My Love Affair with Alexa

When the camera sees more than my light meter does, it's time to acknowledge that the game has truly changed.
Art Adams
By Art Adams 08.21.10

My dream HD camera records footage with log-encoded gamma to ProRes for a fast, easy and accessible post workflow and cost-effective color grading. It has the simplest control interface ever. It sees in the dark. And it's built by a company whose gear I learned to trust early in my career when I started out as a camera assistant. The company is ARRI, and the camera is Alexa.

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to shoot with an Alexa prototype to produce demo footage for a recent meeting of the Northern California chapter of the Digital Cinema Society. Chapter president Simon Sommerfeld invited ARRI's Michael Bravin to present Alexa at the meeting, and Michael suggested shooting some scenics around San Francisco as a way of showing local folks how well the Alexa does under low light conditions. It fell to me to produce and shoot this content, and as I'm always looking for an opportunity to advance my reel I contacted director Ian McCamey, with whom I've shot numerous projects including Pink Martini, California State Fair and WEAVE, and asked him if he had any ideas as to how we could do more than just shoot pretty pictures.

As it turned out, he had a cunning plan. You'll see more of that later after some additional editing and the creation of some visual effects. The important bit, though, was to be able to shoot on the night of Monday, August 3rd, and show an edited and graded montage Tuesday, August 4th, at the DCS meeting. Thanks to Alexa's ProRes workflow we were able to do exactly that-and quite easily.

Joining Michael Bravin was Lucas Wilson of Assimilate, who gave probably the best Scratch demo possible: while Michael gave his Alexa introductory speech during the first half of the meeting, Lucas asked colorist Shane Mario Ruggieri to grade our LogC-encoded footage. By the dinner break we'd completely graded two minutes of LogC footage. Ian had cut the presentation on his laptop, which required him to downsample our recorded ProRes4444 to ProRes422 in order to play back the timeline at full speed. From Ian's EDL Lucas linked back to the original LogC footage for the grade, Shane Mario worked his magic, and the graded footage was quickly married to the soundtrack for projected playback. We watched the finished and graded montage during the second half of the meeting.

Here it is:

But this story isn't really about the meeting, but rather about the adventure leading up to the meeting. I gathered an intrepid band of regular DCS contributors, along with some of my regular crew, and we had some playtime with the camera along a scenic stretch of the San Francisco Bay. And along the way we learned quite a lot about the marvel that is Alexa. Turn the page for more...

All behind-the-scenes photographs are ©2010 by Adam Wilt. They are used by permission.

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