‘Top Gun: Maverick’ cinematographer pushes the limits of camera technology to put viewers in control

When “Top Gun: Maverick” viewers almost felt the G-force as Tom Cruise took off from his aircraft carrier in an F/A-18 Super Hornet, cinematographer Claudio Milan Da was very excited.

Putting six truly cinema-quality cameras on a single fighter jet — a technology that was technically impossible until a solution was developed for a spin-off of the 1986 classic — renders such stunning aerial footage , which makes the editor’s work almost overwhelmed.

“I feel like what we’re delivering is, you’re using an IMAX-quality camera—we’ve worked hard to make sure it’s a high-quality camera,” Miranda said. “I think it makes a difference. I’m very proud of that.”

Presented at Cameraimage Intl. Speaking at the Torun Film Festival in Poland, Miranda admitted that he had forgotten how many days of aerial shooting “Top Gun” required, but there was no question whether the investment was worth it, Miranda said. “I think it’s — I mean it puts a lot of work into the editors. It’s 813 hours of footage. You’re running six cameras at a time, two ships at a time.”

It’s no surprise that Miranda picked up some of the Navy terminology for fighter jets after months of full Navy pilot training, working closely with pilots, technologists, military officials, and actors. When he described everyday fighter jet flying, This was also chased by the plane.

From the opening sequence of “Top Gun,” viewers get up close and personal with real fighter jets taking off from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, filmed during a pre-pandemic F-35C Lightning II training exercise in August 2018. The shoot also took advantage of Lemoore Naval Air Station in central California, Miranda says, in an effort to be as realistic as possible in every frame.

Adapting Sony cameras to fighter jets was at the heart of the plan, he said — allowing the production to reach levels never seen before. “I also helped design the original camera – I went to Japan and there was a lot of stuff there and they modified it. Then it was still a bit too big for us, so we worked hard and we were able to get this little Rialto stuff. It was actually originally designed for chasing jets, and we wanted a bigger lens for more variety. And then we said, ‘Wow, we can do a lot of things with this.’”

The story follows Cruise’s return from virtual exile by the Navy to a pivotal role flying a dangerous mission over enemy territory, demanding a breakthrough even the Navy’s best-trained pilots could get in their best planes. The limit of what can be done.

Of the special 6K Sony mini camera, Miranda said: “Originally, they gave us one. We were like… ‘Four more? Maybe six more?'”

“I was told I couldn’t let them in,” he added. “But I’ve been out there, asking, ‘What’s this?’ I found an old version of the F-18 that didn’t have all the electronics in it. It was more of a crude system. I really liked it because it There’s a flat anti-glare shield. The old version was much simpler, which is why we put the cameras in.”

Miranda said the close collaboration with naval engineers paid off. “I asked if I could dismantle the old electronics, we’re cutting there every day. I’ve been there for weeks, what do you need it for? Is that necessary?”

No weapons systems were removed, but, he said: “They took out some camera stuff. When they fired some missiles, sometimes they did have cameras. So there was a whole system. The whole system, I don’t need it, So it’s gone.”

One constraint on filming, he explained, was time. “I couldn’t use the power of the boat as much as I wanted to, so that was one thing. So there was a limit to how long the camera could stay in the air—it was like 90 minutes.”

Another challenge was how the actors dealt with the pressure of being in the back seat of a real fighter jet rather than a green screen sound stage. “I’m sure they threw up something,” Miranda said. “But the actors worked for three months and raised their tolerance levels, Tom Cruise’s pilot training program. They also wore compression suits, G suits.”

High-tech flight suits help them keep blood from settling in their legs so they don’t pass out during high-G maneuvers, which helps them make truly punishing turns in front of the camera.

Flying the F-15 requires just as much training, he said. “They were all submerged in the sink and had to crawl out by themselves,” Miranda added. “We didn’t film it, but you could feel it. To be in the back seat of an F-15, you have to go through training. They couldn’t give me a happy ride.”

Miranda points out that safety precautions are always the most important. “If the pilot pulls the Gs excessively, it has to be reported. All camera mounts have to be tested by the Navy to make sure they can take all the Gs. If the bolts come off, there can’t be any foreign objects rolling around. They check all the Wrenches and gears — when they finished the plane, all the wrenches came back. There was a good safety protocol.”

Miranda is able to put the audience in the pilot’s seat in a way that raises the bar significantly, using natural light and real skies and scenery to fly by. And almost always under brilliant sun halo lighting.

“Top Gun is a sunset movie. If you look at it, it’s 5:30. So we’re all carefully planning our day, planning our morning run, planning our evening run, with the camera on the hill. There’s a lot of planning. I know them The location on the map, but I have to know how deep they’re going, the direction they’re going, the weather, we’re going to tell the pilot where we want the sun.”

Hooting Camerimage’s grand audience greeted Miranda and director Joseph Kosinski at the screening, expressing their deep empathy.

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