How the EOS C500 satisfied DoP
‘Need For Speed’
© Entertainment One
Modern action movies are generally packed with computer-generated imagery (CGI), resulting in production budgets that have soared into the stratosphere. But when director Scott Waugh enlisted Shane Hurlbut as Director of Photography on the movie spin-off from the ‘Need For Speed’ game franchise he wanted to buck the trend and shoot the action as close to live as possible, which called for a special camera. CPN writer James Morris spoke to Shane Hurlbut to discover how and why Canon’s EOS C500 Digital Cinema Camera satisfied all the important requirements for shooting live action at 150 miles per hour.
The path to choosing the EOS C500 as the key camera for shooting ‘Need for Speed’ was a fascinating one, as Shane Hurlbut explains: "[Director] Scott [Waugh] and I had worked together on ‘Act of Valor’ and analysing how we were going to shoot that movie, and how many crew members we could have on naval assets, led us to the Canon 5D Mark II. No other camera could deliver the quality and fit the space constraints [for that shoot]. So we had prior Canon experience there. Then, during pre-production for ‘Need For Speed’, we did a massive camera shootout. The test cost $275,000 and spanned over five days. We did three days of general testing of ISO and other settings, to see how the cameras performed [when] under-exposed and over-exposed, with day interiors and exteriors, with night interiors and exteriors, and so on. For the last two days, we took the cameras up to 150mph to see what that would do to the image."
A ‘blind test’ of cameras brought together all the best options in digital cinematography. "We tested the RED EPIC, Sony F55 and F65, Black Magic, Canon EOS-1D C, GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, 35mm film, the Canon EOS C500 and an Arri Alexa," continues Hurlbut. "There were nine formats, and we labelled them one to nine so we didn't know which camera each one was. We played the test footage on a 40-foot screen, in front of Scott [Waugh] and Dreamworks executives. Scott wanted camera six, the Dreamworks executives agreed, and that happened to be the C500."
He adds: "The reason for Scott selecting it was because he thought it was the most realistic [camera], particularly for the skin tones of the actors. This choice made us very happy, as the camera size was so important to the vision of the film. We wanted something small and nimble so we could embed the cameras in places you haven't seen them before. This film was supposed to be about driving, going well over 100mph, and what that feels like."
Compact and lightweight
The C500 fulfilled these criteria perfectly. "It's a very small, compact camera," enthuses Shane Hurlbut. "It's very lightweight as well. What Canon didn't have was any kind of system that wrapped around the camera. We had to innovate a whole new system. We turned to Revolution Cinema Rentals to help us to blaze this trail; to put a cage round the camera that was not just a big box but [also] something that was ergonomically designed. We wanted power for the cameras, monitors, and the Codex recorders, plus a system that could snap onto a head or easily convert to handheld." In total, ‘Need For Speed’ used 15 EOS C500s, alongside 11 [Canon] EOS-1D Cs, four Arri Alexas and 20 GoPros. Of the 15 C500 cameras 12 of them had PL lens mounts, with three Canon EF mount bodies to take advantage of Canon long zoom lenses when used in aerial shots.
"It's not about using one camera for your movie, but finding what each camera's unique ability is and exploiting the hell out of it," explains Hurlbut. "The C500 was every embedded camera in every car; every close-up with every actor. The crash cameras were the 1D Cs and C500s. Because they were cheaper, and cheaper to replace, we could get them in harm's way. We were not putting a $125K camera in danger; we were using a $20K camera. You could get much more physical with the action, because the cameras are that little bit more expendable. We destroyed two C500s, we ripped the bottom off six, and had to get Canon Professional Services to fix them!"
But the C500 wasn't just used for in-car character shots and crash scenes. "We used the C500 to shoot all the night exterior driving and every night or day interior," adds Hurlbut. "When I started to get comfortable with the C500, we started to use it more and more, to the point where we sent two of the Alexas back to the hire company. In the end, we shot about 80% of the film on the C500. The camera was just out [when we started shooting], so we wanted to get our bearings on it before we jumped into using it for so much of the movie. But once we had, it became the main choice."
Putting the audience in the cars
The flexibility of the C500 meant it played an active role in telling the story of ‘Need For Speed’ in a new and intimate way. Shane Hurlbut explains: "Basically, what we wanted to do was put the audience in the cars at 180mph alongside the actors. We didn't want to be outside the vehicle looking in at our actors. We wanted to be literally in the vehicle with them – embedded, so we could get the subtlety of looking at the rear-view mirror, for example. If you're outside looking through glass you lose that subtlety. With those supercars, they're small. We wanted to suction cup the cameras right to the glass and suspend them in these unusual places, to create what the director calls ‘expansive intimacy’, so you see what the actor is doing. He's in first [gear] and he's just taking second [gear], looking at what's up ahead, for example."
The cars actually had three C500s capturing different angles at one time: "We had one on the glass, one down in passenger side wheel well looking at the gear shifter, and one above it with a tight profile of the actor. If you're off to the side you get the profile, trees going by, and everything looks like you're going 200mph!"
The intimate camerawork allowed Shane Hurlbut to take full advantage of the CGI-free live action. "When an SUV is being bashed into and is flipping over, the actors are actually reacting to it. [Director] Scott [Waugh] wanted the actors to be acting to the real events. Now that everyone is playing to these green-screen worlds, it's really hard to get a realistic reaction. ‘Avatar’ took five years to get it right. You can't do that in the 67 days we took to make this movie. You can also see why ‘Fast and Furious’ is [costing] $150 million. Real is so much more powerful."
Hurlbut found many of the C500's features were ideal for the ‘Need For Speed’ shoot. "We were able to use the native ISO 850 the most," he explains. "But we could also use ISO 2000 for capturing scenes under just street lighting, and ISO 4000 for some amazing night exteriors, or slow motion. We could use f/2.8 at ISO 1600, then [ISO] 2000 for night driving. With the C500 we could rely on [just the] existing streetlights when shooting at 120 frames per second, too. We could slam a 13mm lens on there and shoot at 120 frames per second without changing one light. That's a game-changer when it comes to night photography. You can work with the light supplied by the power company! Its sensor is the most powerful thing with the C500; its low noise ratio. The internal ND wheel is another of its most useful functions. The Alexa ND filters got huge reflections all over the place. The ND wheel on the C500 meant you didn't have to have a matte box on it. Again, you could be very compact."
Recording and post-production
Footage was recorded from the EOS C500 to Codex Onboard S and Gemini recorders in Canon RAW 4K. Although the film was post-produced and distributed in 2K, it was shot in 4K to allow for re-framing, zooming and stabilisation. The grading was using the Rec. 709 colour space but not the Canon Rec. 709 profile. "We recorded in Canon Log, but using a Look Up Table you can export out of the camera," explains Shane Hurlbut. "We then recreated the Rec. 709 look externally. We colour corrected on DaVinci Resolve 10 at Bandito Brothers, on a 20-foot screen. For example, we wanted to track [actor] Aaron Paul's eyes to make them bluer. The audience at preview screenings could see a film that was pretty well graded off-the-bat. We did a second round of grading at Technicolor."
He adds: "With the Alexa you had to do a ton of colour correction to get the right look. With the C500 it was a small spin on each knob and the footage came to life. Because the Canon Log was so flat, you could decide whether or not to give an area [of the picture] energy. If we had shot the whole movie on the C500 we could have cut our colour correction down by a third."
"On ‘Need For Speed’, the Canon C500 was the A camera," Hurlbut reveals. "The B camera was the Arri Alexa, the C camera was the GoPro. After ‘Need For Speed’ I realised that I really love this camera. Only when you get to your destination, [and] go through whole post-process, do you finally understand a camera. If you were to ask me right after ‘Need For Speed’ I would have said maybe I would use it [the C500] for an entire movie. Once I took it through the whole process and saw the end results, though, I realised there is absolutely nothing this camera can't do. Period piece; sci-fi… whatever. Where I am with understanding its exposure, how it reacts to skin, the vitality; there's not another camera I would use. I know that I can mould this thing to whatever sculpture of art I want. I know it has the brush strokes to do anything."
"I immediately went from ‘Need For Speed’ to ‘Fathers and Daughters’ with Russell Crowe, and a massive list of academy winners," he adds. "The C500 really delivered. You would think it would be hard to convince [director] Gabriele Muccino to shoot with the C500. He only shot on 35mm before that. But once I'd shown him the test footage he was ‘in’. When I showed it on the monitor he asked why we needed to go through colour correction! He could see how fast I could set up light. He was used to three hours, and I would take 15 minutes.”
Shane Hurlbut adds: “There are some cinematographers who like Kodak film and some that like Fuji. Camera sensors are like digital emulsions, too. Each one has its own characteristics. Some cinematographers like Sony, some like RED EPIC. But I'm in the Canon camp, because I've found that this camera is my soul.”
- ‘Need for Speed’ is available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD from 21 July 2014.
Shane Hurlbut’s kitbag for ‘Need for Speed’
12x Canon EOS C500 PL
3x Canon EOS C500
11x Canon EOS-1D C
4x Arri Alexa
20x GoPro HERO3+ Black Edition
Canon EF zoom lenses
Cooke S4i prime lenses
Biography: Shane Hurlbut
© Douglas Kirkland
Shane Hurlbut is a cinematographer with nearly two decades of feature film experience. He studied film at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and graduated with a degree in film and television in 1986. His skills were first widely recognised in 1997, with an American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) nomination for his work on ‘The Rat Pack’, thus becoming the youngest cinematographer to be nominated for an ASC accolade for a debut film. His star-studded movie credits since then include ‘Mr. 3000’, ‘Into the Blue’, ‘We Are Marshall’ and ‘Swing Vote’. More recently, he worked as cinematographer on ‘Terminator Salvation’, ‘Act of Valor’, ‘Deadfall’ and ‘Fathers and Daughters’.