ARTICLE

Filming an aspirational supercar advert in the desert with the Canon EOS C700 FF

Filmmaker Brett Danton shot an aspirational car advert in the desert near Abu Dhabi, UAE, mounting a Canon EOS C700 FF to a camera car using a moveable crane arm. © Brett Danton

When DOP and photographer Brett Danton was commissioned to shoot a commercial for the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, he knew exactly the right location: the desert near Abu Dhabi, UAE. "The light and the scenery inspired me," he says. "Breathtaking – like something out of another world." Why was this right for a supercar commercial? "Corvettes were always linked to the space programme," he explains. "In the 1970s they gave four gold ones to the crew of Apollo 12. So we used an orange car and it could be a Corvette on Mars. That was the undertone I had in my mind when I was filming, and at the start of the commercial are subtle sounds of a space mission."

Brett filmed the ad on a 15km long private drive on a road that winds its way through vast, golden desert scenery. But he knew the assignment would require a very special camera that could not only get high quality image results but also withstand the soaring heat and fine sand. That's why he chose the full-frame Canon EOS C700 FF.

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The shoot was to create spectacular images of the Corvette being driven at speed through desert roads, sometimes filmed from a moving tracking vehicle and sometimes using a Canon EOS C200 on a drone. There is also a sequence when the driver and his partner stop to climb a sand dune at sunset to admire the scenery, before more action shots of the 755-horsepower V8 supercar doing what it does best: driving fast.

For the tracking vehicle shots, Brett used a portable car-mounted crane arm to hold the EOS C700 FF on a gimbal. This provided the power for the camera and the follow focus mechanism, which was controlled by a focus puller inside the car watching the action on a monitor. Brett was also inside the car, with his own monitor to direct the crane arm operator and the driver.

"I'm a petrolhead and love cars," Brett says, so the job was doubly enjoyable for him. The camera car was driven at up to 130kph, although the Corvette went as fast as 200kph in a series of choreographed moves. "Although the camera has built-in ND filters, we did use a 1.2-stop ND because the lens can get so close to the ground, you need something to protect it."

The fierce overhead sun made shooting during most of the day impossible. "We started at sunrise and had about 90 minutes of beautiful light, then again in the evening for two hours and intercut them for a consistent look," says Brett. "The temperature hit 55°C, yet the cameras never missed a beat."

DOP Brett Danton adjusts a Canon EOS C200 mounted to a drone.
A second video camera, a Canon EOS C200, was attached to a drone to film sweeping aerial footage. © Brett Danton
A Canon EOS C700 FF mounted on an overhead rig.

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Sharp focus even wide open

While both the EOS C700 FF and EOS C200 passed the desert torture test with flying colours, it's the quality of the footage that matters the most. That's why Brett was so keen to use the full-frame EOS C700 FF as his main camera.

"It gave me the dynamic range I needed. But the main thing for me is that the depth-of-field meant the car could be separated from the background," says Brett. "A 35mm lens at T2 on a full-frame camera keeps the car pin-sharp but the background nicely soft and milky. The larger format gives a very different look. The drop-off is fantastic, and since I used to shoot 5x4 stills cameras years ago, the desire to create that look has stayed with me. I'm hooked on the larger sensor for videos. However, you can change formats on the EOS C700 FF and use it in Super 35, which is useful if you want to use Canon cine zoom lenses. But we left it in full frame."

One of the challenges with shooting manual-focus primes at wide apertures is that it can be difficult to get the focus absolutely nailed – especially on a moving subject. That's where the Canon Dual Pixel CMOS AF comes in – even when using a manual focus lens, thanks to the Dual Pixel focus guide. With this function, "the camera displays a visual guide that shows whether you are in focus," says Brett. "After two days of shooting I can't find anything that's not sharp!"

That included footage when Brett used the camera on his shoulder to capture the actors looking over the desert. "It balances well on your shoulder as it's more of a traditional film camera shape. By the time you have the batteries on the back, it's in perfect balance," says Brett. "And the viewfinder is superb."

A film crew in the camera car watch footage on monitors.
Inside the camera car, Brett watched the filming live on his monitor and directed the crane arm operator and the driver. © Brett Danton
A close-up of the Canon EOS C700 FF mounted on the end of a crane arm attached to a film car.
The crane arm mount kept the Canon EOS C700 FF secured to the camera car even as the car whipped through the desert at speeds of up to 130kph. © Brett Danton

"We chose to shoot with the XF-AVC codec, which even my colour grader admits is really underrated," says Brett. "We shot RAW and XF-AVC side-by-side a couple of times in tests. He said we could pull a bit more out of RAW, but not much. To have the ability to shoot slow-mo that XF-AVC gives you is great. I'm shooting to a lighter, smaller camera and I don't have to worry about memory. We could drive 15 minutes from one end of the road to another and keep running.

"What I really noticed is that the image is so clean in the blacks. There is no noise, thanks to the larger sensor and the camera oversampling from 5.9K to 4K. When we used to use smaller sensors, we always needed to add some noise reduction in post, but with the EOS C700 FF we don't."

That's impressive, as Brett chose to shoot the EOS C700 FF in the very flat Canon Log 2 profile because with 15 stops of dynamic range, he wanted to see right down into the shadows. "Looking back at how good the footage is, I probably could have gone to the less flat Canon Log 3 if I'd wanted to. But I did want that extra bit of detail in the darkness. Canon Log 3 still gives 14 stops but has a bit of a curve on it, so as a starting point for a grade, it's a lot easier. In fact, it's the fastest stuff I've ever graded as it's a beautifully clean file."

Cameramen run down the side of a high, steep sand dune.
The film crew and their kit had to contend with hot, dusty conditions. © Brett Danton
Three men in a desert, two holding Canon video cameras ready to film.
Brett and his crew also used the Canon EOS C700 FF on their shoulders to shoot some of the scenes. © Brett Danton

Capturing the aerial footage

While the EOS C700 FF was the main camera, the much smaller EOS C200 fitted with the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F lens was pressed into service carried by a drone, which provided the battery power for the camera. Brett shot in Canon's Cinema RAW Light to internal CFast cards.

"I wanted a camera to match in with the EOS C700 FF and I wanted the full 15 stops of dynamic range again. With the EOS C200 I'm getting RAW quality from a drone!" says Brett. "With Cinema RAW Light on the EOS C200, you decide on everything in post. The graders just worked straight off the RAW files and put their own film curve on it."

With the full-frame EOS C700 FF and Super 35 size EOS C200 obviously using different sensors, it was critical that they could be matched up easily. "We found no issues when matching them together," says Brett. "And the workflow was not outrageous. It's a perfect combination thanks to the RAW on the EOS C200."

DOP Brett Danton walks towards the orange supercar in the desert at sunset.
"We started filming at sunrise and had about 90 minutes of beautiful light, then again in the evening for two hours and intercut them for a consistent look," says Brett. © Brett Danton
The orange car drives through desert, a large drone filming it from above.
Aerial footage from the drone-mounted Canon EOS C200 matched in easily with the files from the full-frame EOS C700 FF. © Brett Danton

The final ads were outputted in various formats from 4K to HD. "I also had to run a 9x16 vertical version, so the client had it for Instagram," adds Brett. "Because of the resolution I can re-crop to anything I want."

Of course, the proof of a shoot's success is in the final movie and the impact it has on the viewer. And for Brett's Corvette Stingray commercial, the Canon EOS C700 FF certainly has captured not only the power and grace of the car but the majesty of the landscape and the glorious light.

"Every time I look at the footage, I get blown away," says Brett. "It's the final output that I care about, and the EOS C700 FF and EOS C200 have really helped make a great film."

Autor Adam Duckworth


Brett Danton's kitbag

Key kit for filming commercials

DOP Brett Danton adjusts a Canon EOS C200 mounted to a drone.

Video cameras

Canon EOS C700 FF

Canon's next generation Full Frame CMOS sensor records 5.9K with over-sampling for exceptionally high quality 4K footage. Brett says: "After two days of shooting I can't find anything that's not sharp!"

Canon EOS C200

The EOS C200 is a compact and versatile high-performance camera for a wide range of shooters that captures sharp 4K 50P images. "Every time I look at the footage, I get blown away," says Brett of the EOS C200's output.

Lenses

Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 L F

Great in low light with fine creative control over depth of field, the wide-angle CN-E35mm T1.5 L F offers spectacular 4K image quality with full frame image circle in a light, compact EF mount body.

Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F

A lightweight, compact fixed focal length lens designed for EF mounts. It offers spectacular 4K image quality and a full frame image circle plus great low light performance and fine creative control over focusing and depth of field.

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