Capturing “Pinoko” In Anamorphic With VariCam LT Cameras

By Neil Matsumoto | 5 min

Director Aki Mizutani and world-class pole athlete Pinoko recently created a short film that challenges our preconceived notions on the sport of pole dancing. The film was shot by cinematographer Toshihiko Kizu with VariCam LT cinema cameras.

Kizu got his start in the film industry working as a lighting technician for eight years in Tokyo. With the goal of becoming a director of photography, he moved to Los Angeles to study cinematography at the American Film Institute Conservatory. “While at AFI, I gained a solid foundation on the art of cinematography, and my adventure as a cinematographer has been continuing ever since,” explains Kizu.

After AFI, Kizu returned to Tokyo in 2017 to kick off his new career as a DP. After dropping his business card and demo reel off at various production houses, one of the first filmmakers he met was Mizutani at Cutters Studios Tokyo. After watching Kizu’s reel, Mizutani told him about her passion project Pinoko. “She had been developing the idea for this project for a long time,” reveals Kizu, “and I was lucky enough to meet her when she was finally moving into pre-production.”

On the set of Pinoko, a short film that challenges our preconceived notions on the sport of pole dancing.

The Best Tool For The Job

The biggest challenge Kizu faced for shooting Pinoko was preparation. “Since pole dancing is physically intense, we could not expect our protagonist/dancer Pinoko to do her 100% performance multiple times,” he explains. “So, we needed to figure out how to capture her performance efficiently and effectively and decided to shoot with two cameras.”

For Kizu, the VariCam LT was the best tool for the job. “The VariCam LT was the only camera I could trust 100% in terms of image quality and at the same time it was affordable enough to have two of them,” says Kizu. “Back in 2016, I had a privilege to conduct an extensive test of VariCam LT, and since then, I felt very comfortable working with it for my projects.” Kizu captured 4K AVC-Intra 422 files at 23.98-fps.

Shooting with the VariCam LT for Pinoko, DP Toshihiku Kizu captured 4K AVC-Intra 422 files at 23.98-fps.

For the look of Pinoko, since Mizutani had a strong editing background having worked on large commercial projects, Kizu was impressed with both her treatment and visual references, showcasing a unique storytelling sensibility in pacing, visual motifs, color, etc. They agreed to implement deep blacks and saturated colors for the film's visual palette.

Shooting in V-Log, Kizu created several viewing LUTs by tweaking the basic V-709 conversion. He used the LUTs not to create new looks but for the same consistent look with different ISOs. “On set, I just switched the LUTs based on the ISO setting,” explains Kizu. “The idea is capturing the most out of the shooting environment based on a sensor setting. After the camera test, I knew that V-Log is robust enough to explore colors in post and staying close to the V-709 conversion LUT is my general approach to make the most of VariCam’s sensor.”

Going Wider

Kizu initially wanted to shoot Pinoko in the 16:9 aspect ratio since he would be shooting Pinoko dancing around a vertically extended pole. But after working with Mizutani and realizing what she wanted to achieve, he realized the camera needed to capture not only her dancing but also what was going on around her, so he decided to shoot in the widescreen 2:40:1 aspect ratio.

The VariCam LT with a Hawk V-Lite 2.0x anamorphic prime lens.

For the VariCam LT, Kizu decided to go with Hawk V-Lite 2.0x anamorphic lenses because he liked the nice balance between a vintage anamorphic look with high optical performance. “The oval falloff is something nice to have to guide an audience’s gaze or attention,” he explains. “But knowing that we have a guerrilla night shoot made me nervous to choose the anamorphic lenses because of the slower aperture, and also I wanted to avoid shooting wide open.”

According to Kizu, that’s where the VariCam’s dual native ISO came into play. With low noise at a high ISO, he was able to maintain the ideal aperture for optimal lens performance, while still achieving a nice anamorphic look. He shot at native 5000 for the night exterior and 5000 Base dialed down to 2500 for the rest of the scenes.

Maximizing VariCam

The color grade was performed at Cutter Studios Tokyo by colorist Toshiki Kamei. Kizu's viewing LUTs he used on set gave Kamei much more latitude in post when working with the V-Log files. The last sequence in the film is an excellent example. “Pinoko is performing on a rooftop at sunset,” explains Kizu. “[Mizutani] had a unique visual motif on this scene of a goldfish swimming in water, so getting the right color contrast of red and blue was essential. But on the shooting day, the sky was a bit foggy and we needed to wait for the right moment, which was very stressful for me. Eventually we got lucky and were able to capture a decent blue sky against her red wardrobe and managed to pull the color in post and make the look more appealing. All these things seem pretty easy, but without a good camera with high dynamic range and excellent color rendition like the VariCam, I could not make this happen.

Kizu and colorist Toshiki Kamei were able to pull out the colors in post to capture a visual motif that director Aki Mizutani envisioned.

“Again, this is not a commercial based project, which means we had a lot of limitation to make this happen, as all independent filmmakers typically face,” continues Kizu. “But at the same time, we had a lot of creative ideas that we didn’t want to give up and compromise because this was a passion project, not a job. I do believe that the VariCam LT was the perfect choice for this kind of project. You get superb image quality with dual native ISO; you can switch EF and PL mounts as your project needs and yet it is budget-friendly for indie filmmakers. Not all cameras can make this happen.”

For more information on Pinoko, visit here.

Visit Toshihiko Kizu’s personal website at https://www.toshihikokizu.net/.

To learn more about the VariCam LT, click through here.