Venom, a Sony film that has been in the works since the anti-hero’s villainous cinematic debut in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, finally hit theatres this year. With various intentions for Venom’s creative content, it was confirmed that it would exist in the shared universe of Marvel characters which Sony owns the rights to due to a deal between Sony and Marvel Studios (eg. Spider-Man, Morbius). Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) from a screenplay by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, and Kelly Marcel, Venom’s principal photography was shot October 2017 in Atlanta, New York City, and San Francisco.
The film follows journalist Eddie Brock who obtains his superpowers after being bound to an alien symbiote whose species plans to invade Earth. Brock is played by Tom Hardy and co-stars include Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, and Woody Harrelson.
Codex caught up with digital imaging technician (DIT) Nicholas Kay for an interview about his work on Venom and how Codex has helped him with other shows.
“Working on Venom was a busy job, Director of Photography, Matty (Matthew Libatique) liked to move fast, so we’re always going. Honestly, that’s how I like it, I like to be very busy and constantly going, so I had a really great time working with him. We also had five bodies, all of which could go into play at any time, in all kinds of scenarios. We were doing multiple lens formats so there was a lot of bouncing back and forth,” says Kay. Various cameras were used including the ARRI ALEXA Mini, ALEXA XT, and for some scenes, the RED Monstro 8K VV.
On lenses, Kay describes what they used to create the scenes and look for Venom, “We shot with Todd AO’s for our Anamorphic look and Cooke S5’s for the cleaner and more VFX intensive flat look for the SXT and Mini and used the RED Monstro for many larger Venom intensive scenarios where Matty wanted the right resolution to give to VFX. I was generally on top of switching the cameras back and forth with setting formats and dealing with the two-colour pipelines of Log C and converting IPP2 to Log C.”
“I really enjoyed the thought process and reasons for the choices that Matty made for every setup. His knowledge and execution to the reason behind his decisions were really refreshing and it was great to be a part of it supporting. I learned a lot so I always love jobs like that,” adds Kay.
“Codex helped me by supporting my workflow and needs like they always do. We were using MacBook Pro’s with RAIDs as the hardware, running full licensed Vault software, which was great for my needs. We downloaded everything including the RED footage from the Vault software and while running that system, I find that the download and checksum process is the fastest. We also used ARRI Meta extract to pull all the camera lens and Pan Tilt info for VFX, which was helpful since it was all encoded per frame. We used the Cooke S5s for most of the heavy VFX shots, so all that data carried through very clean and easy.”
Kay is also no stranger to working with Codex tools. “I’ve been using Codex since it came out, and was working with Marc Dando to help productions transition from tape to solid state recording before it became the standard we know it as now. My favourite Codex jobs are the ones with custom workflows. On The Dictator, a long time ago, we would download and archive our footage, since there weren’t enough magazines in the world to support the job at the time when we had to use BRU PE and make our own scripts and catalogs.”
“Passengers was one of the first full ALEXA 65 features done with a heavy budget restriction, (and the first job to combine Pany 70 series glass on the ARRI 65), so we had to find the most efficient way to deal with the footage. Since there is a checksum from the sensor to the magazine to the Vault, we qualified Codex sleds as an original negative. At that time, we kept a sensor RAW and ARRIRAW sled for redundancy, and used the Vault’s ability to mount an external volume in its environment and the generate command to push downloads to a high-speed Thunderbolt drive to send to the lab, which was a very quick and cost-effective way to deal with lots of footage and turnaround, without needing to add a lot of camera magazines to the order waiting for turnaround.”
When it comes to filming, Kay believes that RAW recording is the best way to go for VFX heavy productions with large budgets such as Venom. “For a feature film, the power of uncompressed RAW format is substantially greater. I’ve spoken to many VFX supervisor veterans who always prefer the least compression to work with when it comes to very large budget VFX movies, so it answers the call for that need.”
CODEX HELPED ME BY SUPPORTING MY WORKFLOW AND NEEDS LIKE THEY ALWAYS DO
Kay can’t fully talk about what he’s working on now, but he seems to be keeping busy with a few Codex productions in the pipeline. “Most of the jobs I can’t really discuss, but I’m happy to be fortunate enough to be busy. I’m doing Central Park 5 right now with Bradford, which is on the ALEXA LF, and we are using Codex Vaults on that. I’m about to start the Joker with Larry Sher, which is ALEXA 65, LF, and Mini so far, which will employ the same workflow that we used on the Passengers movie, and recently the new Godzilla movie, which is how I like to deal with ALEXA 65.”
Being a DIT certainly has its challenges, but Kay feels that being able to have a collaborative workflow with cinematographers makes the job more fruitful. Also, being able to work on productions that gain him access to innovative, cutting-edge tools in the industry is a big plus.
“What I like most about being a DIT is the growing trust that productions and cinematographers have given to me which allows me to have more room to be technically creative on an ongoing basis. Whether it’s with imaging workflows, or data workflows, or camera management workflows, I love to constantly be playing with the latest toys and working with manufacturers to update and push the envelope toward products that are more robust. I also like being at the forefront of some of these products that are making their debut in many production environments. I like to have constant change, so I think that goes hand in hand with being a DIT. I also enjoy the fact that you can be both an artist and a technician which, I think, is an understated and underappreciated aspect of the position. It’s its own art form and expression.”
Venom made its debut in US theatres on October 5, 2018. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was IMAX's biggest opening in the region, with $10 million of the movie's China box office coming from IMAX screens.
It is now the seventh-highest grossing film of 2018 with a gross of over $676 million worldwide, setting several box office records for the month of October.
Cameras: ARRI ALEXA Mini, ALEXA XT, RED Monstro 8K VV (some scenes)
Lenses: iPrime and Zeiss Ultra Prime Lenses, Cooke Anamorphic, iPrime, Zeiss Ultra Prime, and Angenieux Optimo Lenses
DIT: Nicholas Kay
Post Partner: Company 3
Camera Equipment Provided by: Camtec Motion Picture Camera Systems
Codex related product and workflows
Images courtesy of their respective owners.