Jurassic Park 3 – Pteranodon Canyon

For JP3, we had a complicated Pteranodon chase that transpires across 5 different stages and set-pieces, and concludes in a large space at the base of a deep valley. The sequence begins on a suspension bridge shrouded in fog, where one of our characters is plucked-off and carried away by a mysterious flying beast. Chase is given by way of cantilevered walkway and parasail and eventually lands at water level on a silked-over set built in 5 feet of water. This is a very large negative-fill silk rig erected over that set on Falls Lake on the Universal Lot. We constructed this rig since the set to be built consisted of some steep cliff faces with water beneath that contained much of the action during and after our Pteranodon flight sequence. Because the sequence is carried out in fog and soft skylight, and because Falls Lake has a south face and was largely front lit during the day, it necessitated the construction of a large silk overhead. We considered many options such as traditional crane mounted rigs and other crazier ideas than this. We ultimately landed on this plan because it provided some structure overhead for flying stunt rigs and SFX rig points. There were a few hurdles to get over.

JP 6

Our rig consisted of very large scaffold walls that were erected by the legendary Key Grip Bob Babin. He devised a way to have silks overhead manufactured in strips and layers as wind-loads were a huge concern for this giant structure. Because the Lake faces south, it was my desire to rig solids to the southern elevation of the rig, but horizontal wind loads negated that idea and a net was used to cut 70% of the southern sun and still allow air to pass through the wall, thus allowing the engineer to hit his number for wind on that hilltop. We were well into winter months so the sun was low to the south for much of the day… And daylight hours were short. This was a problem that ended being an enormous asset.

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Bob and I pitched this plan to the Producers who were not entirely open to it at first… mainly due to the immense manpower and expense related to the plan. I remember sitting with Producer, Larry Franco, who called me into his office and said, “Shelly I’m about to pull the trigger in this rig and all-in with materials, time, labor and engineering its going to cost $500,000.00 which is worrying. Tell me this will work and that I’m not just pouring this money downJP 3 a hole.” (For anyone who knows Larry you’ll know I cleaned up many of his well-placed and hilarious expletives). I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried as well, but I wanted to make sure Larry understood a key component of the plan. Since the days were short, we only had 9 hours of shootable light. My plan was to get two Musco Lights and some 18Ks and light through the overhead silk and shoot into the night with artificial light that matched our daylight. We were scheduled to shoot eight 9-hour days on that set. I told him that if we could get off that set in 6 days and save him 2 days of shooting, that would have a dollar value, no? Larry said, “Shelly, if you tell me that thing will save me two shooting days and you can shoot into the night with it, I’ll sign that check right now.” That said, the rig more or less paid for itself. In fact, with the savings on no force calls dictated by the need for daylight, the rig may have put production into profits.

JP 7

On our very first day in the rig, we got held up with some kind of effects rigging. With the AD, I tried to design the days where most of our wide shots were shot during daylight hours and our night-for-day shooting would be limited to medium shots. With FX and stunt rigging delays (through no fault of theirs, it was a complicated project) it firmly placed our widest shots at the end of the day and well into our first night. Knowing the day was shaping up this way, I was sweating it out and I knew I’d be facing a huge test with a lot of people curious to see how this night-for-day idea would actually look on this scale.

Our first night-for-day shot was a shot of Alessandro Nivola being picked up by a CG Pteranodon and dropped back into the water. The art department had put greens and painted backings like the ones we had on Stage 12 at the two ends of our scaffold rig and with the atmosphere, allowed the backgrounds to recede into a texture. We had such good light coverage at night on the silks overhead, that I actually preferred the mood of our night-for-day work and didn’t object when turn arounds forced our calls later as the work week progressed. Thankfully, we got ourselves out of the set in the six days that we needed and as far as I know, this was the single largest scaffold rig ever built by the Local 80 Hollywood grips!

Captain America: Underwater Submarine Pursuit

In this film, the script called for Steve Rogers to pursue a German Spy driving a car through the streets of Brooklyn as Steve gives chase by foot. The man eventually works his way to the waterfront and escapes in a small one-man submarine, where Rogers dives-in, swims to him, forces open the canopy and wrenches the man to the surface. I had not shot a sequence where a swimmer chases down a submarine before so, I was excited to researching my options. The proposed set was a small tank inside a stage at Pinewood Studios outside London. The tank was 60 feet long by 20 feet deep and the sub was 20 feet long and stationary within the black tank. Our perception of movement would need to come from moving the camera and creating underwater current that would affect debris and bubbles… not the submarine. We ended up getting a Hydroscope from Chapman, which is a heavy duty submersible crane that can be operated from the deck next to the tank, along with a Hydro Head submersible remote head. We needed a camera that we could house in an underwater housing and our Genesis cameras we were using to shoot the body of the show ran too hot to perform well in a housing that goes to that depth. We ended up securing a brand-new Alexa (the only one in Europe that Bob Richardson wasn’t using on Hugo) and I called Pete Romano at Hydroflex and asked if he could quickly manufacture a Remote AquaCam compatible with our submersible remote head, which he began making right away. Typically speaking, these types of housings arrive a few days before shooting so that we can test the fit and check for water-tightness. In this case, the shooting date was looming closer and Pete had yet to deliver the housing from Hydroflex in LA to Pinewood Studios in London. He told me he had to make the housing from scratch, as this was the first Alexa that he was aware of that would be going into a Remote AquaCam. Pete always seems to come through and the housing arrived the day before shooting. In fact, when they opened the box during our early pre-call to test the housing the smell of fresh paint permeated the prep room and made us dizzy from the fumes. The camera, housing and underwater crane worked great and crane operator Gary Hymns deserves an award (and trip to the chiropractor) for doing expert crane moves with submerged principle actors, all while fighting water resistance and working blind to the camera’s proximity to the set-piece. Amazing job by all involved.

Under Water Tank

Below is a clip of the sequence and submarine pursuit that occurs near the end of the clip.

The Big Bang: Color Noir on Film

The Big Bang is an independent film with Antonio Banderas who follows a private investigation that carries him from a random disappearance and eventually poses existential questions regarding the origins of life and the god particle. It’s a head-full for sure. The film was Directed by Tony Krantz who has a vast art knowledge and had very specific ideas regarding the use of color in the film. I felt that in order for the color to have a lasting presence, and so the brain would not neutralize our coloring, that we needed some sort of white reference on order to give the brain a waypoint with which to register color. The use of white went against Tony’s desire to give the film an almost noir type if feel, so we instead decided to go for a balanced neutral and solid black onto which we could anchor our colors. The entire film has this common thread which helps give the fearless use of color and total departure from reality a sense of unity.


I presented to Tony the thought of using only two colors at any given time… Thus, keeping each scene away from a random or garish sort of feel. In doing that, it also inspired us to consider the meaning of two paired colors. I think I had 7 different gel colors that I restricted my choices to, then paired them as the scene dictated. Antonio, who has directed a few films of his own that favor a more impressionistic visual approach was completely on-board with staging for camera. Especially if it offered an unusual and meaningful lighting or composition storytelling opportunity. He is an amazing actor to work with.


Colored gels were used to large effect in a glass home on location outside of Spokane, Washington. We used layers of purple, blue, ND and Roscoscrim so we could shoot a long dinner scene with a stylized day-for-dusk effect and see into the surrounding landscape. The still here was shot around mid-day and we were able to get a stylized dusk look with the help of some heavy clouds. With the blue component in the window gel-pack… Plus the fact that film is routinely blue-sensitive, we enjoyed an interesting effect where purple highlights became blue shadows as they worked their way down the density scale. Interesting and totally accidental phenomenon. We peeled away layers of ND as we lost the light and completed the scene in one daylight period. Sam Elliot is very fun to work with. No-nonsense and a cool guy. I rather enjoyed this film as it gave me the opportunity to do something I had never done before.

Below is the interesting title sequence we shot with the WeissCam at 1000fps (some of it obviously re-timed)