Learn Cameras with ARRI Academy

Exclusive interview with Art Adams, Director of Photography and camera class instructor

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

ARRI Academy offers a wide range of training courses to help users of all abilities to gain hands-on knowledge of ARRI products and workflows and build their on-set confidence. We sat down with Art Adams, and experienced camera operator and DP, to talk about the upcoming ARRI Academy Camera Course he's teaching.

PH: Tell us about your background and why you decide to work with ARRI and become an Academy instructor.

Art Adams: I've worked in the camera department for over 30 years—first as a loader/second camera assistant, then as a first assistant, operator, second unit DP and first unit DP. At this point, most of my work has been in broadcast and web commercials and marketing, as well as visual effects, but I started out in features and episodic TV and also spent some time in broadcast television.

I spent my first ten years in Southern California, and when I left I thought I'd never shoot film again. I had no idea that my years spent shooting video would pay off so well. When those worlds merged, I was better prepared than most.

About ten years ago I started writing articles at ProVideoCoalition.com, and I earned a reputation both as a researcher and an educator. I'm a very curious person who likes to understand how things work, and I'd simply write about my current obsessions. This lead to stints as a consultant for several lighting and camera companies, where I helped design and market products to the film industry.

When I learn something new, I tend to break it down into components that I can easily understand. I've found that I can use this same technique to teach others.

I have a long history with ARRI. The first camera I learned how to load was an ARRI 35BL2. (Let's be clear: I did NOT work with that camera when it was new!) Most of my career saw me working with ARRI 35BL3, 35BL4, 35BL4s, 35-3 and 2C cameras. I loved how simple the system was, and how well thought out. Other camera systems had lenses of different shapes and sizes that required changing out various accessories with every lens change, but the primes we used the most (Zeiss Super Speeds) were all the same size and required nothing more than replacing one lens with another. The complex part of threading the film magazines happened during loading, so mag changes on set were extremely fast. Those cameras were real workhorses, and dead simple to use.

ARRI's digital cameras carry on that tradition, and I've sung their praises for many years now. When ARRI ramped up their Academy, I was honored to be asked to teach. It's been tough, though: as a DP I've always been focused on the internal workings of the camera, such as color, codecs, dynamic range, exposure, LUTs, etc. and I've always had an assistant to deal with the parts. Now I have to know the parts as well, and there are a LOT of them! Fortunately, the process I use to teach myself how all these parts work together makes it easy for me to teach all that to others.

PH: What can a participant expect to learn in the 2.5 days?

Art Adams: It's a crash course in just about everything you could ever want to know about how ARRI cameras and accessories work. We're not just teaching how to use the cameras, but how to work with them as part of a complete system of accessories and lenses. It's a ton of information, and I think it's almost impossible to retain everything we're going to teach you in the class. That's why every student receives a book containing ARRI's slide presentation as a reminder of what we've covered.

At the beginning of the class, I've started telling students, "You aren't going to remember everything we're going to cover. You can't. It's a lot! The important thing is that even if you don't remember how everything fits together, you're going to remember the possibilities. You may not remember exactly how to do something, but at least you'll know that you can do it. The details don't matter unless you know what's possible."

PH: What level of technical and creative knowledge do you feel the participants should have when planning on attending?

I don't think students need to know much. It's best to have some experience on sets because we're going to show you how to do things with the cameras that will mean more if you understand their relevance. You should know something of how quickly and precisely camera crews work because we're going to show you how to use ARRI cameras in those ways. This isn't completely necessary, but it helps.

The people who get the most out of the class are film students who have had some hands-on time with professional and semi-professional moving image cameras and those who are already working in the industry in some capacity but haven't had much experience with ARRI products. It's fun to see the different types of students mixing in the class and helping each other out.

PH: How much time can the participants expect to spend in a lecture format and hand on the gear format?

Art Adams: We have a bit of both. As the classes progress, we're trying to spend more and more time actually working with the cameras, but there is some information that is better taught using drawings and pictures. I'd say it's about half and half at this time, but we're trying to tilt the balance towards more hands-on work.

PH: What other classes are you anticipating teaching with the Academy?

Art Adams: I may teach lighting at some point. I've long studied how lighting impacts faces, and I once taught a three-hour class for AbelCine that focused only on lighting faces. I'd love to do more of that. There's so much to lighting, and it's impossible to separate those skills from camerawork, at least as a DP.

PH: If the phrase “you learn as you teach” is accurate, what have you learned as a class instructor?

Art Adams: I'm still learning the parts. My strengths currently lie in making pretty images, so I usually teach the color, codec and exposure modules. I haven't worked as an assistant in 25 years, so while I still have those reflexes I'm not as familiar with the parts as I'd like. 

My co-instructors know all the parts and pieces very well, and I learn something from them in every class. I'm very aware of my own learning process, so as I'm learning something new I'm also immediately figuring out how to teach it. I also like to focus on the non-technical side of using certain parts and devices: each of them solves a problem, but problems have political components to them in the real world. I try to focus not just on when and why you would use certain things, but how to use them in a way that will help you get and keep your job.

Even though we are specifically teaching a class on ARRI products, we also provide technical and work experience information that will be useful on any set.

Learn more about the ARRI AcademyBook your seat at the Burbank Camera Class June 19 – 21th with Art Adams. 

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