Radiant Images is solution-oriented rental house singularly focused on advancing cinematography. At Cine Gear they showcased their Novo action camera accessories and a wide selection of custom camera stabilizers for attendees. Their focus on simplicity in design and operation and ease of use was evident to everyone who stopped by.
Cine Gear is always a great place to check out various products and companies, but you need to dig a bit deeper to really understand how a product can and will impact your production. That’s why we tracked down Sinclair Fleming, Director of Engineering at Radiant Images.
Sinclair leads the in-house engineering team at Radiant Images, overseeing an on-site rapid prototyping capability that enables the design and production of filmmaking equipment tailored to the needs of the production. One of his recent creations is the Novo, and we talked details about the world’s smallest digital cinema camera, how technology has changed and impacted filmmaking and how feedback impacts the development of their products.
ProVideo Coalition: Radiant Images was founded to offer equipment and expertise to the entertainment industry as it navigated the new age of digital technology. Do you see many filmmakers struggling with how to effectively utilize the tools that are now readily available?
Sinclair Fleming: There are substantial measures of both struggling and embracing. We work to alleviate the struggles in several ways. First, we like to engage with filmmakers early in their projects or sometimes before they have a concept in mind and show them what the technology can do to assist them. Keeping up with the changes in technology could be a full-time job on its own and we want to handle that for them. Our goal is often to simply show them what’s possible without having to learn it all themselves. We also work to make sure clients have the right package of equipment for the job, even if they don’t know exactly what to ask for. We strive to be consultative and understand their needs. The struggle that much of my work focuses on is removing complexity. Technology is complicated, but our goal is to create simple and effective solutions.
Some have argued that the current generation of filmmakers isn’t getting anywhere near the education that previous ones did, so they're relying on filmmaking tools more than they should. Do you think that's accurate?
My perspective on this is limited because I arrived in the realm of filmmaking because of the shift to digital cinema technology. Perhaps what’s perceived by some as a lack of education is more of a shift in how the learning is accomplished – less theory and more practice. Today, a young filmmaker doesn’t need to scrape together the funds to feed film into a camera and post-production can be right on their laptop. As a result, I think they have substantially greater freedom to experiment and find their own style. I hope that in the long run, the response of audiences will tend to keep excessive use of technology in check and remind new filmmakers that the new tools we provide are to help them tell a story, not replace the story.
As the lead for the in-house engineering team at Radiant Images you're overseeing the design and production of filmmaking equipment. Do you find yourself drawn more to the creative or technical challenges when developing these products?
It’s sometimes difficult to categorize challenges as either technical or creative. Certainly the most interesting activity is bridging what is often a communications gap between the creative filmmaking community and people like me that create the technology. Frequently there are no references available for the kind of looks or camera angles and moves that filmmakers are seeking. It then becomes a rather intense creative process as we converge what we imagine based on descriptions with what the filmmakers have in mind. Sketches, rapid prototypes and test shots are the basic tools and many ideas that our team offers are integrated. We really enjoy being able to truly collaborate and see the impact of our creative solutions in the final work.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from people about the products you've developed? How has that feedback impacted production?
We thrive on feedback, both positive and negative. Problems or requests for changes are taken into account on each iteration of our product development activities. We do feel strongly that our organization is extremely agile in responding to customer needs. Rapid design and prototyping is our strength and we’re quite willing to build “one-off” parts to satisfy customer needs.
Can you tell us about a specific problem or challenge that you've helped a filmmaker work through? And how that breakthrough was realized in the final product?
We were recently given the opportunity to assist Anthony Dod Mantle, ASC, BSC, DFF and his team working on Ron Howard’s upcoming film “Heart of the Sea.” Anthony previously called on Radiant Images to deliver unique camera solutions for “127 Hours” and for this new project he wanted to capture a multitude of unique perspectives. Our Novo camera was found to be small enough to be hidden in scenes and deliver great images. The biggest challenge on this project was his need to use the Novo underwater. We quickly developed prototypes and refined his team’s requirements before launching into a very rapid engineering cycle to meet their deadlines. In a span of weeks, we produced customized versions of the Novo camera with integrated SDI and wireless HDMI output, custom power supplies with redundant batteries and mechanical features to meet their needs. We collaborated with the underwater experts at Hydroflex to enclose our system and deliver the cameras in time. For us, the breakthrough was knowing that the crew was successful in using the cameras and ultimately that we’ve made things simpler for them. We’re looking forward to seeing how our cameras have contributed to this film.
Tell us about Novo. When should a filmmaker consider using this camera?
Novo is a word, a camera, a product line and our way of doing things! Borrowing the Latin word, Novo means refreshing, rethinking and making anew. We saw the remarkable GoPro HERO cameras and we questioned how they could be rethought as a cinema camera. This led to the development of the Novo camera as the first product in what is now our Novo line of reinvented cameras and accessories. It’s based on the 4k sensor and core electronics of a HERO 3 Black Edition. The Novo takes a wide range of C-mount lenses, allowing it to be operated in the same ways one would expect of a full-sized camera. With control of the iris and our addition of an exposure lock capability, filmmakers can decide for themselves how a scene is captured. The Novo is externally powered, so the best power source for the situation can be used. This can be as small as a GoPro backpack battery for placing the camera in tight quarters or the camera can be powered by larger industry-standard batteries via an adapter cable. Because of the intended use of this camera, its case is made of rugged aluminum and offers ¼”-20 mounting threads for compatibility with common mounting accessories.
Filmmakers should consider using the Novo camera when they want to capture a shot from seemingly impossible points of view! Mounted to things, attached to performers, riding on animals… we’re constantly amazed by the creative shots that our clients come up with. With control of focal length and filtration, a filmmaker doesn’t have to compromise the look of a shot by resorting to a consumer-style action camera.
You need to see the scale of the Novo to really appreciate its size.
What sort of Novo accessories should filmmakers keep in mind?
The Novo camera itself can be outfitted with a variety of power and monitoring solutions according to a client’s particular need. We also have a range of solutions for operating the Novo in water. For dynamic shots like surfing scenes, our handheld housing offers a pistol-grip and built-in monitor. For more complex scenarios, we have housings which allow focus, iris and camera controls to be accessed while underwater along with integrated waterproof HDMI or HD-SDI cable outputs, remote power and run/stop from the surface. Some of our best Novo accessories are those we’ve designed and fabricated especially for a client’s shoot, so we encourage potential users to discuss their ideas with us and see what we can come up with.
Is there anything you can tell us about the gimbals you've recently developed?
We’ve been closely watching the emergence of stabilization technology. Many new systems have appeared recently, all of which are made possible by the availability of a new generation of position sensors. As these new stabilization systems started to reach filmmakers, we noticed the challenges they experienced with mating cameras to gimbals and achieving the delicate balance and tuning that’s required. We saw the opportunity to create the Novo Stabilized system which is preconfigured with our Novo camera and wireless monitoring. The result is a stabilized camera that’s easy for the first-time operator to use and doesn’t require a dedicated technician. It’s ready to shoot when it comes out of the case. Filmmakers can use this to affordably explore dynamic camera movements and design amazing long takes. Our clients have used Novo Stabilized to create mystifying shots by seamlessly handing off the camera between operators and flying it through impossibly tight spaces. We’re continuing to develop new and improved systems based on discussions with our clients in order to give them simpler and more powerful tools to realize their creative vision.
When a filmmaker runs into a technical challenge, what's the first thing they should think about or do?
First, remain calm! As with most problems, being able to define the challenge is important. In the constantly expanding landscape of filmmaking technology, it’s easy to be distracted from being able to say “here’s what I want to achieve” and instead get stuck wrestling with what mechanisms might produce the desired result. We encourage clients to call us at this point so that we can help them get past these stumbling blocks and focus on their work.
Lastly, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you a quick question about the mustache. Was it inspired by a particular person or era? Or something else entirely?
I stole the look from Matt Brown at Hydroflex while we were working on the Novo underwater enclosure for Heart of the Sea. The mustache is required in order to make cool camera gear!
If you want to learn more, this behind-the-scenes video for the short film Random Stop includes info about the impact Radiant Images had on the making of the movie, which goes to the heart of the Radiant process that Sinclair is talking about.