Recommended Gear for On-Set VFX Supervision

A lot of people have asked me what gear I typically bring on set when supervising VFX for a film, TV show or commercial. I have a pretty standard kit that I find works for almost any scenario I might encounter and is portable enough that it fits into a large camera backpack.  No dragging cumbersome Pelican cases around.

Speaking of backpacks, my current backpack of choice is the Mountainsmith Borealis Pack. It holds all the camera gear I need, as well as a fully featured but lightweight 55″ Induro CT-014 Carbon Fiber Tripod.  For tech scouts or situations where you don’t need to carry as much gear, you may be able to get away with a Mountainsmith Parallax or LowePro Flipside 300.  What’s great about these three backpacks is that they all have integrated rain covers to protect your gear during outdoor shoots.  The two Mountainsmith packs also are able to hold a laptop and/or tablet, useful for data gathering or doing a quick slap comp.

For data gathering and set survey I like to rely on a laser distance meter.  I like the Bosch DLR130K since it’s reliable and supports multiple measurement units.  It’s a fast and great way to measure long distances or heights of tall structures through trigonometry.  I also bring extra batteries for it as well as a metric tape measure.  I typically take all my measurements in metric since it’s the standard unit of measure in most 3D and compositing applications.  I’ve always got a moleskine notebook on me for jotting down notes, measurements and diagrams and in case my iPad stops working for some reason.

For capturing spherical HDRI’s for CG lighting there is no more tried and true combination than a 180 degree fisheye lens and Nodal Ninja head.  I greatly prefer this to the old school gazing ball approach since the ball is cumbersome and more prone to damage.  Additionally, you get higher detail reflections in your CG renders from the fisheye approach.  The fisheye lens to choose greatly depends on the brand and sensor size of your DSLR.  The table below helps outline the correct lens for your camera.

Nikon FX Full Frame Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye Fixed Lens for Nikon
Nikon DX APS-C Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye Lens for Nikon
Canon Full Frame Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye Lens for Canon
Canon APS-C Sigma 4.5mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Circular Fisheye Lens for Canon

If your camera type isn’t listed, I’d recommend getting a circular fisheye lens for your camera that captures a 180 degree angle of view and projects a circle onto the sensor of the camera.  You don’t want a lens that’s going to give you a fisheye effect but take up the full area of the sensor.

I also always throw in my bag an extra camera battery, chargers, 1″ wide white gaffer’s tape, 1″ wide black gaffer’s tape, extra socks to keep my feet comfy, a Rocket Air Blower, microfiber lens cloth and a good medium range zoom lens for shooting reference photos and textures.  I also like to keep a variety of triangular tracking markers printed in various sizes 2-in to 6-in wide mounted to foamboard.  Additionally, it’s great to bring along a lens grid to capture distortion from the lenses the crew is shooting with as well as a X-Rite color chart.  You may also want to make yourself a 50% grey ball to bring along for lighting reference.