Posted on Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by Russ Fischer
A couple decades ago, and even today, the best way to shoot a complex martial-arts fight scene is the simplest: get good stuntmen, choreograph the hell out of the scene, and then set the camera back in such a way that it really captures their work, with the longest takes that make sense. Jackie Chan and some other classic Hong Kong filmmakers were great at this — their fights had power because the people had power, and the camera caught it.
Now we see a lot of quick editing, severe close-ups and takes stitched together with CGI. Which is fine, but doesn’t tend to have the same impact.
Keanu Reeves is now shooting his directorial debut Man of Tai Chi, and for some of the fights he’s using an advanced motion-control camera to blend classic technique with the sort of untethered, flying camera that audiences are used to seeing. Check out a video below.
Reeves ended up using a camera control system called Iris, from Bot & Dolly, which is an advanced motion-controlled camera with a jointed boom arm and tilt controls at the camera — in other words, this gear can be programmed with a set of complex movements that might simulate angles that you can’t get with a camera on sticks, or even handheld. The system lets an elaborate fight scene be shot in long takes — now the question is: will we see those takes in the film, or will they be chopped into bits?
Watch the video, which will give you a great idea of what’s going on here:
Reeves almost certainly isn’t the first to shoot fights with this sort of approach (The Matrix sequels likely used a more tech-limited version), but I like the intent that he expresses in the video. I hope that works out well for the film.