Issue: HD - Aug 29, 2003


LOS ANGELES - Director and visual effects artist Scott Billups used Panasonic's AJ-HDC27 VariCam HD Cinema camera to create dramatic special effects for "Ultimate Blast: Eruption at Krakatau," an hour-long episode in The Discovery Channel's Moments In Time series.

Profiling the fourth-largest volcanic eruption in recorded history, "Ultimate Blast" aired in early August. "Ultimate Blast" covers the catastrophic 1883 explosion of the Krakatau volcano. Although the initial eruption of the mighty Krakatau volcano didn't cause much actual damage, the subsequent pyroclastic flow and associated tsunamis killed more than 36,000 people. Billups served as principal director and visual effects DP on the shoot. Billups was already familiar with this Panasonic product, having shot his short feature, "Mid-Century," with VariCam.

Panasonic's AJ-HDC27 VariCam replicates many of the key features of film-based image acquisition, including 24-frame progressive scan images, timelapse recording and a wide range of variable frame rates (4fps to 60fps in single-frame increments) for "overcranked" and "undercranked" off-speed in-camera effects. The AJ-HDC27 VariCam also features CineGamm software that permits Panasonic's HD Cinema camera systems to more closely match the latitude of film stocks.

Recounting the Krakatau shoot, Billups says, "We'd planned on shooting dramatic re-creations in Hawaii, but an unexpected series of storms forced us to reschedule at the last minute and shoot in the much less volcanically active Los Angeles. Two of the more unusual stories concerned ships in the area at the time of great eruptions. We made physical models of the two boats and planned on shooting them in a wave research tank at the University of Hawaii. The last-minute rescheduling relegated the shoot to my Jacuzzi.

"One of the models was based on a Dutch gunboat that was carried three miles into the jungle by one of Krakatau's huge waves," he continues. "The shot of the gunboat getting sucked up by a mammoth wave needed interaction with the water – the water in my Jacuzzi. Rather than rent a high-speed film camera and deal with processing, telecine and data transfer again, I decided to use the VariCam. In addition to being one of the only video cameras that can overcrank in progressive mode, it has a nicely defined color space that makes it equally great for chroma key work.