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Anamorphic Lenses Get the Most Out of the ARRI Alexa Studio

DP Elliot Davis Talks Man of Tai Chi at CineGear NY

Cinematographer Elliot Davis came to CineGear New York last week to talk about anamorphic digital cinematography for the Chinese-American martial-arts film Man of Tai Chi, the first feature directed by Keanu Reeves. Man of Tai Chi was shot with an Alexa Studio camera, using Hawk anamorphic lenses to make every pixel count. 
"We wanted it to feel anamorphic," Davis said, noting that he originally had his eyes on an anamorphic package of C- and V-Series Panavision lenses but eventually settled on Hawk anamorphics from Vantage Film. 
He said the Hawk lenses had a "very modern" look that matched Reeves' vision for the film. For example, he said, Reeves wanted to shoot martial arts action coverage with a Steadicam rig, giving those scenes a Western feel that's unusual in martial arts pictures.
The Hawk anamorphics squeezed a widescreen image onto the capture area of the Alexa Studio's 35mm film style full-frame 4:3 sensor, using the camera's full resolution of 2880×2160 — not exactly 4K, but a significant bump from 2K on the horizontal and especially the vertical axis. (Consider the number of pixels typically cropped from both the top and bottom of a 16:9 image to make a 2.39:1 widescreen frame — the DCI spec for resolution of an image with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 in a 2K frame is a mere 2048×858.)
The data was recorded in ARRIRAW format to Codex Onboard Recorders. A Codex Digital Lab and Codex Transfer Station for Max OS X were used to produce dailies and make LTO-5 archival copies of footage. Equipment from ARRI and Codex was supplied to the production by China Film Group.
Light Iron finished the film on the Quantel Rio, working in full anamorphic 4K. "Every pixel he photographed is on the screen," said Light Iron owner Michael Cioni in a previous panel on post workflow. "That's what we have an obligation to do."
Scenes from the film were previewed for the Cinegear audience via a Sony VPL-GT100 consumer-grade 4K SXRD projector connected to a RedRay player. (The footage looked very nice, although it must be said the environment was in no way conducive to critical viewing.) 
Davis said his previous project was shot on 35mm largely because the softness of film would be "more kind" to the older actors and actresses appearing on screen. But using the Alexa Studio for Man of Tai Chi seems to have put him at ease with digital. he said the mechanical shutter gave the fast-moving fight scenes an unusually clean look. And he pointed out shots during the preview where he said he knew he got a better image with the Alexa than he would with a film camera.

Man of Tai Chi debuted in China on July 5 and screened at the Fantastic Fest in Austin earlier this month. It is now available on VOD platforms and is slated to open in the U.S. on November 1.

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