Sometimes a shot comes together so perfectly that it surprises you no matter how much you planned and anticipated it. This was the case for our grand finale ender for our newest film, “DOCZILLA”.
The original inception of the shot came from the “Bullet Time” shot from the feature film, “The Matrix”. The idea is to have several cameras lined up in a 360 degree space that would all fire in one single take in order to freeze time around any given object in the center. Of course, we had limited resources and budget constraints on this project, and didn’t have access to dozens of cameras nor the lighting equipment to illuminate everything properly. So, how did we achieve that effect? With one camera, a tripod, two strobe lights and a whole lot of patience!
To start with, the concept was simple; we basically wanted the camera to spin around the GT-R multiple times (similar to our shot in the SEMA Show 2014 video of the Aventador). Having said that, we only wanted to spin around twice; once with the car, and once without.
We knew we first needed to create a space that would allow us to have a perfect 360-degree circle. We did this by finding out where we wanted our center point in relation to the vehicle. From there we strung a line of rope tied off at the center point and stretched it out as far as we wanted. We then started to draw a chalk line at the end of the rope circling around the center point while keeping the rope pulled tight. This resulted in a perfect circle in which we could base our whole movement around. This would allow us to keep an equal distance to the car at all times allowing us to move the camera freely on a tripod around the circle. We would then use this circle to take hundreds of individual frames to freeze time and create the bullet time effect.
Another challenge we faced was making sure each photo was exactly framed from the last so there would be no jarring motion – we needed this thing as smooth and seamless as possible! In order to maintain a constant frame, we needed a reference point in the frame so our panning and tilting would line up. To do this, we hung a metal rod that we gaffer taped to the ceiling that sported a bright orange tennis ball at the end of it and positioned it at the exact center point in which we drew our circle. This rod and tennis ball would float above the vehicle at a distance of about 2 feet. This enabled us to line up each frame within the camera’s gridlines in the viewfinder. At that point, all we needed to do was align the tennis ball to the top center line on the grid, take a photo, and then move the camera over on the circle, and repeat the process. For each frame we moved the camera about 10 inches around the circle and marked the position for future reference. This allowed us to revisit those same frames for when we wanted to do our second take around the circle without the car.
For lighting, we were limited to only 2 Canon 430 EX II flashes paired with 2 Pocket Wizard Flex TT5 and 1 Pocket Wizard Plus X. Luckily. Because we only wanted to physically move around the car once but wanted a constant spinning effect, we needed to loop the frames. The look we wanted was to also have random flashes highlighting difference aspects of the car as we moved around it. If we looped it with only the same flashes going off on the same spots of the cars, it would get horribly repetitive. So in order to stop that from happening, we needed to take multiple shots for each frame around the circle. We needed to have one utilizing both flashes and one with no flash making the image underexposed. We wanted both frames so that we could pick and choose later on in post, where we wanted light and where didn’t.
Several hours later, and having the car removed and shooting the circle without it, we had our shot!
You can read more in Part two of “How we did it: The Matrix Bullet time effect with a Liberty Walk Nissan GT-R” for our entire post-production workflow.