DIT ROBERT HOWIE
Robert Howie has emerged as one of Hollywood’s leading DITs, working with cinematographers like Larry Fong ASC, Dan Mindel ASC, and Russell Carpenter ASC on some of the most challenging productions in the past years. These projects have taken him all over the world and he relies on Codex Vault as an integral part of his workflows. His latest project is Pacific Rim: Uprising, shot by Dan Mindel ASC BSC. We caught up with him to find out more about his background and to dig a bit deeper on Kong: Skull Island, released earlier this year.
How did you get to where you are today?
For me, I was interested in the entire process of shooting a feature film, not just one aspect, so I started to learn all I could about it. I was always able to excel at the digital side of things in the Camera Department. When I got out of school I went to work for a guy named Max Penner who was a renowned Camera and Optics Tech. I attribute most of what I know today and also my ability to trouble shoot to him. We started doing specialty venue stuff for Disney and other companies and focused on 3D/Stereo and array photography, which forced me to learn how not just to deal with an A and B camera but up to 10 cameras all at the same time. I started doing feature films in about 2007. In the beginning my role was rather undefined - I did everything from downloading media, to knowing everything about the digital cameras we were using, to also working with Post on how everything would track through the post process. On a movie called My Bloody Valentine shot in Pittsburgh, Chaim Kantor from Local 600 on the East Coast came in and we talked about what I did on-set and decided together that I would join and be called the Digital Imaging Technician. From then on I worked with him to help define what that union position looked like and it has expanded from there. Now the job has expanded into colour pipelines, on-set colour, calibrated displays, dailies delivery and even electrical engineering on cameras and power set-ups for my cart.
Why did you decide to buy Codex gear?
There are lots of other ways to do what the Vault does, but not many have the robust nature of the Vault or the reputation for reliability that it does. It’s the ideal solution for me because it simplifies the loader’s job and allows them to focus on helping the Camera Department instead of spending all their time loading mags. It handles all types of cameras and media formats which is extremely useful on a movie where anything can happen and additional cameras and formats get added all the time. The support is also why you buy Codex. The team is responsive and informed allowing us to solve problems on the fly and get issues addressed quickly. That is saying a lot from a guy who’s been in over 14 different countries in the last 4 years and 3 movies. They have been able to assist no matter where I was.
Tell us about a particular movie (with Codex!) that was challenging but enjoyable (if that’s the case!)
I recently worked with Larry Fong ASC on Kong: Skull Island. We specifically focused on the locations. We had very little stage work and so everything needed to be compact, able to run on battery and also have all the tools he needed. Even though Larry had shot tons of digital he hadn’t used it as the primary format on one of his features yet. So I made it my job to become the support wherever he needed it. It’s foolish to think that my role is somehow more important that any other in the Camera Department. Larry has shot huge movies on film and could very easily done this without me. My goal was to give him all the extra tools that digital had to offer and let him choose what would help him in his process of lighting and photographing this big monkey movie.
We chose to shoot 2.39.1 2x Anamorphic, with lenses specially formatted by Dan Sasaki from Panavision to best try and accommodate the Vietnam war era period we were trying to emulate. We shot ARRI ALEXA XT using the Codex Capture Drives. It was important to know we could go up to 90 fps in 4X3 Full mode and still get the full quality of the sensor using the Codex recording. I pre-made all the user setup files for the camera assistants so that they could switch between different sensor modes without having to do a complete re-initialising of all the settings because sometimes we needed to go Open Gate Spherical for VFX.
“THERE ARE LOTS OF OTHER WAYS TO DO WHAT THE VAULT DOES, BUT NOT MANY HAVE THE ROBUST NATURE OF THE VAULT OR THE REPUTATION FOR RELIABILITY THAT IT DOES”
Larry and I spoke early on about the look he wanted to achieve. The look of the movie needed to match the period. We achieved this in two ways - one was the 2 full sets of Panavision Anamorphic Glass specially modified for us and the second was a special 5219 Film Emulation LUT designed by DP Steve Yedlin ASC. These two things allowed us to simply apply and shoot. Larry said the locations would be hard and wet and muddy and in the jungle and he wasn’t sure exactly what that meant for me and honestly I had to figure that out too. Like any feature film shot on location you have to consider the conditions and locations before customizing your gear. I adjusted everything I had to run completely off 24 or 12 volt systems. I needed the ability to make everything work with only batteries if needed. My full systems off battery with OLED displays allowed us to move from mountaintops to boat work in Vietnam. I was uncertain on the exact way I wanted to accommodate the downloading process but after some talks with the folks at Legendary, like Jake Rice and Brandon Bussinger, we all decided the Codex Vault would allow for the simplest, quick and secure on-set copy process for three reasons. One is its unique ability to handle all the formats and have quick offloads. Secondly, the secure format made the studio happy knowing that the media wasn’t simply accessible to anyone that got their hands on it. Third was the amazing support that Codex supplies. This gave all of us confidence that that we would not be left in the cold in our remote locations. After the on-set copy was made the Codex Capture Drives were a perfect shuttle solution over to FotoKem and the NextLab team. From there they would create the needed dailies files and LTO archives for backup. It all worked seamlessly.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I hope to continue to support the best the industry has to offer in both the DP and 1st Assistant Camera categories.
Watch Kong: Skull Island trailer...
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