Seeking change from his career as a commercial photographer, Robert transitioned into the film industry – more precisely, into being a Digital Imaging Technician. Over the past years, he’s mainly worked on productions for big streaming platforms and continuously grew his setup along the way. It now includes a studio DIT cart, a smaller location DIT cart, a micro DIT cart, and a data wrangling cart. Keep reading for a detailed walkthrough of all the bits and pieces!
First of all, thanks so much for taking part in this interview! To start, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your professional life?
Thank you for your interest in my work and for including me in this series! I am currently based in Vancouver, Canada. My background is in commercial photography. I went to school for photography, then started working as an assistant photographer in Toronto. I then began shooting commercial photography for regional and national advertising campaigns.
After ten years of commercial photography, I was ready for a change and interested in getting into the film industry. A friend introduced me to DIT work, which seemed like an ideal way to combine my knowledge of cameras, colour, and lighting. I also liked the idea of being able to work alongside cinematographers and learn more about the craft.
What kind of projects are you usually working on?
Most of my work over the past few years has been medium to big-budget series for the big streaming services: Netflix, Apple, and Amazon. Most of the work that comes through Vancouver is servicing the American film industry, so I’ve had the chance to work with some great DPs, both Canadian and American.
We’re aware that everyone’s setup varies. Overall, how would you describe yours?
My basic setup is similar for each job, but there are always unique requirements for every job. Typically when I start a project, I acquire some specific gear that will service that particular show. This has helped to slowly build out my kit more and more over the years. However, the core goal has remained the same. My main priorities are to set up a digital workflow for the show, provide an accurate picture, monitor exposure and camera settings, live grade the image, and ensure the safe delivery of all footage to post-production.
As of my latest show, my setup has now grown to include a studio DIT cart, a smaller location DIT cart, and a data wrangling cart. The two DIT carts each run Livegrade Studio, and the data wrangling cart runs Silverstack XT. I keep all the carts synced up via ShotHub. I typically work with a Digital Loader who manages all the data wrangling and helps me out on set whenever possible.
That sounds exciting! Could you walk us through the bits and pieces of each setup?
STUDIO DIT CART:
My studio DIT cart is a custom welded aluminum cart made primarily of speed rail with t-channel aluminum trim for accessories. My standard build is with two 25” OLED Sony monitors and one 17” OLED Sony monitor with a Leader waveform monitor at the DIT workstation. The cart is designed to have the DIT workstation on the side, which allows a clear view of the 25” monitors for the DP and whoever else is watching (usually the gaffer, key grip, and sometimes the director).
The guts of the cart are housed on two 19” racks on the bottom shelf. Various rack shelves and drawers hold video hardware (BoxIO LUT boxes, BMD video router, BMD distribution amplifiers, Decimator MultiViewer, BMD capture card, Atomos recorders, and patch bay), computer hardware (Mac Pro “trashcan”, GeChic computer monitor, Tangent grading panel), and power distribution (UPS, power strips).
LOCATION DIT CART:
Of course, the studio cart is suitable for a lot of locations, but not if they are tricky to access. Enter my location cart, which is bare bones, small and lightweight. It can be taken apart easily, packed down very small, roll over rough terrain, or up stairs. It’s a custom design, with two shelves, Upgrade Innovation Whaley rail, two 20” pneumatic wheels, and two small wheels. It’s designed to hold either two 25” OLED monitors or two 17” OLED monitors and my Leader scope.
The guts of the cart are housed in a portable Gator 6U rack case that can be easily removed for carrying into difficult locations. The rack houses 2 BoxIO LUT boxes, an AJA video router, BMD distribution amplifiers, a Decimator Multi-Viewer, a BMD capture card, and a Meon LiFe 12V power supply with a backup battery.
The entire cart can run completely on battery power – I’ve been using a combo of Anton Bauer Block batteries and Bluetti batteries. This proves very useful for run-and-gun scenarios in difficult locations or when changing setups and not having to wait for the electric department to re-route power distribution.
MICRO DIT CART:
For my smallest setup, I’ve used various configurations of a monitor with accessories rigged directly onto it (iris controller, wireless video receiver, and scope). This only allows exposure monitoring, no live grading. It allows me to run behind a long Steadicam shot and pull iris, or hike into difficult locations that are impractical for any type of cart.
DATA WRANGLING CART:
This is a vertical film tools cart with one upper work shelf. On the lower shelf is a 6U rack that holds a UPS, RAID, card readers, and shuttle drives. This cart often lives on the camera truck but can be easily moved out to our set for any reason.
What is your personal favorite component of your setup?
On my big cart, I would have to say it’s the fact that my workstation is on the side. It really expands the work area of the cart and allows me to stay out of the way of people looking at the 25” monitors. Because I have my own 17” monitor, I can build grades privately, match previous shots, and review previous setups, all without affecting what is showing on the main monitors or to anyone downstream from my cart.
What has been the latest addition to your setup?
The latest major addition to the cart is electric assist wheels and disc breaks. This is a luxury that has proven very useful. It allows me to go up and down steep hills and set ramps without having to wait for additional help.
The location DIT cart is also a new addition for my last show. It’s proven extremely useful. Prior to this, if I was faced with a difficult location (e.g., up a flight of stairs), I’d have to hand-carry my rack case and monitors to set, and hand-carry everything each time the setup changed. Now with a smaller and more portable cart, I have a lot more flexibility to go anywhere and move more quickly.
Also, with HDR monitoring starting to appear on many sets, I will need to alter my setup significantly in the near future.
Are there any notable stories that have happened with or to your setup while on set, and that you’d like to share with us?
When setting up to film a car explosion with four cameras, the AD team informed us minutes before the shot that anyone who wanted to be close enough to monitor the shot had to fit inside a small shelter for safety reasons. I was told my cart wouldn’t fit inside the shelter with all the people who needed to see the monitors. This was before I had my portable kit, so I frantically de-rigged all the necessary items off my cart and set up the racks inside with monitors on C-stands. We got the shot without any delays. In the end, there weren’t many people at the monitors, and my cart would have fit without a problem. The frantic world of network television!
Big thanks to Robert for sharing all this information with us!