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Re: Backprojection for driving scenes

Re: Backprojection for driving scenes

Graham Futerfas

Hi Yaniv,

I shot the background plates for "True Detective" Season 1 in New Orleans\Louisiana.

The car interior scenes were already shot on Greenscreen when I arrived, and I worked closely with the VFX supervisor when we spent days driving around the specific locations they wanted.

The company I was working with at the time, 24 Frame, had custom-built a stretch limousine (and now has other vehicles) with 7 cameras and rack-recording equipment, so that all of the cameras could be recorded and played-back in sync. They also provide the Projectors and Screens for TV shows and movies that want to do what you’re suggesting — live HD playback with the screens and reflections all done on stage. www.24Frame.com

The Cadillac limousine was great, because it had a super-soft suspension (this was before Movi gimbals were available), and had plenty of room for all the cameras to shoot. The cameras were mostly hidden inside the vehicle or on a custom plate\case on the back, so people didn’t just stare at the cameras from other vehicles. We used Sony F3’s and sometimes F5’s with 14mm lenses for the main plates, and these little Panasonic cameras for the upward-facing reflections for the windows.

The advantage with True Detective was that we knew the angles ahead of time, and could just capture those few angles properly, instead of worrying about all the angles in 360-degrees. We wouldn’t just capture 90-degrees left or right, but also a 45-degree rear-facing plate, which they really used that angle in the show.

The best on-set HD Projection experience I saw was on the movie “Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day”. They had the budget to shoot lots of tests and get their lighting right. I always suggest shooting daylight-balanced sources on stage with the projectors, instead of tungsten, because that’s the native color of the projector and it gets muddy if you try to warm it up. “Alexander” rigged some automated moving lights above the car to create moving-light bounces and effects, and really took the time to get the plates the way they wanted them.

You also need to flag all the light off the projection screens, and the car you’re shooting will probably also reflect a lot of you light, so duvatyne the side of the picture car out on stage. Egg crates and light control are very important. Even a little spill onto the screen can cause milkiness in the blacks of the image.

The biggest challenge for us, shooting plates, was getting long sequences without stop lights or traffic. If you’re doing a scene on a stage with projection, it’s best if the plates are going at a consistent speed throughout the scene. If you have stopping, or braking, it needs to be consistent across the edit, depending on how many characters you have.

Also, we shot plates for stunts sequences and things of that nature, where the actors wouldn’t have to do any type of precision driving. There was usually a camera set up facing forward and played back on a monitor for the driving actor, so they could see where they were supposed to be going down the road.

Let me know if you have any more questions. Like I said, with gimbals and isolators, you can create even smoother footage than we did, but I spent a lot of time in the back of that ol' Limousine.

It’s a very convenient process for Television shows with fast schedules. The director can walk right up to the actors at any time and talk with them, and there’s no equipment rattling down the road on a process trailer to ruin the sound. Resets are at the push of a button instead of driving around the block, and the lighting doesn’t change every time you take a turn in the road. You can be in the location you want, and you don’t need police lock-ups, base camps on location, etc.


Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA

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