You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Ex Machina’ Blends VFX With Human Emotion

Cinematographer Rob Hardy had more visual-effects shots in “Ex Machina” than in any previous film he’d done, but it was important to him and to writer-director Alex Garland that “it didn’t feel like a movie about visual effects.”

In the film, which A24 will release on April 10, young programmer Nathan (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to the secluded estate of a billionaire (Oscar Isaac) to evaluate the human qual-
ities of an in-development A.I., Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Challenge: “We needed to balance the emotional aspects of the story and the ‘wow factor,’ ” Hardy says. “One of characters is artificial, so we worked closely with (visual effects supervisor) Andrew Whitehurst.”

Key Scenes: At the heart of the film are the sequences between Nathan and Ava in the observation room, Hardy continues. “There were five scenes marking the progression of the rela-
tionship. We needed to make them feel different, but subtly, so the audience senses that something is changing. It should never feel effects-y. The audience should quickly start to see her as a person; we need to believe that Caleb believes what he’s seeing.

Execution: “We tried to convey that (progression) with our lens choices, the numerous reflections that we were playing with, and the soft, naturalistic lighting,” Hardy continues. “They were long, single, 10-minute takes, but the camera moved. I had special lights built so I could emphasize certain reflections, and you could travel through those and create frames within frames.”

Togetherness: “Alex puts a lot of emphasis on collaboration among everyone on the film. It’s such a simple idea, one assumes that’s what always happens,” says Hardy. “But, of course, it doesn’t always. Alex emphasized direct communication across all departments, and, I really mean all.”

Working on the lot: The project had a rapid, six-week schedule, “but we had prep time of about eight weeks, and we shot for four of those weeks at Pinewood (Studios, just outside of London),” Hardy explains. “We had everything in one place, which was great; during the prep time, we used it to its fullest. The art department was on the second floor. We had three stages where sets were being built. Alex, the cast and I would work through certain scenes, then walk down to the set and start plotting out ideas, trying out things choreographically to get used to feeling the space.”

Equipment: The stages were located next to camera house Movietech, which supplied the Sony F65 cameras, the lenses and other gear. Nearby screening rooms  allowed quick viewing of tests, which made communication easy.

Working with a first-time director: “Alex had written a lot of films, and had a lot of on-set experience with some great directors, like Danny Boyle and Mark Romanek,” Hardy says. “He had learned what to do and what not to do, and developed his own style to tell a story. This is a man who understands, on an emotional and intellectual level, what he is doing. I’ve been lucky with first-time directors like Alex, who was not precious about changing ideas. I think he was in his element. The only real pressure we had was time pressure.”

More Artisans

  • ILM John Kroll Star Wars VFX

    Sci-Tech Awards Honored After Effects, Photoshop Developers' Major Impact on VFX

    On Feb. 9, two weeks and a day before the Oscars, the Motion Picture Academy held its annual Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards — sometimes referred to as the nerd Academy Awards — honoring achievements in motion picture technology.  The ceremony included no surprise winners — Sci-Tech kudos are announced in advance, and the achievements [...]

  • Steven Spielberg Lee Orloff Mary Jo

    Cinema Audio Society Honors Steven Spielberg, Lee Orloff and Mary Jo Lang

    At the Cinema Audio Society Awards on Feb. 16, CAS is honoring a trio of artists. The event take place at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown hotel.   Steven Spielberg, Filmmaker Award It’s hard to overestimate the influence of the three-time Oscar winner, a towering figure in Hollywood for decades. A prolific director-producer-screenwriter, who also co-founded [...]

  • Alex Honnold being interviewed in El

    Cinema Audio Society Nominees Added Audio Realism to Film Action

    As the Cinema Audio Society heads toward the 55th CAS Awards, its nominees, who have created immersive and intoxicating work, agree that sound is becoming the new frontier in storytelling. “Today’s directors understand the importance of sound from the start,” says Doc Kane, nominated for “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet.” “Looping [...]

  • American Society of Cinematographers

    Cinematographers Blast Academy Response on Oscar Telecast Exclusions

    Cinematographers opposing the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations on the telecast have blasted the Academy’s latest attempt to assuage concerns about the move. The group responded Thursday to officers of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors, sending a letter Wednesday night to its membership, asserting that no award category [...]

  • Bradley Cooper A Star is Born

    Oscar-Nominated Sound Artists Immerse Audiences in Aural Landscapes

    Four of the year’s oscar sound contenders — “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “First Man” and “Roma” — share sound editing and mixing nominations, whereas “A Star Is Born” lands in mixing and “A Quiet Place” in sound editing. In “Black Panther,” production sound mixer Peter Devlin saw the film’s intricate wardrobe as the biggest challenge. [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Guild Chief Slams Academy Awards Exclusion: 'It Is Humiliating'

    Steven Poster, national president of the International Cinematographers Guild, blasted the academy’s decision to shorten four awards from the live Oscar broadcast, including the cinematography prize. Poster, whose union represents more than 8,000 members, said the decision is “humiliating” for the winners. He joins a growing chorus of opposition, including high-profile cinematographers and directors, like Spike [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content