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Codex and SHED managed the super-size data capture on Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp.



As a production, Ant-Man and the Wasp called for all the usual technical derring-do required for today’s Marvel extravaganzas, with the additional complication of scale – Ant-Man’s main superpower is the ability to shrink himself (as well as other people and objects) to the size of an ant. Russell Carpenter, ASC shot the 2015 forerunner to this film, the twentieth in the Marvel oeuvre.

In his course of nearly 50 years in filmmaking, master cinematographer Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC had previously encountered similar photographic challenges. But Spinotti knows as well as anyone that each time out, advances in technology provide opportunities for a new and hopefully improved approach to visual storytelling.

“Prior to meeting with [director] Peyton Reed, I was thinking of the hero in a very classical way, connected to the comic book idea, where you don’t really need to explain why you do something,” says Spinotti of his initial approach. “Maybe there’s a light coming from the top, and the hero in his costume looks amazing. And with today’s technologies – the ALEXA 65 and its big sensor, and the LED lighting – the classical way becomes very updated and hip.

“But Peyton reminded me that the character portrayed by Paul Rudd is kind of an anti-hero,” says Spinotti. “So, we went forward with the scouting and a long testing period with that vague idea, which we finessed along the way.”

Like many of Marvel’s recent productions, Ant-Man and the Wasp was based at Pinewood Atlanta, where three on- or near-set Codex Vaults formed the backbone of the workflow. The core group of principals included production designer Shepherd Frankel, visual effects supervisor Stephane Ceretti, and producer Charles Newirth.”

 “Charles is a great guy and a great producer,” says Spinotti. “He was incredibly supportive through all of the complexities of this project and very helpful. It was a fantastic group.”

The main unit cameras were large format ALEXA 65s, which pair with the Codex Vault 65, and a wide array of lenses, ranging from ARRI DNA glass to Frazier systems modified by Panavision to shoot at T-45 for maximum depth of field. The ALEXA 65s were backed up with a couple of ALEXA XTs. The physical sets were reportedly more extensive than is standard with Marvel shoots, but there was no shortage of green screen work and digital set extensions.

 “I tried to be as inventive as possible,” says Spinotti. “One scene was meant to be a trip into the quantum realm. Figuring out how such a scene should be lit, I imagined several fast-moving clouds in all directions. I had a huge silk over the set, bellied towards the centre. I centered eight or ten spots on top with slightly different colours. We wanted to keep the colors very subtle so they could be easily modified later when the scene was composited. With all the dynamics of the action, it was fantastic.”

Generally, however, the lighting was designed to keep things believably realistic. DIT Daniele Colombera has worked with Spinotti on numerous projects, handling the workflow details so Spinotti can concentrate on the creative aspects. He came to Spinotti’s set directly from Marvel’s latest Avengers movie, which had been shooting next door at Pinewood. He gives Spinotti the ability to create - on-the-spot - an image that is very close to the result he imagines.

 “At least it should be a very good indication for everyone involved, including the effects people, of what we’re aiming at in terms of atmosphere and colour,” says Spinotti. “Daniele takes care of the details of how that is accomplished.”

This time around, Colombera devised a unique workflow, spearheaded by SHED’s Los Angeles operation. The ALEXA 65 is designed to work with the Codex Vault Lab 65, but in this case, the entire data platform was managed through the Vault – from set to dailies and through VFX. Two Codex Vault XLs were used to offload and process ALEXA 65 footage and populate the metadata with scene, take, lens, T-stop information, as well as any other camera data needed by post and VFX vendors.

Stephen Ceci at SHED was instrumental in creating a rock-solid data workflow approved by post supervisor Jennifer Bergman. 8TB Codex Transfer Drives were shuttled to the dailies lab on site, while original camera media was safely stored near set until the LTOs were verified and QC’d by the editorial department. SHED processed and created dailies via Vault, and Marvel VFX did LTO pulls via their Vaults in LA.



“The ALEXA 65 is one of the best digital cinema cameras out there, and its data rate is quite heavy,” says Colombera. “The main unit used two ALEXA 65 cameras almost all the time. Sometimes four or more cameras were required for action scenes or extended coverage. There were some instances in which we shot simultaneously on three different stages at Pinewood. Thanks to wireless video and fibre-optic connection, Dante and I could see and control their exposure and look on all of the cameras.”

 “Working with such massive files on set required lightning fast downloads and media processing,” Colombera says. “Once again, Codex delivered the goods. Thanks to their robust hardware, working with the ALEXA 65 was as easy and reliable as working with the regular ALEXA – a real workhorse. When the handshake between set and post is that solid, I can focus on working creatively with the cinematographer, knowing that we safely got the shot.”

Spinotti appreciates the ability to see accurate, timely dailies that show his intentions to his collaborators without causing headaches or technical distractions.

“Back in the film days, you had to have the experience to be able to say, ‘go in peace, because tomorrow you’re going to see some great dailies,’” says Spinotti. “Now, you see the dailies when you shoot. That gives everyone confidence. Honestly, I’m not especially interested in the technology, but I have a sense of what it is. I know enough to get the results I want. But then I have all these great people around me who really know the details. That allows me to have a clear mind to think conceptually and creatively about the lighting and the images.”

Ant-Man and the Wasp was released on July 6, 2018.

Cameras: ARRI ALEXA 65 and ALEXA XT
Lenses: ARRI DNA, Frazier

Codex related product and workflows

Images courtesy of their respective owners.

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