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70mph Knuckleball Pitch


Working on a US Major League Baseball shoot where the mission is to capture a Knuckle Ball pitch toward the lens.

For those of you who are not familiar with baseball - the pitch is thrown from approx 20 meters and a knuckle ball has little to no spin (professional pitches can deliver this at approx 110 km/hour). We plan to shoot at 420 FPS on a Phantom V642 during daytime in Florida (hopefully full sun). Due to budget, we will probably use a PL to B4 converter which will unfortunately cost us a couple stops. We have one interior day that we will use PL primes but all other shooting days are outside with a Fujinon 22x broadcast lens. We have a couple Xenons (2k and 4k) for other work that we could use to supplement daylight.

The producers see in their minds eye - a perfect knuckle ball in slow motion with shallow depth of field and sharp focus on the ball.

By my calculation, a pitch would be in the air roughly .7 sec which at 420f/s would deliver a shot that last about 10 seconds.

We plan to pull focus with a Preston FIZ.

So the questions are:

1) Is there any advice on the focus pull? 2) Can this be achieved? 3) Should we be pushing heavily for a PL mount lens to save stop? 4) Any general advice?

As always thank you in advance for any advice and help.


Michael Murray Director Photography AdrenalineFilms.com Orlando, Florida



> 1) Is there any advice on the focus pull? > Prayer

The question is can the lens motor move that fast? I've heard of people mounting two motors on a lens to achieve a fast move. Going with a broadcast lens would help since you have a shorter degree of rotation on the lens barrel.

IMO, I wouldn't worry about the 2 stop loss with the HDx35, but again it depends on how wide your inside shots are. And a little depth of field never hurt anyone. I think the is a "Cue Mitch" moment on Phantom sensitivity at that framerate.

This reminds me of a soccer commercial shoot I did where the director and DP decided they wanted to do a 300mm shot of a soccer ball flying thru the air at 200 fps and wanted me to pull it with nothing more than an ARRI FF-4. I think there were more swear words than prayers

Best of luck on your shoot!

Cheers, Bryce A. Maschino 1st AC Orlando, FL


> 2) Can this be achieved?

You might research how the Formula 1 broadcast team does the super slow motion work. They do long-lens high frame rate shots of cars traveling near 200 MPH and nail it . Perhaps someone on this list has a contact with that team. -- Rod Williams First Camera Assistant Petaluma, California (415) 309-3407 facebook.com/rodwms


Not sure if this is an option, but these kinds of shots are often best done in post. I would consider doing the plate of a pitcher throwing the ball down angled down towards the ground and get the focus pull the best you can. Then use that as a plate shot and put in a CG ball, as well as paint out the practical ball. Baseballs are easy to do well, and you can control the flight path, the amount of spin, and the level of dirt and texture on the ball, and most importantly you can nail the focus on the ball itself. The plate shot will make up the majority of the image and probably look quite dramatic, which will help sell the CG ball.

Lee Towndrow dp vfx photo nyc post.leetowndrow.com


There will be a simultaneous zoom out to try and achieve this a best as possible.

And by the way, the converter is HDx35 B4/PL Optical Adapter.

Any thoughts on using a F700 instead? I brought that up and the client had concerns about write/buffer times. I unfortunately have little experience with either.

Michael Murray Director Photography AdrenalineFilms.com Orlando, Florida


1) Having done this before as a Tech at 500fp+ rate I don't necessarily recommend a FIZ unit as their may be enough of a delay in the system not to mention any interference from other 2.4ghz sources to always be behind no matter how fast your AC pulls.

2) This is gonna be a accuracy by volume kind of shot. I recommend having your Tech partition the memory to get several takes so your AC can get a feel for it.

3)The Phantom V642 has a effective 1250asa (or more) you may be able to give yourself enough stop to keep it shallow while allowing for your AC to have a fighting chance.

4) How much stop loss is the PL-to-B4 mount/zoom? 2 stops? That would still put you around a T5.6/8 on a Sunny Day with no ND. Most AC's would be appreciative to have that much stop for a shot like this in camera.

1) Is there any advice on the focus pull? 2) Can this be achieved? 3) Should we be pushing heavily for a PL mount lens to save stop? 4) Any general advice?

I would go Phantom V642 over FS700 for a variety of reasons more notably for quality, buffer memory, effective asa, and dynamic range.

best of luck,

-- Dane Brehm ICGDIT : Hi-Speed Tech Spectrum | Bits | Cubes Oakland, CA


The HDx35 is not the appropriate optical adapter. Instead I suggest you use our HDx2 adapter. It eats two stops of light instead of the HDx35 losing 2.5. It is perfectly sized to cover the 1920x1080 image area of the v642 (that's why we made it). It is used for sports all the time.

Honestly I think the best move it to have the AC do a manual pull, maybe with a speed crank or whip. Ask your AC. Another AC doing a manual snap zoom. Be sure to use a small monitor to operate rather than the viewfinder. Also be sure to get several big sheets of plexi to protect camera and crew.

The v642 has an ISO of 1250, so that T8 shoulda about right. You definitely need a proper Phantom Tech with you.

I must say that based on your description, the image the client may wish to see may not be perfectly achievable. There will likely be some focus buzzing and you're certain not to maintain object size, if only due to the focus breathing inherent in such a video lens of this range. While you are set up there anyway, I highly suggest you shoot some plates of the pitcher faking it sans baseball. Do the shot exactly the same but without the ball and that way you could insert it in post. If it is a clear day with blue sky then that is a great opportunity to point the camera straight up and try some tosses with the ball. Or you could do green screen passes with the ball. The trick to really selling the effect is a bit of interactive lighting, and actually doing a dolly/zoom to the ball to change the dimensionality. Far away zoomed in the ball should be compressed to a disk but up close and wide it will appear more spherical.

There's a great quick shot like this in the 1984 film The Natural (climatic moment before he hits it into the lights). It's only on screen for a second or two but it is highly effective. I'm sure they faked it and there is no background to speak of, but it may be a good reference for you. You can find the scene on YouTube.

Mitch Gross Applications Specialist AbelCine NY


To the excellent advice you have received from Dane and others, I would recommend doing an extensive test shoot to determine the parameters of the shoot, so all concerned will know exactly what you are up against. For instance, how large will the baseball be in the frame, and what will the background be -- you want the ball to stand out so that it is easier for viewer, not to mention the AC to pick up the ball visually. Part of the art of pitching is to conceal the delivery of the pitch, and make it difficult for the batter to see

Based on the results of the test, and agreement on the shot, I would also suggest a great deal of practice to get the focus timing and the pitchers timing coordinated.

Is CGI an option?

Brian Heller IA 600 DP



>> 1) Is there any advice on the focus pull?

In my humble opinion, I would go with a full-sensor coverage lens - you dont want to lose any stop you can keep. It will be easier to soften the image in post where the ball isnt than it will be to keep the ball sharp all the way... you want to see the stitching so you can see that it is a knuckle ball, I assume.

Knowing I might get flamed for this, I will also point out that if you cant afford the PL lenses for that day you can mount Nikon lenses to a Phantom - an old manual AIS Nikon with a gear on it might work fine - we have used Nikon lenses in VFX since dinosaurs walked the earth with good results. you can expand the scale on the FIZ since the pull is probably pretty short on the nikon.


I own gears for most sizes of Nikons - contact me off list if you end up going that way I can send some to you.

I could design you a photocell/invisible beam motion control trigger system to pull the shot, but if the lens costs are an issue, forget a motion control tech and programmer and rig...

you're just going to have to get the pitcher to throw a lot of pitches and shoot until you get it - end trigger for when the ball hits the glove so you dont miss it. I also strongly recommend that you shoot three before you look at them... you might get lucky and for the focus puller there is muscle memory involved.... shoot three... review, shoot three more, review etc if you stop to play back each one it's harder to be consistent. I will also say that if your focus puller disagrees with that statement he/she will be right and I will be wrong:-)

Obviously puller off to the side will help a lot.

weingartner la dp vfx etc


Mitch wrote: Honestly I think the best move it to have the AC do a manual pull, maybe with a speed crank or whip. Ask your AC. Another AC doing a manual snap zoom. Be sure to use a small monitor to operate rather than the viewfinder. Also be sure to get several big sheets of plexi to protect camera and crew.


Lots of great suggestions on this thread. Good luck with everything. But as someone who used to be able to throw a decent knuckle ball though not at 7o+mph, no matter how many times you have your pitcher practice his move that ball hardly ever flies in the same area, on each pitch, on the same course to the catcher or whatever your final target is.

If you have time, see if you can google some video of R.A. Dickey from the Mets and Tim Wakefield to watch what the ball does. All Wakefield does is throw knuckle balls. I think Dickey threw two one hitters last year back to back so you may be able to find that video for research.

I would have your pitcher throw right at your plexiglass protectors so you always have the best angle on the ball and right at the camera itself. Forget having a catcher unless you need the view. Bring him in later for the cutaway's or final shot of a ball landing in the glove.

And something I don't think anyone has mentioned is that it may be even more important to have a camera operator who is used to following fast moving balls like Baseball, football or even golf. It definitely isn't a locked shot with a zoom. That ball will start up high and start to come down at different angles each time and it will be moving left to right and up and down at the same time. That's the beauty of a knuckle ball; it dances...

I would have the operator do a manual zoom on his own as well. Seems easier for him to track the ball and work the zoom. More consistency in my opinion. I've shot a few things like this though not for slo-mo or anything but just following the ball at normal speed. I've started on the pitcher in a MCU so I could see where his hand comes from then start my move once the ball was released. Simple eng lens stuff and focus wasn't an issue of course. Lots of depth of field. But zooming and tracking were easier for one person i think. You may even want to do a few handheld if you have the setup for it...

Do you have any chance to get an operator who does this all the time? An NFL films shooter who shoots on the long lenses for games could be a good choice...

I think your focus puller will have a much "easier" time if your operator is more consistent than not with his coverage and zooms...

Cant' wait to here how it goes. Maybe you could do some behind the scenes stuff for us on video???


Mark Gambol MG Pictures, Ltd. 74 Berkley Avenue Lansdowne, PA 19050 www.mg-pictures.com


<the AC will get a lot of practice!> Dear CML and Mike,

I'm coming in late. But what length of lens and stop do you think you can achieve??

Step 1 would seem to be to figure out how much focus depth you can achieve. I looked up a 100mm lens at F8 and 50ft (35mm film chart) and you have 40 ft of focus at the top (and falls off quickly of course); maybe enough to cover your focus puller doing a .7 second pull.

I saw mention of a zoom out and a focus pull? I wonder if you would get closer if you did manual focus and zoom pulls. From your post I assume you are shooting behind plexi. From you calcs, you have less than a second, so everyone would be going balls-out anyway...

And I'm not sure how much you're going to zoom, but knuckle balls wiggle.

Lining up these shots will require a pitcher to hit the mark everytime... I'd be surprised if they could really do that 25% of the time.

My 2 cents is to try to find some sweet spots where the ball can pass through focus; and then some gentle pulls to cover yourself in case the other shots do not turn out.

And then go from there.

If you know someone with a tennis ball machine (it's Orlando, everybody has one), you might actually get a reasonable test done like Brian Heller recommended.

And finally, have you checked out the adapter? I tried the HDx35 on my Alexa and was less than thrilled at the result.

Best Regards, Matthew Alcorn DP / Operator Central Florida and Beyond


I believe that they did the exact shot in The Fan, but couldn't find it on youTube. I gave Mike the email address of the AC who did that shot. If I recall correctly they had some help from Panavision. Perhaps their Long Range Laser "PanaTape" with auto focus drive?

Mako/Makofoto, SF Valley, Ca


I'd try something crazy, like a 3D mirror rig with zero interaxial. Lenses with minimal breathing stopped down as far as practicable under the circumstances. Camera A hyperfocaled to include the pitcher. Camera B hyperfocaled to include the plexiglas shield I assume you'll have placed in front of the rig. Pull Camera A focus as best you can on the pitch. Dissolve to B-camera in post. Render out, and zoom on the result, to the extent possible.

Even if you could get away with this dingbat approach (or whatever approach you settle on), one would hope that these pitchers could hit the bullseye enough of the time. That may be your greatest challenge -- nobody pitches repeatably with quite the degree of precision your shot (presumably a lockoff) would seem to require.

<< The producers see in their minds eye - a perfect knuckle ball in slow motion with shallow depth of field and sharp focus on the ball. >>

No doubt about it. That's exactly what they see in their mind's eye. Yup. For sure.

Dan Drasin Producer/DP Marin County, CA


I did a series of tests for BSkyB a couple of years ago now of bowlers for a cricket series.

These were in 3D and at 1,000fps, 2 Phantom Golds and Primo's with I think a C Motion controller.

We used a 4' square front silvered mirror, well, several of them, so that the bowler could bowl directly at the lens. I did this because of previous experience with cricket balls and plexi glass and armoured filters. They actually used the shot with the filter shattering.

So, focus is luck and timing, of course the more you practise...

We didn't want a constant size ball, we wanted to see a full length bowler and then the ball growing and growing as it came towards us.

Apart from the mountains of data the only complaint we had was that they had to cut the shot when the real ball, as opposed to the reflected one, entered the edge of shot!

Cheers Geoff Boyle FBKS Cinematographer EU Based geoff@cinematography.net


Hi Mike,

Getting an NFL operator/puller is definitely a plus as they are used to shooting for slomo for the highlights. They used to shoot on film (35mm), I think they switched to digital a year or two ago?

A thing to mention might be that in golf coverage, to see the (white) ball they actually used to wire up the R-Y (or B-Y it's been while...) from an analogue component output to composite so the ball would stand out against green (grass) and blue (sky) in the operators viewfinder. Not sure if that is any help for you as this was for live television coverage. Again you'll probably end up with tons of takes and only one or two useable, so your asset on the day(s) will be volume, the more you can repeat the shot over and over quickly, the more likely you'll get a good take. It would help if you can keep up the ball throws as quickly (plenty of spare balls to feed the thrower) one after another so the team&thrower can get into a good routine without interruptions (and more consistency) Use a 45 degree silver mirror and plastic + gear to protect the crew and lens (those balls are lethal...)

Hope it goes well,

Werner Van Peppen Technical Services Supervisor Viasat, London