Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Russell Boyd is one of a growing band of veteran Aussie d.p.’s who have ascended to Hollywood prominence after decades of success Down Under.
He shot several of the best-known Oz pics, dating back to Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli” (1981) and “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982). Since those days, he’s served as d.p. on such Hollywood films as “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992) and “Doctor Dolittle” (1998). But “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” which reunited him with Weir, represents a whole new level of technical sophistication.
Boyd says the director’s insistence on historical accuracy, the story taking place almost entirely on a ship at sea and having to film hundreds of visual effects plates for Industrial Light & Magic to manipulate digitally, made “Master and Commander” a project full of complexities, large and small.
“For instance, below decks, we had to hide lights behind deck beams, and position others through hatches above us to give the impression of sunlight streaming in through cracks from the deck above.
“Since the set was authentically designed, this meant we had to get the ceiling in the shot, so we couldn’t remove ceilings to hide lights. This meant we had to be very careful not to bump into the lights as we maneuvered down there.
“I also had to keep the camera low when shooting those sequences. Above decks, I wanted a softer, more subdued light that would reflect overcast weather for ships out at sea. Fortunately (in Baja California), we got a lot of overcast days while shooting in the tank (at Fox Studios Baja).”
Key tools: Panavision Platinum ‘A’ camera and a lightweight Panaflex camera for Steadicam work; Panavision Primo spherical lenses; Kodak 5293 stock for all day exterior work, and Kodak 5279 for night exteriors and below decks; Hydroflex underwater marine camera housings for shooting storm sequence.
Aesthetic: “The main creative requirement was to keep the entire film as absolutely historically accurate as possible, in terms of production design, costume, and also lighting, which made it a very complicated job.”
Challenge: “Shooting scenes down below decks of the ship were particularly challenging, because we had to replicate simple candle lantern light below decks. The storm footage was also difficult just because of the strain of shooting while the practical effects people were dumping so much water on top of us.”