DJI Ronin 2 owner

Well, after years of renting the Ronin 2 for all these jobs I do, I went out and bought one. I wish I had gotten one years ago, as I would have paid it off already, but since I had a 3 week shoot not long ago that needed one, I figured it was a good time to buy as that job would make a nice dent in the price.

It's a pretty useful tool, as I came from a Mōvi background (after initially starting with the original Ronin) as it was lighter weight and therefore the tool of choice for handheld operation. When I got into car plates, the Mōvi Pro just wasn't cutting it and the Mōvi Pro XL was way out of budget, so I switched over to using the Ronin 2. Weight aside, I prefer the Ronin 2 in so many ways: built in SDI cabling; axis locks; more powerful motors; Steadicam style screw adjustments; great aftermarket part support (Cinemilled); superior native power system; and dedicated car mode.

While it was car work that got me into the Ronin 2, I also use it a lot for remote head operation on jibs and dollies. The integration with wheel controls, joystick, or even accelerometer based Force Pro control gives all sorts of operating options. I'm looking forward to putting it to work and excited to see the things we shoot with it!


Pivoting plates

We shot a car stunt scene for the Fox television show Pivoting last year and the episode (episode 2) has aired, so I can finally share some behind the scenes with you. While we normally use a larger camera vehicle (you can see pictures in many of my past posts), this one required some precision driving as there was traffic and a car stunt, so we rigged up a Porsche with three Komodos, two on hard mounts with Zeiss CP2 25mm lenses and one on a Ronin 2 in the center with a Sigma Cine 14mm. Because there was a hard u-turn, which caused the Ronin to swing to the side, we had to be conscientious of our placement so we wouldn't crash the moving camera into the stationary one to the side.

The local PD closed down a few blocks of street for us and we had a stunt coordinator making sure all the picture vehicles were correctly timed. This was nice as it takes some of the load off of our driver, who typically coordinates directly with the PD for our smaller, non-stunt driven shoots. This is also one of the few times we shot with the main unit, as most of the time we are shooting completely separate from 1st unit.

The best part is that the main feature of the stunt (a car skidding to a stop as they cut it off during the u-turn) didn't even make the edit since it would have been visible out the side or rear windows, but they cut to a forward facing shot instead! Oh well. At least the background plates we shot got used for when they're talking inside the moving car.

Please excuse the mediocre quality of my screenshots, as I had to take them off my computer screen with my phone, so they aren't as high of quality as I usually get.


Hacks season 2

Having shot some VFX driving plates as well as some establishing shots for Hacks season 1, we were hired to do some shooting for the second season as well. While season 1 focused on the Las Vegas residency, at the end of the season the characters decide to take the show on the road, which brings us to season 2. For this, production wanted shots of the tour bus driving all over America. So we rigged up a camera car and set out with the tour bus, starting in New Mexico and traveling up through northern Texas and Oklahoma, then over to Tennessee before heading north through Minnesota and eventually ending in Illinois.

It was a lot of driving and, shooting the end of January into February, got extremely cold as we made our way north to Chicago. This introduced some technical challenges that I don't encounter in Los Angeles, mainly that the vibration isolator for the Ronin 2 uses rubber rings that get progressively stiffer as it gets colder, which makes it so they don't remove the road vibration anymore. We ended up buying a bunch of hand warmers that we could strap to the rings and wrap up with insulation to get the rubber flexible again (being careful to keep the rings clear enough that they wouldn't be impeded by the fix). Working in freezing temps always reminds me to appreciate the typically warm weather I enjoy back home.

For gear, we used a new prototype hitch mounted hydraulic arm for attaching the Flowcine Black Arm. The hydraulic arm let us raise the camera from just off the ground to about 9' in the air with a simple remote control. On the Black Arm, we had RED's new V-Raptor flying on a DJI Ronin 2. Lenses were some customized-just-for-the-show Panavision Primo 70 Series primes (we mostly used the 35mm).

You can check out the trailer below:


Building establishing shots

Sometimes I'm tasked with shooting a couple establishing shots for a TV show. The strange thing about the work I do is sometimes I have no idea what show I'm shooting for and I have no clue if this show ever came out, and if it did, what shots they used (it's been long enough that the show would have aired already). This shoot consisted of just some simple building establishing shots. We opted for the Sigma Art Cine 14mm and a couple of Zeiss Super Speeds (25mm and 35mm) to capture the large scale of the buildings.

The client had pulled some stills that they really liked so we were mostly matching the reference angles, though one was particularly challenging. Construction had started since the reference photos were taken and one of the shots would have put us smack in the middle of a huge work zone. So, with a little creativity, and tucking the camera right up against the barrier wall, we managed to get a shot that was very similar.

Since we were hiking around with our hands full of camera gear, I didn't get my usual BTS photos, other than taking a bonus shot of one of the buildings, but I like the symmetry.


Rutherford Falls - Camera Arm Car operating

Now that the series has aired, I can share another single pickup day I worked on, this time for the Peacock series Rutherford Falls. These are some simple driving shots of a BMW driving down a desert road, with some passes, jib ups, and other various shots. We were in a Mercedes arm car with a "The Edge 3" arm and head, shooting on a RED Gemini, as part of it would be occurring near dusk and into the night, so light levels would be low by the end.

I was camera operating the head via joystick and, while I've operated remote heads before, this was my first time operating in an arm car. It's really not that different from operating on any other shoot with moving elements or other car to car shots, which I do fairly frequently, so I wasn't worried at all. I was very happy with what we shot and the director seemed pleased.

All our shots are in the final episode (episode 10) of season 1. We did a night shot that is used in the middle of the episode (around the 12m15s mark) with the camera floating from the highway shoulder onto the road as the main character's car drives by. My focus puller did a great job as it was totally dark and there weren't really any visible marks he could pull to, so he was flying by the seat of his pants and nailed it.

We also shot what is essentially the closing shot of the season (they cut to the credits after our shot, then briefly cut back for an inter-credits "we have one more thing" moment). It's kind of cool that we were entrusted to capture the "closing shot" that is a nice visual send away to the characters for the season as the car zips by on a lonely highway while the camera jibs up with the car receding away towards the mountains.


Miracle Workers season 3: Oregon Trail VFX plates

Earlier this year I did some second unit photography for season 3 of Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail. These were VFX plates of river crossing locations, where the VFX team would take the high resolution pan and tile plates and populate these environments with CG characters.

The tool of choice was the usual RED Gemini. I shot each set of tiled plates with a couple different lenses: the Zeiss Super Speed 25mm and the Sigma Art Cine 14mm. In situations with little direct supervision, it's always safer to shoot two options in case one of them doesn't work for the VFX team. Adding that second option, even if it wasn't asked for, on a shoot like this is just a smart move since we had plenty of media and drive space and the plates weren't that data intensive anyway. They don't want to add another day of shooting pickups and I would prefer not to make the 6-hour drive to this location again. In the end, it is a bit time consuming since I'm shooting tiles (about 8-14 tiles for each shot), but I knew my schedule and knew I had the time to give them that secondary coverage and still make my day.

There was also a drone team shooting with us, but the wind was pretty strong and so our unit had to split up, with myself going off and shooting the plates all on my own while the field producer stayed with the drone crew, supervising their work. Fortunately, I had gone over the locations with the field producer beforehand, so I knew what to get and where.

One of the locations had a barrel full of firewood burning just off screen with tons of smoke pouring out, and there were no other places where the land jutted out into the water far enough to get the shot, so it had to the that place. Knowing I couldn't stop the smoke, I quickly moved on, hoping the fire would die down before I returned later in the day. When I came back to shoot the location near the end of the day, it turned out delaying was a positive, as the barrel was no longer smoking, but on top of that the tide had gone down and I was able to get out even further to place my camera, which ended up with a better shot.

After wrapping things up, I headed back and met up with the field producer and drone team as they were finishing up their day, and just in time too. The sun would soon be too low to get the shots we needed. Mission accomplished.

Getting the tripod a little wet is a small price to pay for a better shot.


Hacks HBO Max additional driving plates

I found the other episode we shot driving plates for in episode 7. This was a nighttime shoot, so we used a different LUT and mounted the cameras at a normal height rather than the elevated height for the double decker bus shots. We also had one camera mounted on the front, facing forward and up to capture reflection plates for the windshield. These shots were a little more simple, as they were background plates for a car driving scene.

The road was pretty rough, as construction had just started and they were tearing up the road (as you can see from the traffic cones in my shot of the monitor), but production needed to comp in the background of them driving up to the wedding chapel. Thank goodness for post-stabilization!