Jon Fauer: I understand you were probably one of the first people to use both the new Canon C300 Mark III and the new 25-250 T2.95-3.95 zoom lens. How did this happen?
Steve Holleran: About a month and half ago, Tim Smith from Canon approached me about pitching a concept for a short film to showcase the aesthetics and visuals of a new camera Canon was developing. What I created was a concept called Boneyard Ballet. It’s an art piece, an ode to flight, human and mechanical. It features a ballerina dancing through an abandoned 747 airliner in a Mojave Desert airplane boneyard. The idea was born out of trips I used to take to the desert with my dad, who’s an airline pilot. He would point out the old planes in the Mojave Air and Space Port and refer to them as big metal birds. That sparked the idea of having a ballerina dance along the wing of a plane set to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
To communicate this visually, we open in the boneyard and push through the cabin of a retired 747 onto the cover of an old Skyways magazine where we see a picture of a ballerina. Then, the foot of a real ballerina is reincarnated. It’s meant to be magical, lyrical and nostalgic—as if by coming alive off the page, so too is the plane. In fact, the cabin is the stage and our ballerina is dancing for a bygone audience. Ultimately, she leaps off the end of the wing in a huge stunt where she’s airborne for a good 20 seconds and disappears like a mirage back into the boneyard. It is about the history of aviation, the memory of abandoned spaces, and the art of bringing new beauty to an old place.
We had certain goals in mind going into the shoot that we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to showcase the mobility of the camera and its build functionality. Examples include moving from handheld to a drone setup, or to a MoVi, or a Tero remote control car, or a studio set-up. We also wanted to test field-swapping EF and PL lenses, as that’s a great feature of the EOS C300 Mark III. The shoot was designed to be run-and-gun, guerilla style, to utilize the camera in a variety of ways on a quick timeline.
Let’s talk about the camera.
The Canon C300 Mark III camera is the cleanest Canon body that I’ve ever used. It has all the standard accoutrements on the outside in terms of buttons that you would expect from Canon. In that sense, you slip right into it. Short learning curve. It is extremely lightweight and well balanced. It’s great for handheld.
It shoots 4K up to 120 frames per second in RAW, which is an exciting function. You don’t have to sacrifice image quality at the higher frame rates as you normally do, which means you’re not looking at bringing in a different camera body specifically for that shot. I love the way the camera handles details at 120 fps. You can watch the ballerina’s dress blowing in the wind, seeing every nuanced detail in slow motion. I can’t say enough about that feature. Slow motion at 4K is exciting for documentary, live sporting events, feature filmmaking, and as a specialty camera.
Two other exciting features include 10 stops of internal ND, adjustable with a plus and minus button on the side of the camera—and internal stabilization. The stabilization was extremely handy to have when I was operating inside the plane cockpit and down the aisles because there was so little space.
One new feature I’d never seen before was the C300 Mark III Dual Gain Output (DGO) sensor. Essentially DGO pushes the camera’s sensitivity and you can gain a stop and a half of latitude. It takes the sensor from 15 stop dynamic range to 16+ stops. There’s no button to turn it on or off, so it’s something that the sensor is doing full time at 24 fps. I rated the camera as having a 16+ stop dynamic range at regular speed 4K Cinema RAW Light (.CRM). That’s exciting. We actually put the camera in a number of environments where we had that type of dynamic range: looking out of the cockpit behind the wing at sunset as our ballerina is jumping off the wing in the background.
You recorded RAW directly to an internal CF express card?
We recorded CRL directly to the CFexpress card and there’s another recording slot that lets you record 2K XF-AVC proxies internally at the same time. This changes the workflow game on the post side. We’ve been editing in post straight off those proxies.
Your viewfinder does not normally come with the camera.
We used the viewfinder from the C700. I specifically asked for that viewfinder because we were outside in a bright desert situation. I knew I wouldn’t see a proper picture using an onboard monitor, so I had the eyepiece there. It plugs right into the front of the body and we had it on almost the whole time. It’s a great feature to be able to bring over accessories from other Canon bodies.
On CINE-SERVO 25-250…
You were handheld with a 25-250 mm zoom. That is not a usual sight. Do you want to expand on that?
Towards the end of day 1, we were shooting the final crescendo of the ballet piece. Our ballerina dances down the 250-foot length of the 747 wing and then leaps off the end. I was on the wing as well, circling handheld around her and shooting closeups. I had the 25-250 because I wanted to move fast. We were running out of daylight and the zoom gave me the ability to change focal lengths, from wide to extremely tight, really quickly.
The rest of the crew was underneath the wing to be out of the shot, so there was no chance to swap lenses. Even Dennis Scully, our first AC, was pulling focus from the ground. It was just our ballerina Alison Stroming, the safety crew, and myself on the wing. I was racing around to get as many angles as I could in the limited time we had as magic hour approached.
It was also a way to test the qualities of the lens: how it flared, how it handled shadows in HDR with very strong backlight, what it felt like to operate.
How did the 25-250 look and handle?
I’ve never handheld a zoom lens with that long a range, from 25 to 250 mm. It’s a massive range that offers you lots of flexibility. Another exciting thing about the lens is that it is lighter and smaller than almost any other zoom I’ve used—while still covering this much range.
Last year, when I shot The Age of A.I., the YouTube documentary series with Robert Downey, Jr., we traveled around the world mostly handheld with heavy zooms that often doubled the weight of the camera. They looked great but it was just miserable operating with those heavy lenses in handheld situations.
The new Canon 25-250 is the first time I’ve ever seen a zoom that is small in length, width and weight while at the same time covering such a long range. It even has a helpful 1.5x extender built in and you can turn it on or off with the flip of a switch to punch in even tighter. Originally, I didn’t know if I was going to be using the 25-250 that much on the shoot—but the funny thing is it stayed on the camera the rest of the day and part of the next day as well.
From a build perspective, having that zoom was excellent. If I were going to use a 250mm prime, I would have to reconfigure the camera for that big lens. And if I wanted to go back to a small 35mm prime, I’d have to reconfigure and rebalance the camera again. There wasn’t enough time to do that on this shoot—which is often the case.
In terms of quality, the bokeh with the lens wide open at magic hour was pleasing and gentle. It recreated skin tones with an authentic quality. Flares were not overdone and they looked very smooth. It was a pretty image and it cut nicely with the Sumire Primes. It’s a unicorn in terms of zoom lenses.
What other lenses did you have?
This was the first time I had access to the entire range of Canon glass from PL to EF. A nice feature about the C300 MKIII is the easily-changeable lens mount. With four screws you can quickly swap PL or EF mounts in the field.
For this shoot, I fielded PL zooms and primes, particularly the Canon 25-250, Canon Cinema Zooms, and the Canon Sumire Primes. I also had Canon EF tilt shifts for some specialty shots I did in the cockpit where I wanted to play with depth of field. I think the PL primes and zooms cut together perfectly. I cannot see much of a difference at all in the edit.
The nice part about staying within the Canon lens family is you’re guaranteed a reliability across the optics both in quality and build. I thought the color rendition, skin tones, and bokeh all stayed consistent with our variety of lenses. I was pleased with how well they matched.
What onboard monitor did you use?
That was an Atomos Shogun 7. It accepts 4K from the camera and displays it in HDR on its 1920×1200 screen. We were shooting in an HDR world and we knew we were going to do both HDR and SDR passes in post.
Where was video village?
We had multiple video villages. We were sending a feed to Dennis pulling focus at his 13-inch SmallHD monitor. We were sending another feed to our DIT in his own tent where he was monitoring. We had two cameras out there, so he was viewing both and helping me maintain consistent exposure. He had two different monitors getting a separate feed from each camera and an extra Canon monitor so he could look at them in HDR as well. We sent a third feed to client video village where there were two 4K monitors to be able to watch both cameras as well.
Canon monitors, of course. What about lighting?
Exteriors were all natural light, basically backlit or side top lit the entire time. We had consistent lighting conditions for the entire day along with morning and evening magic hours on either side that fit nicely into a 12-hour day. We often saw dappled skies with punchy sunlight coming through.
I did a lot of lighting in the interior of the plane’s cabin. We had a Condor with two 4K HMIs angled about 30 degrees off from each other, punching through the coach cabin windows to give us strong shafts of light. We used smoke for atmosphere.
There was an eight tube Asterra set that I put in the recesses above the overhead bins to provide soft top fill. We had two 2×8 Light Tiles for soft key/fill as they fit nicely above the plane’s seats, and we used a 1.8K HMI shooting down the left passageway for an edge.
How would you describe the look and style of the film?
The style and look is lyrical. It’s meant to be magical and atmospheric—as if a memory. I designed a moody quality inside to lead into a dynamic and vibrant exterior world when we’re looking at the ballerina. There was also a variety of slow motion and on-set stabilization because I wanted it to feel like you were taking flight with the ballerina.
Production Photos by Ron Batzdorff.