.
All the above was separate from the main effect that they initially contacted me to pull off, that of the laser moving down the hallway. This we shot in real time and it worked very well indeed.
Came the Dawn
The day after the b-roll shoot I awoke and thought to myself: “Dang, I think I just worked my way out of a job. Are they really going to need me in three weeks to finish the shooting?” The same thought occurred to the Powers That Be, and in discussion with Line Producer Scott, he agreed that they could use b-roll for all the rest of the effects they would be needing.
Another reason for doing lasers in post is that the sets were going to be packed with actors and camera operators, and it would have been tricky to pack me in there as well, waving around my Tinkerbell. So to speak.
There is a scene in a tree house where I think there were to be around eight actors, (several of them dead), so it would have been a tight fit. Much easier to pilot a lumia blob around the walls with a mouse in post.
So I am done with my adventure for the moment.
I’m hoping to see everyone again at Sundance.
Mike’s site, with laser lumia examples:
Mike Gould is looking forward to thanking the Academy. He was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, directs the Illuminatus Lasers, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.