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Fireworks

Published : 11th May 2011

I'm involved in a feature shoot (35mm) that will need fireworks plated into night skies at various dramatic junctures. Since here in the UK we like to 'celebrate' the execution of a Catholic 'terrorist' every November 5th production wants to capitalise on the event by shooting plate shots at a large scale public firework display.

In the script firework explosions appear in a variety of sizes - some distant city views, some steep angle ground level shots, some high rise apartment window level shots, sometimes as a tiny element in frame, sometimes filling the frame (though probably heftily defocused).

The key variety that will be of interest are the high burst 'chrysthanthemum' style.

There'll be two cameras cover the event and ideally both with zoom lenses. Since I won't know in advance just how much of the frame anything may eventually be required to fill I'm looking for suggestions of which camera will give the best pay off between portability, ability to handle the contrast levels inherent in the subject (sensor streaking would be an issue) against data storage in the field and image quality.

I've a hunch that wides - where the fireworks will only ever be a small element in frame - will be on a 'cheaper' format than hero fireworks.

Anyway, as I said, I'm just looking for opinion...

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.


>> The key variety that will be of interest are the high burst 'chrysthanthemum' style.

Try not to crop them. And don't move the camera unnecessarily. No zooming; find the shot and lock it down. VFX plates aren't about interesting camerawork.

Tim Sassoon
SFD
Santa Monica, CA


>>"Try not to crop them."

And that's the bind. To make a plate of something that may fill more than 75% of a final frame the operators are forced into shooting it considerably wider. That's why I don't share productions enthusiasm for a low end digital format. In the good ol' days this would have been a classic 8 perf' day out.

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.


>> That's why I don't share productions enthusiasm for a low end digital format.

Dare I say it, this might be a good assignment for DSLR-HD.

Tim Sassoon
"looking forward to the burning in effigy part"
Santa Monica, CA


>>"Dare I say it, this might be a good assignment for DSLR-HD."

Mmm... that's not a bad wheeze. Mild over-cranking never hurt a firework in the same way that it never hurt a crashing wave.

What's the best on the market these days anyways?

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London


>> "Dare I say it, this might be a good assignment for DSLR-HD." Mmm... that's not a bad wheeze. >>Mild over-cranking never hurt a firework in the same way that it never hurt a crashing wave.
>> What's the best on the market these days anyways?

You might want to check out the new Canon EOS 7D .... the low-light capability of the camera is quite stunning and it'll shoot 24, 25 and 30 fps at 1080p and 60 at 720p. The other camera to consider is EOS 5D Mk II .... it has a full frame sensor but only shoots 30fps (which might not be a problem for back plates).

We did a camera test a couple of weekends ago with Rodney Charters, ASC, shooting with a RED ONE, Canon EOS 5D MkII and the new Canon EOS 7D side-by-side .... started at dawn and shot till dusk .... three different coloured actors (black, brown and white) ... the ability to crank up ISO settings of the two Canons in low-light conditions without inducing hideous noise in the blue channel was pretty remarkable .... the only down-side from a VFX perspective will be the 8 bit H.264 codec you end up with (which we transcode immediately to ProRes) but their ability to see into the dark is quite amazing ..... one of the tests Rodney and Bill Bennett did was to bring the house lights down in a stage area .... we couldn't get the room dark enough for the 7D .... it could always make out the three actors.

If you hit the sweet spot with the Canons the image quality is actually very good .... obviously you can't push colour as far in post as you can .r3ds ... but the price point of the cameras is seductive ... the full frame 5D Mk II which came out last year retailed at $2600 .... the APS-C sensor 7D which came out last month retails at $1700 ... you can have a couple of these in your camera bag without breaking the bank.

We showed some of the test footage to Mike Most last week ..... no doubt he'll be happy to chime in with his observations.

We're presenting the RED/Canon Intercut Demo material at the HD Expo Intensive Workshop this Thursday in Burbank and will also have the 5D Mk II and the 7D plus the new EOS 1D Mk IV at our Open House day on Saturday Nov 7th in West Hollywood on the old Warner Hollywood
Lot ..... the recently announced high-end Canon EOS 1D Mk IV will ship in January and cost a unbelievable $5000 (five thousand dollars).

Details of the RED/Canon Intercut reel and Open House on the link below ... Rodney will be there along with Tim Smith from Canon ... plenty of cameras (REDs as well as Canons) and the opportunity to see the imagery up on a big screen in a tightly calibrated DI environment ... you might be surprised.

http://hdirawworks.com/index.html

Let me know if you have any further questions.

Neil Smith
Workflow Manager
HdiRAWworks
323 850 3550
www.hdirawworks.com


>> Mmm... that's not a bad wheeze. Mild over-cranking never hurt a >>firework in the same way that it >>never hurt a crashing wave.
>>What's the best on the market these days anyways?

Really .. would we not be worried about rolling shutters on those cameras ?

Justin Pentecost
Motioncontrol
LONDON
www.portablemotioncontrol.com
Mob:-+44 7973 317241


Neil Smith wrote:

>> If you hit the sweet spot with the Canons the image quality is actually very good ....

And if you don't mind looking the other way when the aliasing artifacts emerge and the rolling shutter artifacts chime in.

I just spent 3 days with a 7 D last week, the ability to dial up ISO rating is an amazing feature in the camera. Another feature is not really knowing what you have recorded till you see the image on a
larger display. Everything looks good on the camera LCD unless of course there is something in the frame that really excites the aliasing. That will of course liven things up a bit.

In the case of fireworks, or in most cases I don't think you'd want to bother with 720 P . From What I saw, it’s not worth the trouble. There is aliasing and then there is ALIASING.

Mark Smith
DP NYC


Justin Pentecost wrote:

>>"Really .. would we not be worried about rolling shutters on those cameras ?"

The Royal 'we'? You're right though Those Chrysanthemums might end up more like Gladioli.

I'd like a D21 tbh but I'll probably get a funny look from the PM for asking.

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London


>> The Royal 'we'? You're right though. Those Chrysanthemums might end up more like Gladioli.

Not exactly but I did offer you the Mitchell if you wanted it.

Justin Pentecost
Motioncontrol
LONDON
www.portablemotioncontrol.com
Mob:-+44 7973 317241


Hey Tom,

I would say that a Panasonic Varicam is a good option for that.


Most of the nature series of the BBC uses that camera. With the occasional 16mm thrown in...

Serge Teulon
DoP
London UK


Tom Townend wrote:

>> I'd like a D21 tbh but I'll probably get a funny look from the PM for asking.

Better a funny look from the PM than a funny look from the Fireworks andthereafter the PM.

Emmanuel, Munich

1st Asst Cameraperson - 1st Asst Kameramann - 1er Asst Op�rateur
16-35-HD
bvk-SSFV European based
Mobil +491608036889
Cinematography Mailing List Moderator - CML


Justin Pentecost wrote:

>>"Not exactly but I did offer you the Mitchell if you wanted it "

I know, I know... but I think they expect to turn endlessly on hours of fireworks and the cost of 35mm will give them kittens this far from principle photography

If it were up to ME of course it'd be a different kettle of poison.

DSLR seems too iffy now, which leaves 'D21, F35, F23, Genesis, RED (etc)'

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London


Tom

I don't think you need High ASA there's plenty of exposure in fireworks! Stop down especially if you want to keep the colour. But smoke is a problem as the display/ night progresses so get upwind
for clear air this will also help with rain on the lens ( it is November UK after all!) Perhaps an air fishtail over the lens, spinning deflectors might double image.

On some takes You might also consider undercranking just a little and repeat printing each frame in post to get a fuller firework, Chrysanthemum, Daisy, Hydrangea, whatever?

Peter Versey
Operator/2nd Unit L. Cameraman
UK


Tom Townend wrote:

>> I know, I know... but I think they expect to turn endlessly on hours of fireworks and the cost of >>35mm will give them kittens this far from principle photography

Hours of fireworks? Just how many hours are they planning to use in the Movie?

These days most fireworks displays are triggered electronically by a computer program. A production type with a cell phone or two way radio stationed by the controller can easily give cues to the camera crews when the exact type you want to capture -- Chrysanthemums, or the finale, for example -- are about to launch.

If the fireworks people are nervous about radios, a detailed copy of the schedule can work just as well.

Since fireworks are self-illuminating, exposure for film is not an issue, but clipping on video sure can be.

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


I've had good experiences shooting fireworks using a Varicam 27H. As others have noted, you don't need a camera that's good in low light. I've also found that, if you don't need to expose a ground
reference at the same time you're getting the fireworks, shooting the fireworks with dynamic range at 500% helps keep the clipping down.

cheers,

Tom Kaufman
Washington, DC - based DP
www.thomaskaufman.com


Hi Tom,

I’ve shot loads of public fireworks on the f900 including at new years eve in London and also some large county shows (available as stock cough cough) Also did a doc on fireworks.

I'd go for a 3 chip CCD camera and low compression recording at 60p for clean blacks and no bayer fringe issues with all those highlights.

In terms of exposure you can have the beginning of the explosion well exposed and get less of the trail or expose for the trail where the beginning of the explosion will be overexposed (regardless of
camera choice)

The most common fault with live broadcasts of fireworks is over exposure especially on the finale. It helps to have a plan of the show to know when the big ones are.

If you want a nice variance of size of out of focus highlights have NDs to hand. In this respect a camera with a ND filter wheel is ideal as it is faster and you won't be worried or bothered by secondary reflections from a front of lens filter.

Other info that you probably already know :

If you want really tight shots a good viewfinder is essential so you can tilt up and predict where the mortar will explode, but for most background plates locks would do 1/25th sec shutter is interesting more romantic, less punchy. Cleanest blacks are at the start of the show when there is no smoke in the air.

Producer should be reminded that wind direction and therefore smoke in shot is out of your control. Low cloud can be very atmospheric but can be illuminated by the fireworks which may be a continuity problem for vfx plates.

Aerial fireworks are often best viewed at a distance rather than from underneath. (some fireworks create a 3d effect that is lost when viewed from underneath whereas others are two dimensional where being underneath them is best, so displays are often tailored to a particular location and expected audience vantage point.

Distant shots with cityscape background and fireworks foreground are quite hard to precisely plan, plan b c and d needed and pair of running shoes.

You could consider shooting a clean distant fireworks shot and comp that into a cityscape, although finding a clean distant shot without buildings or trees in frame is not easy from ground level in the UK.

best

Mike Brennan
DP
Melbourne/London


Tom Townend said

>>"I'd like a D21 but I'll probably get a funny look from the PM for asking."

Hi Tom,

Get them to go to the London Eye's 4D cinema in County Hall. We shot stereo 3D with 6x D21's on New Year’s Eve covering the fireworks around the eye, big Ben etc. It’s a permanent custom made installation. I supervised that shoot as DIT, apart from the aerial unit. Sean Philips was the Stereographer.

F35’s were tested, and proved to be less noisy in the blacks when shooting to HDCAM SR. There weren’t enough F35’s around at the time. The noise issue is something that’s been talked about with Geoff's Hanover experiences in another thread.

As for vantage points on the 5th, Primrose Hill would be good for at least 1 separate unit, if you can spare an even more twisted look from the PM. The fireworks you see all over London way into the distant is great (assuming you get a clear night) :) I think we've got rain :O

Danny Gagatt
DIT / 1st AC
London, UK
D21, F35, Genesis, Red
+44 (0)7712 893 503


Hello.

When the original suggestion came up for DSLR, I assumed you meant shooting stills, not in the video mode with all its limitations.Can't some of these cameras shoot close to 10fps in stills mode?
You'd have the extra resolution for scaling your plates to size, and you could in-between the missing frames.

Understand if you don't want to rely on this, but why not take one with you as a third camera and maybe you'll get the best stuff out of it. And if not, you'll have your A&B cameras to make sure you're
covered.

Jendra Jarnagin, DP, NYC
www.floatingcamera.com


Michael Brennan wrote:

>>"Hi Tom, I’ve shot loads of public fireworks on the f900"

Thanks Michael Some nice solid tips there.

Tom Townend,
Cinematographer/London.