Anchorfield Utilizes Blackmagic URSA on 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games
At the Special Olympics World Summer Games earlier this year, Toyota worked with the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles to commission three murals inspired by the Games and honoring the athletes. Santa Monica-based production company Anchorfield was asked to create several short films documenting the murals’ creation and highlighting the athletes’ hard work and dedication to their sports.
“We were tasked with creating several documentary narratives that portrayed artists painting murals and athletes training for the World Games,” explained Stephan Malik, director and cinematographer on the project. “The two storylines were intercut, and the combination of the artists and athletes working hard to finish the mural or finish training, and the mirroring of their stories, was really impactful.”
Stephan’s cinema verité style lent itself perfectly to the project, as he strove to film the talent within their own environments, allowing the narrative to unfold through intimate conversations and observed moments. In order to support the documentary style of the films, Stephan used a Blackmagic URSA 4K digital film camera, as well as several Pocket Cinema Cameras.
“We started with an URSA, which was our workhorse, and used that primarily because it was perfect for all of the portraiture,” said Stephan. “ We also used several Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras for tracking, insert shots and occasional time-lapse footage. Each of the Blackmagic cameras had advantages for the specific shots we needed and having them be ‘brother and sister’ cameras was helpful for our overall workflow.”
Keeping all the cameras in the Blackmagic Design family was important for Stephan because he comes from the post world and, as an editor too, understands the importance of a streamlined workflow. “Being able to shoot ProRes HQ across the board was extremely helpful in post,” he explained. “We could edit on set and didn’t have to worry about transcoding the footage; it ingested very well. While the cameras have different looks, they are engineered the same way, so it felt right using them together.”
Creating a Filmic Look with Digital Cinema Cameras
Stephan also chose the Blackmagic URSA and Pocket Cinema Cameras in order to help deliver a specific look for the films. “It was about finding cameras that didn’t feel digital. Everyone loves the warmth and feeling of film, but right now is a time of digital cinematography, and as filmmakers, we look back at film as something we hold onto and cherish,” he explained. “I chose Blackmagic Design because you can get a really filmic, cinematic look.”
For Stephan, that look also needed to be grounded in reality given the documentary nature, and the films were shot primarily using natural light. “The films captured authentic moments true to the artists and the athletes, so there weren’t any big lighting setups. We were capturing real life portrait scenarios, so we shot natural light, mainly during dawn or dusk, and the cameras did great,” he noted. “The cameras kept all the details across the range from darks to lights, and we didn’t have to choose between the two.”
Stephan added: “We needed cameras with lots of latitude, so we could get a good look that was noise free. Both the URSA and Pocket Cinema Camera were great for all available light situations, and we had confidence knowing we had the dynamic range to support the overall look. Since these are documentary films, the look needed to be naturalistic, and I was able to nail it in camera by using great lenses and great cameras.”
Built-in Features Help Capture Athletes on the Move
“URSA’s sensor size, dynamic range and the ability to shoot high speed were all things I needed for the story,” said Stephan. “While the project is about the murals, it’s mostly about humanity, since every short follows a series of subjects through their work. Whether that’s an artist or an athlete, we wanted to portray them in their truest sense.”
Stephan needed the URSA’s depth and 35mm full frame sensor to help bring viewers into the eyes of the films’ subjects. “The heroes in films are the Special Olympians, and we needed high frame rates to capture the subtle nuances and actions as they moved across the playing field, ran on the track, hit the sand during long jump or dove into the pool,” he said. “The ability to shoot high frame rates with URSA was imperative on this project.”
Stephan and his team also benefitted from URSA’s numerous built-in features, including internal recording, large 10-inch fold out monitor, scopes, peaking, focus assist and more. “It was a ‘run and gun’ shoot at times with multiple locations a day, following the talent across fields and through a variety of sports,” he explained. “Having everything built in URSA was great, and we didn’t need a video village following us around, which would have been tough and costly. The client could look over my shoulder at the URSA’s big fold-out monitor when needed, which was beneficial from a workflow standpoint.
“Often times you start building a camera for a certain project and add piece after piece, making it bigger and bigger, which ends up creating a giant rig,” Stephan continued. “But if you can get all that functionality in the camera already, saving time, weight and cost, it really allows you to be freer creatively. Blackmagic Design built all that functionality right in the URSA.”
Capturing Intimate Moments Over Time
While the URSA’s features and workflow helped Stephan deliver much of the athlete footage, he relied on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera when it came time to shoot the artists painting the murals.
“My artistic style is to put the camera where you typically wouldn’t see it and where you wouldn’t normally get a view from,” Stephan explained. “I also love lenses and photography, so I needed a camera that I could put in tight spaces and that let me use pretty much any lenses I wanted. The Pocket Cinema Camera delivered on both and being able to get the look and shot I wanted was rewarding.”
With three different murals being painted during the span of three months, Stephan mounted Pocket Cinema Cameras on motion control rigs to pan and animate over time in time-lapse mode, as well as on the jibs and boom and scissor lifts the artists used. With the murals reaching from 20 to 200 ft., there was no room for a camera operator on the lifts with the artists, and instead, the Pocket Cinema Camera’s small form factor let Stephan capture the intimate moments of the artists painting.
“The Pockets allowed for some really nice, ‘in the moment’ footage. The camera’s small profile meant we could pretty much stick them anywhere, and they weren’t intrusive for the artists,” said Stephan. “We could also use them to shoot multiple angles in time-lapse mode. These are huge murals that took a long time to paint, but we were able to bring them to life quickly in the films with time lapse.”
Working off of an estimated timeframe for the murals, affordability was also key to Stephan’s equipment choice. “Creative demand continues to get bigger while budgets get smaller,” he said. “We didn’t know how long it was going to take to paint all the murals, and in the end, it took months longer than we estimated, so affordability was key. Being able to purchase and own the Blackmagic cameras rather than renting them was paramount. Also, the affordable price point let us purchase multiple Pockets, so we could capture plenty of angles when shooting the murals. It allowed us to get a better look creatively.”