Lost Ollie train yard scene

With the new Netflix series Lost Ollie now out, I can finally share some BTS stuff I worked on as a camera operator. This has been a long wait as it's a very VFX heavy show, which takes a long time in post. As a native 4K pipeline, we used the Alexa Mini LF in open gate mode with Arri Signature Primes.

On this project, we shot several parts of the train yard scene, which takes place in episode 2, with the animated characters as they try to catch a ride on a train. We would shoot a pass with stand-in dolls for lighting reference (as seen in the photo below), and then shoot the scene without them so they could be added in post by Industrial Light and Magic.

With the characters only being about a foot tall, we sometimes had to get creative to get the camera low enough to be on their eye line, such as by digging a hole so the camera could get just a few inches lower.

From down in a hole, to up on the roof of our production cube, we got a lot of coverage.

We even put the camera on a truck that drives on the tracks to shoot a shot from "inside the train car" as the characters try to catch it. You'd think it would be pretty smooth, as rails look nice and level. It definitely was not!

We also did a bunch of train drive-by shots as well as dollying shots next to moving trains, where the CGI characters will be inserted running as they try to hop on the train.

This one was a lot of fun to operate, though it was an interesting challenge framing for character movement that we couldn't actually see and only had to imagine was happening. I also enjoyed helping to find shots for characters that were only a foot tall, as it's a little more unique perspective than I'm used to.


RED Komodo in the house

Well, it's going on about a year and a half since I got my Komodo, and I've been using it on a variety of shoots, including as a b-cam to an Alexa Mini LF for a large FCA series of commercials, driving and location plates for a bunch of TV shows, and lots of commercial and product spots. I really like this small form factor (which makes the Alexa Mini feel huge!) and how it sips batteries. It's lightweight enough that I can toss it on a small DJI RS 2 gimbal and fly it around. No need for a giant Ronin 2 or Mōvi Pro all the time (though they certainly still have their place and get used!). This is a nice system and I'm really looking forward to shoot a bunch more projects with it.

Having come up as an AC, I make sure that the accessories are ones that work well, even if they cost a little more than the competitors. So I've ended up testing out a few different components before settling on my current kit. It's not worth the frustration of dealing with a sub-par piece of kit just to save a few bucks.


RED Komodo

(4) 256GB ProGrade CFast2 cards

Angelbird CFast2 reader

(4) BlueShape BP-955 batteries and charger

(2) Bebob Micro 98Wh Gold Mount batteries and charger

(2) Core SWX Nano 98Wh Gold Mount batteries and charger

Tilta Gold Mount adapter

Core SWX Gold mount adapter

Canon RF to EF adapter

Hot Rod Camera RF to PL adapter

Kondor Blue cage

Kondor Blue 15mm lightweight bridgeplate and 12" dovetail

Smallrig 16" 15mm iris rods

SmallRig wooden hand grips

SmallRig shoulder pad with dovetail

Bright Tangerine Misfit Atom matte box

Arri LMB matte box

Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra Cine Superslim IRND set (ND 0.3-2.1)

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 EF mount lens

Tilta Nucleus-M two motor follow focus

SmallHD DP7 Pro monitor

Portview BM5 iii WR 5.5" high bright monitor

Manfrotto 509HD head on Manfrotto 536 carbon fiber sticks

DJI Ronin RS 2 Pro

DJI Ronin 2


The Gray Man SDCC experience

The other week was San Diego Comic Con, which brings in a lot of the big television, movie and streaming studios. This year Netflix went big for their movie The Gray Man, with a giant set and interactive experience where attendees find their way out of a crashed train car, unlock secret briefcases, and end up running across the top of the train car to activate their final token. For the last part of the experience, with them running across the top of the train car, Netflix decided they wanted a camera to fly along with the person as they race along, which is where my job came in.

This gig came through my connection with Industry Sherpa, who has provided us with the Blackarm on most of our driving plate shoots, as well as the rear-mounted platform for the Hacks job earlier this year (and detailed in one of my recent posts). They had a wire-mounted camera system called the Eagle Eye. If you've ever watched an NFL game and seen the camera floating above the field on wires, that is the type of system we were using. We had a specialist from Germany and a Los Angeles based Eagle Eye operator running the wire-mounted system, while myself and one other camera operator were responsible for the payload attached to the Eagle Eye, namely the Mōvi Pro and Sony FX6.

We mounted the camera sideways, as Netflix wanted it social media friendly (aka, vertical video). The iris, focus and zoom were all adjusted through motors run off of the Mōvi and controlled through their console style controller. The Eagle Eye operators programmed in the moves and were responsible for throttling the speed the camera flew through the air while myself and the other operator (switching out for breaks, etc) would operate the camera off of the joystick, as operating was fully manual which required us to frame the shot each and every time, for hundreds of takes.

It wasn't too hard to operate, with the biggest challenge being the dance between the incredibly varied speeds people would traverse the train car top and the speed of the Eagle Eye moving through the air, with us camera operators repeating our moves with slight adjustments to compensate for variances between those two variables. I typically do narrative and commercial work, not live events, so this was an interesting departure from my usual, as there was no such thing as a second take! But it was a good time and definitely helped me sharpen my remote gimbal operating skills.


Rutherford Falls season 2 inserts

I suppose they must have liked what I did in season 1, as I got brought back to do some insert shots for episode 3 of season 2, as the first unit must have ran out of time or they decided to add some shots when they got into the edit. This was a pretty simple one, with some handheld shots of preparing food in a kitchen. They were all closeups, so the set was literally 8 feet wide and only a couple feet deep, so basically just the stove, counter top, and some walls behind those.

We shot on the RED Gemini with Zeiss Super Speeds and I built it on my handheld shoulder rig. Lighting was matched to the first unit shots (recreating a big window with daylight behind and overhead tungsten lights). After completing that, we finished up the day by shooting some afternoon and evening car drive-by shots on sticks.

If you watch the opening scene of episode 3, almost every single "cooking" shot was our second unit shoot. We shot with doubles since you don't see their faces.

And then a few simple car drive-by shots for episodes 6 and 7, such as this one.


Raven's Home establishing shots

For season 5, the show shifts from Chicago to San Francisco, so Raven will be attending a new school, Bayside High. With the new school location, new establishing shots were needed, so we spent a day shooting new exteriors with students coming and going, that can be dropped in whenever they want to establish the school location.

This was a fairly simple shoot, with a few specific angles and then just a bunch of different timings of the background actors coming and going to school in both the afternoon and into late evening after the sun went down. We shot on the RED Gemini using an Angenieux Optimo 24-290mm.

We shot a few angles to use over the course of the show, both with and without students and at different times of day so they can be used as establishing shots over many episodes and scenarios.

They also had us go out to Santa Barbara to film the face of a building that would serve as The Chill Grill, a restaurant the characters often visit. Again, we shot a lot of version with varying times of day as well as with pedestrians and without. The restaurant sign was added in post.


Westworld season 4

I can't believe it was just over a year ago that we were out shooting plates for Westworld. For the new season, they knew they would have scenes on a train and that the train car would be a standing set. Rather than shoot green screen and composite in later, they had us shoot the train plates ahead of time so they could do LED walls for interactive lighting.

Seeing as how they would be train height and potentially see out of multiple windows on any given side of the train car, we shot with 3 RED Komodos on Ronins (for smoothness) with 14mm Sigma Art primes, which would cover a 180° field of view with enough overlap to stitch the cameras together. These were all built on a truck at train window height with the run/stop synchronized via a Tilta Nucleus. By setting the Nucleus motor on each camera to the same channel, a single handset could control the iris (which we wanted to match between cameras) and run/stop on all three units.

We shot a few locations for the show, some in the desert, some on the freeway between Glendale and Eagle Rock, and a bit near downtown.

We did discover that the Komodos don't like having their exhaust vent facing upwind, as the incoming air would fight against the fan blowing the opposite direction and create a sort of air-pressure stalemate, causing them to overheat quickly. We solved the issue by taking a small piece of foam board, folding it into a "V", and taping the "tent" over the the exhaust port, effectively keeping the upwind air from pushing against the fan, but letting the hot air vent out the top and bottom of the tents. After that, we had no temperature issues at all.

I haven't seen all of the new season, so haven't found where the downtown footage we shot has been used yet, but we did the desert background plates for these shots:

As well as the arrival of the train to the city, shot on the 134 going up and down the hill between Glendale and Eagle Rock, as seen in these shots:

It was a pretty fun shoot and interesting in that we shot these before the main unit had even started filming the show, whereas I'm used to us shooting either concurrent with the main unit or, for a lot of the network TV shows that shoot their cars on green screen, well after they've shot their episode.


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!