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American Cinematographer

Moving to the Music

The Artist's Journey. A large-format, motion-platform ride film designed for Paul Allen's Experience Music Project in Seattle, takes viewers on a joyous and very funky journey.

Nestled near the famous Space Needle in the heart of Washington's Seattle Center is a new structure that promises to deliver a truly unique adventure in music: Paul Allen's Experience Music Project, which broke ground in 1997 and is opening to the public this month. An amalgamation of educational programs, hands-on sessions and museum exhibits, the facility will lead visitors on a technologically advanced journey into the power of rock n' roll, jazz, soul, gospel, country, blues, hip-hop, punk, and more recent genres.

Allen, who in the late 1970s co-founded a little software company called Microsoft, originally began the Experience Music Project as a venue for displaying his vast collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, which is arguably the largest such collection owned by an individual in the world. An avid accumulator of the musician's personal items, Allen has designed the project in the spirit of Hendrix's "Sky Church" - a place where artists can exchange ideas about, write and make music without distractions and constraints of the music business. In a 140,00 square-foot facility designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, who is perhaps best known for designing the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, there are almost 80,00 artifacts that have shaped music history, including instruments (from one of the first electric guitars to those used by artists such as Bob Dylan, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters and Kurt Cobain), an extensive archive of recordings, films, photographs, fanzines from around the country, stage costumes, hand-written song lyrics and rare song sheets.

Among the attractions is The Artist's Journey, a large format, motion-platform ride film that simulates a fantastic voyage into the origins of music. When the project opens its doors, the first presentation will chronicle the genesis of funk music. Entitled "Funk Blast," the presentation combines special effects, theatrical lighting, film, audio, video, computer graphics and state-of-the-art motion platform technology. "Funk Blast" follows two brothers who are struggling to form a funk band but can't seem to find the spirit of the sound. They attend the Funk Concert of the Millennium, where they meet up with a magical guide (played by Harry Lenox), who takes them back in time to the origins of music.

The brothers find themselves on a city street in the early 1970s, where James Brown comes to life out of a billboard image and brings with him a wild and crazed funk-party world. Suddenly, the boys are surrounded by hundreds of blissfully happy dancers grooving to the sounds of Brown and his original Famous Flames, including Bootsy Collins, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley and Jabo Starks. Having been schooled by the master, the two fledgling musicians finally find the spirit behind the music and head back to the future with their newfound abilities. They wind up on stage at the Funk Concert of the Millennium, along with George Clinton, and Parliament Funkadelic, Dr. John, Herbie Hancock, the Gap band and many other funk masters - some together again for the first time in decades - where they perform the ebullient tune "Flashlight."

To make this experience a unique musical memory for the audience, The Artist's Journey was photographed in both Super 35 and 65mm. For presentation, the story of the boys and their early challenge to find the music was photographed on Super 35 and is presented to an audience of 40-60 people on a series of mosaic video monitors. As the boys take their trip back in time, the monitors are whisked away to reveal a huge screen that not only wraps the audience nearly 180 degrees horizontally, but also covers a large portion of their peripheral vision. This segment of the presentation also includes integration with a motion platform to further immerse the audience in the experience.

One of the first challenges for the film's production team was to capture a totally new performance by Brown, the "Godfather of Soul." The hard part wasn't getting the aging master to find the groove, but rather creating a version of what the singer looked and moved like in 1970. To do this, the keyboard gurus at Digital Domain utilized a dance double, hand-picked by Brown himself, named Tony Wilson. Wilson worked closely with Brown and choreographer Lisa Ruffin to master Brown's famous moves and re-create them for the cameras. Although audiences are watching Wilson's steps, they're looking at the entirely computer-generated face of Brown at age 37.

To achieve this, 65mm footage of Brown was shot in his newly adopted hometown of Augusta, Georgia, to serve as a reference plate of the artist's natural movements. In addition, a full cast and 3-D laser scan was taken of his face. The artists at Digital Domain, under the supervision of visual-effects producer Todd Isroelit and supervisor Andre Bustonoby, then created a completely CG Brown based on photos and videos from 1969-1971. On the set, pieces of Scotchlite tape were carefully positioned on the major muscles in Wilson's face. Two separate 35mm "outrigger" cameras were positioned with the sole responsibility of covering Wilson from two complementary angles. Each outrigger camera was equipped with a beam-splitter and a strobe light that would fire once each frame. The strobe would "ignite" the Scotchlite pieces and create a reference for the digital artist's, allowing them to carefully position Brown's CG face over Wilson's Bounding over the seemingly monolithic technological hurdles involved with this project was veteran music-video and large format cinematographer Vince toto, whose forays into special-format photography and lighting have included Rockin' Rollercoaster, It's tough to Be a Bug and the 3-D Honey, we shrunk the audience for Disney Studios, as well as second-unit photography on the James Bond attraction License to Thrill.

For The Artist's Journey, one of Toto's principal challenges was the depth of field necessary for the motion-simulator sequences of the presentation. Due to the physiological connection between visual stimulators and physical motion, if an audience member is looking at any soft-focus areas of the screen while riding the motion platform, there is a high likelihood of nausea. To combat this potential hazard, Toto photographed the majority of the 65mm sequences at a T5.6/8 split. In 65mm, that translates to a considerable amount of light. - 4,115,000 watts, to be exact. Utilizing the New York streets on the Paramount Pictures backlot, Toto and gaffer Brain Louks put together what could be the largest lighting package ever assembled by one crew at that particular location.

"We had an immense collection of 24K Moleenos and nine-lights on the on the roofs of New York Street," Toto recalls. "In fact, the studio had to bring in an engineer to reinforce the structures to withstand the sheer weight of the gear up in the air. We had, literally, a ton of sandbags alone on the roofs, and between the Moleenos and the nine-lights, I had more than 120 fixtures just giving me the ambient lighting for the location.

"We went with nine-light Maxis and 24-light Moleenos for a number of reasons," Toto continues. "First, we had much more control of the light levels by being able to switch off individual globes on any given fixture. Second, during the big dance number, all of the lights were running off a dimmer board on a chase sequence, and we needed fixtures with a good deal of punch that could go off and on as quickly as we needed them to - you can't do that with a 20K. Third, the sheer number of fixtures required to light three city blocks at a T5.6/8 split just couldn't have been done with 20Ks. - we couldn't find that number of fixtures in town! When Brian and I were doing the photometrics in preproduction, we looked at each other and said, `Wow, this is going to be a lot of light! The prerig on the back lot was seven days, and we needed every minute of it."

To help control the light sources and to increase the efficiency of the lamps from their position three stories in the air, the majority of the fixtures were lamped with very narrow spot globes. Although Toto exposed the 65mm portions at T5.6/8 split, the lighting obviously didn't require that amount of punch all over the backlot. "In one area, I'd be at key (at the T5.6/8 stop), but a little farther away I'd have a drop to a T4. Some of the building facades were at about a T2.8/4 split. Although we'd certainly gone funky with the look and color palette, I wanted to maintain an overall feel that would still resemble a street at night.

"I knew we were going (to be) colorful in the production and costume design, and I wanted to match that with my lighting. I wound up having a discussion with Bradley Thordarson, the production designer, for about a week in what the overall color palette would be. We both wanted colors that were poppy and funky, but at the same time, I knew I need a lot of light, and I didn't want to be losing a great deal of punch through overly saturated gels. In the end, we went with a bit of a softer palette that we'll punch up a bit with digital color timing."

To help punch up the colors even more, Toto used Eastman Kodak's EXR 5293 200T in both 35mm and 65mm. To match the grain structures in sequences that would incorporate both formats, all of the 65mm footage was rated at 400 ISO and pushed one stop in the lab. Although the majority of 35mm and 65mm footage does not play at the same time, three "frozen moments" shots, executed by Jim Gill's Reel EFX (see AC Dec '99), were used to simulate Brown throwing his energy to various members of his band. These moments, photographed with 150 Canon Rebel 35mm cameras that were modified to Reel EFX's requirements, were digitized and integrated into the 65mm footage.

"I like 5293 because it's good, al-purpose stock, especially for shooting visual effects," Toto says. "In the majority of the Vision line, they have built in a buffer in the red (layer,) which makes compositing the greenscreen sequences a bit difficult. They don't make the SFX 200 in 65mm, so I went with 5293. In addition, it's a more contrasty stock, so the colors really punch. And with the push, which helped me reach the 5.6/8 stop as well, the 35mm and 65mm match up really well. There were a few sequences, like a big Akela-crane establishing shot of the boys (see lighting diagram) that I opted to shoot on 5279 to get us that extra third of a stop for a bit more depth of field, and it cuts in great with the 5293. One problem with the 93 in 65mm is that you can't get it in 500'rolls, which we were using for the Steadicam. Instead, we ended up with a loader spooling down 1000 footers in the darkroom pretty much all day long!"

The camera package for The Artist's Journey was an impressive array of 65mm gear, including Panavision's Hand-Holdable System 65 with the flicker-free, semi-silvered, fixed reflex mirror; a Panavision Studio 65; two Arriflex 765s, and a CP65, which traveled with the production to shoot Brown and his band against a greenscreen in Geogia. Toto carried the Panavision rectilinear lens series, as well as 19mm and 24mm fish-eye lenses. Also in the package was a 30mm Arriflex lens, which was not rectilinear and had a fish-eye quality to it. Toto explains, "One of the bizarre things with the lenses on this show is that, due to the curvature of the screen and the short distance from the projector to the screen, the fish-eye lenses actually look normal. We did intensive testing with Digital Domain and shot a curvature chart for every lens, so that when they do digital compositing, they can build in whatever distortion they need to match the specific lens that the plate was shot with." Another concern in dealing with extreme projection size was that any inadvertent camera movement, even the slightest bump, is extremely jarring when the onscreen image takes up most of the audience's peripheral vision. "No matter what size lens you're using, everything is really amplified in 65mm as compared to 35mm. Even though this is a simulator-ride film, any little camera bumps can really ruin a shot, so when we did our big Cablecam shots, I brought in a gyrostabilizer as an extra insurance policy against any unwanted movements. Fortunately, the Cablecam was so steady I didn't need it."

The Funk Concert of the Millennium portion of the presentation was shot at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. Again, both 65mm and Super 35 were shot side by side. Toto turned to theatrical lighting designer Richard Ocean to bring the color palette created on the Paramount backlot to life on stage. The design - which centered around a collection of concentric, circular trusses arranged in an inverted-tier pattern, with each of the circular sections able to telescope out from one another on chain-lifts - incorporated eight Turbolight Cyberlights, 12 Varilite VL4s, 16 VL6s, and 16 Syncrolite 7K and 24K 3K automated Xenon sources, among other units.

In addition to performing greenscreen compositing, crafting 3-D CGI effects and re-creating the young Brown's face, Digital Domain served as the facility for digital color timing for the "Funk Blast" project. All of the film was scanned into the firm's SGI workstations at 4K resolution, completely color timed digitally, and output via laser to 65mm internegative stock within the facility walls.

For more information on the Experience Music Project, visit its Web site: www.experience.org<>

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