This week, at age 72, Affonso Beato will become the oldest licensed private pilot in the Santa Monica Airspace Flying Club. The club has about 65 members who share four planes.
“It’s a dream coming true for me,” says Affonso. “I’ve been flying in small planes all my life, and I love it. There’s a parallel between flying and cinematography. You get involved with a machine, and by maintaining it, you get closer to it, and come to understand it more deeply. That has an effect on how you use it. There’s a discipline involved in both aviation and cinematography. In flying, you have checklists at every step. There are extensive manuals, and if you don’t set things up properly, you can fail. Digital cameras are so complex these days, much more than film used to be. Aviation gives me some perspective on the discipline that is required.”
Between flights, Affonso has been imparting his rich practical experience in filmmaking by teaching two courses at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. One is called Advanced Cinematography, which helps prepare students to enter the professional marketplace with the skills they have gained in school.
“This course approaches cinematography as a practical craft and as a design art,” says Affonso. “We build a rich understanding of a DP’s most important skill sets — light, exposure, color, lighting, cameras, formats, lenses, frame composition and shooting practices.”
The other course is called Stereo 3-D Cinematography. The goal is to give students an understanding of the current state of professional knowledge in 3-D shooting, editing and projection. The lab aspect of the class is linked to other fields of study at Art Center like Graphic Design, Industrial Design and Machine Shop.
Growing out of Affonso’s teaching efforts are two other very interesting initiatives. The need to make many complicated calculations led Affonso to design calculation tools, several of which have been turned into apps that are available on iTunes. The apps include Camera Sensor+Lens Calculator Pro, Digital Slate, and SD 3-D Stereo Depth Calculator.
The other offshoot is a research and development effort into the related field of visual immersion. David Stump, ASC is also involved, as are eminent scientists from MIT and CalTech. Conversations are ongoing with AMPAS as well. The program is billed as part of Art Center’s goal to integrate science education with art and design. According to the project’s website, the research will take advantage of accelerating technological advancements and identify ways of improving field of view, resolution, dynamic range, color depth, frame rates, stereoscopy and audio. The convergence of these technologies will hopefully bring the cinematographic media closer to the full power and pleasure capabilities of human vision.
“For 35,000 years, we have sought more and more realistic representations of visual reality,” says Affonso. “We hope this will be part of the next step.”
A public demonstration of the earliest experiments is planned for the autumn of 2013. This demonstration promises to include scenes captured by a Stereo 3-D GoPro HD camera system with 170-degree field of view, projected for a single spectator with BenQ W7000 3-D projectors on a specially designed semi-dome screen. The twin-Red camera rig that Affonso’s students use for their projects will also come into play as the project gains steam. Down the road, experiments are planned for the Santa Monica College planetarium, and eventually, industry partners will be sought.
Affonso’s work as a cinematographer continues apace. He’s been accepting one feature assignment per year, roughly. Most recently, he returned to his native Brazil for The Time and the Wind, which he shot for director Jayme Monjardim. Affonso describes the film as “a sort of Brazilian Gone with the Wind, a family saga set in the late 1700s.”
Affonso shot that film on the Sony F65, one of the first feature-length films — if not the first — to maintain a 4K 16-bit ACES pipeline all the way from capture through post. He tested the camera by shooting some scenes at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, and learned more from Curtis Clark, ASC, who screened his film The Arrival for Affonso and offered detailed advice.
Affonso used the recommended ISO 800, and by the end of the first week, abandoned his meter and was exposing by eye. More detailed information — and checklists! — from Affonso’s shoot can be found here. (Beato: F65 First Impressions ) Affonso is currently supervising color timing at Colorworks on the Sony lot in Culver City.
In the meantime, if you’re near the beach in Los Angeles, and you see a small plane banking towards Santa Monica airport, wave — it might be Affonso.