Jon Fauer: Dominick, how did this come about? I’ve known you for a long time at another company.
Dominick Aiello: I spent 25 years with Panavision — almost half my life. I started in June of 1995 in the shipping and receiving department at Panavision Hollywood. After about seven years, I moved on to Panavision Woodland Hills. When the Genesis camera system came out, I started spending time with the engineers on accessorizing the cameras. That’s where my background in accessories started. It got to the point where I was coordinating with the engineers and our clients to make their job easier.
How did you learn product design?
I learned by observation, by watching the engineers do the work. One of them was Felipe Navarro. He built the 6×6 matte boxes and other accessories and Al Meyer Jr. built the accessories for Genesis. When the Sony F55 was announced and we knew that it was going to be a very important camera, Haluki Sadahiro and I came up with quick designs and a list of all the components on a dry erase board. We were able to design and develop F55 accessories really fast.
What does your job involve and what do you hope to achieve?
My job is product management and product design for Creative Solutions, and our goal is to build tools that solve problems for camera professionals. I am constantly talking with camera assistants to get feedback on our designs. There are some ACs who have incredible ingenuity. They’ve honed their skills to know exactly what they need to do in order to get the job done. I like to attend camera prep and set visits to observe how they do their job — and try to think of an easier way. There isn’t always an answer, or I don’t always see it, or somebody else sometimes sees it before I do. But trying to find that answer is the goal. Can we make their job easier? Is it faster to move from one mode to another? Can we do it with standardized quick release plates? Or with a different plate?
Another example is the dovetail baseplate that you struggle with, sliding it off the back.
Right. Wooden Camera has its own version of that plate as well, where you can just come straight off the top. Again, it’s coming up with those methods after you watch somebody try to put a camera with a big lens onto one of those traditional dovetails. It would be much easier if they wouldn’t have to worry about lining up that dovetail, they can just pop it on, position it and tighten it. It adds to the functionality and makes a camera assistant’s job easier and more secure about the process.
Don’t you find that almost every camera assistant and DP has a different way of working and they would love to have their own accessories customized, which is what Panavision was so famous for? Is there value in bringing customization to Creative Solutions?
There is a value to that, and it’s going to be a little bit of time before we can actually step into that world. But there is potential in a small and fast customization, something that we can turn around really quickly.
Every camera assistant does the job a little differently. But there are also other aspects. Most camera assistants do not like messy cameras. Cable management is always something important. How do you route the cables? There are many camera assistants who take pride in what they call a clean camera build. They’ll even post some of those pictures on social media, on Instagram or camera assistant forums, to show how they did it. But the thought behind it is the same. If you have a clean camera, the director and cinematographer appreciate that. If it’s a mess, and they see the AC struggling to route and change things, they start questioning whether or not they hired the right person.
It’s not just how they do their job, but how their jobs are perceived by others—and clean accessories are one way you can do that. Dave Oneal, who ran operations at Panavision Hollywood, taught me that it’s not so much about the camera. It’s not always about the lenses. It’s the accessories. It’s the little things that can make the difference on the job. And that’s what my goal is, to help achieve that. I’m also hoping to expand the line.
That’s a good point. Where do you think it’s going in terms of accessories, sort of one size fits all or unique to each camera?
I’m aiming to build a system that’s stripped down to a single core board for all the power distribution. We’re looking to limit the number of internal workings, but the external housing will be customized as needed. That’s a benefit for the buyer as well. If they buy an FX9 and an FX6, that same base can move from one camera to the other with just different adapter plates. We’re trying to do the same thing on other aspects, but the tops of cameras are ever-changing. Camera assistants need onboard monitors, lens control, transmitters and timecode clocks mounted to the camera. Lens mount adapters are important: with RED going to the RF Mount on the KOMODO and the new V-RAPTOR, an adapter has to be added if you are using PL mount lenses. With the LPL mount gaining popularity, additional adapters are need. Some cameras are going with lens boards that usually attach with four screws, like DSMC2. But no matter what, mount adapters will continue to evolve and I think that market is still big.
Maybe that’s something you want to get into in a bigger way?
Definitely. Now, there are a couple of things that engineering is working on that I’m hoping will be announced soon. We’re already into lens mount adapters, but they’re taking it up a notch and this will be a stepping stone into future development into lens mount adapters. I think future designed cameras will have a short flange back and then you put on any adapter that you want. I also think lenses are going to go to shorter flange focal depths: with E-mount, RF mount and L-Mount.
In your new role, I assume you’ll be able to go back to the manufacturers and say something like, “It’s a great camera, but wouldn’t it be nice if you had more mounting points on your next model?”
A lot of manufacturers already know me because I have been vocal enough to ask for some input on future designs. So the trust is there—built from years of experience and relationships.