When someone asks you if you are willing to take on a project that brings you to Rome for a week, isn’t that a rhetorical question? My ancestry wanted to bring me back home, but first I had to determine how to approach a production on the 3D digital mapping of the Roman Forum by architects and archeologists that would be presented in both Italian and in English. (I should mention that despite my heritage, I am not fluent in Italian by any means; during a night of wandering the city, a young Italian woman stopped to ask me for directions and was profoundly disappointed by my thick American accent. I may walk the walk, but I certainly don’t talk the talk!)
Having spent much of the last few years shooting on a RED Epic, the camera was a natural default for me. The 5K resolution would help capture the extreme detail showcased in these advanced techniques used by the architects on the D.H.A.R.M.A. team, which was formed to digitally map, research and analyze world heritage sites, such as the Roman Forum. Using 3D laser technology they created point cloud images measuring within 1-4mm in accuracy and then laid GigaPan images over the points to create interactive and highly detailed models for research and visitor awareness of these structures.
Luckily, I was able to call upon Chicago-based cinematographer and my good friend, John Klein, to assist on the project. We had both shot another project involving translations during interviews and knew how to double the audio feed to the subject and to the translator. John is also very skilled with DSLR shooting, something that had yet to pique my interest, but this was a good opportunity to shoot multi-camera interviews and double our efforts using various camera motion techniques. We also wanted to use an external recorder for audio, which we’d then sync to scratch tracks on the Epic and his Canon 6D.
The biggest advantage to adding the 6D was that we could float the second camera on a Kessler Pocket Jib Traveler, making for more dynamic interviews in a lightweight package. I have lugged a lot of gear around before, but with a two person crew and stone roads that are thousands of years old in the Forum, carts are not that effective. We also brought my very portable RigWheels dolly and purchased PVC pipe along with sand for our counter-weight bags on the jib to incorporate Epic dolly moves in and around the Forum.
Adding to the portability factor, John was using Canon EF and Zeiss Contax manual lenses, while I continued to use my Nikon Pro and Tokina lenses on the Epic. I used these successfully on a project in Ireland as well, and having both of us on DSLR lenses kept continuity between camera images. While I haven’t been a fan of DSLRs in the past, certain qualities made it a good complement to the Epic: the lightweight rig, its sensitivity in low-light areas, and especially its color rendition and latitude when shooting in the Cinestyle picture profile. It also allowed John to take still shots of our setups at any given moment, both for publicity and for posterity! I tended to stay wide during interviews to capture the settings we chose in 4K, while John would shoot mostly tighter in a floating ¾ profile. At times he would go wider when we had open spaces that would allow his camera to jib up and over the subject more. We would monitor each other’s composition so we wouldn’t be matching too closely, in order to have variety in the edit. In order to incorporate a translation audio track when shooting Italian interviews, we had a wireless mic on the subject running to our H4n Zoom mounted on the camera. We then used a wired lavalier mic in channel 2 that ran to our translator in a secluded spot along with a headphone output from the Zoom. She could then hear the interview and translate along side the main track, which would sync up together later in multi-cam mode. I would pick up key phrases in the edit and cut accordingly, later eliminating the translation track and adding a panned track of the main interview for a stereo output.
At the end of each day, John would back up the DSLR footage to a portable drive and hand it off to me. I would then back that up in a daily folder with my Epic footage onto a 4TB master drive, which would then get backed up again to an internal drive I carry with a reader. It makes for an inexpensive and small security package that I keep in an anti-static hard case. We averaged anywhere from 145Gb to 260Gb a day; our big day was also the last day, because the sun finally decided to come out! It absolutely poured rain when we arrived and continued for days, but then it finally broke near the end of the week, so we were able to get a truly majestic sunset and then an equally beautiful sunrise the last morning we were there. The Epic’s dynamic range and time-lapse capabilities really make it worth the effort when you get those magic shots!
I was new to the multi-cam feature in Premiere Pro CC, because I am usually shooting solo, but it was simply amazing. I had initially started by manually taking the H4n Zoom audio tracks and syncing them up with Epic and 6D footage in one sequence. I knew there was the ability to cut between tracks in multi-cam mode, but then I looked into the process further, which eliminated the need for me to manually arrange tracks together. By selecting the Epic, 6D, and Zoom files I could use the “create multi-camera source sequence” function, which then syncs up the clips using the audio tracks and creates a new nested sequence. You can then put your viewer into a multi-cam mode allowing you to see each camera in a window and the master (record) track in another. Playing the clip and selecting the camera window as it plays created an edited timeline could be re-recorded or edited manually once you drop it in your master project sequence. I could easily open the associated sequence that lays out all three tracks and select the 6D track to scale to frame size, matching my 4K sequence setting.
By the end, we had terabytes of awesome footage, a sore set of back muscles, and a whole slew of new techniques to take with us on future travels. It is always good to venture outside of your comfort zone and take on new challenges; otherwise, we don’t learn anything or get any better in our production roles. A traveling production alone has its own set of challenges that just make you better at it when the next one comes up. At the end of one very busy day, literally, John and I decided to shoot a short film through the city streets lit by the beautiful monuments, DSLR pushed to 3200 ISO and dual track audio in our pockets via an H4n. What else are you going to do, when in Rome?
William Donaruma has years of production experience having worked for Universal Studios as well as a variety of production companies and major television networks in film and video production. Returning to Notre Dame to teach production courses, he has won the Kaneb Teaching Award and was granted a fellowship at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. www.nd.edu/~wdonarum
John Klein is a freelance director of photography based in Chicago. He has traveled around the world and back for his craft and has shot dozens of projects, ranging from award-winning short and feature films to music videos, web series, and documentaries, but considers NightLights one of his crowning achievements. When not shooting, John also serves as producer of Glass City Films, through which he has overseen as producer and lensed the short films Rendezvous, Hangers, The Sleepover, Under The Table, and Honeybees. He has also produced a trio of feature films in Glass City, Happily After (his directorial debut) and Separation Anxiety, in addition to several music videos and side projects. For more information, check out www.windycitycamera.com and www.glasscityfilms.com.