Defying Gravity

January 10, 2017 ZEISS LENSPIRE Team

Adi Geisegger had wanted to make a short film about Stephan Martin, his former gliding instructor, for a long time: “While developing the screenplay, I thought that the new and relatively lightweight zoom lens would actually be quite practical for filming, because the camera setups required that everything be done quickly. A lot was being asked of both the crew and the technology.” Geisegger’s idea for a short film turned into a project which ultimately became the launch film for this new lens: the ZEISS Lightweight Zoom LWZ.3 21-100mm/T2.9-3.9 T*.

A fascinating figure

Normally you wouldn’t take off in a glider at five in the morning and fly towards the rising sun. “Very few people actually do this. But for Stephan Martin, flying means something more than just sitting in a plane and operating the controls. He just loves the sensation of flying, of being alone above the clouds and taking in the sunrise.” Adi Geisegger is much the same, thus it was a logical step to include this in a film.

korr_629_0067-00_03_54_04-standbild007zeissStephan Martin flies a glider which can start on its own and has a retractable propeller on top, making it possible to film so early in the morning without thermal lift. The second glider where Stephan Martin sits does not have a motor, meaning that this glider first had to be flown to a suitable starting position using an airplane. This is why a second glider pilot, Floria Filipp, is listed in the credits. Pilot Philip Schubert flew the glider into the air using his ultra-light airplane. Although this is a short film, quite a few pilots were involved, including a helicopter pilot: Udo Ramm from the company Helix.

Much like Adi Geisegger, who also tests paragliders, Udo Ramm welcomes unusual flying assignments. Ramm employs his own landing technique which utilizes the momentum of the rotors so that he expends comparatively less energy when landing. In the making-of film for The Circle, you can see that this approach to flying is anything but boring on film.

Flying

Stephan Martin meditates on his relationship to flying through Adi Geisegger’s text, which is read off screen by a narrator and is accompanied by breathtaking images of flight. As a teenager Martin would ride his bike to a small nearby airport so that he could watch the airplanes taking off and landing. He now heads the training program at the Sonthofen airfield in southeastern Germany near the Austrian border. Here he introduces young people to the joys of flying. There wasn’t a lot of time to wait for long-lasting fantastic weather. In a few scenes you can see that the sky was cloudy while the glider was flying. Not surprisingly, this posed a few challenges when filming, such as finding thermal lift to regain elevation for additional takes.

Preparation

Preparing a film like this doesn’t just mean finalizing the script, the financing and the organization. The weather also plays a far greater role than usual. Flying so early in the day also requires approval from the German Federal Aviation Office, and the crew needs to be able to reach the shooting locations as quickly as possible. “Every moment a helicopter’s in the air costs a ton. If I first need to fly for half an hour before I finally hit record, then a lot of money has already been spent unproductively.” Of course Adi Geisegger also wanted to avoid traveling far to the other locations so that he could save time. “We searched high and low throughout the region to find the field where the boy would ride his bike. But we ultimately realized that the most suitable location for our purposes was directly behind the airfield.”

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Adi Geisegger also wanted to include scenes in the rain along with melancholic atmospheric images in order to ensure the greatest possible contrast to the scenes up in the air. “Sooner or later you’re about to shoot a scene and are just really hoping that the weather cooperates.” Thanks to his paragliding experience, Adi Geisegger is used to being dependent on the weather and knows how to make the most of it. He also has meteorologist contacts in the cities of Innsbruck and Munich. They provided him with last-minute assistance with forecasting the weather so that this intensive shooting schedule would work. But often the weather in the local part of the Alps ultimately differed significantly from the general forecast.

A stable image

When filming from the car and the helicopter, Adi Geisegger didn’t use any conventional stabilization systems. To put it more exactly: he didn’t use any electronically controlled stabilization systems at all – in the helicopter he let the camera hang down from a run-of-the-mill rubber cord purchased at a local home improvement store. For Adi Geisegger, stabilization systems like Gimbals are not only expensive, they also have the disadvantage that you can’t react very quickly when using them. While you can frame the shot much more quickly when doing a panning shot with the aircraft, you then need significantly more time until a camera such as a Wescam is dismounted and the cameraman is ready to shoot over the shoulder. “That’s why I just attach the carabiner, pull out the rubber cord and then continue filming using the tripod because the tripod mount is already affixed to the camera. That’s really the greatest benefit of this approach to filming.”

_o3a8612Sometimes the camera assistant had to act as a tripod-replacement, standing back-to-back with the director and providing Adi Geisegger with sufficient support so that the camera was stable enough to use a telephoto setting. “Ultimately there are a lot of ways to get a stable image. Especially when you’re out filming with a small crew and don’t have multiple cameras available, the most important thing is to be at the right place at the right time. If I’m filming a sunrise but have to be in a helicopter a half hour later, then timing is absolutely crucial. This is where old methods often prove extremely helpful.” Adi Geisegger has a Mövi stabilizer which he also takes with him for filming. “But I’d have missed the best light by the time the time the camera was mounted and balanced.”

That’s why Luca Riccabona stabilized a few scenes in post-production, but it simply isn’t possible to fully stabilize blurred images. “It’s a really question what kind of blur you’ve produced and how much you want to correct it. Depending on the car’s suspension, if there’s relatively little movement then it can be easily reduced. I also think it’s ok if you see a bit of movement – it brings the viewers further into the story.”

Experiences

For Adi Geisegger, the special thing about the ZEISS LWZ.3 21-100mm/T2.9-3.9 T*, which also features 11 aperture blades, is that it has the perfect focal length range. “It’s actually suitable for about 90% of my work. 21 mm is a sufficiently wide-angle for my daily filming needs. And you can get a lot done with 100 mm, especially if you have a project in full HD, because these days you can achieve great results when cropping the image. If I had to choose one lens to take with me on a world tour, then I would probably pick the LWZ.3 21-100 mm. It weighs just 2 kg, making it extremely light for a high-quality lens with this design. I recently got back from a shoot in the Karwendel mountain range in the Alps where I carried around four Compact Primes. I should have left them all at home and taken this lens instead.” This also reduces the risk that the sensor becomes dirty when switching lenses. “Moreover, you don’t just have the standard focal lengths, but also those in between.”

Geisegger prefers to manually adjust focus directly on the lens, which is facilitated by the rotation angle of the 294° focus ring. “If you don’t have extremely complex adjustment of definition and if a lens like this has good focus damping, then you can manually adjust the focus perfectly. With a good viewfinder you can find what you want quickly, and the camera is lighter and more compact – it’s one less thing I need to pay attention to. The grip properties are also excellent, and it’s also quite easy to use the lens when wearing gloves.”
The director and his team shot the film like a documentary, meaning the focus was adjusted less frequently at full aperture. “The lens is relatively long, but you have a good balance and the lens is easy to use, especially with a documentary camera such as an Amira. And you have significantly more space when you use servomotors.

Changing mounts

What if he also wanted to use the lens on his photo cameras and change the mount? Is that possible with EF, MFT, PL, Nikon F and Sony E? “Yes, and it actually works quite well. In the scene where the helicopter lands, we filmed parallel with a Nikon D5. Its full-format sensor is cropped by a factor of 1.5 with UHD images, making it the perfect lens. Due to the extremely low-light capabilities of the D5, I prefer this combination for special applications. If you select a flat in-camera gamma curve, then it’s quite easy to handle the material in post-production. Although it’s only an 8-bit 4:2:0, I’m still always amazed at the rich visual material.”

_o3a9128In his coffee table book Einfach Oben, Adi Geisegger showcases the natural landscape of southeast Germany from a bird’s eye view: he’s compiled a multi-vision presentation consisting of photos captured while paragliding. He found old footage he’d captured using an F3. “When I saw the dcp in a movie theater for the first time, I was surprised how clean this material was, even though it’s actually quite compromised with 35 Mbit/s. There’s a lot of hype surrounding 4K, RAW and even 16 stop intervals, but I think it’s overrated.” People often forget that there was already well-focused, well-lit and contrast-rich material featuring interesting content with the blow-up from 16 mm to 35 mm, where this worked well. You certainly don’t minimize mistakes when you increase the image.

However, Adi Geisegger is not really happy with external recorders. “I always feel a bit strange using the camera’s image signal to achieve better image quality.” Cables which fall off in the heat of the moment or that leave you hanging pose an additional risk, particularly when filming under unusual circumstances. He’s also had negative experiences powering his equipment using additional batteries. When, for example, the on-board voltage on a sail boat is too low for the mobile charging unit by two-tenths of a bolt, then you are forced to make use of the emergency generator. This is when you really notice how many charged batteries you need for filming.

Adi Geisegger did not change the mount of the LWZ.3 21-100 mm himself when filming – logically enough if people from ZEISS were also on set. But he also has three Compact Primes from the Superspeed series where he often changes the mounts, which works quite well. “If you know how, it only takes about five minutes.” The professional photographer and cameraman has been shooting with Nikon cameras almost his entire life and generally uses his Amira and Alexa Mini for filming. This is a practical approach, enabling you to use a cine lens such as the LWZ.3 21-100 mm on as many other cameras as possible (ANSI Super 35 mm / 31.1 mm image circle). “I wouldn’t invest in a system that didn’t feature an interchangeable mount.”

Filming

Filming was scheduled to take three days for this project consisting of a 7.5 minute show reel and a making-of feature. The shots of the glider were in the can after one day. For the shots in the rain, the crew traveled to a large lake near the town of Immenstadt for a day. The scenes with the boy took less than a day to film.

Adi Geisegger didn’t actually want to film in 4K, but, as he tells it, ZEISS more or less convinced him to do it. So he tried out the Sony PXW-FS7. When deciding between his Alexa Mini or the Amira, he opted for the Amira for this shoot because of its feel. “The Alexa Mini would have been the wrong camera because some accessory parts would have been required – we shot a lot from the shoulder, the camera was rarely on a tripod.” He was also able to pull off the post-production in 4K. “The FS7 needs to be exposed to cleaner light – it should almost be a bit too bright – so you can handle the image noise.” However, he cannot confirm that there is more image noise than with the ARRI.

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Almost all filming was done with 50 fps in 4K, in XAVC-I mode (intra): 4K 50p VBR, with a bit rate of 500 Mbit/s, in MPEG-4/H.264/AVC, with S-Log 3. Erich Schellhorn’s material was color graded in DaVinci Resolve, and Adi Geisegger edited it himself on the computer using Adobe Premiere. “In spite of the large quantities of data, this worked quite well using full HD proxies with on- and offline features. You just have properly prepare the project.”

The most complicated challenge was keeping the glider perfectly framed when filming above the clouds. “The glider’s minimum speed when flying is 120 km/h, but with these wide-angle settings we wanted it to be flying relatively quickly in the film, which is why it was always traveling between 150 and 180 km/h. You can imagine how windy it is when you’re filming with the helicopter door open.” Anything which has even minimum air resistance causes the camera to move unexpectedly. That meant the matte boxes were out, especially since they vibrate a lot because of the wind.

It’s also difficult to coordinate with the actors when you are flying in a helicopter and want to film another flying object in front of a particular landscape. With a Cineflex, for example, the pilot sees the camera image on a monitor so that an experienced aviator knows what to do. “If you only have radio contact, then you have to try to direct the glider pilot to the particular location while telling the helicopter pilot where to go so that the angle is right. And you have to do all this extremely quickly because something is always changing.” In other words: with the clock ticking, you’re trying to negotiate different complicated movements while staying within budget.

The most important thing for Adi Geisegger: “I’m amazed how ZEISS is making headway in this segment – with a cine zoom lens featuring this focal length range, this quality and this design – and all for about 10,000 euros.”

You can find Adi Geisegger’s Film The Circle and additional information about the ZEISS LWZ.3 at: www.zeiss.com/cine/lwz3

The Circle from Carl Zeiss Lenses on Vimeo.

Director Adi Geisegger
Production/Camera Adi Geisegger
Music Johannes Winkler
Glider pilot, Hiker, Mountain climber Stephan Martin
Child Philipp Goehl
Camera assistant: Helmut Lenhof, Dominik Schadewaldt (ZEISS)
Helicopter pilot Udo Ramm
Additional photography Kai Bechtle
Grading Erich Schellhorn
Motion graphics Artfabrik
Image correction Lucas Riccabona
Second glider pilot Florian Filipp
UL pilot Philip Schubert
Text Adi Geisegger
Translation Erich Petricevic
Made with the support of the Luftsportverein Agathazell

 

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