ALEXA 65 shoots huge backdrops for U2 concert tour
DP Sebastian Wintero collaborates with director Anton Corbijn on 200-foot stage visuals for the band’s 2017 The Joshua Tree tour.
The tour, revisiting U2’s immensely successful 1987 album of the same name, called for a backdrop of moving images that would link with this heritage and match the epic scale of the performances. Unsurprisingly, the band turned to director/photographer Anton Corbijn, who had shot the iconic album cover 30 years before. Corbijn tapped Sebastian Wintero, who captured with ARRI Rental’s exclusive ALEXA 65 camera system in a special 4.5:1 aspect ratio, creating the largest and highest-resolution images ever displayed on a concert tour. What follows is Wintero’s account of working with the ALEXA 65…
When Anton and I started talking about the U2 shoot, we had only worked together previously on a single project: a very intimate and more low-fi shoot in Berlin. This turned out to be the complete opposite, since the projection format was U2’s back wall screen for their upcoming tour, one of the biggest screens ever built, around 200’ across and able to project a staggering resolution of 7200 x 1560.
The films themselves were serving as backdrops to the music of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and they were intended to be mostly single-take scenes, wide shots with limited action, but still strong enough to hold for five or six minutes without expiring, visually.
The few times I have had a chance to work with LED walls, I have always come away with a certain reluctance, because of the visual compromises they sometimes bring with them—artifacts, banding or technical issues that distract you from the viewing experience, making you aware that you are watching a screen reproducing an image as opposed to just being able to immerse yourself in the actual image.
On the one hand we had to come up with a recording format that was technically sophisticated enough to meet all these different specs. On the other hand the films were supposed to combine and respect Anton’s approach—which sets a very high bar for aesthetics and human presence—and the huge emotional impact of the music, without standing in the way of any of it.
The need to deliver in more than 6K suggested a very narrow range of cameras, and testing quickly made us fall in love with the ALEXA 65, basically because it delivers stunning quality without feeling like a ‘technical’ camera, since those typically tend to prioritize pixel count and mere resolution over actual image quality, which admittedly is a tricky element to pin down or articulate.
Knowing and admiring Anton’s simple but insistent style and method, focused on the subject and the moment, made ALEXA 65 an obvious choice in terms of the creative process. It gave us room to use intuition more than anything else; we could consider the image, the people in front of the lens, the natural light, in a way that I think we both appreciate.
It brought my instinct back to shooting on film, where you automatically focus more on the shot, the lighting and the composition than the camera and how to capture it technically, and that is really the best testament to any camera, in my opinion. Film meant that you could rely on the medium as an active tool that would capture what you saw, with a richness and an impact that added to the final image, and the ALEXA 65 had the same kind of freedom. It was so simple to work with, I think we both found it liberating—the fact that you can work within a digital resolution this brilliant, and still use simple intuition to arrive at the shot.
Considering Anton’s background in black-and-white film photography, it also introduced another interesting feature: the ability to live grade and design LUTs for us to monitor on set. This turned out to be a great advantage, since the majority of scenes were supposed to end up black-and-white. It gave us complete control over the image, opening up a creative playground where we could endlessly experiment and audition various ‘print’ looks, then load them into the camera and take inspiration from them, as opposed to monitoring in a standard LUT like Rec 709.
Doing this further enabled us to react on a more intuitive level to image and composition. Because you’re watching the interpretation of reality already there in front of you (instead of trying to imagine what it could look like after a final DI) you end up reacting to it slightly differently. It added to the ease and immediacy of the creative process, and did it in a way that felt intuitive as opposed to technical, which was a huge advantage.
New York Times review praises the tour visuals
Men’s Vogue Italia examines the U2-Corbijn collaboration