MōVI at Full Velocity
ON LOCATION IN THE VALLEY OF FIRE: CAN THIS NEW TOOL TAKE THE HEAT?
Two weeks ago on behalf of my production company !MPOSSIBLE, I led a large shoot for Velocity network in Nevada’s spectacular Valley of Fire. Never short on ambition, I acted as both Executive Producer and Director of Photography.
Everyone is buzzing about the MōVI. We all want to know: is it a holy grail, or hype? Putting the MōVI to the test in a full-scale production and on location, we got answers. Here I share the results.
To imagine this 2-day shoot for Velocity, picture fast-paced action featuring the network’s tentpole talent / personalities driving spectacular cars and motorcycles. The MōVI was the best choice for several reasons:
- Our schedule demands required that we move quickly and shoot fast: the MōVI replaces most traditional camera support systems (camera car, tripod, fluid head, slider, jib, crane, etc.) which require more setup time (not to mention more money).
- We were running two shoots simultaneously: shoot #1 on a RED Epic / MōVI plus shoot #2 on a Canon C300.
- We had very limited access / time with talent: about 4 hours each day.
- The creative called for a wide variety of shots: both car-to-car and road-to-car shots spotlighting the personalities up-close.
This shoot gave me and my MōVI tech (Chris Vallier of FLōT) an opportunity to push the MōVI to its limits. We wondered: what would happen when MōVI hype bumps up against the real world?
CAMERA SYSTEM & CREW
A camera system aboard a MōVI can consist of several major components. In this case, ours looked like this:
- DP radio: controlling camera pan, tilt and roll
- Wireless follow focus
- Wireless video
Our camera department consisted of a crew of five:
- Director of Photography
- MōVI operator / tech
- 1st AC
- 2nd AC
Here’s a look at our camera setup and some of the thinking behind our choices:
- Camera: RED Epic
- Lightweight enough for the MōVI while capable of recording on-board 4K, 120fps, high dynamic range
- Gimbal: Freefly Systems MōVI M10/MR
- Configurability, ease of operation and the ultimate in precision and smoothness. Nothing else is a MōVI.
- Wireless HD video: Paralinx Arrow
- Lightweight, practical range of about 100′.
- Lenses: Zeiss Super Speed primes
- Stunning image quality (with gorgeous flare quality) yet small and lightweight.
- Circular ND and Polarizing filters
- Driving at high speeds required lightweight filters and minimal wind drag.
- Wireless Follow Focus: Redrock Micro Remote
- Other wireless follow focus systems communicate on a frequency that interferes with the MōVI.
- Power: Multiple Custom Configurations
Camera power: a typical production solution would rely on an Anton Bauer setup but carrying that much weight atop the MōVI handle for multiple hours was not feasible. Chris turned to his RC hobby roots and chose lithium batteries from Zippy. While this approach added very little weight, full power was limited to 30 minutes due to the power drawn by the RED plus accessories. This limitation became our biggest challenge once shooting began.
What we discovered: each time a key battery died, an onerous series of steps followed. Managing this process in the midst of demanding production is not for the faint of heart!
- Rebalance the MōVI: you might think once the MōVI is balanced, you’re set for the day. Not quite. About 1 minute.
- Recalibrate the Redrock Remote Follow Focus. About 1 minute.
- Boot the RED Epic. About 0.5 minute.
- Boot the MōVI and wait for it to acquire satellites, compass, etc. About 0.5 minute.
- Confirm video signal for MōVI tech, the DP, the AC and the director/client. About 1 minute.
- Connect the RED on-board monitor to confirm camera settings (exposure, frame rate, ISO, f-stop). About 1 minute.
- Make other miscellaneous camera adjustments such as add/remove ND filter, rebalance the MōVI, swap out RED card, confirm IMU battery voltage, boot the IMU, re-establish wireless HD link to crew monitors, confirm 2.4 GHz link to the DP’s radio, etc. About 1-5 minutes.
As you might imagine, each time going through these steps required 5 to 10 minutes – as natural light is changing, the assistant director is barking out orders, talent is ready, you are being bounced around in a camera car, etc. The ability to respond and adapt on-the-fly is huge! Don’t underestimate the importance of working with seasoned experts.
The MōVI delivered. Had we shot using a traditional camera car / camera support, we would have captured far fewer, less dynamic shots.
WHAT WE LEARNED
- Go fast, but not too fast. Remarkably, the MōVI was very stable in strong winds up to around 60 mph.
- Leverage a camera with on-board recording capability. Using an external recorder would have created another point of potential failure, added extra weight and taken more time.
- Think through all your signal paths, both wired and wireless. Then think through it again. Diagram it. Test it. Remember that multiple wireless systems may interfere with each other’s signals. Know that any connections that are not bombproof will likely fail. HDMI connections can be flaky, HD-SDI is better.
- Reduce the camera system’s potential points of failure. 1-2 is ideal. 3-4 is too risky.
- Your camera system will only run as long as your shortest battery’s life. Plan and prepare accordingly.
Since the shoot, Chris has devised a new power plan: larger hot-swappable batteries that will power the RED Epic continuously, for an entire shoot day. AWESOME! His goal: in the event a run-and-gun setup is needed, Chris will simply unplug the large battery and rely on a “grab and go” 30-minute battery. Once the shot is in the can, he will plug back into the large battery and the camera returns to hot-swap power panacea. Chris has promised an update after further testing.
As for me, I can’t wait to shoot with the MōVI again. How about tomorrow?