DP Scott Sorensen Uses Cutting-Edge Robotics for Megabots

Published on in Miscellaneous

MegaBots uses cutting-edge robotics technology to create giant 16-foot-tall, internally-piloted humanoid robots. Two years ago, MegaBots challenged Japanese robotics company Suidobashi Heavy Industry to a giant robot duel, and the Japanese team accepted the challenge. 

During the building and testing stages, Sorensen used Blackmagic Micro Cinema Cameras throughout the shoot to capture every possible angle, inside and outside of the robot. An URSA Mini 4.6K was also used as a secondary camera. During the final duel, the Micro Cinema Cameras were used inside both robots, as well as MultiView 4s, SmartView 4K monitor and Micro Converters HDMI to SDI as part of a remote viewing/control system. 

Can you describe the building and testing stages in a bit of detail? How long was each stage?

The build of the Mk3 took around a year and a half. Each stage of the process required design, assembly and testing. Each time a major milestone was reached, our showrunner Jacquelyn Marker would bring in a small crew to document that part of the process. There would be weeks between shoots as each part of the robot was built and brought online.

What challenges did you run into?

Our challenges in production paled to the challenges of building the robot. Each time we filmed a new system come online it would be the first time anyone had ever attempted it. Our biggest challenge was covering every stage and being ready for whatever might happen. 

Can you describe your creative vision for the project and how you felt getting to watch it come to life?

From our first discussions, Gui and Matt (MegaBots' founders are Gui Cavalcanti and Matt Oehrlein) had a clear idea of what they did not want. They didn’t want the series to be a reality build show with shaky cameras and interpersonal drama. The aim the series was to document the build of the Mk3 and in doing so, bring sci-fi into the real world.

Early on in the project, I had the opportunity to build a cockpit set as part of a teaser trailer for the series. The idea was to give the audience a flash forward to what robot combat would be like. The set was built around one of the actual roll cages from the still unbuilt Mk3.  My set design was a bit more colorful than it was practical, with backlit plastic boxes glued to foam board and with slow motion sparks flying. Even still, I can draw a direct line from that teaser trailer to the reveal video we shot for the Mk3.

Why did you choose Blackmagic's Micro Cinema Cameras?

I chose the Micro Cinema Cameras for a couple of reasons. I had enjoyed shooting with the Pocket Cinema Camera on MythBusters and the Micro Cinema Cameras brought a lot of new features that were appealing.

The Micro Cinema Cameras are small. Depending on the size of the glass you use, they can look more like a lens accessory than a camera. As gigantic as these robots are, space is tight inside the cockpits. If an area isn’t littered with joysticks, switches or monitors, it’s probably because there’s a human sitting there. The Micro Cinema Cameras’ size allowed them to fit in the cockpits without issue.

In filming the duel video in Japan, one of the most useful features of the Micro Cinema Cameras was their Expansion Port. Through the expansion port, I was able to assemble a remote record system for all six cameras using off the shelf RC plane parts. After around the twelfth time, climbing up and down a giant robot to hit record on six cameras loses some of its charm. The expansion ports, with their servo control inputs, saved me from holding up the entire production to roll cameras and saved post-production from being buried under a mountain of free rolling ProRes footage.

How is this technology changing the film industry?

Camera bodies are getting smaller which is making camera support gear like gimbals smaller, cheaper and generally more accessible. I think we’ll see some cameras get smaller still while some of the functions of accessories like wireless focus control could be integrated into the cameras themselves.

What upcoming projects are you looking forward to working on?

There are a couple of short-form projects I’d like to shoot for fun. Actually shooting them will be contingent on work slowing down enough to have the time.

About the Author

Scott Sorensen is an LA-based cinematographer who specializes in filming things that smash, crash, burn and boom.

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