The American Society of Cinematographers

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He started searching for ways to capture the violent, animalistic nature of the vehicles up close. “I was looking for a group of cameras. Both Ron and I work quite closely with Canon, so we knew we could pull in the new C300s, and my contact at Canon, Satake-san [Yoshifumi Satake, developer of the C300], provided great support throughout the shoot. But I also wanted something smaller; I thought it would be exciting if we could develop shots like the onboard shot from Monaco and take them further.” Having just worked with Indiecam’s small 1080p HD cameras on Trance (AC May ’13), Dod Mantle turned to them again. He brought in a longtime collaborator, Jakob Bonfils, a grip, camera technician, operator and car expert, to find innovative ways of mounting the 4"-long Indiecam cameras, equipped with C-mount lenses, onto the racing cars. “I knew I’d be incredibly busy at times and that in my absence, Jakob would insist the Indiecams were not rigged anywhere obvious, but in strange places,” says Dod Mantle. “I wanted them next to anything that moved or breathed or vibrated — anything that made the car seem alive.

“Jakob has followed my visual tendencies since I passed through film school in Denmark, where he taught,” he adds. “He offers a rare combination of technical knowledge, inventive engineering, and visual flair and integrity in storytelling.”

Two Indiecam models were used, the IndieGS2K and IndiePOV, with the GS2K’s global shutter proving more effective at capturing fast movement. Powered by lightweight IDX batteries, they recorded uncompressed 10-bit 4:2:2 raw images to Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttles and were positioned not just all over the car, but on the drivers and actors as well. Bonfils explains, “I made some custom mounts that actually sat on the drivers’ shoulders and chests so we could get their side-to-side movements as they went through corners. We also mounted Indiecams on the sides of helmets; it was quite complicated, because Anthony wanted to be so close to the eye that we were almost touching the actor’s face.” Dod Mantle adds, “I basically wanted the audience inside the helmet behind the wheel at speed.”

The cinematographer’s search for unusual onboard perspectives was relentless. Key grip Rupert Lloyd Parry recalls, “For one of the grid starts, Anthony wanted to be underneath the rear wing of a car and pan across to all the other cars as the race began. He also wanted to track up the sides of cars as they were racing, which was quite challenging when they were going 100 mph. We came up with a small onboard slider system that worked off Preston motors, allowing us to track pretty much anywhere on the car. We got some good stuff, but it was hard, because there were a lot of forces acting on the system. Our enemy and our friend was vibration; while it gave us amazing dynamism, it was just as quickly undoing bolts and unscrewing Indiecam lenses!”

Miniature remote heads had to be constructed for the car-mounted slider and for onboard shots that panned or tilted, and the Indiecams had to be adapted to work with a Cmotion focus-control system. “The team at Indiecam worked hard to move this technology forward for us,” notes Dod Mantle. He operated the slider remotely from a Subaru Impreza pursuit vehicle, which was also equipped with a gyrostabilized Alexa on an arm for plate and action shots. “We’d be chasing the cars at 120 mph, which was dreadfully nauseating after lunch,” he recalls. “I would be in there struggling with inertia and trying to do these little slides and moves that told the story, and [1st AD] Lee Grumett was next to me, telling me when the race beats were coming. [B-camera/Steadicam operator] Alastair Rae and [B-camera 1st AC] David Penfold were also working very hard here with a large team of grips.”

Another important tracking vehicle was one nicknamed The Mule, which was usually equipped with Canon C300s. Lloyd Parry explains, “We had a spare replica racing car that was built for us, and we rigged a few camera points on it. The Mule was great because it could join in amongst the other cars and race properly, with a racing driver at the wheel. It allowed us to charge right up behind the other cars and get some really extreme shots that we could never have got from a conventional tracking car.” Dod Mantle notes, “I preferred the racing driver’s trained eye with The Mule to anything any operator, including myself, attempted to simulate!”

Dod Mantle usually operated the A camera and tried to oversee the Indiecam setups, but with up to 27 cameras on set (divided among the onboard team, plate units, splinter units, and a second unit directed by Todd Hallowell), he had to put a lot of trust in his collaborators. “Michael Wood, our second-unit cinematographer, was fantastic at incorporating my ideas about lighting and operating,” says Dod Mantle. “Todd is a very strong collaborator with Ron and has a certain way of doing things, and I put Michael with him because I knew he’d work well with Todd, while also being strong enough to bring the things I’d said to him. It was all very busy, but it worked well.”

The Indiecams were delivering impressive footage, but Dod Mantle decided he wanted to get even deeper inside the cars, so he asked Bonfils to look for a smaller camera solution. “I found the [1080p] V.I.O. POV.HD camera, which is basically just a lens and a cable,” says Bonfils. “It’s very wide angle and has pretty hard compression [H.264, recorded to 32GB SDHC cards], but used for short moments in the cut, we could live with the lower quality. I put them in places where it would not normally be possible to put a camera, getting shots of the tiny things that move and turn when you press down on a car’s accelerator.”

The style of camerawork in much of the archival material provided another source of inspiration for Dod Mantle’s visual approach. He notes, “With motor racing at that time, the cameras were always struggling to catch the moment, so I tried to educate myself and my operators about how and when to incorporate that idea. We didn’t do it too much, because if you do, you get this incessant wobbling, but if there was an emotional or story-based reason to have a camera slightly struggling to shoot through a fence, or doing a slightly unmotivated push, then we did it. The unpredictability of life and death in motor racing was why this film had to have a kind of inquisitive, slightly unstable language.”

For scenes involving human drama, Dod Mantle’s camerawork was guided by the contrasting characters of Hunt and Lauda. “One of the first things I said to Ron was that I saw Hunt as a kind of animal. I felt that in the early parts of the story, Hunt should be pushing the edge of the frame, almost like a lion in a cage. We move with him, but he’s always pushing at the frame. And I thought Lauda was much more linear, so everything with him should be more directional at the beginning. I could sense that Ron wasn’t used to talking to a cinematographer about something like this so long before shooting, but he took it onboard straight away.”

Working on the airfield sets in England, trying to re-create exotic racetracks in far-off countries, Dod Mantle was often at the mercy of the elements. “We had large lighting rigs on the main sets — cranes with three 18Ks on them, for instance — and I was constantly in allegiance with God and the assistant directors, trying to anticipate the weather,” he says. “We were lucky with our Brazil scenes because we had an amazingly sunny afternoon very early in the year, and we were lucky again with the South Africa scene, which was basically a single day when we brought all the South African paraphernalia to the set.”

 

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