“I wanted to capture the energy of being backstage at a fashion show – and not just plonk a girl in front of a Colorama background. This was an opportunity to be different, creative and also use new technology."
I’d been using the C300 since its launch and now I was eager to use the newer C500 and experience the additional creative possibilities of 4K. I didn’t sleep for a week beforehand…” In addition to the photography Clive planned to film the process and create a moving lookbook with the girls walking in and out of the frame, and to shoot in 4K so that he could be creative with the edit, taking small blow-ups from segments of the frames if he needed to. Clive worked with his assistant, Billy Waters, on the lighting strategy, as that was key to the whole shoot. “A lookbook is very different from a fashion shoot,” he advises, “Because the stars of the show are the clothes – not the girls. You need to be able to light the clothes very evenly, so we opted for an American lighting system from the company Joker-Bug, who make daylight-balanced HMI kits that also happen to look great, plus it’s continuous – unlike flash. In addition to the Joker-Bugs we had a beautiful big Mola (dish) light which again would be both in shot and also provide useful light. A Profoto softbox gave a massive spread of soft light which fell right across the model, from top to bottom. We actually had a great time lighting this shoot,” he remembers. “It was challenging but hugely rewarding. The lights, Peli cases, apple boxes, scrims, flags and tape all played a supporting role to the models, creating the look of behind the scenes at a fashion show – which, in fact, it actually was in the end…”
Working with the C500 was to prove a pleasant surprise for Clive, as there was an immediate familiarity with it that helped him to hit the ground running. “Because I’d used the C300 already in previous work, moving to the C500 was actually really easy,” he remembers. “Body-wise, there is nothing between them, and the Menu system was virtually the same. So in use, they are identical. Once you’ve got used to the way the Cinema EOS system works, they are actually easier to use than DSLRs for filming and the only real differences you have to get used to are the changes in terminology. So, for instance, Angle is Speed, Waveform is Histogram, ISO is Gain... once you’ve got that worked out in your head, everything else is very similar to an EOS DSLR. There is a cohesion with how the cameras all look and feel, and the Menu systems are very familiar too.” Clive admits: “I actually now prefer the Cinema EOS cameras: they are incredibly easy to hold in the hand, with or without follow-focus. They are light and compact, ergonomic, and have huge flexibility as to what you use them for. You can shoot everything from a commercial to a feature film and because the sensor’s native sensitivity is rated at ISO 640 as standard and base ISO for Canon Log is ISO 850, you have phenomenal low-light performance.”
As a photographer Clive would normally light to create additional atmosphere and mood – but this was pretty much out of the question on this shoot. “For a fashion designer a lookbook is vitally important. When the show is over it’s the lookbook that is left to sell, so that was clearly my focus,” he advises. “I had to make sure the clothes were the stars, and for that it meant quite bright, soft, clean lighting for maximum detail and colour – a walk in the park for 4K…” he smiles. But the pressure was starting to mount, as creativity clashed with logistics when Clive started to experience for himself the snowball effect that an additional workload of film as well as stills can have to a team.“Any kind of pressure is only pressure I put on myself, let’s get that straight,” he states. “Three days before the shoot, Toby Newman, owner of Pixipixel said ‘why don’t you phone Ben Perry at Codex?’ Codex is an amazing company and was actually consulted by Canon when it developed the C500 and Canon Log. They are the number one recording system in the world for feature films and when I asked Ben for help, He immediately offered me everything he had. Codex liked the project: it was quirky, fashion and different to their usual features work, plus they already enjoy a very close association with Canon. It was a fantastic feeling knowing that all these key elements were magically coming into play. But that meant more people on set.” They sent Clive a Codex Vault (a standalone workflow unit which allows fast processing of data), plus four 4K recorders and a team to operate them. The crew was growing by the hour. “They even asked me how I was going to grade, and when I replied that I hadn’t yet thought about it, they offered to do that too! Amazing!” he laughs.
The more the merrier: “Canon provided me with three C500s along with two brand new Cinema EOS zooms, plus EF85mm, EF50mm and EF24mm Cinema EOS primes. I also rang up my hire company, Pixipixel, who would be supplying the lighting equipment and asked if they had any spare kit I could use. The shoot was to take place on a Saturday so chances are there might be some left on the shelves and as luck would have it they had a C500 and a Codex recorder available for me to use on the day. I was in business – there was no turning back now, but I was starting to get nervous as the magnitude of all this started to become apparent… I had some major players helping me out with this shoot and as always the pressure was on to get it right,” Clive remembers. “It was such an incredible feeling to have all this state-of-the-art equipment to hand. Over half a million pounds worth, in fact.” On the day of the shoot, Clive locked one of the C500s off on a hefty tripod, and fitted it with a CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7L S/L SP lens to get the principle angle of the models as they came in and out of frame. “Sat next to this was an EOS 5D Mark III in exactly the same position to shoot the stills while the rest of the C500s were on jibs, backstage and on the catwalk,” he remembers. The sequential stills from the EOS 5D Mark III were integrated into the lookbook in post-production, providing a seamless transition from 4K moving image to stills as the pages turned in the film.“As with many of these projects, it becomes a director’s challenge,” Clive admits. “I’m primarily a photographer but in this role I couldn’t do everything at once so I had to direct, which is a job in itself. I had a vision, and part of my own internal struggle is achieving that. Like many photographers and filmmakers I always struggle to meet my own expectations. I put my trust in my assistants, all accomplished photographers in their own right and all shooting under my direction.” he remembers. “I wanted a filmic look to the moving lookbook and to get that I set the C500s to (true) 24fps because it just looks like film, particularly when it’s graded – it has a very nice feel.” Preparation is the key word on any big production, and many weeks of effort had been put in before the actual shoot came around. “The additional cameras and recorders only came in a couple of days before. So there was a little bit of flying by the seat of your pants on the day. Makes life interesting, though…” he remarks.
Clive was very clear as to the reasons why he chose to work with a 4K system, and his measured answers belie his obvious research into the technology. “Because you’re shooting in 4K, you have the output options of both HD and 4K. The 4K system is being pushed very much towards visual effects because you can zoom into the individual frames. So, for me, with an HD output option, I had the freedom of moving in and cropping, very much as if I was shooting on a full-frame sensor camera such as the EOS 5D Mark III or EOS-1D X. You could crop into very select areas of the frame and still retain the output quality. I managed to retain as much of the full 4K as I could so the end result would work at both resolutions. After you’ve captured all the data on the Codex recorders, which use Solid State 256 - 512GB Capture Drives, it goes into this machine called The Vault, which is an 8TB RAID drive. This clones the RAW media files off the Drives allowing you to use them again very quickly – data transfer off a full 512GB card is rapid, it’s just dumped off in minutes,” he remembers. “We had 12 cards in total on the go, and with two cameras shooting at 24fps and two at 60fps for slow-motion work, it was shifting through a lot of data.”
After the shoot the RAW data was then transferred to LTO (Linear Tape-Open, often used for archiving) tape and debayered (processed) first to Pro Res HQ (HD), before then being imported to Final Cut Pro for offline editing. “These proxy files enabled us to work quickly and easily, just as we would normally,” Clive explains. “My editor Tristram Edwards and I spent the next five days making selects and then creating a 255 cut two-minute short film, cut to the music from Henry’s show. Once this offline edit was complete, Tristram manually created XML (Extensible Markup Language) and EDL (Edit Decision List) files for Codex to then debayer only the sequences we needed at DPX (4K) 10bit cinema standard for grading at its sister company Digilab with colourist Greg Fisher. You get a really good grade from that data,” Clive advises. “Greg and I spent a day tweaking every frame on Digilab’s ‘Baselight’ system included the tens of sequential stills along with the ‘after effects’ animated sequences (created by Clive’s production company, th2ng).” “It was a walk in the park for [colourist] Greg after Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Harry Potter and World War Z films. But you’re now looking at an individual frame size of around 34Mb as opposed to the 12Mb at capture after the various debayering processes,” he continues. “A short two-minute film becomes 100GB, so that gives you an idea how much data you need to drive 4K.” Once the grade was complete Russ Shaw at production company Nice Biscuits used the XML and EDL files along with the graded 4K footage to conform the on-line edit. “Russ and I spent a couple of days on the ‘Autodesk Flame Suite’ going through every cut refining and finalising the film for output (both for 4K and HD),” Clive recalls.
Dream job: You might be thinking that all this involved workflow would have put Clive off his 4K experience. Not a bit of it. “It wasn’t the nightmare I thought it might be,” he remembers. “In fact you can actually debayer the files yourself on a MacBook Pro laptop if you wanted to, but I chose to do it by-the-book simply because I had the help and support of a really amazing team of collaborators who wanted to be involved in what turned out to be a creatively challenging and exciting project.” “I’ve been very lucky to learn from some really incredible people,” he admits. “There was a moment on set when I paused and thought to myself: ‘when the hell did I start doing all this stuff?’ There I was, half a million pounds worth of equipment and all these people around me. It was a right theatre, immensely complicated, but the equipment was flawless and worked beautifully. As did the team.” Clive recalls: “All this preparation, all the effort and the shoot was over in just 30 minutes, too! But I feel I delivered on the job and am so grateful to all the help I received. As a photographer I remain a massive fan of the EOS 5D Mark III but the future of film-making for sure lies in 4K because of the creative possibilities it brings in post-production. And thanks to the C500, with its fabulous Cinema EOS lenses and Canon Log, the quality is without a doubt a cut above the rest.”