Conducting for the Cameras

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Gala captured in glorious 4K by Darrell Vanderwolf

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) opened their 2018 season with a gala concert series that included performances by Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire and Australian tenor and Grammy Award-nominee, Stuart Skelton. Filmed in 4K, the concerts are to be broadcast to audiences across Australia. Previous live performances by the MSO shot by production company Avoca Blue were broadcast to China and watched more than 600,000 times.

To capture the performance production company Avoca Blue used a combination of eight Blackmagic Design cameras, including two URSA Broadcasts, an URSA Mini 4.6K EF and five Micro Studio Camera 4Ks. The cameras were fed into an ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K for live switching, and also were used with Blackmagic Design Talkback Converter and Mini Converter Optical Fibre 12G for moving from SDI to fibre.

Producer Toby Parkinson, along with Director of Photography and Technical Director Ben Doudney, had previously shot and streamed a number of Australian concerts, but this was the first event using the URSA Broadcast.

Camera Operator Ben Coe films the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on the Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Camera - PHOTO Daniel Aulsebrook
Camera Operator Ben Coe films the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on the Blackmagic URSA Broadcast Camera – PHOTO Daniel Aulsebrook

I loved the ability to have the URSA Broadcasts used with our B4 lenses. The results were phenomenal,” Parkinson says. “We had used cinema camera lenses before, but the zoom was always limiting. For a concert, you want to be able to quickly zoom-in on fingers and faces, and being able to use good zoom lenses was fantastic. Being able to do this makes the URSA Broadcast perfect for these types of live shoots.

With the Gala, Parkinson and Doudney were faced with the task of getting as many angles as possible, but at the same time remaining inconspicuous and out of the shot. With eight cameras capturing the performance, they relied on the cameras’ low-profiles and small design. The three camera crew behind the eight cameras were Adam Russ, Ben Coe and Paddy Chong.

The set up, which was run with only three camera crew on the URSA Broadcasts and URSA Mini 4.6K, included using the URSA Broadcasts set up at forty-five degree angles to the stage, and raised to the first balcony in order to get full shots of the orchestra and tight shots of the soloists. 

Doudney was able to quickly and beautifully pull out to the orchestra from tight finger shots,” Parkinson says. “Knowing that we could work in low-light we could get more creative with our shots and get really wide open.

The URSA Mini was set up in the back for wide shots, while the five Micro Studio Cameras were set up among the performers. This included cameras located near the string, brass, timpani and piano areas, as well as a unique ‘conductor camera’ that ISO’d footage directly in front of MSO Conductor Sir Andrew Davis, making it look like he was looking directly at the viewer.

Anyone watching the show live or broadcast later could not see the cameras in their line of sight while watching the performance. The small design of all the cameras made it possible to get really creative with our angles and let us really bring the audience right in there with the performers,” said Doudney.

Following the MSO Gala concerts, Parkinson and Doudney were able to load the entire eight camera setup, along with the rest of their gear and cabling in a single SUV. “The fibre-converter alone saved us from having to travel with eighty kilos of cable line!” said Parkinson

Darrell Vanderwolf works for New Magic Australia.

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