Posted on Friday, May 17, 2024

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Blackmagic Design today announced that iQiyi documentary series “At the Edge of History: People and Places of the Great Wall” was shot with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K and Blackmagic URSA Mini 4.6K digital film cameras.

Produced over the course of four years and eight months, "At the Edge of History: People and Places of the Great Wall" is a six episode documentary series that delves into the stories and lives of people residing along the Beijing Great Wall Cultural Belt.

At the project's outset, the team utilized a fully rigged URSA Mini 4.6K camera paired with multiple large zoom lenses and a tripod. However, navigating the rugged terrain of the Great Wall's "remote, wild, untamed sections" proved challenging for the small crew, as recounted by Li Cheng, one of the series' directors and cinematographers because scaling one mountain after another required considerable effort and logistics.

After returning from several exhausting shoots, the team decided to refine its strategy. “When tackling mountainous terrain, we opted for the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K to travel light. For less demanding scenarios, we relied on the larger URSA Mini 4.6K we’d been using for five years,” explained Li.

He revealed why they chose the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K: “It strikes an excellent balance between image quality and portability. I was thoroughly impressed by its capabilities when it was released in 2018, such as the ability to internally record 4K 60p and 2.6K 120p Blackmagic RAW in such a small camera body.”

Li continued, “Even today, it remains one of the few cameras that integrate such a wide array of features into one device. The inclusion of 48V phantom power and timecode input connections is particularly valuable for documentary filmmakers like us, providing all the necessary tools for the job. Another standout feature is the High Frame Rate button, which allows seamless switching to slow motion mode without navigating through menus. It's incredibly user friendly.”

A substantial amount of footage was generated daily, but they could only do media management work after returning from outdoor shoots. "The quantity of the media storage cards was limited, and unlike filming a scripted drama series, the volume of footage produced each day was unpredictable. Therefore, the choice of recording format played a crucial role," he explained.

"Blackmagic RAW was the solution," Li continued. "Its versatility allowed us to adapt to various scenarios with distinct profiles. For instance, for interview scenes with simpler compositions, we opted for 12:1 compression. Conversely, for more intricate settings, we selected 5:1 or 8:1 compression."

"Beyond the flexibility of compression options in managing file sizes, Blackmagic RAW's 12 bit color depth proved invaluable for our documentary project," Li emphasized. "Operating in unpredictable environments, where moments could vanish in an instant, demanded this depth. Cinematographers often found themselves clinging to rocks while scaling cliffs or walking from bright sunlight to dim watchtowers on the Great Wall."

"Achieving good images in such uncontrolled environments was not easy, yet 12 bit Blackmagic RAW provided ample latitude for enhancement," Li noted. "This ensured smoother highlights, eliminating issues like banding in the sky or harsh transitions on subjects' faces. Coupled with Blackmagic Design's Generation 5 Color Science, the results were exceptional."

Encountering unpredictable weather conditions was also inevitable, especially since most of the production took place in the wilderness, presenting one of the team’s major filming challenges. “In March 2021, when filming a local young man protecting the Great Wall, we followed him as he scaled its heights,” said Li. “After climbing about 400 meters, a sudden snowfall caught us off guard, and we realized we had no protective cover for the URSA Mini 4.6K. Determined to capture the rare snowy scenery of the Great Wall in Beijing in March, we persisted with our shoot, hoping the snow would cease soon. It only grew heavier, forcing us to slide down the icy terrain to safety. Despite the worsening conditions, the subject continued his mission of picking up rubbish along the Great Wall, prompting us to keep filming until we reached the foot of the mountain. Surprisingly, the camera continued to function. However, lacking proper tools to clean and dry it, we discovered display corruption due to moisture exposure upon restarting. It was our own fault for not taking proper protective measures. I want to pay homage to the camera, my old companion, which completed amazing and unforgettable projects one after another.”

The team’s replacement for the URSA Mini 4.6K was the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2. "We were pleased by its capacity to record high frame rates in Blackmagic RAW, particularly 4K at 150p, which fulfilled our requirements for slow motion footage in Ultra HD. Upon its announcement in 2019, while most of our projects were still delivered in HD, the URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2 already could record high frame rates in 4K and up to 300p in HD. Documentary productions often span many years, but with the camera's future proof capabilities, we were confident that our projects shot with it would meet the viewing demands of future audiences. To date, it remains one of our primary cameras for critical projects, including the one for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, for which we captured numerous VFX plates. The footage quality proved excellent for VFX processing. We will ensure its careful maintenance and believe it will continue to serve us for eight or even ten more years."

Regarding future developments, Li expressed excitement about Blackmagic Design's announcement of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera 6K, eagerly anticipating the possibilities offered by this full frame camera.

“At the Edge of History: People and Places of the Great Wall” went live on iQiyi on November 7, 2023.

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Product photos of Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K G2, Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, URSA Mini 4.6K, Blackmagic Cinema Camera 6K and all other Blackmagic Design products are available at www.blackmagicdesign.com/media/images.

About Blackmagic Design
Blackmagic Design creates the world’s highest quality video editing products, digital film cameras, color correctors, video converters, video monitoring, routers, live production switchers, disk recorders, waveform monitors and real time film scanners for the feature film, post production and television broadcast industries. Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink capture cards launched a revolution in quality and affordability in post production, while the company’s Emmy™ award winning DaVinci color correction products have dominated the television and film industry since 1984. Blackmagic Design continues ground breaking innovations including 6G-SDI and 12G-SDI products and stereoscopic 3D and Ultra HD workflows. Founded by world leading post production editors and engineers, Blackmagic Design has offices in the USA, UK, Japan, Singapore and Australia. For more information, please go to www.blackmagicdesign.com.