You Had Me at Animatronic Velociraptor Suit!

I have noted on more than one occasion that this truly is a funny old vocation. However, when the lovely people at nonfiction studios asked if I was interested in running around the Canadian Badlands shooting some fun videos featuring an animatronic velociraptor suit I was particularly gobsmacked. Animatronic velociraptor suits – really?!

I believe the term “dream job” may have cropped up in this blog more than once, but here it is again. How could it not? On top of the animatronic raptor suit, the project was still in the early stages of concept development. Consequently we luxuriated in kicking off the collaboration with a bunch of crazy brainstorming & writing. Did I mention animatronic velociraptor suit?

On my more verbose days I get almost as big a kick out of writing as I do out of shooting. More importantly, if I’m involved in writing it then it means it’s shootable. And awesome. Kudos to nonfiction on such a collaborative and proactive approach – too often I come into projects just before execution and that can lead to some really…challenging pre-production meetings if the screenplay and the mostly immutable laws of space-time don’t line up. Not a problem for JJ Abrams, but definitely an occupational hazard for Ewan. And with Ellen Kirkpatrick doing her Queen of Everything Logistical thing at nonfiction HQ this production was destined for awesomeness from the start…

So what did we come up with? As usual, the location scout was invaluable, although since it involved every hotspot south of Drumheller it was more of a two day odyssey than the usual al fresco boondoggle. Once writing, reality, client input and budget finally converged we found ourselves with four episodes, four days of shooting and a hell of a timeline. Since our first call time at 0-my-god-its-early on June 1st it’s been a non-stop process culminating in the release of Episode 4 (working title “A Newer Hope”. no, not really) on August 10th. After an awesomely epic adventure like that, it was a particularly Mondayish kind of Monday. This post-partum stuff is tough. So what better than a blog post to relive the good times?

The Other Episodes

Episode 2: Where The Conspiracy Deepens.
Episode 2: Where The Conspiracy Deepens.

Episode 3: Where New Truths Emerge...
Episode 3: Where New Truths Emerge…

Episode 4: Where It All Starts to Make Sense...
Episode 4: Where It All Starts to Make Sense…

The A Team

Director Gary Blaney does not believe in cruelty to dinosaurs.
Director Gary Blaney does not believe in cruelty to dinosaurs.

Ewan the DP & Heroic Leader of Man.
Ewan the DP & Heroic Leader of Man.

Jesse Jost - 1st AC, Production Design and Everything Else That Needs Doing. Happily.
Jesse Jost – 1st AC, Asst Editor and Everything Else That Needs Doing. Happily.

Bob Cromwell: lover, legend, star. Lead actor and dino wrangler.
Bob Cromwell: lover, legend, star. Lead actor and dino wrangler.

As usual for my shoots, the plan was to deliver a shitload of product using a microscopic crew. Small cameras with big sensors allow me to move fast while creating beautiful images. Budgets go a long way and productions that would have been impossible only a few years ago come to life in glorious sRGB. Technicolor would sound better but be inaccurate and anachronistic. It’s simple – just not easy.

The Gear

Sony FS700 + Odyssey 7Q shot 95% of the footage. Black sheet from my new line of bespoke accessories.
Sony FS700 + Odyssey 7Q shot 95% of the footage. Black sheet from my new line of bespoke accessories.
It’s ugly and imperfect but I love this camera. With the impending arrival of the Canon C300 Mk2 it will likely head out to pasture after 3 beautiful years. But even in its dotage the capability to capture 240 fps ProRes files should keep it at least a little in the game for the foreseeable future…

The Mini Movi: GH4 on a Xproheli Silk gimbal. Point, move, shoot!
The Mini Movi: GH4 on a Xproheli Silk gimbal. Point, move, shoot!
The Silk’s big moves come at 1:38 in Episode 2 and 0:24 in Episode 4. Like all the footage in this series it is shot in 4k at 24fps. The GH4 is a perfect partner to the Xproheli Silk, creating a very lightweight platform that’s a breeze to run around with. The Movi & A Big Camera is sexy but it’s heavy and hard to focus – I’ll happy accept the compromise of hyperfocussing the 7-14mm lens and tooling around all over the set. And then in Premiere Pro I can tool around inside the frame to create the perfect movement.

Canon 5D3 running Magic Lantern for gorgeous video in inconvenient places.
Canon 5D3 running Magic Lantern for gorgeous video in inconvenient places.
I won’t accuse Magic Lantern of being overly convenient to install but the results are bloody marvelous. Sure, it’s “only” HD but the quality of those cute little Raw files is just plain nuts!

Canon 5D3 shooting RAW for amazing timelapses. Sorry GoPro.
Canon 5D3 shooting RAW for amazing timelapses. Sorry GoPro.
Check out the timelapse at 2:35 in Episode 2. Each file was double processed for highlights and shadows to bring out the maximum amount of detail and then composited in Premiere Pro.
Never buy used gear from a pro.
Never buy used gear from a pro.

It's amazing what diffusion, bounce and a camera running a log profile can achieve.
It’s amazing what diffusion, bounce and a camera running a log profile can achieve.
GoPro Hero 4 on a custom drone for insane POV shots. The new sensor is amazing.
GoPro Hero 4 on a custom drone for impossible POV shots. The new sensor is amazing.

The Drone

Monica off doing her thing. Lots of DJI plus a Hero4.
Monica off doing her thing. Lots of DJI plus a Hero4.
Okay, time for the mid-post rant…
There are plenty of idiots out there flying drones illegally. Shit like that has every chance of getting us all shut down. I get it, drones are fun and awesome. The rules are simple, it’s just sometimes a drag being a responsible grown up. Most of the bozos polluting the air with drones are amateurs. However a few are pros – you know who you are. Doing it right is as easy as 1-2-3:
1) www.tc.gc.ca/safetyfirst It’s all there. Most of it buried deep in the details. If you read it and think it says you can fly your Phantom professionally anywhere you please then go back and read harder.
2) Go to CCUVS in Medicine Hat and get trained. It’s 2 days of awesome and Transport Canada will officially consider you to be a non-idiot until proven otherwise.
3) Get Drone Insurance from Aon Risk Solutions. Your General Liability does not cover you for drone operations. Seriously.
Monica is a feisty hexrotor drone which means she’s way more stable than standard quadrotors like the DJI Phantom, especially if it gets breezy. After my experimentation (mostly crashing), Monica rose from the wreckage. She’s all DJI: F550 frame & motors, NAZA-M flight controller and ,very importantly, a GPS module. Your drone’s got to be able to make its way back home should something go wrong. The first rule of Drone Club – shit goes wrong. The Hero 4 is snugly enveloped in the brushless caress of the H4-3D gimbal for buttery smooth video goodness. Yum!
Monica does a great job of producing unique video that’s perfect for a budget-conscious web production. A Freefly drone rocking a Red will kick her skinny little ass. But then again there won’t be a Freefly and a Red just hanging around on set should the need arise and Monica travels with three fewer dedicated crew members. Poor lonely thing.

The Sights/Sites

1st & Main - coz that's how we roll. Milk River.
1st & Main – coz that’s how we roll. Milk River.

IXL Brick Plant at Medalta.
IXL Brick Plant at Medalta.

Brent Noland was born to play a mad scientist.
Brent Noland was born to play a mad scientist.

And a big thank you to Dinosaur Valley Studios for providing our Episode 2 Evil Lair when The Royal Tyrell decided it was too good to play with the likes of us.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park

Writing on Stone Provincial Park
Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Chin Lake. When you get lost in the Badlands, shoot lemonade.
Chin Lake. When you get lost in the Badlands, shoot lemonade.

Four 21 hours days is seriously hard work.
Four 21 hours days is seriously hard work.

Heavy lifting at Atlas Coal Mine.
Heavy lifting at Atlas Coal Mine.

Dinosaur Trail Golf Course
Dinosaur Trail Golf Course