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Crossing: The Technology Behind the Scenes

I shot a feature-length film in college, which was a ton of fun despite the many challenges we faced. With Crossing, though, I knew I wanted to up the ante. There would be plenty of opportunities to improve on the visual style of the film and hopefully to create something of higher quality, and I wanted to take those opportunities at every turn, if I could. One area I knew I wanted to improve on was the resolution of our recordings. Filming on digital was always the only option for a production of our size, but prior to Crossing, I only used a DSLR shooting in Full HD, 1080p. We still used that camera (a Nikon D3300) and resolution for about 21% of Crossing, but the option to shoot in 4K was too enticing to ignore. 4K DSLRs, while fantastic in their quality, were far out of our budget. Thankfully, many of us were walking around with 4K cameras in our pockets already. iPhones have been able to shoot 4K for about 5 years, and I’d done some work with iPhone cameras in the past. The biggest issue they have is stabilization: trying to avoid jitter and generally keeping an iPhone still while recording is extremely difficult. Tripods are an option, but I’ve never been a fan of the true stillness they necessitate. I like to be with the camera, and I like to encourage a feeling of momentum using an even slightly mobile camera. So with tripods out, some other form of stabilization was required to make filming on an iPhone possible. The answer is a gimbal: a motorized arm that uses sensors to counteract motion in the wrist of the camera operator. Effectively, it ensures the camera only moves smoothly and minimally. I used an Oslo Mobile 3 gimbal to shoot Crossing, and I can say without doubt that a large number of shots would never have been possible without it. I worked with the gimbal in the months leading up to production to acclimate myself to it, but the true test of its capability was the very first shot we filmed. The camera had to move backwards, pass between two camera operators, and time its motion with a moving vehicle. If memory serves, we had the shot done in about an hour after only 4 takes. It set the tone for the production: using the gimbal would be a challenge, but the footage we’d record would far surpass anything we could do without it. The camera itself is an iPhone 11 Pro Max, recording at full 4K quality. Much of the film was shot at 2160p, though we did natively shoot one sequence in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, which worked out to something like 1606p. Actually, I ended up loving the 2.39 framing so much that I opted to crop the rest of the film, which had been shot in 16:9, in order to fit the 2.39 scenes. That in and of itself was a bit of a challenge, but I find it looks much more cinematic. The stock camera app on iOS is limiting, but not terrible. However we did upgrade to using an app called Filmic Pro for our final day of filming. The app opens up countless settings to the user, notably including exposure, focus, and color balance. It also records with a higher bitrate: the 15-minute sequence we shot that day is by far the best looking of the film. I edit in Final Cut Pro X, which functions both as an editing suite and a tool for sound mixing and implementing visual effects. Several shots underwent work in CoreMelt’s SliceX Plugin, allowing further visual manipulation. The final film was exported on November 4, 2020, with a total runtime of 50 minutes, 22 seconds. See Crossing on December 11.

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