Donald McAlpine

Peter Pan

Donald McAlpine launched his career in the early ’70s with dozens of Oz-based films, including “My Brilliant Career” (1979) and “Breaker Morant” (’80), but he has been a major Hollywood d.p. since the early ’80s.

But it was his fruitful collaboration with fellow Aussie Baz Luhrmann on “Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” that raised his profile considerably. Those two projects, McAlpine says, helped him “to forget realistic lighting completely, which goes against a career of shooting enhanced reality.”

That lesson became important when McAlpine took on “Peter Pan,” because director P.J. Hogan charged McAlpine with creating storybook-like fantasy visuals entirely on soundstages. “This film had an even more complex color palette, in terms of using rich mono colors and color shifts from shot to shot (than ‘Moulin Rouge’),” the lenser says. “The creation of a totally surreal, abstract world gave me wonderful license, but also made it more challenging than a reality-based project.”

McAlpine points to such shooting challenges as the final battle in the film between Peter Pan and Captain Hook; the development of a method for lighting and filming actress Ludivine Sagnier as Tinkerbell; and shooting extensive effects plates as some of the most complex work of his career.

“Although we did end up doing a digital intermediate on the film (at Efilm in Hollywood), we did not get approval for the DI until very late in production,” he recalls. “Therefore, I had to shoot as if the film would be finished photochemically. So a lot of these color shifts, particularly on the final battle, were captured largely in camera, using gels. That final battle runs about 20 minutes and features five major color shifts.”

Key tools: Panavision Millennium cameras; Panavision anamorphic Primo lenses; Kodak Vision 2 (500 ASA) stock.
Aesthetic: “(Director P.J. Hogan’s) brief was to re-create the look of a storybook. As a piece of cinematography, this gave me the license to use extreme color in a way that I have never been able to do in my career. Each chapter was a particular hue. The only limit seemed to be my imagination.”
Challenge: “This was a totally controlled film, done entirely on eight soundstages with massive sets, totally controlled light and bluescreen work for hundreds of visual effects shots. Filming Tinkerbell was complicated, since she is a character that is meant to be a source of illumination herself. She was obviously finished off using visual effects and in the digital intermediate, but lighting the actress was interesting — we totally circled her with flat light to reduce, as much as possible, any visible shadow.”
Oscar pedigree: Nominated for “Moulin Rouge!” (2001).

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