I can remember being twelve years old and visiting my aunt in Denver. It was a very special trip. It was my first plane ride, my first time seeing mountains and where I saw my very first IMAX movie. It was “The Dream Is Alive” which offered an unprecedented window inside the Space Shuttle during its 1984 missions. My mind was blown by the scope and the experience, and it sparked in me a curiosity and passion for the filmmaking process that still exists for me today. At the time, only a handful of IMAX theaters existed scattered sporadically in museums across the country. Movies like “Dream” would show for up to 6 months to a year, sometimes longer as there wasn’t much IMAX content. Now they’re in every multiplex in every city around the globe. Little did I know I would one day meet the cinematographer responsible for that film and six other IMAX and IMAX 3D films, James Neihouse, ASC.
Neihouse has been behind all seven of the IMAX space films, shooting nearly all of the footage from the ground as well as teaching the astronauts how to shoot with their cameras in space.
The end goal is not all that simple: to capture a process that’s not always particularly visually exciting and translate it to the larger IMAX screen. As Neihouse explains:
“Astronauts are probably the best students in the world… As part of their astronaut 101 training, they get basic camera operation. So they know what an F-stop is, they know which end of the lens to look through, so we don’t have to go that basic. So we jump into shooting for IMAX, shooting for the big screen…what to frame, how to frame and then develop a scene list with them that is appropriate for our film and appropriate for a visual sensibility and IMAX. It may be the greatest experiment in the world but it all happens in a box that sits there. That’s not very visual. So we try to get those bits and pieces from them during training as to what they’re doing that will look good on an IMAX screen.”
As can be seen by the footage above, Neihouse is a master of his craft and can clearly produce amazing images. And his choice of camera is most certainly a factor in that process. A long time Canon shooter, he recently shot the Aurora Borealis with the Canon 1DX and the Canon C700, capturing some amazing footage that he shared with us during his presentation at The Camera House.
Of particular note was a washed out image of a rocket with the Aurora Borealis behind it. However, this shot would have been almost unusable except for the fact that it was shot RAW with the Canon 1DX which captured all of the data even though it could not be seen initially.
“I misjudged the brightness of the rocket because I had never shot on of these sounding rockets before…and I sure hadn’t shot one in a snow-filled environment. So I misjudged the exposure a bit, looked at the image and it was totally washed out, nothing there… I put it in Photoshop, started playing with the exposure and all the sudden I’m looking at Aurora and detail on the ground…The RAW capabilities of this camera is just amazing. There’s a lot of comfort knowing that you’ve got a RAW image that you can play with back and forth and that you can recover from some of these little exposure errors they might make.”
Neihouse was primarily there to talk about the C700 and its Super 35mm Sensor. “I like the camera, with the Codex recorder on it, it’s very balanced. It’s easy to work with and it’s lite.” According to Neihouse, the first time he picked it up, he almost tossed it over his shoulder because he thought it was going to be “Alexa” heavy. To his surprise, it’s only 7.5 lbs.
Regarding the Super 35 Sensor in the C700, Neihouse had this to say: “Canon does something with these sensors that’s different than everybody else. I don’t know what it is, but I feel personally that it has a much more cinematic look than any other cameras including the Alexa.” He goes on to say, “What I do know is that I like the way it looks.”
He goes on to say, “The fact that you can now do anamorphic with this camera is a big deal.” Finally, when asked if he’d send the C700 into space, he had this to say: “If I were going to fly a camera within the next two to three years, it would definitely be the C700.” I don’t think you can get a better endorsement than that.
To purchase a new C700, check out BandPro at BandPro.com
To rent the C700, be sure to visit the Camera House online at www.TheCameraHouse.com
For more on the Canon C700 visit Cinemaeos.USA.Canon.com/products/EOS-C700
For more on James Neihouse, ASC and his prolific career, visit JNeihouse.wixsite.com/JamesNeihouseASC