Cinematographer Thomas Hardmeier, AFC recently used the ARRI Ultra Wide Zoom UWZ 9.5-19/T2.9 for VFX shots in a Lavazza commercial directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose credits include the much-loved films AMÉLIE, A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT
and THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET. With a telecentric optical design, the UWZ features exceptionally low distortion, highly uniform field illumination and pin-sharp resolution from the center to the corners of the image, making it ideal for VFX applications. Hardmeier speaks here about his experiences with this unique lens on the Jeunet shoot.
Tell us about the commercial.
It was a five-day shoot, all in the studio. It starts in the present day and then we go back to 1900, with our main character taking a ship from Genoa in Italy to Rio de Janeiro, where he discovers Brazilian coffee in a bar and decides to return to Italy and try to sell the coffee there. So it tells the story of how Lavazza was created -- how the idea came about to get into the coffee business.
Did you shoot the present-day and historic scenes in different ways?
We did use quite a lot of smoke for the historical scenes and the sets were quite interesting and nicely crafted, so they do the job of transporting the viewer to 1900. In the color timing we treated the period with a brownish look, similar to THE GODFATHER: PART II, reducing the saturation only a little bit as Jean-Pierre generally likes to have contrast and color in his images. The sets, the costumes and a fair amount of smoke were the main things that take us back to the period.
How did you come to have the UWZ on the shoot?
I went to the ARRI dinner at Micro Salon and got talking about the lens. I had already read about it, but after hearing a bit more at the dinner I thought I'd try shooting with it. Jean-Pierre is a big fan of wide-angle lenses, so this was a good production to try it on. His favorite lens is the 21 mm Master Prime and we used that a lot, but there were two big greenscreen shots where the UWZ was extremely useful. One was a crane shot on the Genoa harbor set and the other was a dolly shot on the Rio set. They looked amazing and the zoom performed very well.
Could you describe the two shots in more detail, and exactly how the UWZ was useful?
The crane shot combined CGI with real elements that we shot with the UWZ, showing our character running through a crowd on the harborside to catch his ship. We decided to set the focal length to 17 mm, but during rehearsal we saw that due to the movement of the crane, the shot was not smooth enough for the greenscreen work. So we just changed the focal length of the UWZ to 15 mm, giving the VFX team more latitude to stabilize the shot in post. It was very handy to have a zoom because it allowed us to adjust the composition quickly and easily.
The dolly shot was another big greenscreen setup of our hero arriving in Rio, shot in our 4,000 sqm studio. He walks through the crowd towards the camera and then he sees the bar. Again it was convenient to have the UWZ because we could choose the exact right focal length without changing anything else about the set or the camera position. We actually couldn't get any further back in the studio, so we really needed that degree of wide angle and the UWZ made it very easy.
Do you think the UWZ could replace wide-angle prime lenses on a shoot?
Yes, and it did on this one because I actually had five wide-angle lenses on my initial list, the 10 mm, 12 mm, 14 mm, 16 mm and 18 mm, but then when I had confirmation that we were getting the UWZ I could take all of those primes off my list and it was cheaper! So it's an interesting tool from the perspective of production as well.
And does the optical quality of the UWZ stand up to prime lenses, in your view?
Oh yes. I didn't shoot any technical tests but the optical quality seems to be even better than prime lenses. It uses the most up-to-date lens technology, so of course the quality is very high and the results are astonishing. The lack of distortion in the UWZ is just amazing; I have no idea how they did it.
What other situations can you image the UWZ being useful for?
All kinds of things. On small sets it's always going to be good to have such a lens because you have the freedom to choose the angle you want, even if you can't physically move back very far. Of course it's a specialist lens; you don't need 18 mm or wider a lot of the time on most shoots, but I don't feel that the UWZ has been made for a specific purpose because there will be situations where it could prove very useful on any type of shoot, from features to commercials, and perhaps especially car commercials.