AUCKLAND, 19 August 2015 – Power Rangers, the iconic TV show about a group of ordinary teens who morph into superheroes and save the world from evil recently wrapped production in Auckland. Power Rangers – Dino Charge, the 23rd series of the show, exclusively used ARRI AMIRA cameras for the entire shoot. Here the two DOPs on Power Rangers – Dino Charge, DJ Stipsen and Kevin Riley, explain the shoot, its challenges and why they chose AMIRA cameras.
DJ Stipsen explained, “Over the years that Power Rangers has been shooting they have used a variety of cameras and formats. Starting with 16mm film for drama and 35mm for green screen/wire work then going digital with Red One followed by the ALEXA. The producers have always been open to format change so they can keep pace with evolving camera technologies. We looked at all options in the digital realm for this series to find a format that would deliver the best possible pictures while maintaining the show’s style, having an easy post process and staying within budget. The AMIRA was just released and there were a couple of things that when comparing all the camera options, put the AMIRA in the lead. One was that it was small, lightweight yet very robust - we had Steadicam full time on main unit and 2nd unit generally do a lot of handheld work. Another was the ability to go from 24 FPS up 200 FPS at the flick of a switch with no reboot time and stay at 2K 12bit ProRes 4444 - again, 2nd unit shoot a lot of off speed.”
After talking with the producers, post supervisor and VFX house it was decided that 2k would be acceptable for the show, even with the amount of green screen and wire work that 2nd unit would be doing, and wouldn’t hinder the VFX team.
Stipsen continued, “Post love the ease of the ProRes 4444 format and we liked the rendering of flesh tones that the ARRI ALEXA family of cameras delivers. As we needed three camera bodies at all times across the two units, and due to the fact that the ALEXA and AMIRA share the same chip we knew we could, at a pinch, use an ALEXA on set as an additional camera. At the point we went into production there was a worldwide waiting list for the AMIRAs so Panavision NZ securing 3 bodies for Power Rangers – Dino Charge was a bit of a coup. We complemented the AMIRAs with a full set of Alura Zooms and Ultra Primes.”
DJ Stipsen’s fellow DOP on the shoot Kevin Riley was equally impressed with the AMIRA. He said, “Initially DJ and I toyed with the idea of running just one or two AMIRAs and staying with the previous show favourite of the ALEXA on Main Unit. But as we looked more closely into the VFX and stunt requirements alongside the drama coverage, it became obvious that there was no downside to running with three AMIRA bodies. To seal the deal Panavision NZ pulled out all stops to ensure we would have three matching bodies in NZ in time for pre-production testing which was pretty amazing given the short time that the AMIRA had been available in the local market prior to our shoot.”
Stipsen and Riley’s decision to run with three AMIRAs on Power Rangers – Dino Charge paid off in a number of respects. One principle aspect revolved around the fact that many 2nd Unit set-ups involved high-speed frame rates.
Riley continued, “Sean McLin who has been the 2nd Unit DOP for a few seasons of Power Rangers knew that the style and pace of the show could only be maintained with a camera package that met or exceeded what was established. The ability to migrate camera bodies between the two units without either unit losing the features that suited them at any one time was a big safety net that kept the production resources contained within what we had committed to as our bulk package. I have been on shoots where you are having to compromise your shooting order on both units to make available the one high speed or Steadicam friendly body to whoever needs it most. Not having to even think twice about those decisions allowed us more time working with the directors to capture the performances in the best available shooting order that maximised the light and location availability.”
Both experienced DOPs also knew that that they could elect any of the AMIRA bodies to swing between Production Mode, Steadicam or Handheld at a fast turnaround pace.
DJ Stipsen added, “The AMIRA, when compared to other cameras in its class in our opinion had the edge. The ARRI LOG C codec with its fantastic latitude and beautiful rendering of flesh tones, the camera being able to Record 12bit 4444, the ease of menu navigation and short cut switches on the camera body, quick FPS changes and the robust but light body are all things that sets it apart. The internal selectable ND filter is fantastic, saves time and means you can react swiftly to light changes at the pointy end of the day when every second counts. The AMIRA is built like a ‘real’ camera. It seems that now, with all the competing cameras that designers have forgotten about the ergonomics of the camera and that we DOPs and operators want to be able to pick it up, have it sit nicely and feel intuitive. In this, the AMIRA is the clear winner.”
For Kevin Riley he also saw the AMIRA as giving him and the production an “edge” as he explained, “I like to keep the momentum going on set especially when working with an ensemble cast. You are asking the cast and crew to all be on their best game all day every day and it’s not fair to then just turn your back on them and spend a disproportionate amount of time making the camera perform as you want. With 3 DOPs, drama, VFX and stunts being shot by multiple directors we had no option but to opt for the most versatile and robust camera system available. The ultimate edge you gain from such a camera system is that you can turn your back on the on set technicalities to totally engage with the actors and director whilst knowing the camera will perform as expected and tested in pre-production. As I mentioned earlier the AMIRA was fairly new to the local rental market and there is always a moment of doubt when choosing to stray from the tools that worked in the past, but having the team at Panavision NZ backing us up was a real peace of mind. I am still intrigued that many think of the AMIRA as a documentary rather than drama camera. I fully understand that with the layout of menus and buttons favouring the operator’s side of the camera that this perception is cemented in peoples' head. I would argue that the nature of fast turnaround TV drama makes this camera ideal especially as the 1st ACs tend to work wirelessly most of the time anyway.”
Both Stipsen and Riley did a lot of work on Power Rangers – Dino Charge to try to simplify the workflow and make sure that the DOP’s intention on set did not get lost once the post process started. As the footage for offline, online and VFX were being handled in different locations the DOPs wanted to be able to keep track of everything.
Stipsen said, “Because we were running two units we really wanted to make sure there was continuity with the rushes. We opted to shoot Power Rangers – Dino Charge in 12-bit ProRes 4444 /LOG C at 2k and LUT’ing with the ARRI Rec 709 LUT - this was applied to all rushes as well as on set monitoring. For special LUT’s we set up an FTP site to store our LUT’s that all the post houses could access. We created 3D LUTs using the ARRI LUT Generator which we would use for on set monitoring, and then got DIT to convert using Resolve for the post process, thus making sure that everybody in post could see what the DOP’s intention had been on set. These LUT’s were applied to the offline by DIT so at least at the online stage, if no one could attend the grade, the colourist could see the LUT on the offline and have a starting point to apply the look we intended.”
The rushes were processed on set by DIT, which was a great help to the DOPs as they could tweak them if needed and build and test LUT’s as required. DIT would transcode rushes for the offline as well as for uploading to ‘Tinderbox’ a secure online viewing tool that all HODs and producers had access to.
Stipsen added, “Because the selects were being viewed in the USA by the EPs we wanted to make sure they got good continuity over the units and having on set DIT on both units definitely helped in this. The other thing that we really wanted to keep an eye on was the VFX side of the show as once principle photography had wrapped we knew they would be working on our material for up to a year later. We achieved this by using DIT as the conduit between the editors, VFX house and the colourist. Any special notes or reference stills were attac¬¬¬hed to the footage folders so when the edit assistants ingested the rushes they could put a locater down for the editor to see enabling them to look up our notes. DIT would also email the notes and stills to the relevant department. In all the system worked reasonably well, some things fell through the gaps but the success rate was pretty good with everybody getting the right info.”
Power Rangers – Dino Charge Main Unit ran two AMIRA camera bodies full time with Production mode, Dolly and Steadicam configurations as the default. For the most part, even when on sticks, the cameras would utilise sliders of various lengths either to get onto the eye line or to correct over the shoulder masking on the fly.
Riley explained, “Often one or more of the characters on camera would be wearing masks or helmets that made hitting marks even more difficult so a slider is invaluable in such cases. The Second Unit ran a very similar lens package on a single camera body most of the time, although the style of coverage drove them to either very wide angle for aerial, wire and gymnastic work or very long for stacking up explosions with the stunt team.”
Where possible throughout the shoot Stipsen and Riley took the AMIRAs to the great exterior locations that surround Auckland. Locations included bush clad farmland and remote surf beaches and coastline as well as an American urban environment that sits at the heart of the drama component of the show.
Riley saw that no matter where they shot, the AMIRA delivered, “While the great outdoors has the big payoff in on-screen value, it also can throw you some pretty harsh weather challenges that our local crews are used to managing. We would at times be working right on the edge of an incoming tide at cave mouths. More than once we maximised our time in these locations, shooting in all weather conditions at a fast pace. The AMIRAs never once missed a beat and allowed us to concentrate on getting the performance without fussing about the technicalities. It proved to me that ARRI have produced another great camera body that just works as expected straight out of the box.”
As he reflected on the entire production and how the AMIRAs handled everything they threw at them, DJ Stipsen concluded, “We didn’t have any ‘typical’ shots’ on Power Rangers – Dino Charge. We did have some ‘rules’ around main and 2nd unit though. Generally Main unit would shoot the humans and drama and 2nd unit would shoot the action, fights and monsters. 2nd unit did a lot more handheld work than Main, and I know they loved the AMIRA for this. Main Unit shot a lot more production mode and Steadicam, which again the AMIRA was a winner for because of its lightweight.”