Monday, August 30, 2010

Movie One: My Own Little High-Speed Taxi Test

Hey! Who's that guy in the black Ford Escape out there on the taxiway? Is he authorized? Is he talking to ground control?

As a matter of fact, he is!

This frame grab from the rear-facing camera on the Super D on Day 2 of Acro Camp shows the vehicle from which Director of Photography Will Hawkins was shooting takeoffs out rear window while I drove and talked to ground control on the radio and Jack Hodgson rode along as safety pilot in the right seat.

With an airport taxi diagram gaffer-taped to the dash and a paper trail months in the making, we were cleared to go hurtling down Taxiway Delta between the threshold of Runway 27R and Taxiway Juliet about 3,500 feet west doing up to 80 mph paralleling the Citabria and the Super D on takeoff.

If you ever though you felt out of place at a party or other occasion, try driving around on a taxiway in an SUV in the busy movement area of a Class D airport. It's like one of those walking-around-in-public in-your-underwear dreams, only it's not a dream and yet it's okay on this one special occasion.

I submitted a plan ahead of time to both the FAA and Oakland County months ahead of time. I had brand new batteries in my Sporty's handheld radio. I briefed the profile until I was sick of it. I even had the current ATIS when I checked in on the frequency at Victor Row. But that's what you do when you want to make some art out there in the movement area.

We only made two runs, but they were fun and we got some usable footage out of it. And it was a lot of fun using the callsign "Movie One" on an ATC frequency. After the first run, ground even cleared me to "back taxi on Delta" to the threshold to film the other aircraft.

"Back taxi." In my car. Yeah!

The only sticky bit was that the word about us hadn't quite gotten to the fire department on the field. The otherwise friendly guys who drive the big lime-green trucks saw us blazing down the taxiway and had a minor freakout. Understandable, of course. What would you think if you sawan SUV tooling around on the taxiway at high speed chasing airplanes?

If I could have convinced myself that they weren't armed, I might have entertained the notion of jumping out of the vehicle, pointing wildly at the sky, and yelling something about how my ex-wife had just made off with my airplane. But nah. I still hold out the possibility that I might need those guys at the fire station someday. And I want them to think kindly of me if I ever do.

Anyway, Pontiac ground assured them on the radio that we were authorized to be out there and we even pulled into the station afterward to have a meet-and-greet and explain what was going on without little enterprise. We even made some new friends after everybody's heart rates subsided a little.

Lots and lots of firsts doing this movie. I had a ball. And I'm getting to re-live it as I go through all of the footage. My only regret is that we weren't running a couple of cameras on Movie One . . .

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Fine Day's Cataloging

Another fine day of editing here at Airspeed Studios. I got most of Day 2 (15 May) cataloged and ready to link up with alternate camera angles and the cockpit audio. And I found several of the Easter eggs that the cast left for me. Like this shot of Jim Rodriguez and Don Weaver giving the thumbs up, er, down, er up.

The tech frame evolved when Roger Bishop gave in to the ham that's in all of us and gave the camera a wave. Being a guy with a true sense of lighting and composition, I'm sure that he couldn't resist stepping out into the near-perfect lighting of one of the early flights of that day.

A nice shot of Paul and Barry in the vertical. Do I need a further reason?

Nicholas "FOD" Tupper stopped by and I got him in the frame of the rear-facing camera on the Super D.

Paul "Gump" Berliner mugs for the camera during a Pitts ride later in the day.

Watching Day 2 Happen

I've been spending most of today going through the video from Day 2 of Acro Camp, namely Saturday 15 May. Beautiful sunshine in the morning with high cirrus clouds (much like you see here) that gave way to a high overcast toward the evening.

Above you can see one of my favorite shots of Paul Berliner. It's not going to surprise me it Paul ends up being the favorite camper of many who see the movie. I haven't even watched these flights with the audio synced up, but I can just tell from watching Paul and the IP that Paul is having a lot of fun and that both of the IPs really enjoy flying with him.

Acro Camp Production Outtakes - Surfing the Pitts Breeze

Here's footage from the Hero cam on the Pitts moments after startup. First Barry, then Steve, then Rod decide to surf the prop blast of the Pitts. This is from Saturday 15 May, Day 2 of flying.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shooting B-Roll With Don

Don Weaver and I headed out yesterday so that I could fly a few instrument approaches for currency in a C-172 and so that he could head over to Ray Community Airport to do some dual in the Acro Camp Pitts S-2B. I took along a GoPro HD Hero and stuck it in the airplane to get B-roll footage of Don flying the Pitts. Pretty day out there and we got some good shots.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Acro Camp Cameos

As fun as going through the actual Acro Camp footage can be, I needed a break from it this evening. So I started going through some of the footage that I shot at various airshows this summer. I wanted to get footage of a number of professional aerobatic pilots so that I could intersperse them throughout the film as cameos at appropriate moments.

As I've gone through them, I've become pretty excited about some of the interviews and other footage that I've captured. Everything from the Pitts S-2C to the A-10 to the F-22. Here, to whet your appetite, are a few frame grabs that I captured.

This just gets better and better as I build the film in my mind. It's really beginning to come together.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Yet Another Cataloging Session

I spent a little time today cataloging video and audio from Friday 14 May, the first full day of flying at Acro Camp. I got through all of the non-Panasonic footage and about half the audio. Fortunately, I'm finding that the various Out of 20 video sequences, something like eight are mated up with their sister sequences from the same flight. And I have the audio mated up with several sequences as well. I sure wish that I had used a clacker board for a lot of these, but it turns out that it's not going to be as hard as I thought it would be.

I went through some of the footage from David Allen's ride with Don Weaver that evening and it got me really lonely for the Acro Camp experience. I e-mailed Dave the frame grab above. He e-mailed me back saying that we could probably get away with shooting the next one without actually having the first one on the can. And then went on to suggest that some folks would show up for subsequent Acro Camps regardless of whether there was a movie attached. Ever wonder why people gravitate to Dave? That's just one of the many reasons.

That Friday probably had the best light of any day at Acro Camp. The frame grab of Michelle Kole and Don Weaver above is an artifact of that. Just gorgeous sunshine and even some high cirrus and low scattered to serve as a background.

Next, it's the panasonic footage from the 14th. Hoping to have that done this coming week and then I can move on the cataloging the subsequent days of airborne footage. Once that happens, I'll be able to stick it all in multiclips and really sit down to watch it all. This is the scut work phase. It only gets cooler from here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Most Fun Ever Had by a Human

I've been working my way through the footage from Friday 14 May, the first real day of flying for Acro Camp. I've been working mostly with the wing-mounted and other exterior camera footage over the last week. But, this evening, I began going through some of the footage from the in-cockpit cameras as well.

I've decided that no human has ever had more fun flying aerobatics (or doing anything else) than Paul Berliner. I could tell that he was smiling from the wing cam footage, but the in-cockpit cameras really tell the story. There are even times that I can hear min shouting over the engine noise on the ContourHD camera (and I don't have the intercom audio synched up yet, so it's strictly ambient sound for now). The frame grab above is Paul's reaction to his very first loop. I think they heard about it in the tower back at Pontiac. Without the need for the radio.

It turns out that Paul has a G-face as well. In fact, I think it's the same as his zero-G face. Here's he's pulling up for his second loop. Paul pulls a little less hard on the loops than Jim, but not much less. He got nice round shapes out of the loops that he did. I can't tell whether Barry's helping, but I suspect that it's mostly Paul.

Michelle also got up at the end of the day for some pattern work in the Citabria. I discovered some issues with the ContourHD shutter artifacting when the prop shadow falls across the pilot's face. It's a little like skinny horizontal Venetian blinds. But it's almost worth it when you get sun angles like this one.

I'm still having a good time with the extent to which the IPs seem to pay attention to the camera. Here, Barry gives a thumbs-up just before taxiing.

I understand that there were some pretty good conversations in the cockpit, as well, and I'm just beginning to get around to going through the intercom audio. I think I'll do that once I get it synched up with the video. I'll put together a multiclip for each flight and then watch each flight all the way though one camera angle at a time. It'll be time-consuming, but it's really the only way to get the whole story and identify all of the most interesting/compelling/beautiful moments.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Cataloging, Taking Notes, and Jim's G-Face

Hey! Bet you've wondered where we've been! All over the place, to be honest. I've hit several airshows, toured the American Champion plant, and been to Beale AFB capturing footage, and other stuff for the movie.

With the airshow season winding down here in the northern part of the United States (or at least the northern part of the midwest), I've begun to have time to really sit down and systematically go through the video and audio that we captured in May. Tonight I got all the way through Jim Rodriguez's first flight in the Super D with Don Weaver on 14 May.

The flight went 0.9 Hobbs and consisted mostly of stalls and spins and then a couple of rolls and a couple of loops - Jim's first. The lead frame grab here is from just after the first real spin had become fully-developed.

The thing you don't get in the frame grabs is the vertigo-inducing effect of the sun whipping by every couple of seconds and the shadows tracing an ever-tightening ellipse around the interior of the cockpit. I'm noting a few of those for a montage sequence for the trailer.

Here's Jim on knife-edge in the early part of the first roll. Nice view outside the cockpit. These shots are from the ContourHD that I mounted on the right side of the cockpit. There's a Panadonic on the left side, too, but I ran a redundant Contour on the first few flights before I needed to mount one out on the wing. Given the shake that the Panasonics inexplicably developed during principal photography, it's good that we ran the ContourHDs in parallel in the early going.

Here's Jim at the top of his first loop. Again, the stills here don't show the whole story. The first loop was decidedly stop-sign-shaped. With the stall horn sounding in the middle of the second quarter. But he got it around!

By the way, if I'm criticizing as I go along, it's not mean-spirited. I didn't do much better (and, in many ways I did worse) than the campers when I flew this stuff for the first time.

Do you have a G-face? Jim has a G-face. This is Jim's G-face. Check out his neck and jowls. That's were I feel it most and, especially when you see it in motion, Jim gets the effect there, too. And it's accentuated by the extent to which Jim pulled. This is most of the way around the back of that same stop-sign-shaped loop and he's cranking about 4.5G to get her pulled up level.

Jim took the little white bag seriously. As did all of the campers. I'm pretty sure that he was the camper who least needed to worry about it, but there it is under his shoulder strap as he's egressing from the airplane. Just one of the reminders that this is a new thing for each of the campers and that the experience was full of the strange and unknown.

I continue to be amazed that these people showed up and flew their hearts out for this film. We had all of the issues that you might expect in a first project. There's some blown footage and some missed audio. But I've long since established for myself that we have more than enough material to tell a compelling story and to really turn some people on to aerobatics.

The cataloging is ongoing and I'm whittling away at it. The harder i work on the completeness of the cataloging, the easier and better the actual assembly and editing is going to be.