ROPE SWINGS & RAMPS | GUEST POST BY EVEN ROBINSON

Today we’ve got a guest post by Evan Robinson, a director + photographer who splits his time between Los Angeles and New York. He recently took the Deck of Aces RED Epic + Movi M10 Package for a few days in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and we asked him to share the experience on our blog. Check it out!

Hi everybody! First, a little background about how this project came about. I wear a lot of hats in the production world, and as a director + photographer, I’m always striving to work with the tools that are pushing forward the images—still or moving—we can create.

There are moments when you see a piece of tech (the GoPro comes to mind) which is clearly a game-changer.

When I first held the MOVI M10, I had that same feeling. I knew it would allow me to execute shots, especially on jobs that didn’t have the budget and crew to rig labor intensive camera support for extra coverage, or on personal projects like the one I’m sharing today.

A few weeks after Boota and I had our first conversation at Deck of Aces about the potential of their Red Epic + Movi Rig, I got a call from some friends at Jameson Ranch Camp, asking if I wanted to come pay them a visit.

JRC is in its third generation of family ownership, and Erica Jameson, the current director, is a close friend. North of Los Angeles at the lower tip of the Sequoias, JRC is a summer camp that teaches kids—many from California, but increasingly from as far away as Australia or China—how to drive a backhoe, go fishing, camp out and cook their own food, ride horses, and a number of other outdoors skills. It’s an incredible place.

One of JRC’s most unique assets is their lake and rope swing. Hanging from an old growth tree, the rope swing gives kids a chance to fly through the air Tarzan style; I knew it would be one of my first stops at the ranch.

The rope swing is a perfect example of a place where the MOVI thrives. Kids take different paths on every jump, there’s only a small single track pathway leading to the swing. There are a thousand ways to get a shot with a bit of movement in a scenario like this. We could have brought down a van with a jib, and given ourselves flexibility to shoot high and low. We could’ve built a slider, loaded it with a lot of sandbags on a hillside leading to a lake, but my insurance company might not appreciate the outcome from an overzealous camera move sending things into the water.

Instead? We took the MOVI. We balanced and tested the camera up at the ranch house, put it in my assistant’s lap, and drove down the mile and a half of dirt road to meet some kids excited to show us their best jumps. No big crew needed, it was just the two of us.

Calibrating focus on the epic with a 15mm Zeiss CP2:

Now we loved the shots that we were able to get with the MOVI and Epic at 23.98 FPS, but there is something beautiful about water in slow motion, so we decided to roll a little slow motion. We wanted to keep shooting at 5K, so we went to 99.95 FPS, and a 12:1 compression, giving us plenty of data for the edit room and some high frame rate action. Here was our next shot:

Great, we loved it. But did what if we wanted a little extra drama? A beautiful editing trick, often used in commercial action sports pieces, is to create something called a “ramp” when the videochanges frame rates during a take. You can create a ramp by time remapping in post production, but I’ve always preferred to nail shots in camera. I love getting outside and shooting new work, not extending my edit time in front of the computer; so for our next sequence, we got even more complicated. The Epic has the ability to create a true ramp, shot in camera, so we made a ramp from 23.98 to 99.95FPS, and set it to trigger off one of the RED action buttons on the front of the camera. We grabbed a nearby camp counselor who agreed to give us a hand, and gave him his task—just as the camper begins to run, touch the ramp hot key delicately enough that the MOVI wouldn’t be thrown off balance mid shot.

Behind the scenes on our ramped shot:

Everybody nailed it on the first take—of course we tried a few variation, but nothing was better than our first attempt, when all the pieces just happened to align. The shot was one of my favorites of the week, not because it was the most technically masterful, cinematically framed, or beautifully lit, but because we took an OK shot, and then spent the time and creative effort to elevate to something much more interesting. We had a shot that everybody liked right at the beginning; regular speed, nice motion, swinger in frame, fine. We could’ve packed it in right then, and moved on to the next shot. Instead we asked “what more can we do? how can we take this to the next level?” The answer was a ramp.

The second thing that puts a smile on my face when I think about pulling this off is how simultaneously simple and complex it was. Other than myself, and my assistant, nobody else we were with had even seen or heard of a RED or Movi before that afternoon. But they still hit cues for takeoff, helped us trigger the ramp, and gave us a hand carrying everything so that I could rest between takes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the need for a large crew, but nimble has its merits too. It gives us the freedom to choose the right time of day, so that we don’t need all the lighting gear, we already have the backlit reflection of a lake. It reminds us how important it is to convey the shot you have in mind to an entire crew (or friends), because a passionate explanation of just how beautiful the shot is in your head might convince them to lend a hand, or inspire them to contribute a next step idea. On two hours of sleep, I had forgotten about the ability of the RED to ramp—I was shooting 23.98, and planned on using a slo motion insert of the camper’s foot leaving the dock to transition into 100FPS footage. But since I explained the entire sequence I had in mind, rather than barking out requests, my assistant kindly reminded me that the RED can ramp, and suggested we pull it off. Without him, the shot never would’ve turned into the footage above.

Hearing the camper’s laugh, seeing the speed of their takeoff, and then transitioning into the drama of slow motion helped bring it all together. We hope you enjoy!

BY EVAN ROBINSON