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


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.


[via HD Warrior]