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Cyclops, The World’s Biggest Camera, For Rent In Mihama

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2000-07-07

From this month film makers wanting to take advantage of the latest special effects technology will be able to do so in Okinawa. A four ton camera, the Cyclops, one of only seven in the world, is available for rent in Mihama. Recent films like The Matrix were shot using the camera, mounted on a highly flexible neck, as tall as a giraffe.

Government plans for Okinawa are to make it into a hi-tech island with a sophisticated multi-media infrastructure. To this end it is investing in projects that will attract many media companies here. It then plans to recoup its investment through increased tax revenues that will result from more business activity on the island.

One venture in which the government has invested a lot of cash is through a company called Infini Entertainment Technology. Infini has a studio in the Carnival Park complex, just below the big wheel in Mihama. In the studio is a Cyclops camera, which shifts its four ton bulk at two meters a second by running on a rail. This is the biggest of all motion picture cameras and there are only six others in the world. They are in Austria, Germany, Canada and Seattle, USA. The other two are in London. The Cyclops is made in England.

Mark Roberts Motion Control makes the camera and Flair, the software to go with it, to shoot film or video with no wobble. Some special effects sequences need very accurate camera movement control, so that the same move can be repeated many times, with each camera pass being identical to previous ones. If the camera is controlled by hand it is almost impossible to exactly duplicate a pass. But a computer controlled rig like the Cyclops exactly records every position of the camera, so it can be repeated as often as necessary. It can be used with both film and video.

The Cyclops is also good at combining live action with computer generated images. In order for these to be realistic, they have to be in perspective with the background. They also have to have the same lighting and color balance. A digital image must also have its own three dimensional shape, which always has to be oriented to the viewpoint provided by the film camera. The technology in addition allows the computer generated images making up a background against live actors, to be moved in real time, as the camera moves.

This is the state-of-the-art machine when it comes to shooting say a combination of scenery, an actor and a moving camera. Backgrounds can be shot on location and foregrounds in the studio. Then the two can be mixed. If a shot goes for instance round a car, the film can be rewound and the sequence shot again on the same piece of film with an image so perfect it would be impossible to tell it had been twice exposed.

John Tsui, an Infini Entertainment engineer demonstrated a video sequence, shot by the Cyclops, of one of his staff walking, as if in the land of the giants, across a table top with waist high teacups. The camera had mixed a shot of the man walking, then another of the table top. It is of course possible to do this with conventional equipment but the exact positions of the objects in both are exactly tracked on the Cyclops software, Flair, stored in a PC and the mixing of both images is a simple job. I mentioned the film Gulliver’s Travels to Tsui, which has sequences of Gulliver amongst monster pepper pots, fighting giant wasps. He said the film makers did a good job with those scenes but that it would have been very laborious without Motion Control technology. They would have had to work on the action with infinitesimal patience, frame by frame.

A Cyclops was used in the making of Matrix which had a lot of tricky special effects and a new animated feature, Chicken Run, from the makers of Wallace and Gromit, also uses the technology.

An engineer from England, Peter Rush, was recently in Okinawa to make sure the Cyclops was running absolutely steadily on its rails. Tsui says ideally he would like a bigger studio to work in and double the rail run his four ton giant now has.

Nonetheless Infini is expecting considerable interest from film makers wanting to rent its state-of-the-art machine, especially companies that want to shoot commercials. It is is leasing the Mihama studio for three years.

Asked about why Japan, the home of high technology, needs to import machines made in other countries, Tsui said that as the Cyclops is not a mass production item, it is not the sort of product Japanese industry is at the moment interested in making, but which a country like England is good at producing. Although the camera is super-sophisticated, it is made by hand, in a society which has seen its own mass production pass to places with lower unit costs. So, finding other outlets for its brain power, it makes machines like the Cyclops, a complicated, expensive difficult to build product, designed by creative applications of the latest technology.

It costs ¥100,000 to rent four hours of the Cyclops studio technicians’ time. The studio itself costs ¥180,000 a day to rent or ¥1.6 million a month. Any prospective film makers interested in perfectly mixed dolly shots or realistic digitally enhanced images should contact Infini Entertainment Technology at (098)-982-7033.

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