Advanced Imaging

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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 09:49 AM CDT

High-speed Imaging in Harrowing Environments

TV show pushes limits of high-speed camera technology to capture images of ‘unseen world’
Figure 1: This grease fire, imaged with the Fastcam SA1, is a simulation of putting a frozen turkey into a deep fat fryer. We’re seeing a glass pot filled with hot oil when a half-cup of cold water is dropped into the oil, creating a violent grease fire explosion.
Discovery Channel
Figure 1: This grease fire, imaged with the Fastcam SA1, is a simulation of putting a frozen turkey into a deep fat fryer. We’re seeing a glass pot filled with hot oil when a half-cup of cold water is dropped into the oil, creating a violent grease fire explosion.
Figure 2: Spectacular high-speed footage of a fireworks sequence captured at 20,000 frames per second from 12 feet away by Photron’s Fastcam SA1.
Figure 2: Spectacular high-speed footage of a fireworks sequence captured at 20,000 frames per second from 12 feet away by Photron’s Fastcam SA1.
Figure 3: Fastcam SA1 and Fastcam SA2 selected to “star” in Discovery Channel’s Time Warp TV series.
Figure 3: Fastcam SA1 and Fastcam SA2 selected to “star” in Discovery Channel’s Time Warp TV series.
Figure 4: Fastcam MH4 from Photron features up to 4 tiny camera heads that can be strategically placed inside an automobile during crash testing.
Figure 4: Fastcam MH4 from Photron features up to 4 tiny camera heads that can be strategically placed inside an automobile during crash testing.
Figure 5: The side view of the car crash sequence with Rusty Height, Time Warp’s human crash test dummy (top). Photron’s MH4 camera is positioned on top of Rusty’s car roof to capture this slow-motion sequence (middle). The sequence in the bottom photo shows Rusty inside the vehicle as his automobile “t-bones” the other car.
Figure 5: The side view of the car crash sequence with Rusty Height, Time Warp’s human crash test dummy (top). Photron’s MH4 camera is positioned on top of Rusty’s car roof to capture this slow-motion sequence (middle). The sequence in the bottom photo shows Rusty inside the vehicle as his automobile “t-bones” the other car.
Figure 6: The Time Warp film crew readies the camera inside the ruggedized, black rectangular blast box.
Figure 6: The Time Warp film crew readies the camera inside the ruggedized, black rectangular blast box.
Figure 7: Time Warp’s Director of Photography, Wes Skiles is shown here holding the shoulder-mount modified Fastcam SA2.
Figure 7: Time Warp’s Director of Photography, Wes Skiles is shown here holding the shoulder-mount modified Fastcam SA2.
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Once we had our cameras in place, we needed “supporting cast” members. For unique views and to fit into extremely small spaces, we occasionally used some ultra-small, specialty cameras. We used the Photron MH4 multi-head, high-speed camera system for on-board automobile applications and we used the Hi-Spec II, manufactured by Fastec Imaging (San Diego, Calif.) when we needed a self contained, fully-battery-operated, small camera for mounting in very unique situations.

GO WHERE THE OTHERS GO

There is a common misconception prevalent within the entertainment industry regarding the use of high-speed cameras: you don’t want to move the high-speed cameras during the shot because camera movements will disrupt and distract from the critical high-speed shot. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, shooting with a high-speed camera probably is the most forgiving format for tolerating camera motion. When played back in ultra-slow-motion, camera shaking or violent jolting of the camera (caused by the event), becomes a smooth, almost imperceptible, gradual undulation. With that misconception laid to rest, it was time for us to get off the tripod! To truly differentiate our high-speed shots, we made the decision to treat the high-speed cameras as we would real-time cameras. If you look around a typical TV set, you will see camera operators following the action with their cameras on their shoulders. You also may see cameras mounted to huge jib arms for gigantic sweeping movements or rolling on dollies to keep up with the action. To use our cameras in this vein, several adaptations had to be designed and implemented.

In general, high-speed cameras are “box” cameras. They require a tripod, A/C power, and an external monitor for viewing/ focusing, and usually require the use of Nikon 35mm camera lenses. To combat these limitations, we first developed a shoulder mount, complete with a broadcast-standard, quick-release mounting system. This allows the operator to quickly pull the camera on and off the tripod with a simple click when the action starts and stops. The universal mounting system also is the standard for jib arms, dollies, high-hats (extremely small tripods for floor mounting), and any other specialty mounting systems that have been developed over the years for traditional broadcast cameras.

Once a proper shoulder mount was designed, a viewfinder/eyepiece was added. To follow fast-moving action in a handheld scenario, broadcast lenses also were a must. As luck would have it, Photron recently added two new mounts for the SA1 and SA2 cameras, an Arri PL mount and a B-4 mount. These two interchangeable mounts allowed us to use 35mm cinema lenses or, for mobile applications, the traditional B-4 broadcast lenses with power zoom, focus and aperture control as well as remote control lens operation for un-manned situations, such as the jib. With a shoulder mount, a broadcast lens mount, and an eyepiece in place, there was only one more major hurdle: power. Again we took our cue from the broadcast community and designed several battery options for the cameras. Optional battery brackets for the shoulder mount and a custom battery belt were created and we were officially off the tripod. With the ability to “go where the others go,” we were able to film some incredible shots. Sweeping views and follow shots of high divers, motocross racers, or pole vaulters now were possible. The ability to run beside a dog catching a Frisbee or an athlete on power stilts enabled some of the most unique, high-speed shots ever filmed.

ENJOY THE RIDE

Many of the most exciting segments we tackled on Time Warp involved fast-moving vehicles. We wanted to make sure that we could get the view from the inside so, whenever possible, we took the opportunity to mount the high-speed cameras inside or on the vehicles.



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