Danny Alaniz has always been inspired by fast cars.
Although he’s justifiably proud of his work as camera operator or DP on high-profile shows including ‘America’s Most Wanted’, ‘Master Chef’, and ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’, as well as various documentaries for Al Gore’s independent network. Alaniz revels in the opportunity to work around custom cars.
As DP for ‘Street Customs’ at West Coast Customs, he got to know both the cars and people across the industry. When a friend asked what kind of project he’d do if given access to exotic cars, he came up with the idea of a spec commercial for custom Lamborghinis. The ‘Unleash the Power’ project was born.
The cars at the Sheepey Race facility, where Alaniz shot his film, include a stunning line-up of custom, twin-turbo Lamborghinis – all lightweight, with quick acceleration and screaming speed, thanks to souped-up horsepower from 1,200 to 1,800 hp.
“The whole ‘Unleash the Power’ campaign came to me as I looked at these cars. I decided that if I’m going to come out with all this firepower – with access to the cars and the Sheepey shop – then I might as well hit it once and hit it hard.”
Call it good with Anton/Bauer
The Sheepey Race facility is in Murrieta, California, about two hours’ drive from downtown Los Angeles. Lacking convenient access to equipment stores or rental houses, Alaniz needed to bring just the right equipment and have it perform perfectly.
An initial location scout at Sheepey revealed that access to power for lighting and other equipment would be limited. As it turned out, half of the outlets at the facility were running through the same circuits, and power throughout the building already was maxed out.
“If I had put lighting onto their wall outlets, I would have been popping circuits like popcorn all day,” says Alaniz. “I said, ‘That’s it. Get Anton/Bauer and call it good’.”
Unleashing the power of Titon
Keeping his crew’s footprint as light and versatile as possible, Alaniz used two Gemini 2×1 LED soft panels; a Teradek Bolt 500 wireless video system; an ARRI ALEXA Mini camera package (shooting anamorphic), an OConnor 2065 fluid head, a SmallHD 17-inch monitor, a SmallHD 502 on-board monitor (for behind-the-scenes camera work),and Titon series batteries, both Gold Mount and V-Mount.
“My crew said, ‘The outlets, there aren’t enough!’” says Alaniz. “They were totally amazed when I told them we could just use Titon. Our shoots went on for a straight 12 hours, and we barely used three or four batteries. The Titon 150 is basically the equivalent of three competing batteries.”
The Titon batteries allowed Alaniz and his crew to run all of this gear, including the Geminis, on battery rather than use house power. P-TAP and high-speed Smart USB ports provided convenient charging for the production team’s smartphone and other devices. The Titon batteries’ real-time display gave Alaniz accurate power data down to the minute, eliminating the guesswork involved when batteries have LED indicators.
“In the middle of production, I’m thinking, ‘Where’s the Achilles heel on this entire setup?’ It surely was not the battery. The Titon battery was everything. My equipment was like those custom cars – putting out power. We really did unleash the power.”
Let’s do something different
The Lamborghinis that Alaniz shot for the project are built, modified, calibrated, and optimised at the Sheepey shop. After using a Mustang MD500 Linked AWD dynamometer to test a car’s horsepower and to tune its performance to the owner’s requirements, the Sheepey team takes it out for testing on a private road.
Throughout shooting, Alaniz and his team switched out the batteries quickly and smoothly, much as the custom exotics surrounding them change gears. The SmallHD monitor sat on a stand immediately in front of Alaniz for static shots around the shop, and it went on the road too for some run-and-gun car-to-car shooting. He shot out of the back of an SUV as the custom Lamborghinis came straight up at him.
Within the shop, with the Geminis patched into a lighting board, Alaniz and a lighting board operator achieved a sodium vapour type of colour temperature as a constant. The operator sometimes applied a strobe effect to create ‘quick blinks’ with flashes that reflected almost lovingly off the cars.
For a shot head-on in front of the car, nothing but windshield, Alaniz used the Geminis as a backlight, keeping the lower third of the Gemini in frame because of the perfect throw that the light gave, a shuttery movement that could be augmented in post to suggest a sense of light speed.
“The lighting features on the Geminis allow me to switch over the colour temperature to whatever I want – and the intensity!” says Alaniz. “Wow, just the intensity! It kept hitting me how well the batteries were doing and how much light the Geminis put out. They gave me that punch I really wanted.”
Sparking creativity and possibility
‘Unleash the Power’ reflects the elegance of the Sheepey facility with calm, quiet, stylistically sharp shots punctuated by cuts from the intense car-to-car shots of Lamborghinis racing along the road. As Alaniz puts it, the resulting film is “a little bit of chaos, a little bit of simplicity”.
“I grew up on the other side of the tracks,” he says. “Going from being told all my life ‘No, that’s impossible’ to working with this kind of equipment and doing what I do for a living, I’ve shown that a young filmmaker doesn’t have to take no for an answer. I’m a huge risk-taker, and that’s what I did with this Lamborghini project. I used my gear to ‘Unleash the Power,’ and the possibilities were amazing.”