Cinematography : The art of photography and camerawork in film-making.
For the longest time I thought the Director and the Cinematographer were one in the same… but clearly, like Jon Snow, I know nothing.
So, I decided to research some of my favourite movies and find out more about the cinematographers involved.
War Horse (2011)
One of my favourite movies for not only it’s story, but it’s beautiful cinematography, has got to be Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (2011).
Below, I picked out the some questions and answers during an interview session with Janusz Kaminski (the cinematographer on War Horse (2011) ) on his approach to filming the movie:
Q: When you first discussed the look of War Horse with Spielberg, how did you envisage the film?
JK: From the beginning, we wanted to make a movie that felt sort of old fashioned, in terms of the look, compositions, and colours. Steven was very much inspired by John Ford and his movies. And of course, the land was so inspirational. Most of the movie was shot at tremendously beautiful locations an hour or two outside London during the summer of last year (2010). So it’s pretty much of an exterior picture. We shot in Devon for several weeks. The landscape is very picturesque. The rolling hills, green pastures and little hamlets – it’s almost like Ryan’s Daughter. It’s very visual. On top of that, you are dealing with the raw emotions of a young boy and the horse he befriends. The horse becomes a captain’s horse and we see him in battle sequences, sometimes pulling a canon. We learn a lot about the role of horses in World War I. We also see the war from different perspectives – not just from the British side, but from the German side as well.
Q: How did you light?
JK: I was lighting a tremendous amount simply because I didn’t want the landscape, that sky, and those clouds to disappear. Of course, these days with DI you can bring them in so quickly. But there is such a different quality of light when you actually light it and put the light on people. And frequently, the light was to some degree almost vulgar. We were blasting people with light in order to balance them with the natural light in the background, because I wanted an almost John Ford feel. I wanted the people to be part of the landscape. I let them be man against nature to some degree. So when they are ploughing and fighting and marching, or when they are talking – it’s all about lighting. We often waited for the right light and staged scenes according to the quality of the light. This was the first time Steven was very willing to wait. He was willing because he was very interested in capturing the beauty of the landscape.
Q: Which format and film stocks did you choose?
JK: The aspect ratio is 1.85:1. I shot the 500 stock (Kodak Vision3 500T Colour Negative Film 5219) and went to 200 on it. I used a little bit of ENR processing on it as well. We started with a photochemical print at Deluxe and then did a 4K DI at EFILM to match the print. The ENR was very subtle, about 50, never more than 60. Normally I would do much more. I just love ENR. The grain looks really beautiful. There are some new emulsions in which the grain is not interesting to me. It becomes almost electronic. I would rather go in the other direction. That’s why I would pull one stop. Then it becomes beautiful, a great emulsion. You are overexposing the film by one stop, which makes the contrast better and saturates the color. Then, with ENR, you are bringing a bit of the grain back – but this grain has a different quality. The ENR desaturates the colour, but I tell the timer to introduce a little more colour in the timing process. And the highlights are unique. The movie takes place mostly in two different countries, England and France. That gave me the chance to play with those colours. When the Germans enter the farmhouse, I could play with the blue colours. And before the Germans arrived, I used very warm tones.
Q: What part does risk-taking play in your work, if any?
JK: I would say that in creating the visuals for War Horse, I wasn’t taking risks, but rather being brave in the way I applied lots of colour filters and how I calculated exposure. We were doing very important scenes in terms of emotion, and not really being 100% sure of how they were going to turn out. You look at the video monitor and that represents the image to some degree, but not really. I was speculating. We have to envisage the images in our heads. I frequently don’t know exactly how it would come out, although I know how I am hoping it will come out.
Interview taken from: https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/janusz-kaminski-asc-war-horse/
Images taken from: http://evanerichards.com/2012/2593
How could I not include the beautifully captured Cinderella (2015)?
I found a really informative interview with the Cinematographer, Haris Zambarloukos, himself:
Q: What research did you do, and how did you find the looks for the movie?
HZ: We looked initially at David Lean’s B&W classics, such as Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), both shot by the amazing Guy Greene. They’re timeless, the cinematography is stunning, and they set very high bar to reach in they way they evoke emotions.
However, B&W movies are not the perfect visual references to show to studio executives wanting to make a big budget production in colour. So we also talked about certain painters that Ken and Dante had in mind. The usual references for candle-lit period dramas are Flemish painters, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer. But these have been done many times over, and were not playful enough for Disney. That was the trick. For the more joyful moments in the movie, they asked me to consider the paintings of Fragonard, an often-overlooked artist. Fortunately, the UK has many of his works at The Wallace Collection in London. The Fragonards are colourful and playful, and I could see how they could open-up new cinematographic opportunities. The “The Swing” in particular, is slightly naughty and flirtatious, and there’s a direct reference to it in the movie.
For the darker, more wretched moments in the movie, we again avoided the typical references, and looked at the works of the French Baroque painter Georges De La Tour. They are unusual, dark, but with bold lighting and strong compositions. I’ve loved his work since being a student at Central St Martin’s and “Joseph The Carpenter” is a masterpiece.
Whilst these painterly references gave us two strong starting points to counterpoint the joy and drudgery within the story, we also wanted a way to treat the seemingly benign but evil step-mother – for her to appear more like a film noirfemme fatale. So I suggested that we also consider the portraiture work of Joseph Walker, cinematographer on many of Frank Capra’s best-loved movies, inventor of the zoom lens, and a forerunner of the Hollywood glamour look, and also the large format portrait photography of George Hurrell, upon whom Walker had great influence.
Q: Tell us your reasoning for shooting celluloid and your kit choices?
HZ: There was absolutely no way we were going to shoot digital, for the simple reason that I think it dates very quickly in terms of look. We would have loved to have shot in 65mm, in keeping with the classical thinking behind the movie, but that would have been both impractical and prohibitively expensive, as the only lab capable of processing 65mm is in LA.
However, we shot tests on 65mm to help us hone-in on the techniques that would give us that sort of result on 35mm. The outcome was that I selected low ASA 35mm Tungsten filmstock – Kodak Vision 3 50ASA for day exteriors, plus Vision 3 200ASA for the day and night exteriors and interiors – and chose Millennium XL2 cameras and Panavision Primo Anamorphics. I also had a small set of C-series Anamorphics for the Steadicam scenes in the ballroom, and for when we wanted something slightly softer – for a particular mood, or a close-up on a face.
The effect of combining all of these beautiful ingredients is that when you shoot at T4 or T5.6, the images fall off in a classic way. There’s no need to degrade the picture either, or try to hide anything in the image with diffusion, as you do with digital. You can light a little lower, with more sidelight, and there’s no need for excessive fill to bring out a cheekbone or look into deep-set eyes. On close-ups you really can’t see the difference between 65mm and 35mm, and you get to that Jospeh Walker-level of portraiture. The technique spoke for itself. During production, we had to wait for the film to come back from the lab, and project the results to know it was right. It was a classic, old-school approach.
Q: What was your strategy for moving the camera?
HZ: Again, we decided to be classical, to stay back, observe the staging, let the master shots evolve into mid-shots or end up as close-ups. We wanted to let the shots breathe, and for the moments to develop. But we didn’t go to crazy levels on doing long takes. Although we used Steadicam for the ballroom scenes, operated by Alf Tramontin, we used 30ft and 50ft Technocranes a lot, and even a 100ft Technocrane, which is a very big beast, for one of the end shots. Roger Pearce was the A-camera operator, with Luke Redgrave was on B-camera, and they made a great team together. Malcolm Hughes was key grip. There are not that many close-ups in the movie, although Roger came up with a great suggestion to have Cinderella, the Prince and the camera on a revolving platform, to film their upper body movements, which worked very well.
Another scene, which shows how Ken brings the staging of action and drama together really well, is when Cinderella and The Prince first meet on horseback. This involved the choreography of two cranes to match the choreography of the horses, which had to be in time with the actors’ dialogue – all of it on a sunny day outdoors. It was hard, old-fashioned, classic staging, but the payoff is an absolutely wonderful scene.
Q: How did you go about lighting the movie?
HZ: Again, in keeping with our classic movie-making thought processes, I asked my long time gaffer, Julian White, to look into sourcing old lamps. With the help of the lighting team at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, he got a range of old Big Eye fresnels, that have a large lens but a very small lamp inside, and which look fantastic. Warners also shipped us other old-school tools such Zaps, plus Decasources and Decapods from Mole Richardson.
I also secured the talents of Chris Craig as our dimmer operator. He has huge experience of working in theatre and the music touring world, with bands like U2. He knows how to programme massive lighting set-ups that give you flexibility. With Chris’ help I was able to evolve a lighting technique that I used on Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, of using giant Tungsten softboxes, connected to dimmers, suspended on electric winches above the sets on the 007 Stage, which were set-up by Julian and our rigging gaffer Dan Lowe. This meant that I could easily control the intensity, quality and direction of the light. And because of the electric hoists this could be done without disturbing the crew or the actors during rehearsals on the different sets there. We could have full-on lighting around the perimeter of the set, or create candle-style flickers with dimming patterns on the smaller sources. David Balfour, our amazing prop master, sourced magnificent chandeliers from a company in Prague, and around 8,000 plastic candles with wicks, filled with paraffin, that looked like wax candles, but burnt safely without dripping for 8 hours – and these helped enormously in bringing visual splendour to the ballroom scenes.
Interview taken from: https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/haris-zambarloukos-bsc-cinderella/
Additional interesting information on the making of Cinderella :http://www.panavision.com/branagh-and-zambarloukos-cast-spell-cinderella
Lost in Translation (2003)
Further imagery: http://evanerichards.com/2010/836
The first time I watched Lost in Translation (2003), I instantly fell in love with it. Watching it the next couple of times back, I realised it wasn’t just the story which gripped me but the beautiful depiction of that “alien” feeling of being in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people, through it’s clever cinematography. This is achieved through it’s well thought out staging of shots and “off balance” camera angles. I love how Lance Acord portrayed the main characters’ journey of finding “balance” in each other which is reflected beautifully through the cinematography.
You can see this in these shots:
Alone, off centre shot of Bob
Alone, off centre shot of Charlotte
When Charlotte and Bob are together, there is a more balanced shot, reflecting their intimacy and understanding of one another
Lance Acord’s approach to this movie’s visual storytelling has inspired me to think more deeply about my choice of camera shots and angles and not to just think about it all in terms of practicality.
Further reading on the movie’s cinematography in terms of colour choices: https://scenesfromanimaginaryfilm.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/the-subtle-color-of-loneliness-the-cinematography-of-lost-in-translation/
My love of the French language has always drawn me to explore French cinema; and that is how I stumbled across the quirky, colourful film that is Populaire (2012).
The 50s is one of my favourite time periods to look at for its culture, fashion and music industry and I feel this movie captures a flavour of the time in a vibrant, idealised way.
Guillaume Schiffman’s cinematography in this movie stood out to me in particular for it’s emotive colour palette choices. The 50s were indeed bright visually but Schiffman adds depth and emotion to certain scenes in the movie through his use of lighting.
These shots below from the movie showcase this:
The love scene between Rose and Louis, red lighting
Louis’ inner turmoil and complex feelings about Rose emphasised through both his expression and the blue car
The colour choices made in this movie by Schiffman have inspired me greatly to use colour to its best advantage in my animations. Colour can say so much in film and almost no words are needed to really grasp the scene’s meaning.
Anna Karenina (2012)
Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography in Anna Karenina (2012) is simply spectacular visually, in my mind – just as much so as his other stunning work in Atonement (2007). The story of a forbidden love affair unfolds in 19th-century St. Petersburg, Russia and explores the demise of the main character, Karenina.
What really struck me by the way the movie was filmed was the seemingly continuous shots between scenes with use of an old theatre visual. It completely took me by surprise how well it worked in the film.
Just 12 weeks from shooting, director Joe Wright hit upon the crazy inspiration to set his “Anna Karenina” in a decaying Russian theater. And it was up to the art department to make it work, on time and on budget.
…Their overall undertaking was enormous in retrospect, says Greenwood, requiring ingenious transitions between one theatrical space and another to maintain an illusion of seamless movement. “We just said, let’s just jump in there. If it works: brilliant. If it doesn’t, you can’t say we didn’t try. I love that bravery.
…director Joe Wright envisioned an elaborate theatricality in tune with the strict codes of etiquette that governed behaviour in that time and place. Wright was quoted on Indiewire as saying, “Just as the Russian aristocracy could be described as living upon a stage, our story unfolds in a dilapidated theatre.”
Another interesting camera convention in the film is that Anna is often depicted from above, in a crane shot. This happens in moments of physical or sexual intimacy or feelings, but also works in isolating the character, and almost judging her.
It was all a choreography and, in fact, we did have a full-time choreographer on the set, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who worked very closely with the actors in rehearsal to create not only dances — a modern approximation of a waltz — but he also choreographed any movement from the lighting of a cigarette to the opening of a door. That was exciting for me. When you have an actor moving in a quite mannered way, with repetitive movements on the stage, it forces me to employ similarly grand camera moves.
A beautiful wide shot of the Russian landscape
Actors looking straight at the camera do a terrifying thing to an audience,” he says. “The French have a term for it, suture, which is to be stitched into the image suddenly by a device or a moment.
McGarvey’s heavy employment of the technique ‘Chiaroscuro‘ lit characters in a beautiful way, with a classical feel
A bit of dramatic irony as both characters are knowingly committing adultery while wearing pure white and surrounded by it
Further reading about the Anna Karenina (2012) film: http://variety.com/2012/film/news/all-the-film-s-a-stage-in-anna-karenina-1118063231/