The NASA IMAX Project with Cinematographer James Neihouse
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James Neihouse, the large format cinematographer renowned for his work on projects from shuttle launches to volcanic eruptions, finds himself working around the globe, literally, shooting Earth 2.0 (working title) produced by Walt Disney Pictures. As he begins this project with his long time clients at NASA, Neihouse reflected on some of his experiences working with astronauts, race cars, and rocket launches, and how important choosing the best equipment is in extreme production.
In the highly demanding environments he works in, Neihouse needs equipment that performs perfectly each and every time. OConnor's 2575 and 2065 have become indispensable for him, and he's relied upon them heavily for many 3D and IMAX collaborations. No matter how magnificent or daunting the locale, he's always focused on getting the shot that everyone will remember, no matter what the filming conditions.
"You don't get a second chance to shoot a rocket launch," says Neihouse, who puts OConnor equipment at the top of his equipment list. "You prepare for years to get something special, or prep extensively for a specific shot to be executed just right. You cannot afford to fail, and that's why I want OConnor.
James Neihouse is one of only five cinematographers invited this year to join The Academy®. The Academy's members number around 6,000 worldwide, and just once each year, new inductees are invited to join the esteemed organization.
"When working with the astronauts I try to do the heavy lifting for them. We joke that I'm their "zero-g simulator" so, having a light weight system is crucial. That's why the 1030 system with carbon fiber legs is perfect to support my medium sized Canon C500. The 90 degree tilt range of the 1030 made it easy to shoot straight up, looking out the cupola window simulating the earth as seen from 230 miles out in space. With most other systems I'd have to use a tilt plate to get a total vertical, or maybe shorten one tripod leg, but the 1030 handles it in stride, making set ups quicker, which is a huge deal when every minute of the astronaut's time in pre-flight training is over-subscribed."
Neihouse is a veteran of more than 35 large format films, and has trained a number of missions of astronauts to shoot in space, including the astronauts involved in shooting the unforgettable "Hubble 3D," in 2010 produced by Warner Brothers. In that stunning footage, seven astronauts on the Space Shuttle Atlantis repair and restore the Hubble Space Telescope. The film is a combination of IMAX footage and handheld video done by the shuttle crew during their mission. Neihouse created the film's ground footage, which included shooting an impressive launch.
The OConnor 2575 was key to the project, which was narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. The 2575 could support the 90 pound weight of the IMAX 30 perf 3D camera, while still remaining agile in the process. While other heads could have supported the camera, none were as light or easy to use, obviously mission critical requirements of the project. Since they were shooting on a "non-interference" basis around NASA and the launch support systems at the Kennedy Space Center, the crew could be asked to move at any time to accommodate operations.
Kimiya Yui, of the Japanese Exploration Aerospace Agency (JAXA) above left, and Dr. Kjell Lindgren (right), of NASA.
"It's nice knowing you have the best equipment on your side during every production, but it becomes crucial during a launch. There's always an element of the unknown in that environment," says Neihouse. "And, you need to be as prepared as possible when you might have to get up and run to another location."
Though the astronauts didn't use tripods in space, his cameras in the NASA simulators needed a consistent support system. He found the OConnor 2575 more than up to the task.
"The (30 perf IMAX) camera was mounted in the cargo bay, very close to where the bottom of the Hubble Space Telescope would be," says Neihouse. "Using the 2575 allowed us to put the camera in the simulator in the same orientation ICBC3D would be in the actual space shuttle. The crew was then able to shoot training footage and see what it looks like on the giant IMAX screen. It's a great teaching tool."
Kimiya Yui and Dr. Kjell Lindgren are two of the three newly-appointed International Space Station crew members to round out future expeditions to the orbiting laboratory.
The 2575 was a big hit with the astronauts as they were training, according to Neihouse. "They are always looking for equipment that's so rock solid, they'll never have to worry about it.
Neihouse also relied upon the 2575 while shooting in Kazakhstan for the 2002 documentary "Space Station 3D," a project narrated by Tom Cruise. He spent a lot of time around the launch pads, trying to get the best shots possible for the film. During a piece of the first launch of the Space Station, he got a gorgeous long lens shot of the lift off and tracked the rocket with the OConnor.
"Lots of people who see that shot think it was done from a mechanical tracker, or stabilized head," explains Neihouse. "But, it was just me and the 2575."
The cinematographer has a special love for the work he's done with NASA. And, NASA has reciprocated by awarding him a Silver Snoopy, an honor given to NASA employees or contractors who make significant contributions to flight safety or mission success and two NASA Group Achievement awards.
OConnor equipment has played a crucial role in the cinematographer's work with earth-bound projects, too. For 2004's documentary "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience", Neihouse used the 2575 for 2D camera shots that were later converted to 3D during post production.
Summing up the incredible work he's been a part of, Neihouse notes, "Anything for an adventure. In all of these great environments, it is imperative that I come equipped with undeniable tools that make getting the shot possible. That's what OConnor is all about."
Earth 2.0 (working title), is an IMAX 3D film that will be shot over the course of a year using multiple astronaut crews. The film is co-produced with NASA and Walt Disney Pictures, and set for release in 2016.
Follow James Neihouse on Twitter at @70mmDP
OConnor has been the choice of professional cinematographers since the invention of the fluid head 60 years ago by founder Chad O'Connor. OConnor's award-winning fluid heads are known for their smooth feel, fluid movement and intuitive control. Designed for film-style shooting, each facilitates seamless transition when changing payloads and offers stepless, ultra-smooth pan & tilt fluid drag for maximum control. In addition to fluid heads and tripods, OConnor offers a growing line of camera and lens accessories engineered to fill the needs of today's fast-paced camera work. The line includes the CFF-1 and new O-Focus DM follow focus systems for cine and still photo lenses, the award-winning O-Box WM mattebox, innovative O-Grip handgrip system and the Universal Baseplate. OConnor products are respected and trusted by individual users and rental houses worldwide for their reliability, longevity and toughness. Along with other leading brands in the broadcast industry, OConnor is part of the Vitec Videocom, a Vitec Group company.
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