In an exclusive interview with Vibhuti Arora, Dubai Film speaks about capturing the action in the Jetman series with RED cameras
Dubai Film, a production and rental house based in the emirate, has been producing 4K content for a number of years and is one of the first companies in the Middle East to shoot in 4K for YouTube. Specialising in extreme sports content, the production house uses its vast inventory of high-end cameras and lenses to capture live action, including aerial acrobatics, water sports and desert motoring stunts specifically in Dubai as its mandate is to promote the emirate as a great place for sport.
Dubai Film is associated with some of the most adrenaline-pumping extreme sports companies in the emirate while also facilitating the television commercial market with specialised car-to-car filming equipment and this is evident from its partnerships with Jetman Dubai (an online series that captures human flight with Yves Rossy, who flies using his jetpack), XDubai (which produces extreme sports in Dubai), Inflight Dubai (the world’s largest and tallest wind tunnel) and Skydive Dubai.
Joel Schaeffer, a cinematographer at Dubai Film, who has been filming the Jetman series for the production house since 2014, says the camera team’s mandate is to shoot everything in high quality.
“That’s what we usually do; we use high-end equipment to shoot in high resolution, usually 4K and above. The Jetman project is one such example. The viewers can see the difference and appreciate the quality even more.”
Schaeffer has been using a number of RED cameras to shoot the Jetman series over the years because his mandate was to shoot 4K and RED was one of the first companies to move in this direction. Dubai Film, therefore, is the owner of 10 RED cameras spread between different departments including their camera, aerial, underwater and drone departments. When a project requires the use of multiple cameras as in the case of this series to create the same look and feel, the team falls back on RED.
“We have used the RED EPIC DRAGON 6K extensively to shoot the Jetman series,” Schaeffer explains.
In the latest Jetman film titled Hello Jetman, Yves Rossy and Vince Reffet (Rossy’s protégé, who has been a part of the Jetman series), wear their jetpacks and take to the sky with the Emirates A380. The stunning footage of the formations of the two pilots and the A380 over Palm Jumeirah and the Dubai skyline were captured on several RED cameras deployed strategically to ensure every small detail of the formations was captured meticulously.
According to Richard Forrest, a camera operator at Dubai Film, seven RED cameras were deployed to capture footage from various angles.
“We used two RED cameras inside the A380, one in the Corvette Jet, one on a helicopter inside a Shotover F1, one inside the Jetman Drop Heli, and two on the ground. Our main footage for that project came from a camera mounted in a corvette jet provided by Aero Vision, France. We mounted our own RED EPIC DRAGON in the jet and another in a Shotover F1 mounted on a helicopter to capture aerial footage.
“For a project of this scale, we had to shoot it from as many different angles as possible. We had a couple of cameras inside the A380, as well as cameras in the helicopter. The two pilots also had helmet-mounted cameras.”
The choice of camera is based on various factors according to the camera team, and one of this is the right look and feel. In the case of extreme sports, capturing every slight detail is important and the RED is good at this, explains Schaeffer.
“If you want a specific look for your project, you need to start with the right camera. The RED gives you a certain crisp look and feel with sharp details, which is ideal for extreme sports, while the ARRI, in our opinion, is ideal if you wanted a cinematic look. Irrespective of the frame rates and the resolution, your choice of camera should be dictated by the result you want to accomplish,” Schaeffer explains.
“We have worked with the LUTs and RED cameras to create a hyper-realistic look. That’s how people like to view extreme sports. We use RED because it’s the best at what it does. Even when an athlete is making a small change to perfect a move, you want to see the detail and you can do that on a RED camera. You can capture it in a special way with high resolution and high frame rate. A lot of people want to see what a wingsuit pilot does close-up when they drop from the sky. The perspective from the ground is quite different, but from a helicopter, with good lens and lot of resolution, you can show a unique perspective. That’s our goal.”
Another Jetman episode, Young Feathers, was shot in 6K with 90% of the footage coming from the RED EPIC DRAGON. Pairing the right lens with the right cameras is key. The size of the sensors and the lens coverage on the sensors dictates how much resolution the cameras can deliver.
“If I am shooting aerials, my go-to lenses are the Canon 30-300 or Fujinon 25-300. Both of these lenses have good sensor coverage, but neither of them cover the 6K sensor, so we usually drop to 5K. One of the major issues we are facing is that cameras are being released with sensors that no zoom lenses can cover,” Schaeffer states.
“RED’s WEAPON 6K was launched after the EPIC DRAGON 6K. Both have the same sensor, but their hardware is quite different. The WEAPON has fixed a lot of issues that were present with the EPIC DRAGON, black balance being one of them. Being able to shoot proxies simultaneously helps save time in post production. When it comes to lens coverage, however, keeping the same sensor was frustrating,” explains Schaeffer.
Dubai Film was one of the first companies to have access to the newly introduced RED WEAPON with the HELIUM 8K S35 sensor. This camera claims to offer a better colour gamma as well as higher dynamic range, which is useful in capturing otherwise imperceptible details.
“The HELIUM sensor is definitely a step in the right direction. They have made the sensor size smaller, which helps us massively with lens coverage of our zoom lenses. Maintaining the RED’s small body size, coupled with 8K resolution, gives us a lot of options, given the fact that we put our cameras in a lot of gimbals for both aerial and ground filming.”
Both Schaeffer and Forrest agree that they have had many opportunities to learn and improve their camera techniques in the course of filming Jetman and other projects at Dubai Film. In terms of the quality of the shots, it was more about positioning the cameras in the right place to optimise performance. The choice of lens also goes a long way in delivering high quality.
Having used RED cameras for more than ten years, Schaeffer and Forrest have seen the journey of the brand and feel that the new wave of RED cameras has improved on several fronts over their predecessors, but also expressed some frustrations with the marketing style of the company.
Some of the new releases with ultra HD capabilities include the WEAPON 6K camera with the DRAGON sensor, the WEAPON 8K S35 and the EPIC-W 8K camera, both featuring the latest sensor technology HELIUM.
“The RED EPIC-W has a very similar sensor to the SCARLET, SCARLET-W and the RED RAVEN but comes with restricted frame rates. All of them have the same form factor and a similar body shape. They are small and light, which makes it easy to place them on a gimbal, MOVI, have it handheld, just have a camera and a lens and rig it on a car, and are a great fit for skydiving, snowboarding, skate boarding and so on,” says Schaeffer.
“While the new cameras offer a number of advantages, a big disadvantage with some has been the confusion created with the expanders and modules that needed to be added, to power the camera with V-lock batteries that are a standard in the film industry. A lot of money can be wasted if you chose the wrong accessories.
“None of our V-locks or RED Volt batteries were compatible with the new WEAPON when it was first released, because the V-lock expander was released at a later date to the camera. It meant we would have had to shell out another $10,000 to buy the new batteries if we wanted to use the camera at that time. We had recently invested in batteries and did not want to spend more on new ones. So we couldn’t use the new RED WEAPON 6K until the new V-lock expander was released. This put a hold on using the new RED WEAPON 6K on various projects,” says Forrest.
The duo hopes RED will standardise cameras and accessories in the future.
“These cameras have been a great asset to the company over the last few years and will continue to be in the future,” Schaeffer says.