Finding a fresh approach

Finding a fresh approach

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To accommodate the multi-dimensional needs of DPs, Shift 4 Cine is the latest innovative offering from one of London’s longest-running, independent rental houses. It’s been a project 10 years in the making, gathering an experienced team, collecting top-of-the-range tools, to bring an adaptable and stylish cinematography unit to fruition. 

Established in 1989, Shift 4’s new Cine facility is breaking new ground. By changing how the lens testing process is done, more DPs can discover what makes their taste, their look, their values exceptional in an arena that was otherwise closed to them. 

Designed in collaborative consultation with DPs and focus pullers, the state-of-the-art facilities at Shift 4 Cine offer a multi-pronged approach to support distinctive visions. They’ve been busy collecting a vast inventory of rare and desirable lenses, began developing a Special Optical Projects team, and vitally, they’ve crafted a creative space upstairs that includes a Look Design Studio for real-world lens tests. 

Prep bays with MYT Works Opti-Glide systems 

THE LOOK DESIGN & DEVELOPMENT STUDIO 

Shift 4 Cine wants to empower a new generation of DPs to make the bravest and boldest script appropriate look choices they possibly can by opening their Look Design Studio for lens testing. 

Any hire company worth their salt will support the camera and lens testing needs clients have but Shift 4 Cine want to be realistic. To navigate the sometimes-overwhelming myriad of optical combinations one can use to shoot, it was clear that a functional and flexible lens test studio was the missing element DPs needed.  

Fitted out with seven MYT Works Opti-Glide systems, the investment of a highly skilled lens engineering team and a 30ft projector room, it’s in the Look Design Studio where the camera crew can get creative. Whether shooting a period drama or a gritty urban feature, the space comes with modular, visually inspiring furniture, props, local talent, wardrobe and even the option of different backdrops. In the adjoining room there’s a viewing and grading suite fully connected via both HDSDI and 10gig connectors, complete with DaVinci Resolve for a LUT stress testing and development process. 

This space is a key Shift 4 Cine tool in helping DPs establish the grammar and looks for all their projects, no matter how big or small. It’s even just a great space for anyone to learn about lenses, LUTs and the elusive – but real – synergies between lights, lenses, and sensors. 

There’s a genuine willingness here to help DPs to find that look, to explore the ways they can support the DP create something unique, which is why they’re developing their Special Optical Projects division.  

The Look Design Studio 

SPECIAL OPTICAL PROJECTS 

Since the birth of cinema, visionary technicians have been building, breaking, tweaking, and reworking optical tools to allow cinematographers access into new ways of seeing the world.  Shift 4 Cine has invested in expanding entry to this normally rarefied legacy by creating its Special Optical Projects programme through employing a senior optical technician to solely work on developing new optical tools. On the Projects bench at the moment, for full look augmentation, are the beautifully rehoused TLS Petzval lenses. Why pull apart freshly rehoused lenses? With Petzval lenses being so popular at the moment for highlighting heightened dramatic moments, Shift 4 Cine’s MD, Alex Trezies wanted to offer clients an even stronger option for those hero moments.  

What else is in the Special Optical Projects development pipeline? Trezies had to be a little tight-lipped as some of this development takes a serious amount of R+D and time and the danger to over-promise is always a concern, he said. “But I do feel safe in saying that if you’re interested in a repeatable de-tuning or re-tuning program for both some of our older vintage offerings and new cinema glass, you’ll be very pleased. We’ve listened very carefully to DPs and tried hard to translate both their interest and love of optics into a service they can depend on.” 

The grading suite  

VINTAGE OR MODERN GLASS – A TEST OF TASTE

DP Roy Estabrook has a long-standing relationship with Shift 4, and benefits from an exceptional service that goes above and beyond. “They’re always saying we’ve got new kit, a new lens in.” When gearing up for the ‘80s-set heist series The Curse, they tested all their vintage glass. They landed on the Canon K35s which they combined with filters from the ‘80s, enhancing diffusion to push the visual vibe of the drama.  

For S2 of The Curse, the show was set on the Canary Islands – a far cry from grey London. Shift 4s extensive testing was essential. “I knew the light would be quite special out there, and that’s why I wanted to try something a little bit different,” but not opposite, to the K35s.   

This testing was taken on by the cine technical department who exceeded expectations to help Estabrook create the look. They tested how the Angénieux Optimo Primes, the Blackwing7 T-Tuned and the Leitz Prime sets responded to three different environments: 1. Moody-lit room with tungsten lighting; 2. Direct sunlight on a face; 3. Heavily-lit sunlight with lots of flaring.  

Each lens in each set was tested in all three settings, wide open, T2.8 and T4, as well as with, and without, Black Pro Mist.   

Because the Optimo Primes could be engineered into different configurations, the set were also tested in four different ways in each of the three environments: 1. Clean with a vintage filter; 2. Uncoated; 3. Uncoated with a vintage filter; 4. All of the above again with Black Pro Mist.  

Two Feature Rooms for crews prepping for large projects 

Because of how adaptable the Optimo Primes are, they were the lens of choice. 

“I was able to use them with an uncoated internal element, and a vintage filter in back, but they also gave me all the advantages of a newly made lens”, which perfectly defined the look when shooting in that glorious Canary Island sun.  

DPs with discerning optical appetites and those wanting guidance alike can discover all kinds of possibilities to create distinctive looks by tasting from the many lenses available at Shift 4 Cine. That vast menu has an array of anamorphic, spherical, S35 FF, vintage and modern glass, including a unique set of handcrafted Lomo 2x Anamorphic & Kowa Cine Prominars, as well as all the equipment the camera department need, such as the Alexa 35s and Venice 2s.  

There’s an enthusiasm to help navigate the variety of worlds DPs need to envision at Shift 4 Cine, and developing that look takes time, space, knowledge, and expertise to test and prepare.  

For DPs to make bold choices when they test, they require a diverse and extensive variety of lenses, and a confident, steady hand to support those choices. Finding that unique look specific to test your tastes is what makes that project individual and memorable, which is where the Look Design Studio comes in. And for some, an exclusive, 1:1 consultation with a lens engineer can gift that special note for a DP with a desire for distinction. 

For over 30 years, Shift 4 has expanded into one of the biggest and best rental companies in UK broadcast TV production, and with the evolution into this branch at Shift 4 Cine, a new adventure has only just begun where they can dedicate their deep experience of the industry to the DP community. 

Another angle of their Look Design Studio  

Words: Anna Byrne 

This article was paid for by Shift 4

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