Australian digital Camera, #39
Author: Barrie Smith
Call in at the movies these days and it´s odds on that the "film" you see has been shot on digital video and
transferred to 35mm film for cinema presentation. Barrie Smith reports on a novel way to make a movie.
These days many "wanabees" and"gunnabees" with film ambitions resort to low cost, easy to use digital
video to capture the action, then move onto a computer for the final editing; a high level digital to 35mm movie
film transfer completes the loop - and lo! Your digital movie is on film, on the big, white screen.
Writer/Director Jan Thüring and Director of Photography Wolfgang Wambach´s first short animation movie was
a resounding succes, winning 30 awards. Das Floss (The Raft), their second short animation movie, is about
two starving castaways adrift at sea - and a passing seagull that drops a fish onto their raft.
Thüring and Wambach had initially planned to shoot on 35mm film, in stop motion (frame-by-frame), using 3D
animation to create the sea and sky. However, they discovered, mixing computer and film images looked like
a tricky task, so they decided to go "all digital".
DOP Wambach suggested they shoot all the elements, frame-by-frame, with a digital still camera. The choice
was the Kodak DCS 760 pro digital SLR, which has an ISO rating of 80. Wambach:"We tried several digital
photo cameras, but Kodak´s DCS 760 was brilliant. We were able to achieve a great depth of field as the chip
is bigger than a 35mm film negative..."
Another benefit was maximum image steadiness since "the film" does not move. The action was lit with Bron
pro flash illumination, used in a checkerboard shooting pattern. To separate the background of sky and sea
from the foreground of raft and puppets, each frame of animation was shot with a flash of the puppets on the
raft with a dark background - then another with flashes on a white background, the raft remaining silhouetted
in the foreground. The flash units were mounted in a "soft box" to "imitate sunlight".
Wambach explains, "I installed a switch to separate the foreground and the background flashes so I had a
computer station with three computers and a TV set for video assist from which I could control everything.
I also built a special gear to pull focus on the camera..."
On the set were only three people: DOP Wolfgang Wambach, animator Heiko Scherm and writer/director
The final assembly of foreground and background action was made on a computer, using Lightwave 3D
animation software, which also helped create the "digital water and skies", Two modes of camera movement
were programmed in Lightwave, firstly the camera swimming on the virtual waves to capture what was
happening on the raft; and the second for shots on the raft, some 90 percent of the movie "where the camera
moves in a documentary handheld style, giving the audience the impression the two characters are on the
Wambach says that "The original DCS760 image file acquired on set was sent as raw data, using a special
plug-in to the Compositing Department where the digitally acquired images were composed with the rendered
Lightwave files" This was followed by digital colour matching and recording onto 35mm film negative, using an
ARRI Laser digital-to-film system.
Das Floss took six months to shoot and one-and-a-half years to complete. The quality challenge as Wolfgang
Wambach saw it was "to produce material of a quality to meet my aesthetic expectations as an analogue
35mm cinematographer. Only the Kodak DCS 760 did".