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‘Sully’: How Clint Eastwood Shot the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ with IMAX Alexa 65

Cinematographer Tom Stern divulges what it was like debuting the IMAX version of the Alexa 65 on Clint Eastwood's biopic about the "Miracle on the Hudson" forced landing starring Tom Hanks.

"Sully" Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks in “Sully”

As Clint Eastwood has proven time and again, you can teach an old director new tricks. In fact, after the success of “American Sniper” on IMAX screens, Eastwood is a total convert.

That’s why he proposed to cinematographer Tom Stern that they up the visual IMAX ante for “Sully,” with its amazing “Miracle on the Hudson” forced landing of US Airways Flight 1549.

The surprised Stern did some intel and recommended they use IMAX’s new customized version of the ARRI Alexa 65, 6K camera, totally transparent, save for the software adjustments for IMAX’s color space and workflow. Otherwise, it’s the same camera that delivers super-sharp and dynamic imagery (26% more image than standard widescreen). But, on “Sully,” it provided a pleasantly unexpected result.

“When we did the tests last summer, I was on rooftops in LA and we were using the skyscrapers as resolution screens, to make sure this made sense and what the sweet spots were. And it’s weird because the long shots are interesting, the medium shots, I’d argue, there’s not much difference, but one of the bizarre, surprising things came in the close-ups. There’s an honest, subjective three-dimensionality. Basically, I was trying to poke a sharp stick at 3D.”

Thus, there’s a greater presence in the close-ups of Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger: another variation of his Jimmy Stewart-like everyman — the charming, consummate pilot whose confidence is undermined by self-doubt as a result of a very critical aviation inquiry. According to Sullenberger, his story pits “common humanity” against “greed and self-interest,” which, not surprisingly, recalls the films of Frank Capra.

For Eastwood (an accomplished helicopter pilot), there was the special theme of pitting experience and instinct against high-tech computer simulation, according to Stern, with humanity obviously coming out on top.




The IMAX Alexa 65 was used on the entire film, except for a couple of simulator shots that were too small to accommodate the camera and would’ve required costly calibration. And framing for the 1.9:1 IMAX aspect ratio only required steering clear of the bottom of the frame to enable easy 2.4:1 wide screen conversion for the rest of the theaters.

In shooting the forced landing on the Hudson, they did the rescue aftermath first, using a spud barge anchored in the middle of the river (with the cooperation of the New York ferry boat company).

This quickly established the look of gray clouds throughout the sequence. Meanwhile, Stern’s team shot lots of aerial footage with the IMAX Alexa 65s across Central Park, enhanced by MPC’s CG environments and modeling.

However, the main action was shot on an A320 Airbus placed on a gimbal at Universal Studios Falls Lake. For the crash, they lowered it to recreate the sinking.

“One of the questions that we investigated was the data load in 65, which was [significant],” Stern said. “But it was manageable and it looked super.”

Look for continued use of the IMAX Alexa 65 on Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” (November 4) and “The Avengers: Infinity War” two-part movies (2018 and 2019) and “Transformers: The Last Knight” (June 23, 2017).

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