Master Anamorphics at speed

Determined to create a distinctive look for a 3-minute image film about Toyota's presence at the famous Le Mans motor race, cinematographer Maher Maleh opted to largely forego the zooms traditionally used to shoot motorsport. Instead he opted

for ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses, combining them with an ALEXA camera and ARRI M-Series lights. He speaks here about his work on the fast-paced production.

Did you use the Master Anamorphics for a lot of the shoot?

Yes, whenever possible. The shoot was made up of the actual race, where we had to grab whatever we could, and also a single shooting day one week ahead of the race, where we rebuilt a pit-lane garage in a studio-like environment. Everything shot in there, which was the beginning and the end of the film, was done with the Master Anamorphic lenses on an ALEXA.

During the race itself there were a number of shots where we took the ALEXA and Master Anamorphics onto the track, but obviously everything was moving very quickly and several of the locations were quite remote, so we had to use some lighter weight equipment as well. For a few shots we put the Master Anamorphics on smaller cameras like the Blackmagic.


So the new ALEXA Mini would have been ideal on this shoot?

Absolutely, and I wish we could have had it. In my work I am generally shooting cars and I usually have an ALEXA on a Russian Arm with a zoom, but for the small shots I need a more compact camera, so I have to use something else. The ALEXA Mini would be the perfect way to use the same system for all types of shot -- I'm looking into buying one for myself.

What specific shots were the Master Anamorphics good for?

We did some shots where we put the race car on a tow truck with the camera mounted beside it and drove around the track. Usually you would use a low loader but on this occasion we weren't allowed to. These were side shots, looking at the driver in profile with the track behind him. We needed a very shallow depth of field to throw the background out and make it look real, disguising the lack of other cars and spectators, so the Master Anamorphics were the perfect choice for this. We shot everything at 3 fps, 6 fps or 10 fps in order to create the illusion of speed, because we were driving very slowly.

Some of the opening shots of the driver in the garage also have very shallow focus -- were you often shooting wide open?

All the time. Initially this shoot was planned to be 16:9, but I persuaded the director to go with 2.40:1 so we could shoot anamorphic and get that shallow depth of field, which creates a very special feeling and a cinematic look.

Everything else shot by other companies during the race has the same look because they play safe by using zooms, so I knew that using anamorphic lenses with a shallow depth of field would give us something totally different. For that reason I shot wide open whenever I could. With other anamorphic lenses it can be frustrating because you want to shoot wide open but the optical performance is a lot better at T4, whereas the Master Anamorphics perform well all the way to T1.9.

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The Le Mans race continues into the night -- what was that like and how did the Master Anamorphics handle low light work?

It was an amazing experience. During the race we shot continuously for 36 hours. There were trailers standing by, but it was so exciting that we just didn't stop and the whole crew worked for 36 hours straight.  

At night we were able to continue shooting wide open, which you wouldn't be able to do with other anamorphics because the image would get too blurry. The Master Anamorphics stay crisp and clear in all conditions -- sometimes they can even seem too crisp, which is why it's great that the Master Anamorphic Flare Sets have come out. It means you can get a bit more emotion into the image if you want to, so I'm looking forward to using them. I think it's important to be able to create looks like that on the set as you are shooting, rather than in post, because digital productions move so fast that DPs are often unable to be there for the grade.


But you were pleased with the optical performance on this shoot?

Yes, there is nothing to complain about with the optical performance of the Master Anamorphics; the image is perfect all the way to the edges, under any conditions and any lighting. And that is consistent across all of the focal lengths – there is no distortion at all, even on the wider lenses.


You were using an ARRI M18 light on the tow truck rig. Do you often like working with M-Series fixtures?

 I always try to use the M-Series whenever I get the chance because they are compact but very powerful, which is extremely helpful on car shoots where you are limited by the power supply you can have on a vehicle, whether it’s a Russian Arm or a tow truck. On the commercial I’m doing at the moment we have two M18s and an M40 on a low loader, and we only need a 10 kW generator, which in the old days would have been almost impossible.  The amount of light you get out of an M18 is amazing.

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