Interview with `Quantum` cinematographer Roberto Schaefer
If there is one thing cinematographer Roberto Schaefer has learned during his journey into the world of digital acquisition, itâs that there is not, and probably never will be, a uniform digital workflow - reports Digital Content Producer"
Schaefer participated in a flurry of digital camera tests using various systems before and during production on the 2008 James Bond film, Quantum of Solaceâincluding that projectâs use of Dalsa Origin 4K cameras for a complex visual-effects sequence. Subsequently, he shot a full-length independent feature called Leaves of Grass for director/actor Tim Blake Nelson and Nelsonâs friend, producer/actor Edward Norton, using the Red Digital Cinema Red One camera system. What Schaefer has concluded is that, right now, digital production workflow options essentially offer productions âa potluck dinnerâ to manage.
âEvery projectâs workflow is different with digital cameras,â he says. âThere are tried-and-true methods, and some are more straightforward, but none are exactly the same. Red, for instance, seems a bit more of its own thing, different than others, just because of the way the [proprietary Red] .r3d files are and the conversion process you have to use. Plus, itâs all changing so fast. Conceptually, you could decide to do things one way, and by the time you get to post, you realize you should have done it differently.â
Leaves of Grass features Norton playing opposite himself as twin brothers, which required extensive visual effects. At press time, the movie was undergoing a DI at PlasterCity Digital Post in Los Angeles and had no release date announced. By the time Schaefer got to the project, he had used the Arriflex D-20 and Dalsa Origin cameras on Quantum of Solace for visual-effects sequences, shot a TV pilot with a Panavision Genesis, filmed a commercial with Thomson Grass Valleyâs Viper FilmStream camera, and tested the Red One extensively.
From Schaeferâs point of view, the Red tests he did during development of Quantum of Solace were crucial to his education, even though the Red camera was not chosen for the Bond film. Those tests, he says, helped him conclude Red was his best choice for Leaves of Grass.
âWe didnât jump into [using Red] lightly,â he says. âI was pleased with what I learned using the camera [during the Quantum tests]. Part of it, of course, was that we had a pretty low budget and we realized we could shoot a lot more footage than if we shot Super 16, and Red was more affordable than the other digital formats in terms of equipment rental. But Edward Norton is pretty tight with [director] David Fincher, and as we considered [Red], he got us on a conference call with Fincher, who had just used Red on a Nike commercial campaign. Fincher was very positive about his results and what you could do with Red. I talked to others who had shot Red, and their results were similar. It made us comfortable, even though we knew our workflow would be a bit different.â
Indeed, even as familiarity with the system set in, Schaefer realized in the middle of the production there were things he might do differently the next time he uses Red. Thatâs because, as with any embryonic technology, his time to fully test options with the technology wasnât proportional to the practicalities of a modern shooting schedule.
âNow that Iâve shot [Leaves of Grass], I might have made some technical decisions differently,â Schaefer says. âYou donât get the proper time to do all the tests you want to do. But those changes would have largely been about exposures and ratings and those kinds of things. The technology is moving so fast, thoughâitâs exponentially changing even in a relatively short time.â
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