Cristian Dimitrius is an Emmy award-winning wildlife cinematographer whose work includes productions for the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Globo TV, History Channel and Animal Planet. Dimitrius' projects have taken him to remote locations all over the
world to film endangered species on land and in water. His goal is to expose audiences to the beauty of nature and inspire respect for, and conservation of the earth's resources. For SIRENS OF CRYSTAL RIVER, Dimitrius took the ARRI AMIRA underwater to film wild manatees in Florida. He spoke with us on working with the camera designed for nimble and fast operation.
Describe the shoot and what you intended to capture.
For this assignment I needed images of manatee behavior in the waters of Crystal River, Florida. Annually manatees aggregate during the winter and this brings great opportunities to shoot these charismatic animals. My idea was to capture natural behavior, some interactions with mom and cub, swimming, general portrait images and any surprise that usually happens when filming wildlife.
How would you describe the look you were going for?
As natural as possible, but very cinematic. My goal is to always combine wildlife images and a great cinematography to evoke an emotional response from the audience. However shallow depth of field was not the best option for this shoot cause we need to guarantee focus on the whole animal -- this was a little larger the usual, but still smaller for regular underwater standards
Why did you decide to shoot this on AMIRA?
For the last few years I had the opportunity to work in a great natural history production in Brazil and the main camera was the ARRI ALEXA. I fell in love with the camera and its sensor and now I wanted to expand the experience I had on land to some underwater shots, keeping the same quality and look. So, for this there was nothing better than ALEXA's little sister AMIRA. Also, I believe AMIRA was the right choice, not just for the quality, but for the sealed electronics that could provide extra protection from humidity and eventual drops that are common when you're working on boats. And for the efficient cooling system that is always very welcome inside an underwater housing. Size and weight were also considered so I believe that this was the right choice.
What kind of underwater housing are you using? Lenses? Workflow?
I used the Hydroflex MK5 from ARRI Rental, curve dome port and 20mm prime lenses. Underwater, we always use very wide lenses to minimize the distance between the sensor and the subject. This was a perfect choice to do different kinds of shots (wide, medium and narrow) without any distortion. Workflow wasn't the easiest because I had to analyze the conditions and set up the camera before getting underwater. For this I had the great support by Debora and Robert from the Fort Lauderdale ARRI team. Once the camera was ready, I would shoot until the card was done. Luckily, we found a great area and some manatees just for us, so I had plenty time to get the shots I needed.
What do you think of AMIRA's size and ergonomics?
I believe the size, ergonomics and weight is great for a single operator or a small team. On land, I like to be able to use easily in low angles out of the tripod, on shoulder and on a tripod if needed. Underwater, inside the housing, I could easily manage myself with only the help of one person to put it in the water and bring back to the boat. This is a great overall camera for a wildlife production because in these environments, we need to work in small teams. AMIRA fits in this world perfectly.
How did the images turn out?
Images were awesome considering the short amount of time I spent underwater. We had some amazing mom and cub interaction, yawning, nice swimming movement, funny naps and lots of fish in the manatee area. Visibility was not the best, but it gave a natural river look, which sometimes works really well in some productions. As expected, texture, color and details were great and met the standards required for a high-end blue-chip wildlife documentary. This is extremely important because as I said before, people react to this even if they don't know. A video look doesn't evoke the same emotional connection to the scene as a cinema look. When we shoot wildlife and want people to watch, connect, and begin to care more about nature, we definitely need the look this camera can produce.
What types of productions would be ideal to be shot on AMIRA?
I believe this is a great camera for any kind of documentary specially when the DP cares about the photography and doesn't have, or cannot have, a big crew in the field and big budgets. It's easy to use as a single operator camera and combines exceptional image quality with a very strong build. In the wildlife documentary world, the ability to shoot up to 200 fps can make a huge difference and, as I said before, the sealed electronics provide extra protection against dust and humidity that make a difference in harsh environments. I would be comfortable taking this camera to the Poles, tropical rainforests, deserts, islands and even underwater inside a proper housing knowing that the system will not let me down.
What upcoming projects do you have?
This year we have many adventures to film for my TV show including bats, killer whales, crocodiles, snow dogs, gelada monkeys and hippos. Also, there is a brand new series for cable tv, but this is top secret :), and a large project in the Brazilian Pantanal for a Canadian TV Channel. So, lots of time in the field! Despite fieldwork, I am working also with exhibits and educational projects in Brazil and soon USA -- taking nature to shopping malls, public places and schools. My lifelong mission is to inspire people to fall in love with our planet through my images, arousing the desire for knowledge and conservation of the place we all can call home. This mission never ends and there's still a lot to do. AMIRA is just a great partner to help me accomplish that.