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April 28, 2014

Jonathan Glazer Hides in Plain Sight with Custom-Made Cam to Secretly Shoot 'Under the Skin'

Director Jonathan Glazer's artsy sci-fi thriller Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansonn as the alien seductress preying on men in Scotland, hit theaters this month, earning the highest per-theater average during its opening weekend, even above Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Success like that makes one wonder what it's got going on, and thanks to a few featurettes and interviews with Glazer, we get to take a peek behind the scenes as the filmmakers of this hauntingly fascinating movie quietly and secretively capture the disturbing world of a sexy alien disguised as a human using a tiny CCD camera developed specifically for the film; the One-Cam.

For the production of Under the Skin, the name of the game was to stay hidden. The outdoor scenes featured a "disguised" Johansson walking the streets of Glasgow, performing her scenes while a van carrying the film crew tailed her with "hidden" cameras. In fact, these "hidden" cameras were set up all over the area in which the scenes were being shot, in shop windows and upper-story apartment windows. All of this, the super-famous Scarlett Johansson in a fur coat and black wig walking down a street in Scotland, being filmed by a crew of people in a van for a film directed by one incredibly talented director -- completely unbeknownst to passersby.

Here's director Jonathan Glazer breaking down this scene in a short video for The New York Times:

Of course, this hidden camera approach wasn't used throughout the entire production. In fact, the film is quite ethereal and dreamlike -- not as vérité as the Glasgow street scenes. The team also used the ARRI ALEXA to shoot the staged scenes, producing some incredible, darkly beautiful images, but in order to capture the spontaneity of the unrehearsed, "hidden camera" scenes, the VFX studio One of Us, located in Soho, developed a tiny camera specifically for the film and called it the One-Cam.

Cinematographer Daniel Landin described the One-Cam, saying that it is about the size of your every day matchbox, and able to fit 16mm lenses. In an interview with Indiewire, he stated that, "The image we generated we ended up liking so much we would have shot the entire film on that camera if we could have made it rugged enough to withstand all kinds of weather." In an interview with The Dissolve, Glazer goes into a bit more detail about the camera:

Much of the film was shot with a camera called a One-Cam, which we built to make this film. We needed a camera that was small enough to hide, but had the quality that we needed to project and do the visual-effects work. It didn’t exist, so we built it. We built 10 cameras. Sometimes we used two, sometimes we used 10. We shot much of the film like that, where we could build the cameras into the dashboard in her car, or hide them in street furniture to watch her walking down the street, and not alert the general public that there was any filming going on at all. Much of the film was shot covertly like that.

Under the Skin bts

The camera system built by One of Us utilized multiple cameras in order to accommodate Glazer's vision of capturing multiple angles all at once. According to Mission Digital, the system was mostly used within the white van that Johansson's character uses to hunt men. There, Glazer and his team would receive a continuous stream of footage as the army of One-Cams captured scenes from all different angles, resulting in an unthinkable amount of footage, over 16 hours of footage -- per day, or 6TB worth of data. The Mission Digital article states that in a single day, "the crew shot as much data as a film would over the entire course of a feature production shoot."

under the skin onecam

OneCam

Here are a couple of behind the scenes featurettes in which the filmmakers talk a little bit more about the "hidden camera" approach:

Perhaps one of the bigger challenges of working with a beefy camera like the ALEXA and a tiny, literally brand new camera like the One-Cam is being able to match the look of the images. Glazer, in a testimonial posted on the One-Cam website, says some pretty powerful things about the camera's ability to capture cinematic images, especially when paired with a powerhouse like the ALEXA.

Digital is too sharp and illustrative. There's no immersion, no fall-off, no rolling off into black or color bleed. No accident. No alchemy. One-cam is the opposite. It seems almost chemical in how it photographs the image. For a digital camera, it has unprecedented texture and depth. It sees how my eyes see.

Though the One-Cam isn't for sale, it looks as though it can be rented, as long as One-Cam technicians and DITs are on set to assist you with the system. Here are a few specs:

The OneCam

  • Camera head dimensions: W 70mm x H 70mm x D 50mm
  • Camera head weight: 333g (about 12oz)
  • Camera head: operable at up to 100m from recorder
  • 500 ASA, naturally daylight sensitive
  • Dynamic range of at least 9 stops in daylight illumination
  • CCD sensor - global shutter, no rolling shutter artefacts
  • Separate IR cut filter required (supplied with system, depending on lens configuration)
  • Customizable 1D viewing LUTs
  • Sensor size: Super 16 width (1'' diagonal)
  • Resolution: 2336 x 1752 pixels uncompressed 12bit RAW
  • Aspect ratio: 4:3 or 16:9
  • Frame rates: Variable up to 30 fps
  • Lens mounts: C-Mount, PL-Mount, Nikon Mount (via adapters)
  • Anamorphic lenses supported via PL-Mount in 4:3
  • Record to SSD mags with standard IT connectivity for download.
  • Custom post tools allow processing to standard Cineon log dpx files, or DNG for fast dailies.
  • Camera head is tethered to one-cam recorder, which is approximately the size of a 16mm camera body. Can be used as a basis for studio system, if required, using 15mm lightweight bars or 19mm adapter plate.
  • Camera head can be up to 100 feet from recorder, custom cables can be made on request.
  • Monitoring is via HDMI or HD-SDI via adapter.

The OneCam_1

In the end, Glazer's vision to create a parallel between the voyeuristic nature of his dangerous main character and the unintentional POV of an unsuspecting audience truly works for the film. And the way he and his team went about it, having to pool their resources in order to come up with a technological solution that best fit their needs is something that we indie filmmakers know all too well.

What do you think of Glazer's approach to Under the Skin? What are your thoughts on the One-Cam? Let us know in the comments below.

Links:

[via HD Warrior]

Your Comment

36 Comments

there's this movies called black friday which has been mostly shot with hidden cameras

April 28, 2014

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locke

GREAT film, and when you're watching it the naturalness of the van interior scenes is really striking.

They also SEVERELY screwed (in a good way) with the Alexa footage in the film - I saw it back to back with The Winter Soldier, and you'd never believe both films were mainly shot on the same camera and featured the same actress (which speaks to the flexibility of both I guess). Both looks were perfect for the material.

Was also a perfect portrait of Glasgow. Yes, its really that awful.

One Of Us is one of the world's more 'unique' posthouses: not unlike The Mill when the Scott brothers owned it, it mainly exists to execute Jonathan's work. Great place - super nice people.

If you haven't seen Under the Skin - SEE IT. If the beach scene doesn't stay with you a long time you may be dead inside.

April 28, 2014

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marklondon

April 28, 2014

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Tyler

Strong reading comprehension

July 25, 2014

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Reggie

Absolutely adored this film, so unique and rich in depth. Great post.

April 29, 2014

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Agent55

Best film of the year

April 29, 2014

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avatar
Micah Van Hove
Writer
writer, director, dp

Creating an new One-Cam in stead of using Black Magic's Pocket Cinema Camera, could be interpreted as a statement. The BMPCC which looks potentially very capable of doing the job, is turned down may be due to the absence of a global shutter. No rolling shutter artefacts could have been a key requirement.

April 29, 2014

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Richard Lizier

You're right that that rolling shutter would have not worked for that shot, but do keep in mind this film came out in 2013. It was probably shot in 2011. When did the BMPCC come out? Late 2013?

April 29, 2014

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Ant

Too many aliasing problems with the BMPCC.

April 29, 2014

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Gerry

Glazer shot it in 2011. He'd been planning the film since 2004. The camera market has changed an awful lot in that time and he still shot on something seldom seen now.

May 1, 2014

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Chris S.

While watching this movie my reaction was 'this makes Eraserhead look like a rom-com' until a great payoff and days of residual reactions dwelling on it and it's subject matter. Wonderful performance by Scarlett Johansonn and she's never looked more beautiful, a credit in part to the crew and their one off One Cams. Surprised it's listed with only 9 stops of dynamic range though, looked better than that.

April 29, 2014

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Billy Barber

At the risk of being pedantic I object to you describing his film as an "artsy sci-fi" movie.
It's lazy and the worst word is anti-art and pejorative.

arty or artsy (ˈɑːtɪ)

— adj , artier , artiest
informal having an ostentatious or affected interest in or desire to imitate artists or artistic standards

In fact I object to anyone using that term whenever they come across a film or footage that is just slightly alternative vision to what is their 'normal'.
Do people here walk around MOMA and murmur 'oh man is the place artsy fartsy or what?'

The film could best be described as an Avant-garde Sci-fi thriller.

April 29, 2014

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Dan

Yes! I can't stand that word. I know a couple directors/producers who use that word and I cringe every time. I don't think they mean to be belittling (to themselves or their collaborators), but I don't think they understand what the word really means. I think some people use it use it to take the word "art" and use it an adjective...and this use of it is no better b/c only hacks and tools like to say they are making "art".

These are terms that generally (in practical uses in filmmaking) are not ever ever needed. To rhetorically ask to a class of freshman "is film art?" (or whatever) is a good use of the word, but in terms of filmmakers doing their jobs, the terms "art" and "artsy" are for people who are tools (who think of themselves as "artists"), or ignorant (b/c they don't use the word correctly, mistaking it as an adjective for "art"---see the "tool" above), or are negative/insulting/belittling people.

May 4, 2014

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Daniel Mimura

Maybe I missed it, but how in the world do you handle the legal aspects of a film like this? Don't you need release forms for all those people walking down the street?

April 29, 2014

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Rob

I asked myself the same thing. Michael Winterbottom did something similar with "Wonderland" and got away with - also shot in the UK. I'm German and you could never shoot like this over here. I think no producer/tv station would dare to use the footage.

Im very curious: Does anyone now how they dealt with the legal side of this?

April 29, 2014

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gp

In public settings, at least in the States, there is no assumption of privacy. So, people walking on the sidewalk, driving in their car, eating outdoors at a bistro, all have forsaken their privacy to be in public and can no longer control the use of their image. This is how photographers publish in newspapers in candid situations and how filmmakers get away with shooting on the streets of major cities without the headache of releasing the (potentially) hundreds of people walking within the frame of the shot.

With all of this in mind, I have absolutely no idea what European laws are for similar situations, but there you have it!

April 29, 2014

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R.M. Wood

R.M. Wood--What you say holds true for journalistic work, but not commercial, at least in the U.S. As an example, I couldn't take a photo of Miley Cyrus on a public sidewalk and then sell a poster of that image. But I could sell it to a tabloid. That's my understanding from my one course in mass com law. There's obviously some kind of legal way around this used in this movie. I'm very curious what it is.

April 29, 2014

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Rob

"all have forsaken their privacy to be in public and can no longer control the use of their image."

That sounds ridiculous

April 30, 2014

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Jack Horner

It's not ridiculous, it's the law, at least when it comes to journalism. If you are out in public, it's legal for anyone take your picture and publish it if they want. However, I know reality shows are always careful about getting releases, but I'm not sure how this applies to commercial non-fiction such as documentary films. If anyone can find a case, in history, where someone successfully sued because they were caught in context-less, person-on-the-street cameo in a feature film and won some sort of judgment, I would be very interested to hear about it.

April 30, 2014

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Derek

When filming out in public places that cannot be completely locked off generally we put signs up stating that we're currently filming and that anyone who wanders in of their own free will absolves all their rights should they be photographed or some such wording. Maybe there was a big sticker on the back of the van as it drove past!

For the sake of continuity and if there is the budget though PA's will lock off as much as is feasibly possible. Aside from the conversations by the sides of the vehicle there was no great need for continuity, but I'd be interested to know how many of the heavily featured passers by were contacted after the fact if any and signed release forms.

April 29, 2014

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Rus

This is what I have in mind.

I'm trying to make a shot in a public health building in my city and there is tons of people inside. Although I won't frame everyone, a lot of people would be recognizable, so I have to ask them a writing permission, since I don't have enough crew just to make extras volume.

It's impossible to me ask everyone to stop their job because I want to make a shot. Just to get permission to shot was a pain. And I'm still unable to make what I want. What to do?

April 29, 2014

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Rodrigo Molinsky

In TV we get the permission of whoever owns the building/property, and then post a notice by a door.

April 29, 2014

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Zack

Good ideia. Thanks!

April 29, 2014

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Rodrigo Molinsky

As a PM working on a lot of factual entertainment projects, we usually put large posters or sandwich boards up telling any passerby of the filming and that by entering the area or walking down the street they give us permission to use their image. Also I did a film (a mockumentary if you like to call it that, called Confetti) where only those individuals who were featured - i.e. interacted with the cast or whose image was used as an integral part of the story - were asked to sign a release

April 29, 2014

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Tim

Thanks!

April 29, 2014

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Rodrigo Molinsky

Hollywood studios will set up the sandwich boards and have several people there with releases to sign. Everyone who signs gets paid $1.00. They have been doing this for years. During the 1980s/90s I did a lot of TV series. I doubt if much has changed.

April 29, 2014

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c.d.embrey

I'm aware of the custom ways to film in public (putting up signs, filling out forms,......) but I was curious about this particular set up. They couldn't have put up signs, as it would have ruined the whole concept of shooting in disguise. And from what I saw in the featurettes I'd be suprised if they managed to get all the peoples signatures after the shots. Especially when they were filming documentary-style (or should i say cctv-style), 16 hours of footage per day, not knowing what they would use.

April 30, 2014

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gp

"Cinematographer Daniel Landin described the One-Cam, saying that it is about the size of your every day matchbox, and able to fit 16mm lenses."

Umm, largest matchbox ever? Or is he talking about an every day (giant fireplace-lighting matches) matchbox?

http://nofilmschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/OneCam.jpg

April 29, 2014

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SizeMatters

It's not for sale? Ha! You see something twice as good at $4k before the year ends.

April 29, 2014

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Mattix34

It's not for sale? Ha! You see something twice as good at $4k before the years ends.

April 29, 2014

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Mattix34

This film was beautiful in so many ways but I'm surprised no one is commenting on the editing and pacing being a total train wreck. It was at least 30 minutes too long. It really dipped into the realm of creative masturbating way too often and this is coming from a tarkovski fan.

April 29, 2014

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dems

Give me a box with a 16mm CCD and HDMI out and I can create the ultimate camera just by attaching a Atomos Ninja.

The image from CCD's still blow almost every CMOS sensor out of the water. Hell I would have bought the BMPCC instantly if it was global shutter.

April 29, 2014

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Digital Bolex is ccd.

April 29, 2014

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arain

The setup reminds me a lot of the Sillecon Images 2K. It had a head of simular size that was connected to a body by wires. The head only contained the sensor and the hardware to send out the signal to the body.

April 29, 2014

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Ralph

I think he went too far stripping away at the novel, there is barely anything there, a few of the more interesting themes were still left but barely. Some striking images, although i have to say many of them came over as obviously being the work of an advertising or music video director, just unmotivated style. Many of the scenes, including one in the video above(when she falls over) CLEARY were staged with actors. But i see why Glazer is exaggerating the amount of scenes that were supposedly shot with hidden cameras with onlookers unaware. Scar-jo disguised as a non actor playing an alien, imitating a human, the people around her dont see her for who she as, as they don't see the character as the alien, adds another layer of hiding/imitation that wouldn't be there if we knew all scenes were staged with actors. But actually it doesnt matter because the whole film feels incredibly natural. Just framing it un-filmicly, with natural light and improved dialogue does exactly the same thing. The beach scene was terrific.

April 29, 2014

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andy

This film was certainly interesting. The payoff honestly comes at the end and without it, would have been a little tedious to say the least. After the ending you get a true sense and an understanding of exactly what was transpiring the first hour and a half. That said, I was a little relieved to see it finally over hehe.

Good cinematography, clever editing and a unique shooting style made most of the film very much worth watching. In the end I think I liked it and its experimental sci fi story is always a welcome change from the crap we usually get.

April 30, 2014

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Kaleb