Projectors cast in a starring role
Christie HD8K 3-chip 1920 x 1080 HD projectors have completed one of their most unusual ever tours of duty, following a one-month deployment on a film set at Shepperton Studios, where they starred in the new British independent film, ‘Last Passenger’.
The four projectors were instrumental in creating a sense of realism for this claustrophobic suspense thriller, starring Dougray Scott and Kara Tointon, and co-written by Omid Nooshin and Andrew Love (with Nooshin directing).
The action takes place aboard a Charing Cross to Hastings commuter train, and follows the 90-minute journey, with horrifying consequences.
It was to create a fast moving backdrop that Zack Winfield, who is producing the film with Ado Yoshizaki Cassuto, decided to use projection, rather than resorting to the more sterile and conventional ‘green screen’ alternative and thus, he approached QED, Christie’s rental staging partner.
He explained “We wanted to create an environment where we were giving the passengers something to react to — in effect going back to methods used 20 years ago, but with today’s technologies, making everything you see through the train windows believable for 90 minutes. Green screen just doesn’t give that sense of realism, partly because it doesn’t provide reflections in the window and the fact that the fake environment doesn’t convince the actors. Also, the idea of cutting out 20 windows and replacing them with CG moving images would have been cost prohibitive. With projection we knew we could make it much more convincing.”
However, the production crew were getting fairly desperate when it came to implementation, until the film’s Director of Photography (DoP) Angus Hudson told them that the PLASA technology show was about to take place at Earls Court.
Winfield continued: “He knew of Christie and said: ‘These guys do the business’. So we raced up there, met Christie and also UVA (processor company) and they both put us in touch with QED.”
The result was that four mobile rear projection rigs, with 16ft x 9ft screens (16:9 aspect ratio), were custom built on Shepperton’s H Stage, fed by 150m fibre runs, supplied by QED, so the towers could be moved freely without running out of cable.
First of all, the projectors had to satisfy tests for frequency and frame rate compatibility with the server, colour temperature, contrast ratio and light balancing, which was vital, since much of the film was shot after dark. Christie ticked every box.
The content that would flash past at 100 miles an hour, starting with Hungerford Bridge and the London Eye on the Thames, and including urban and rural scenescapes, railway stations and generic footage had already been shot and this was fed into the UVA D3 server, whose four synchronised HD outputs fed the four projectors, which were each fitted with a 1.1:1 lens.
QED director, Paul Wigfield, said that his company had been attracted to the project after seeing the trailer online. “Zack Winfield knew he needed a minimum of 8K HD projection and we had no hesitation in recommending our Christie projectors,” he commented. “The major criteria were brightness, contrast and resolution. With film work, xenon lamps will produce the brightness and the projectors the contrast.”
It was discovered during the testing process that the parallax of the projected image broke down beyond a camera angle of 45 degrees relative to the window, so in order to give a full range of camera panning motion, looking out of the two static carriages, the background plates used for the rear projection were shot at three angles on each side of a real moving train, 45° facing forwards, 90°, and 45° facing rear.
As a result, the screens and footage could be adjusted to the demands of the shot needed inside the train. For example, if you need a 180 degree panning shot looking down the length of the train the screens could be placed at a 45 degree angle either side of the train carriage, with footage projected on the screen that was also shot at 45 degrees, so it would cover the range of movement needed without the parallax breaking down.
As for camera angles that took in the full carriage interiors (some 20m in length), this presented a different challenge since there were some 20 windows in shot. To address this, two projector screens were placed on each side of the train, with a couple of frames delay programmed into the D3 between the two projectors, so it appeared that the scenery was passing from one window to the next. This created an extremely realistic sense of motion.
QED’s Richard Porter was on hand to supervise the installation. He reported: “We did a white balance and knew they were running at 3200K. We then used this to get the installation, and to train projection supervisor Hugo Peers. He said the attention to colour detail had to be balanced across all four projectors.”
Zack Winfield immediately knew he had made the right decision with his projector choice. He observed: “While we were confident the projection would hold up in fast moving urban and rural environments, where motion blur is a real aid to the sense of realism, we were absolutely blown away when we managed to convincingly t shoot a scene where the train stopped in a brightly lit station, with (projected) people waiting on the platform – this was above and beyond what we could have hoped for from the technology,”
All agreed that the Christie HD8K projectors had performed flawlessly. “They are always a favourite of ours,” said Porter. “On this occasion it was an extremely dusty environment, but they took a month’s worth of punishment and just kept going. In almost all the scenes there is a Christie projector in the background, doing the work.”
Zack Winfield agreed. “The simple truth is that we couldn’t have made this film without the help of Christie, UVA — and of course QED, who were magnificent,” he said. “We had to learn from the ground up but never believed we could have made it as credible as this.
“I think what we were surprised by was how much we could do within the Christie projectors themselves, such as electronic lens shift, which was a revelation. We were also impressed by the consistency of the brightness and just how hardy they were.”
Projection proved to be a much better option for the actors, he believed. “In fact, I would like to make this the ‘go-to’ solution for low-budget films in the future, where CGI would be cost prohibitive. I see a massive use for this technology.”
This is already starting to happen, since as a result of this movie QED have been approached to recreate the effect in a second British movie, which has now started shooting.
For further information visit: www.christiedigital.co.uk