'Computer Chess' Achieves a 1980s Aesthetic with AJA

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Director Andrew Bujalski and cinematographer Matthias Grunsky retrofitted a tube camera from the 1970s to shoot Computer Chess, a nostalgic look at the early days of computer programming. The 40-year-old black-and-white video camera was stripped of its antique tape mechanism and upgraded to record to 21st century hard drive technology, delivering a low-tech look appropriate to the film’s subject matter. Computer Chess takes place over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers circa 1980.

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Director of photography Matthias Grunsky and Sony AVC-3260 camera

Bujalski and Grunsky were confident that the tube camera would facilitate the look they had envisioned for the film. Aware of the complications that could arise from using such an antiquated camera, they began building a workflow around it. “A big challenge was figuring out how to get this older camera to communicate with digital technology from this decade,” says Grunsky.

To obtain a black-and-white analog signal, Grunsky shot the film with a Sony AVC-3260 tube camera with a modern-day Panasonic monitor attached. He and his crew then used a time base corrector to stabilize the signal coming from the camera composite and fed it through an AJA D5D Mini-Converter. Recording the SD feed in ProRes HQ with the AJA Ki Pro Mini, the team backed up the footage from the CF cards onto hard drives. Once filming wrapped, the drives were used in post on an Apple Final Cut Pro workstation for editing.