Topics

Shooting moving marbles

Stuart Brereton
 

Hi all,

i have a show coming up which will require shooting marbles rolling along the floor. I haven’t had a chance to discuss the shots with the director yet, but judging from the script, it will involve numerous angles, with the marble large in frame. I’m guessing some sort of probe is the way to achieve this, but having never used them before, I could use some advice as to the various different systems available.

if anyone has experience of this type of shot that they’d care to share, I’m all ears.

Thanks,

Stuart Brereton
DP, LA

Graham Futerfas
 

Hi Stuart,

I’ve used the Optex Excellence a bunch for this kind of stuff, mainly small toys. You can really get in there with the objects and like a macro, can focus from really close to far back.

If you want to get low to the ground, I suggest either raising up the floor\table that the marbles will be on so you can get the camera lower and straight-on, or consider the 90-degree Periscope attachment for the Optex. If you go with the Periscope, be aware that you may need a 3-axis head and you’ll be stepping on the set, so it can be tricky to operate live with this attachment.

I made a video about some tests we did a while back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um0h7J4sFtI&t=218s

This spot used the Optex Probe to get extra close on some toys about the size of marbles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZPR3d87uws

There’s definitely a limit to how close you can get\magnify with the Optex, but it’s pretty amazing. You can add diopters to get even closer if you need, but it will affect how far back you can focus if you need to do a wide-to-tight move.

Regarding sharpness: I did those tests wide open, and I think they sharpen up better around f/11. Also, I mostly like to use the 28mm, which is much better than the 10 and 14mm in terms of sharpness and vignetting.

And be sure to reserve the lens way in advance… there are only so many of them in the world.

Best,
-Graham




---
Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA
www.GFuterfas.com
---

Mako Koiwai
 

I agree with Graham … the Excellence is THE Best optically. Only a very few around … reserve ASAP if you want it. I believe Keslow and Otto’s might be the only places in Hollywood that have it. It’s the only one that comes with a lens shade. 90 degree and borescope options.

https://images52.fotki.com/v641/fileth10/7f13b/4/43793/4909192/OptexExcellence.jpg

https://images108.fotki.com/v1221/filer6lo/7f13b/4/43793/4909192/OptexExcellence2.jpg

https://images59.fotki.com/v896/file7Jex/7f13b/4/43793/4909192/optionaloptexshade.jpg


Typically we use tape to make a top shade:

https://images59.fotki.com/v896/file7Jex/7f13b/4/43793/4909192/optionaloptexshade.jpg



I’ve used all of them except the massive Kenworthy Snorkel system: Frazier (Panavision), Century Optics (oldest, watch for dust on elements/filters), Revolution, Innovision (lightest), T-Rex, Skater Scope (the smallest and shortest). None are good wide open. All need at least an 11 stop.

Here was our set-up for a slow mo shot of a spinning beer cap! :-)

https://images12.fotki.com/v1641/fileoBK7/7f13b/4/43793/4909192/image10.jpg


What you DON’T want to use is a Prism system! They invariably flare if there is ANY highlight in the shot. We’ve tried them numerous times, taking every precaution. The ONLY time it worked for us is the dolly around the swimming pool in the remake of BREATHLESS. That scene took place completely in shade.



makofoto, s. pasadena, ca

Rachel Dunn
 


In addition to all the cool camera toy recommendations, I would also suggest getting oversized marbles.

The biggest you can find.

This company has some as large as 2" in diameter:


Different sizes could be used to force the perspective if needed


- Rachel D

      310-562-5779


On Feb 7, 2018, at 10:01 AM, Stuart Brereton <ssbrereton17@...> wrote:

Hi all,

i have a show coming up which will require shooting marbles rolling along the floor. I haven’t had a chance to discuss the shots with the director yet, but judging from the script, it will involve numerous angles, with the marble large in frame. I’m guessing some sort of probe is the way to achieve this, but having never used them before, I could use some advice as to the various different systems available.

if anyone has experience of this type of shot that they’d care to share, I’m all ears.

Thanks,

Stuart Brereton
DP, LA
_

Mark Weingartner, ASC
 

to the excellent advice listed here I will add one more piece of equipment

There is a remarkably good snorkel that Robbie Blaylack had built for his company Praxis.

It is called the Pure Reach Snorkel

It is big and not light-weight (35”)  but it is a remarkable relay snorkel - you put whatever PL primes you like on it and that’s what comes out the other end - flopped but not flipped)  (flop back in post)

You might want to do a cross-arm weightless rig for it   if you want to be able to floaty tracky sort of stuff with it, but that;s relatively easy with something like a JL Fisher  jib arm and cross-arm   and an underslung head.  

This thing is optically amazing - it was used to shoot the miniatures for the first three Lord of the Rings movies and chosen because the optical abberations of the lenses were the same on main unit as when the same lens was put on the snorkel…


Here’s the blurb from the Clairmont catalog… I would assume that the snorkel is sitting on a shelf somewhere at Keslow in a big long yellow box.

I worked with it a bit but have no financial interest in it - I just think it is amazing…   if it solves the problems you need to solve.

It was made for big live action stuff like car commercials (going through sunroof etc) in a film era…   at its length it might be too big for you to hustle around your set., but I don’t know the specifics of the gig.

One challenge you will have is you may want to choose lenses with smaller front diameter elements so you can get down … so you can get the optical axis of your lens below the top of the marble… hence the value of a at least a few oversized marbles to work with for “OTMS” shots (over the marble’s shoulder)

If you want to go extreme on portability around the set, I designed a set-up for a power-tool commercial where we got a Chapman stage crane and put one of those Weaver Steadman 5 axis carbon fiber jib/crossarm deals on it…. Set was built up so pupetteers could get underneath to move the power tools around the racetrack (think slot cars)     and we could boom the stage crane out over the set to set up the shots without having to disassemble any of the set to reach in.

Renting that crane saved us so much time in re-sets it certainly paid for itself over and over.
Now you would probably do that with a strong remote head (a motion control one would be able to handle the imbalance)  and a technocrane. but this was many years ago  (the day after 9-11, in fact, was our first shoot day)


Matthew Woolf
 

Let me add another lens to the mix.
Keslow house it.
I just shot with it last week for a spot where we needed seeds and nuts to film the frame
It would be ideal for your shoot. !but needs a ton of light to have it all sharp T22 !!
It’s worth it though 

http://www.infinity-usa.com/products/infiniprobe/InfiniProbe-TS160.aspx

Matthew Woolf
Director of Photography 
+1 917 399 9565
Agent: DDATalent - +1 310 474 4585
Commercials/Music Videos: Juanita Tiangco
Feature/Television: Dan Burnside

On Feb 7, 2018, at 13:36, Mark Weingartner, ASC <vfxmark@...> wrote:

to the excellent advice listed here I will add one more piece of equipment

There is a remarkably good snorkel that Robbie Blaylack had built for his company Praxis.

It is called the Pure Reach Snorkel

It is big and not light-weight (35”)  but it is a remarkable relay snorkel - you put whatever PL primes you like on it and that’s what comes out the other end - flopped but not flipped)  (flop back in post)

You might want to do a cross-arm weightless rig for it   if you want to be able to floaty tracky sort of stuff with it, but that;s relatively easy with something like a JL Fisher  jib arm and cross-arm   and an underslung head.  

This thing is optically amazing - it was used to shoot the miniatures for the first three Lord of the Rings movies and chosen because the optical abberations of the lenses were the same on main unit as when the same lens was put on the snorkel…


Here’s the blurb from the Clairmont catalog… I would assume that the snorkel is sitting on a shelf somewhere at Keslow in a big long yellow box.

I worked with it a bit but have no financial interest in it - I just think it is amazing…   if it solves the problems you need to solve.

It was made for big live action stuff like car commercials (going through sunroof etc) in a film era…   at its length it might be too big for you to hustle around your set., but I don’t know the specifics of the gig.

One challenge you will have is you may want to choose lenses with smaller front diameter elements so you can get down … so you can get the optical axis of your lens below the top of the marble… hence the value of a at least a few oversized marbles to work with for “OTMS” shots (over the marble’s shoulder)

If you want to go extreme on portability around the set, I designed a set-up for a power-tool commercial where we got a Chapman stage crane and put one of those Weaver Steadman 5 axis carbon fiber jib/crossarm deals on it…. Set was built up so pupetteers could get underneath to move the power tools around the racetrack (think slot cars)     and we could boom the stage crane out over the set to set up the shots without having to disassemble any of the set to reach in.

Renting that crane saved us so much time in re-sets it certainly paid for itself over and over.
Now you would probably do that with a strong remote head (a motion control one would be able to handle the imbalance)  and a technocrane. but this was many years ago  (the day after 9-11, in fact, was our first shoot day)


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jmann@...
 

Hello

Could not resist suggesting you visit or re-visit the opening to "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the elegant marble shots.

John Mann
Film and Media Studies
Johns Hopkins University

Stuart Brereton
 

Thank you everyone for your responses. The sequences in question involve shooting a marble rolling across floors, around corners, and down stairs, all on location. The director is keen to do as much practical FX as possible, but given our schedule and budget, I am leaning toward shooting moving plates and then creating the actual marble in post. To do this all practically seems like the kind of thing that could easily take hours to get even a couple of shots right. In one sequence, there is even a dog that chases the marble, which will further complicate things...

I’ll let you know which way we jump.

Stuart Brereton 
DP, LA


On Feb 7, 2018, at 21:17, jmann@... wrote:

Hello

Could not resist suggesting you visit or re-visit the opening to "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the elegant marble shots.

John Mann
Film and Media Studies
Johns Hopkins University

Rachel Dunn
 

If you do opt for a cgi approach, you should shoot a clean plate, and then again with a practical marble for reference.

These types of references are invaluable to the vfx peeps.  Even if they are locked off.

- Rachel D

     310-562-5779

On Feb 8, 2018, at 9:04 AM, Stuart Brereton <ssbrereton17@...> wrote:

Thank you everyone for your responses. The sequences in question involve shooting a marble rolling across floors, around corners, and down stairs, all on location. The director is keen to do as much practical FX as possible, but given our schedule and budget, I am leaning toward shooting moving plates and then creating the actual marble in post. To do this all practically seems like the kind of thing that could easily take hours to get even a couple of shots right. In one sequence, there is even a dog that chases the marble, which will further complicate things...

I’ll let you know which way we jump.

Stuart Brereton 
DP, LA


On Feb 7, 2018, at 21:17, jmann@... wrote:

Hello

Could not resist suggesting you visit or re-visit the opening to "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the elegant marble shots.

John Mann
Film and Media Studies
Johns Hopkins University

Tim Sassoon
 

Get bids for the CGI, and talk to an independent VFX supervisor. It could easily be that the time spent on set fiddling could actually be far cheaper. Consider going practical for most shots, and CGI only for the one or two impossible shots.


Tim Sassoon
Venice, CA




On Feb 8, 2018, at 9:04 AM, Stuart Brereton <ssbrereton17@...> wrote:

Thank you everyone for your responses. The sequences in question involve shooting a marble rolling across floors, around corners, and down stairs, all on location. The director is keen to do as much practical FX as possible, but given our schedule and budget, I am leaning toward shooting moving plates and then creating the actual marble in post. To do this all practically seems like the kind of thing that could easily take hours to get even a couple of shots right. In one sequence, there is even a dog that chases the marble, which will further complicate things...

I’ll let you know which way we jump.

Stuart Brereton 
DP, LA


On Feb 7, 2018, at 21:17, jmann@... wrote:

Hello

Could not resist suggesting you visit or re-visit the opening to "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the elegant marble shots.

John Mann
Film and Media Studies
Johns Hopkins University

Gavin Greenwalt
 

The things that make this hard to film will also make it hard to execute in CG.   I suspect, unless you have infinite budget, there’ll need to be some negotiation with the director on what’s possible regardless of approach.  

As Tim said, have some well defined boards for a VFX supervisor to review.  It’s a very straight forward project so they should be able to give you a pretty firm estimate but I imagine at that small of a scale your DOF will be pretty shallow so tracking will be an issue and at that scale every little dolly or crane bump will be magnified which will also make your tracking need to be that much more perfect.    If I had to guess, depending on the floors and the camera moves they may opt to build out the floor in CG as well (push out the tracking wobbles beyond the critical focus), especially if the director is talking about tracking a marble bouncing down stairs which would most likely require a transition to a CG camera move for the stairs.

My guess would be that the shots that will be easier in CG will be the ones where timing is most difficult on-set (e.g. coordinating with a dog trainer).   The shots that will make the most sense to film practically with a real marble are the ones with a tracking dolly.   And the shots that would be best CG but probably too expensive to shoot close-up or execute in CG will be the marble bouncing down the stairs.

Gavin Greenwalt
VFX Supervisor
Seattle, WA_._,_._,_

 

mat
 

I'm seconding Rachel D's excellent advice.  You can shoot a practical pass with a marble and then without, just trying to match the action as closely as possible.  If the action works, you are done.  If not, you have a good reference.   As you may know, there will not be a lot of time spent building a digital model of a perfect sphere :). 

Because that little sphere is going to reflect a lot of the world around it, the CG approach would be helped by getting good recording of the surroundings and using it to create the reflected environment (including light sources).  You could rig a small shiny ball in front of a small video camera and then pull or push it through the scene to record environmental imagery (the ball would not have to spin).  Stills are good too.

There are other hybrid approaches that you can try for special moments (like dog chasing).  Rigs that will push or pull a marble that can be removed in post.  Driving it with compressed air.  Or simply get the dog to chase a laser dot and then place your CG marble on the dot. 

Best of luck.  (At least no kids or water!)

Mar Beck, ASC

mat@...



On 2/8/18 12:54 PM, Rachel Dunn wrote:
If you do opt for a cgi approach, you should shoot a clean plate, and then again with a practical marble for reference.

These types of references are invaluable to the vfx peeps.  Even if they are locked off.

- Rachel D

     310-562-5779

On Feb 8, 2018, at 9:04 AM, Stuart Brereton <ssbrereton17@...> wrote:

Thank you everyone for your responses. The sequences in question involve shooting a marble rolling across floors, around corners, and down stairs, all on location. The director is keen to do as much practical FX as possible, but given our schedule and budget, I am leaning toward shooting moving plates and then creating the actual marble in post. To do this all practically seems like the kind of thing that could easily take hours to get even a couple of shots right. In one sequence, there is even a dog that chases the marble, which will further complicate things...

I’ll let you know which way we jump.

Stuart Brereton 
DP, LA


On Feb 7, 2018, at 21:17, jmann@... wrote:

Hello

Could not resist suggesting you visit or re-visit the opening to "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the elegant marble shots.

John Mann
Film and Media Studies
Johns Hopkins University

-- 
Mat Beck, ASC
Entity FX
11500 West Olympic Blvd. #400
Los Angeles, CA 90064
USA

Office 310-899-9779
iphone 310-804-7887

Daniel Drasin
 

In addition to all the difficulties mentioned, your sheer speed of apparent movement, mere millimeters above the floor (assuming that's your perspective), will be quite brisk, which could create an additional set of challenges. From what you describe, your camera motion alone seems like a job for very-high-precision MoCo and either a snorkel lens or downward-facing rig and a 45-degree front-surface mirror.

Seems to me the more you can break this scene up into shorter takes from different points of view the easier it will be to shoot... though probably a challenge to cut so the action and its speed/pacing feels more or less seamlessly uniform. Shooting HFR might give you some flexibility to tweak the apparent speed in post.

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin Country, CA

Tom Debenham
 

You might look at the Skater scope from P&S Technik, I haven't used it so can't speak for its optical quality but it's compact and looks like it might be the right tool for close floor / table level manoeuvrable shooting. 
Particularly in combination with the Skater dolly (see attached picture) if your floor is smooth enough..
I believe Otto Nemenz have it in LA.
 
I have used the Optex Excellence quite a lot, it's great quality (having tested against most others) but large and not easy to pivot around the lens point, and periscope is right angle only so wouldn't get a shot parallel to the floor without camera being vertical, although that might work and would be easier to steer perhaps as long as you don't need to tilt. 
T Rex is really good for flexibility in orientation - multidirectional periscope with image rotation can be useful, but optically there's noticeable aberration and it's also large.

I'd also second vfx advice given - on a tight budget and schedule it's worth aiming to shoot it for real wherever possible to set the look and feel but don't get stuck and be prepared for each setup to become a reference / plate if action doesn't comply. 
And definitely speak to a vfx supervisor to make sure they get what they need to make it work smoothly and not just shift the cost into post.

Best of luck,

Tom.

DP / VFX

Graham Futerfas
 

Hi Tom, have you used the Skater Dolly? Curious what other people think of it.

I had it out on a toy shoot, and it was cool but I found it had a few flaws. I didn’t have the Skater Scope lens, though, just the dolly. Interestingly, I think we were able to rent it from JL Fisher in Los Angeles.

Two things about it:

1. The coolest feature is it’s ability to designate a precise point to rotate around, essentially doing wrap-around dolly moves on a subject. You are supposed to be able to measure a distance away from a mark on the Skater dolly, say 18” or whatever, and then there’s a handy little chart that comes with it. If you look up 18” on the chart, you set the angle on wheels A, B, and C, and it’s supposed to rotate around that point.

Only thing is, it would drift a lot away from the mark and after four or five takes, it wouldn’t be in the right spot. No matter how precisely I tried to set the angles on the wheels, it just kept drifting. It did sort of work for the shot — it’s hard to come up with an easy way to do circle-dolly moves on miniatures, and this was the easiest I’ve seen. Maybe I’m doing something wrong? The chart would say something like 62.8 degrees, but the marks between 62 and 63 are so small that it wouldn’t be possible to be that precise.

2. You can’t tilt during the shot. You can adjust the angle of the tilt, but it’s not a friction head, just an angle plate that’s not good for operating. It’s basically a locked-off head, which doesn’t work for a lot of shots that I wanted to do, especially push-ins.

I love the concept of the Skater but I found it had some limitations. We built little tables and surfaces out of MDF and Plexi to roll the Skater on, and we needed to be able to adjust the height of the Skater’s table separately from the subject’s surface, so we built the table on low combo stands to adjust the height.

Thanks,
-Graham


---
Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA
www.GFuterfas.com
---

Mako Koiwai
 

We successfully used a relay lens system on a Steadicam for following small items in gutters. Probably the Revolution.

I used the light weight Innovision probe for doing some quick and dirty handheld ground level shots … over cranked.

Both systems want at least an 11 stop.

We motorized our Skater … just using an extra zoom motor. Very handy for doing precise CU work. Motorized Skater, focus and zoom … typically using the 18/50 Red zoom, very compact and focus’s to 9” … actually a rehoused Tokina (Tamron?) still zoom. I can’t find photos of it at the moment … but could dig them up.


makofoto, s. pasadena, ca

Graham Futerfas
 

Great point Marty, I remember that Skater kit was missing the laser pointer. Thanks for the tip.

-Graham


---
Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA, USA
web www.GFuterfas.com
---

Agustín Calderón AMC
 

On Feb 9, 2018, at 8:46 AM, Graham Futerfas <gfuterfas.cml@...> wrote:

Hi Tom, have you used the Skater Dolly? Curious what other people think of it.


Hi Graham and greetings to everyone..

I did these shots with the Skater dolly and the (I guess, can’t remember well) innovision probe.  In order to avoid the drifting of the dolly and because the movement was quite violent, I rigged it with a cable to the center of a big table where the glass was also rigged to it. I think it worked out pretty nice, like a false high speed motion control.  You can see the whole spot here https://vimeo.com/191278564.   I would say that I regret not reaching a higher f stop (it was probably an f11) because as it has been said, no boroscope is very sharp at open iris.  Also you can see the lens has a notorious chromatic aberration.

About those marbles, I’ll second all those recommendations.  I would also suggest to shoot it at least at 60 fps, depending on the size of the marbles. (You can always cranked it up in post if it feels too slow).

Saludos a la banda.




 
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