We found out about the kino very early on in prep. I saw the designs from James Robbins around the time we were working on the look of the Destiny.
The kino was designed and then built by the model shop first. The VFX department then got the digital files from Gord Bellamy and the model shop, along with a practical kino ball that they built with a 3D printer, so it was a fairly easy process with good references.
We had done floating camera balls before (as in the Atlantis episode, “Sateda”). We really wanted for our kino to have a much better constant movement/float to it and a more photo-real look to reflect the style of Universe.
Making It Fly
We did try numerous methods early on to make the kino work that were later abandoned.
1. We tried to fly it on wires and the movement just didn’t feel right.
2. We tried a “Kino On A Stick”; basically the name says it all. It is a practical kino ball with a stick attached to it. There was a shot in the pilot when they were discussing the damaged shuttle where the kino is floating behind Eli. Because of the shooting style of SGU we actually found it easier and that it looked better to replace the practical prop with the CGI version.
3. In the episode “Light” we used a practical half kino on a plane of glass that could float like the CGI kino. The problem was we had to paint out the reflections in the glass and again found it easier to use a CGI kino ball.
One thing we always do when shooting a kino shot is to run the practical “Kino On A Stick” through the scene where we want it to go. This gives the actors an eye line when we shoot the actual scene and gives the animators a reference for the intended path and movement of the kino.
We usually use a couple of techniques when having an actor interact with the kino ball. For example, in the pilot, “Air,” when Eli tosses the kino in the air David Blue was actually holding a real kino prop he dropped to the floor when his hand was in motion.
A CGI kino ball was tracked in and replaced. In the episode “Lost” David just mimed the motion of grabbing a kino out of the air and a cg kino ball was put in later.
The two biggest challenges of making the kino work on location are tracking to the scene and the matching the lighting of the scene. Tracking is always difficult based on the shooting style of Universe. Fortunately, we have some of the best 3D trackers there are or else the whole process would not have worked.
For lighting, it is always best to get hi-res photos of the location in its lighting conditions to match the key light and various additional lights.
The Kino in Season One
The most difficult kino shot for Season one was a shot in the pilot “Air”. It is a shot where Scott and Eli are walking down a corridor in the Destiny and the kino is following behind.
The shot was not planned to be an effects shot and was added later when we decided we needed to see the kino in that scene. There was no reference for the kino and the camera movement was very hard to track. It was a very short shot, and one where the kino ball is certainly not featured, but a shot that took actually a long time to complete.
I think the kino is a great storytelling tool and very important for the show. It is really a floating MALP that also is used to document the events taking place on the Destiny.
It was used in the episodes “Darkness” and “Light” to really give some background on our characters early on in the series. It was also used very well in “Time” where the whole story was based around the kino POV. I think the kino is a great addition to the Stargate world and one that would not be so effective if the execution wasn’t there.