Fstoppers Exclusive Look at Art Streiber and Paramount's 100th Anniversary Masterpiece

Days of preparation, hundreds of people, and 57 Profoto strobes culminated in just five minutes and forty-two seconds of fast-paced shooting. In photographer Art Streiber’s own words, “it was pretty huge, and a little out of control.” I’ll say. In an Fstoppers exclusive, we go behind the scenes of one of the largest and most sensitive group photo shoots ever undertaken with 116 of Hollywood’s greatest stars on one stage at one time to celebrate Paramount Studio’s 100th anniversary.

Art Streiber is basically a self-taught photographer whose experimentation over the years has left him with a unique perspective and a massive client list. Art’s work can be seen everywhere: the cover of Wired Magazine, Fast Company, Vanity Fair, Architectural Digest, Watch!, Entertainment Weekly, Daily Variety, the New Yorker, ESPN Magazine, Time, Men’s Health, the list continues off my desk, onto the floor, and out the door. Art is the quintessential example of a photographer whose work is impossible NOT to see.

Art has developed a reputation for being undaunted by projects that seem impossible or even ridiculous and meeting those challenges head on, always figuring out how to make it work. One of Art’s guiding principles has been, “the answer is yes, now what’s the question?”

So, let’s say he’s asked to shoot 14 environmentalists on the north shore of Lake Tahoe on a Thursday and then fly to New York and Washington DC the following week to photograph eight more environmentalists (in studio) and light them so they all look like they were standing together in the Sierras. It's a no brainer for Art.

So when Paramount called him and asked “Hey we are going to do a 100th anniversary photo with 100 people. Can you shoot it?” Of course the answer was yes. “Being able to commemorate Paramount’s 100th anniversary photographically was not only a huge opportunity, but an incredible honor,” Art told us.

But after the initial shock and honor came the big question: “How the heck are we going to do this?”

At first, the folks at Paramount wanted the shot to be outdoors in front of the famous Paramount gates. But Art knew that the 90th anniversary had been photographed by Annie Leibovitz in front of those same gates for Vanity Fair ten years prior. Art also knew that he would be shooting in the middle of January, while Annie had shot in July. He didn’t want to try and recreate that image, while simultaneously attempting to battle the elements. He wanted something that would be distinct. After scouting the Paramount lot with his First Assistant and Executive Producer Elaine Browne, he pushed to get the shoot moved onto one of the sound stages, where he could be better in control of the set and the light.

Art got his wish, but it came with a monumental caveat. This would be the biggest light Art had ever constructed and he'd have to use more strobes than he had ever used before in order to light one set.

LIGHTING

The 40-foot stage, 116-person photo needed flattering, even light all the way across. This setup used no light stands, no C-stands and no medium or high rollers. Instead, Art's crew of 10 assistants used 57 Profoto heads, and gridded 34 of those heads with Magnum P50 dishes as the key light. Because the stage was so wide, he couldn’t use a big side light. Instead, Art would have to light from above. He decided to mimic the “Broadway” style stage lighting, which is a fairly hard light source, up high above the audience.

 



The photo, which is of incredible magnitude in both scope of work and historical significance and took days of preparation, was captured in under six minutes. Click to view larger.

 

Paramount put grip, electric, and set building teams at Art’s disposal, which was a huge help and a massive advantage considering the monumental task. They ran the power, built the set to the specs of Art's set designer, and then constructed a custom designed three-rectangle rail and truss system that would drop from the ceiling. Art’s Crew took 57 Profoto 7 heads with a mix of gridded P50 magnum dishes, 7 inch reflectors, and strip banks and affixed them in an array on the truss, hoisted it onto the ceiling, and tested to gauge the light direction.

In addition, there was a large Paramount Logo hanging just behind and above the set that was later cropped out of the published image in order to enlarge the subjects. There were 24 foam stars that needed to be lit in a way to show off their depth, and Art was able to do that with a pair of strip lights and P50s with grids.

Paramount built two additional catwalks to access the strobe heads and to give the packs a place to sit. All these lights were triggered with a total of 5 PocketWizards. Art used the PocketWizards to trigger a one bare bulb ProFoto head high above the truss designed to slave all of the other strobes that would light the photo. The bare bulb trigger head was up high enough in the rafters that it had no effect on the photo, but slaved the huge group of active strobes perfectly. This was a far better method for so many lights than trying to link them all by PocketWizard.

In Art’s excited and relieved words, “It worked!”

While testing the lights during a dress rehearsal with 100 extras and stand ins, one of the major problems that arose was the black backdrop. Art realized, as you all out there would likely have noticed as well, that with a black background anyone standing on the stairwell who happened to be wearing black that day (a great many of them) or anyone with black hair would blend into the backdrop. Art needed to add a kicker/hairlight/backlight to the back edge of each of the pyramids, which his First Lighting Assistant, Johnny Tergo, accomplished with eight Profoto heads affixed to the catwalk above the stage.

STAGING THE MODELS

Rick Floyd, a well-known visual director who has worked for companies like HBO, Showtime, and FX, designed the set and posed the actors, going so far as to sketch out each of their positions on a massive mural. That 20 foot wide by 10 foot high rendering was signed by each of the subjects as they arrived on the stage and will become part of Paramount's history (which you can glimpse in the only released video of the project shown above).

The care and precision that Rick and Art wanted to take in preparation for the shoot was complicated by the fact that the guest list kept changing throughout the week, oscillating between 90 and 100 people, before settling on 116 by the day of the shoot. The photo required balance, as there were actors in their 90's (Mickey Rooney, Ernest Borgnine and Kirk Douglas) along side teenagers like Justin Bieber and Elle Fanning. And balancing the placement of men and women also demanded careful planning, or the image could look disjointed or even lopsided.

As you can well imagine, loading 116 actors onto even a simple stage takes some time. Add the specific posing and multi-level set, and the process could be unpleasantly lengthy for all those involved. To accommodate the large task of loading so many people onto the stage, they split the loading into two segments: left and right.

Even with a well-executed loading procedure, the process took the better part of 20 minutes, which meant that the first few people positioned on the stage had been standing in their positions for 20 minutes by the time the last person was posed. That’s a long time to wait, especially since these actors were considered guests doing a favor for the studio. Art could not make them wait forever. He had to be quick.

GETTING THE SHOT

Art fired 63 frames on a Hasselblad H2 camera with the new Phase One IQ-160 back and a 150mm lens, provided by his digital tech, Eric Vlasic at With Technology. He shot the photo in three sections, and in post production, the left, middle, and right sections were merged into the final triple page spread that appeared in Vanity Fair.

However, it’s important to note that all 116 people were on stage at one time. Nobody was stitched into the photo, nobody was added in post.

The image is truly a timeless masterpiece, one that Paramount can be proud for the next 100 years.

 



The finished product, as it is printed in Vanity Fair. Click to see larger.

 

About Art Streiber

Behind the camera since the 8th grade, Art’s first camera was a Canon AE1 his grandfather sold to him and his brother Paul for $5. Art pursued his growing passion from high school through college at Stanford, eventually taking internships and traineeships for newspapers in the LA area. While learning his craft, Art made ends meet by working in a small, family-owned camera store. Art believes that his experiences in the camera store helped him learn client and interpersonal relationships, as there was “a lot of thinking on your feet and problem solving,” and working through those hurdles with the customers framed his interaction with clients later in his life.

Eventually Art was offered the staff photographer position for the west coast bureau of Women’s Wear Daily and W (at the time, bi-monthly) magazines in 1987, two of the largest fashion publications of the era.

Art shot fashion, portrait, food, parties, still life, anything that came down the pipe. Two years later, Art and his then fiancé and now wife, were offered the opportunity to run the Milan office of WWD and W. Needless to say, they took it. They returned to the US in 1993, and Art has been freelancing ever since.

Note: Art Streiber received special permission from Paramount Studios to take part in the interview used as the base of this article.

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50 Comments

Good work, but lots of photoshopping flaws if you zoom in nicely! Also so many legends are missing...while idiots like Bieber is in!

www.vivekkunwar.com

What makes Bieber an idiot exactly?

He's too stupid to realize his work is taste less, talent less, and that he's a simple ATM for his producers, paramount, etc.....

I'll be honest, I dislike you more than I do Bieber.  Calling him an idiot for no reason other than the fact you have a different taste in music makes you a asshole.  I may not like his music, but he sure as hell isn't tasteless and talentless, he is just catering to a different demographic...you know, like people his own age.

Photo's picture

Look...Bieber has a taste for nothing and is annoying, but the fact that he is sharing a stage with some real great artists of our times is what looks wierd. Just because some people listen to him means nothing. People watch B grade movies and porn, does that mean anything ...well I dont think so !

ARTUROTORRES DFWC's picture

I agree with this guy. Plus his movie "Never Say Never" made Paramount a shit ton of money. 

Exactly the point and I fully agree.

You do realize he started on his own to get big right? He didn't come up from the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. He started from public venues. I don't really care for his music myself but I do respect how he got to where he is. The fan girls do get way too annoying for me but that's part of the demographic.

Calling him talentless and tasteless are opinions. Facts are he's making money while you are complaining about him.

C-bass's picture

Biebe made like one film, granted it earned alot of money, but still not enough film clout to have him in a room with film legends, so that he can hang like a monkey off the railing.

This is a 100 Year Anniversary picture, which includes people with years of experience to least. From legends to upcomers.

So you consider Johnny Knoxville a legend actor?

One film or not, he was still part of the history to Paramount. It never said 100 year anniversary but we'll start from 2006 and earlier.

You're funny

Sterling Snyder's picture

^ troll

Why is Bieber in there? I mean, seriously? Hanging off the railing like a fucking monkey, what a waste of a space.

Justin Bieber photobombed the picture!!

I was at the APA meeting when Art was talking about this. I'm a huge fan of his work and I'm glad I can finally see this masterpiece, which he enthusiastically talked about but couldn't show because of the embargo. Simply amazing work from him and his crew!

WOW!Joe Gunawan | fotosiamo.com

Crowd: "Yeah! That idiot Justin Beiber, why is he in it?"
(Ah maybe because out of all those people hes the one everyone here is focused on). Also young kids love him and he's super famous and he has star power and he could potentially have a long carrer ahead of him and it would be smart for a studio to cash in on that young following hes got.

I remember when I was in school all the girls loved Leonardo DiCaprio ( and most guys hated him. Called him DiCrapio (haha get it?)). Now I think hes a great Actor. I feel silly for my childish jealousy.      

Seshan's picture

Maybe everyone is focusing on him because he's hang of the rail with his hand sticking out looking like a fool and everyone else is standing/sitting nice. He shouldn't of been in it, he has one movie that he didn't even act in. If in 25 years he's still successful as a actor, then he can be in it. 

Nicholas's picture

Two of my favorite things, Movies and Photography, fused into on epic shot by an incredible portrait photographer. What could be better?

And his motto: "yes, now what was the question?: Truly inspiring. I think fear saps so many talented people's love for the craft. Art just goes for it, no matter how hard the task seems, faster than thinking, followed by doubt, can catch up.

Michael Kormos's picture

I'm sure given the fact they're all actors have made this job easier for the photographer.  I can't imagine wrestling a group of 100 everyday folk, even with a bullhorn and a cattleprod. Love the final work. Everyone is looking fancy, even Captain Picard :-)

With so much attention paid to detail, I'm surprised to see a lot of errors with the merging of the photos.

Mike Kelley's picture

I don't see any problems with the merging - where do you see it?

C-bass's picture

Daniel time to get your eyes checked. There is no "merging" of the photos here, might want to put the weed down.

Justin Bieber?! Are you serious?! Where is Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Al Pacino, Clint Eastwood, etc?

Exactly my point ! Am pretty sure Robert D. Jr kicked him right after the snap for doing that monkey thingey.

www.vivekkunwar.com

I'm sure Robert Downey Jr. tried to buy coke off him after the snap.

Kristin Rennells's picture

Bruce Willis is to the far right by his ex wife, Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr, and His Bieber-ness.
He's wearing a ball cap.

Everyone is grate, just that Beber ruins the picture...

Jay Lawrence Goldman's picture

How about spelling Art's last name correctly in the title of the post.  Just thought it would be nice.  Great Post.
Amazing shot.

epic. 

Hi I'm Johnny Knoxville and this is Jackass......

THE GREAT ZEEE's picture

where is angela bassette?

I was in the room.  All 116 of those people were photographed at the same time.  The photographer turned in a perfect file, merging three frames together, a left, a middle and a right frame.  That final file was given by the studio to a design agency who were instructed to remove the Paramount logo on top and condense the frame from left to right in order to move people closer together.  Their intention was to get everyone to fit into a three-page spread in a magazine and make the people in the frame as large as possible.  Any "photoshopping" that's visible is the design agency's responsibility.

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