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ARRI Rental HEXATRON crane vehicle on "Dune"

Key grip Tommaso Mele and ARRI Rental grip technician Zolt Teszáry achieve dramatic HEXATRON crane shots in the Jordanian desert for Denis Villeneuve's new sci-fi movie.

"Dune," one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, was directed by Denis Villeneuve and shot by Greig Fraser ACS, ASC, who won an Oscar for his stunning visuals. Based on Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel, it is set on the war-torn desert planet Arrakis, for which the filmmakers traveled to the desert valley of Wadi Rum in southern Jordan. Faced with difficult terrain and conditions, they called on ARRI Rental's exclusive HEXATRON off-road crane vehicle, which can provide a level crane base in even the most challenging environments. Key grip Tommaso Mele and ARRI Rental grip technician Zolt Teszáry here discuss the process of getting the HEXATRON to Jordan, and the benefits it brought to the production.

Could you each describe your roles?

Tommaso Mele: As key grip, I am head of the grip department on the production. I work closely with the director, DP, and camera department, and it is my responsibility to position the camera, setting up whatever dolly tracks or cranes might be required.

Zolt Teszáry: I am a grip technician at ARRI Rental in Budapest. Mainly I work with remote grip systems such as telescopic cranes, classic and stabilized remote heads, motion control, and of course the HEXATRON, which is a great piece of kit for moving telescopic cranes around off-road terrains.

How did the HEXATRON come to be used on this production?

ZT: From the very beginning of planning the "Dune" shoot, Tommaso requested the HEXATRON for the Jordan leg of filming, as the only possible vehicle that can go around in the desert carrying the Supertechno 50 crane.

TM: During the preliminary scouting we realized that, given the particular nature of the locations, we needed a versatile vehicle with multiple functions to be able to transport and use a 50-foot Supertechno in all locations. I chose the HEXATRON because I had already appreciated its versatility and ease of use on previous occasions.

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What were the challenges of the desert locations in Jordan?

ZT: We used several different locations in the desert, around Wadi Rum. Moving between the sets at these locations was no problem, but when we went to a soft sand dune we faced some challenges because it necessitates a different driving style. Our solutions included using lower air pressure in the HEXATRON tires, and a higher cruising speed than regular setups.   

TM: Working in Jordan was a challenge every day. It's a beautiful country, but working in locations like Wadi Rum is always complicated and requires continuous effort in terms of preparation and implementation. The terrain is very treacherous because of the sand and rocks, and the travel distances to get to the locations are always considerable. We were fortunate that the weather was almost ideal while we were filming there.

How did you get the HEXATRON out to Jordan?

TM: Obviously, transporting the HEXATRON required an enormous amount of work. Transporting a vehicle of this size and weight thousands of kilometers in a short space of time was not easy. The solution was simplified with the use of a huge Russian cargo plane that allowed us to reach Jordan in a very short time.

ZT: It was an Antonov An-225 aircraft. There was a huge amount of logistical work, based on the certification guidelines provided by the shipping company in the UK. We prepped the HEXATRON with a Supertechno 50 crane in Budapest, then drove it in a dedicated truck to London Stanstead Airport. Once the HEXATRON was loaded onto the plane, I flew to Aqaba via Amman ahead of the Antonov's arrival, in order to unload it and see it safely to our main production base in Aqaba. The whole process took six days, and of course Aqaba is a militarily sensitive location, with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt as regional neighbors, so that made the customs process even more challenging.

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ARRI Rental grip technician Zolt Teszáry

What was the process for planning shots that were done with the HEXATRON?

TM: We had production meetings where we planned all the options to achieve the best possible results for the shoot, as requested by director Denis Villeneuve. During the meetings I worked closely with cinematographer Greig Fraser to find the best solutions for the most complicated shots we were asked to shoot, including the HEXATRON shots.

Can you describe the kinds of situations and shots you used the HEXATRON for?

TM: As an example, I remember a particular shot that was specifically requested by our director. We positioned the Supertechno 50 on the HEXATRON at the foot of a series of dunes and shot a scene at sunset.

In general, what has stuck with me is the simplicity and assurance of using the HEXATRON to get incredible shots in exceptional locations. There were a number of shots that were only achievable because of the unique characteristics of the HEXATRON. Perhaps my favorite feature is the ability to extend the column pistons in all directions to different heights, which allows you to continuously tilt and adjust the position, even when the vehicle is stationary.

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Key Grip Tommaso Mele working with the HEXATRON

Was maintaining the equipment difficult in such a sandy environment?

 ZT: We brought a portable compressor with us from Budapest so we could blow sand off the HEXATRON every day, or even several times per day. It was a "Sisyphus" battle with the sand and the wind. We used the crane's overnight cover between shots to avoid damage to sensitive components. I was working closely with Tommaso to get the HEXATRON to the best possible position and look after it there.

TM: Working in the desert can create quite a few problems, so we had a daily maintenance plan for parts that were exposed to the sand and wind. I can say that we never had any problems or stopped working because of issues with the HEXATRON.

Did you have to get to the set earlier than the rest of the crew to set up the HEXATRON?

ZT: We tended to get started around an hour earlier then the crew call; or sometimes we even drove the HEXATRON and crane to the next day's location at the end of the day, and got them prepped to be ready for the following morning.

TM: But overall the HEXATRON saves time, it doesn't add it. The characteristics of the vehicle allowed us to move with extreme speed and ease; the four-wheel drive allows the vehicle, although very heavy, to face and overcome almost any type of obstacle such as sand dunes. It was really easy to maneuver the HEXTRON on set, and work with it.

How was the support from ARRI Rental?

TM: I have to say that they did an excellent job; ARRI Rental Budapest was always present and offered continuous support and assistance when requested. Their technicians were very helpful and always up to the task in all situations. Thanks to them, we were always able to satisfy the director's requests.

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