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Photographing muzzle flash with firearms


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#1 Jarin Blaschke

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Posted 03 December 2005 - 04:36 PM

So I shot my first firearm scene a few weeks ago - simple: Medium long shot of a man firing a bolt-action rifle (blanks, naturally) just off camera. It's a short 35mm film, and save for the last scene, the whole film is handheld at a 90 degree shutter, including the shot of the man firing the rifle. On set, the rifle gave a nice big flash that I saw clearly. However, when we got dailies, none of that flash ended up on film - in any of the 5 takes! In retrospect it all makes sense - the flash is more brief that I realised (less time than one pass of the shutter), and using a 90-degree shutter only gave me a 25% chance of recording it each time he fired the gun. But for future shoots, how can I assuredly photograph the flashing of a gun? I can't conceive of how the firing of a gun could synchronize to a camera, and yet we see it all the time in films - even in those that clearly use a narrow shutter. Any insight?? Thanks.

-Jarin
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 03 December 2005 - 05:57 PM

Hi,

If you're stuck with conventional firearms, there's not a lot you can do. I believe there's a range of specialised devices that look like guns but have synchronised firing capability - I spent some time googling for them, they do have a website, but I can't remember enough information to come up with it. Otherwise, you're not alone - look at all the fully-automatic gunfire in Starship Troopers, which seemed to be happening at some very near clean divisor of the film frame rate - there's an awful lot of firing with no visible muzzle flash. In one shot, someone fires a pretty long burst without there being any sound effect. Clearly it was missed during the audio work because the camera managed to miss every flash.

The only upside is that muzzle flash is extremely easy to add digitally, and if you already have the recoil, it's a one-minute job in any competent software.

Phil
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#3 Mike Williamson

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Posted 03 December 2005 - 06:10 PM

I believe the old rule is that if the operator sees the flash, you assume that the film did not and therefore you take it again. With a 180 degree shutter, either you see it or the film sees it. As you pointed out, a short shutter would decrease your chances of getting it on film.

My question is: in a camera with a variable shutter, does the adjustable portion of the shutter still have a mirror surface so that the operator is viewing the image during that extended part of the rotation? If so, you'd have a better chance of knowing whether the film saw a muzzle flash or not.

On De Palma's "Scarface" they solved the problem by putting a synch device into the guns that the actors were using that would prevent them from firing when the shutter was closed. I'm not sure how the device was constructed or where you'd get these weapons, but it seems to have worked pretty well for them, not sure whether Hollywood still uses these or not.
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#4 zrszach

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Posted 03 December 2005 - 07:08 PM

I believe the old rule is that if the operator sees the flash, you assume that the film did not and therefore you take it again. With a 180 degree shutter, either you see it or the film sees it. As you pointed out, a short shutter would decrease your chances of getting it on film.

My question is: in a camera with a variable shutter, does the adjustable portion of the shutter still have a mirror surface so that the operator is viewing the image during that extended part of the rotation? If so, you'd have a better chance of knowing whether the film saw a muzzle flash or not.

On De Palma's "Scarface" they solved the problem by putting a synch device into the guns that the actors were using that would prevent them from firing when the shutter was closed. I'm not sure how the device was constructed or where you'd get these weapons, but it seems to have worked pretty well for them, not sure whether Hollywood still uses these or not.

This is hard to find on google but here is something:

http://www.creative-.../Guns/guns.html

these guns use an electronic flash that is long enough to get cought on film...

here is a discussion on the matter:

http://www.cinematog...ages GB/GUN.HTM

here are some clips with gun shot effects using toy guns. so im assumeing the flashes have been added digitally.

http://rarevision.com/home.php#

Edited by zrszach, 03 December 2005 - 07:13 PM.

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#5 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 04 December 2005 - 03:55 PM

I did two movies this year with lots of gun fire. On both we used the standard method of knowing whether the flash was caught or not....if I saw it we shot it again. In some cases we did 6 or 7 takes before we got a good one. It would be very nice to have something sync the gun to the shutter, because sometimes you are a minute or two into a take before the gunfire, and it's a pain, and a waste of time, to re-shoot the whole scene just for the gun fire. Plus, sometimes there are multiple gunshots from many different actors, and trying to remember how many muzzle flashes you saw is a real pain in the butt. Next time I do a movie with a lot of gunfire I'm going to request that they either do the flashes in post or that they sync them to the shutter.
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#6 Mitch Gross

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 02:11 PM

A goog gun wrangler -- and you should always have a specialist on set when firing weapons -- can make an extended powder flash slug. I know it can be easily done on rifles but I don't know about handguns. These burn much longer and cross more than a single frame of film. Otherwise it's the old yes or no game in the viewfinder.
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#7 Erdwolf_TVL

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Posted 06 December 2005 - 06:35 PM

So I shot my first firearm scene a few weeks ago - simple: Medium long shot of a man firing a bolt-action rifle (blanks, naturally) just off camera. It's a short 35mm film, and save for the last scene, the whole film is handheld at a 90 degree shutter, including the shot of the man firing the rifle. On set, the rifle gave a nice big flash that I saw clearly. However, when we got dailies, none of that flash ended up on film - in any of the 5 takes! In retrospect it all makes sense - the flash is more brief that I realised (less time than one pass of the shutter), and using a 90-degree shutter only gave me a 25% chance of recording it each time he fired the gun. But for future shoots, how can I assuredly photograph the flashing of a gun? I can't conceive of how the firing of a gun could synchronize to a camera, and yet we see it all the time in films - even in those that clearly use a narrow shutter. Any insight?? Thanks.

-Jarin


The problem with blanks is the lack of natural recoil and that some automatic weapons will not automatically eject them! You would need to choose your actors and weapons carefully ;)

---

If you insist on DIY (which I strongly advise against) try to get your hands on military rounds loaded with cordite or nitrous cellulose. These burn with a nice, slow flame. Obviously you would need to have the bullet projectiles extracted (by a professional) to avoid dire consequences!
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Gamma Ray Digital Inc

Rig Wheels Passport

Tai Audio

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Ritter Battery

Broadcast Solutions Inc

rebotnix Technologies

Wooden Camera

The Slider

Metropolis Post

CineTape

Willys Widgets

Technodolly

FJS International, LLC

Opal

Aerial Filmworks