‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ Cinematographer Explains Sequel’s Moody Lighting

Filmmakers made extensive use of digital technology on the next chapter of the 1996 blockbuster

Markus Forderer Independence Day Cinematogrpaher
Claudette Barius

In the 1996 film “Independence Day,” the Earth repulses powerful invaders from outer space. In the sequel, “Independence Day: Resurgence,” which Fox releases June 24, the aliens return with more advanced technology, and threaten humankind once again.

In the 20 years between the two pics, the technology of filmmaking also underwent a huge transformation, and Roland Emmerich, who directed both, used different tools on the second to realize his dark, apocalyptic vision.

The original movie was shot on film with Panavision cameras. “Resurgence” went all-digital and shot for about 75 days last year on several large 360-degree bluescreen stages at Albuquerque Studios in New Mexico. The cinematographer was Markus Förderer, and the crew included digital imaging technician Jeroen Hendriks, whose profession didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Hendriks monitored the images as they were captured by digital Red Dragon cameras. “My function was to warn Förderer if he was about to go into the danger zone of underexposure,” Hendriks says.

“Roland likes dark and moody scenes,” Förderer acknowledges. “Usually directors say to their DPs, ‘Make it brighter so I can see the actors’ faces.’ But Roland would always say, ‘Make it darker.’ ”

“Resurgence” was the first tentpole-sized movie for the 32-year-old Förderer, who says he “grew up with digital technology.” He has worked on smaller films in his native Germany, and with Emmerich on 2015’s “Stonewall.”

Emmerich liked the young cinematographer’s work and offered him the DP role on the sequel to his epic space-invader drama. Förderer wasn’t intimidated by the scope of the project. “At the end of the day,” he says, “you do the same things. You make choices about which cameras and lenses to use, about whether to shoot close-ups, medium or wide, and about how to light it.”

Of course, “Resurgence” made far greater use of visual effects than any other film Förderer had lensed. He and Emmerich went with Red cameras, partly for their relatively small size and flexibility, and also because “if you know how to expose properly, it gives great results at the high 6K resolutions that are great for visual effects,” Förderer says.

Anywhere from one to four cameras were used at a time, depending on the scene. In addition to Dragons, they used some newer Red Weapon cameras — which are more compact and lightweight, making them easier to handle in small spaces such as cockpits — and shot almost the entire film with Hawk anamorphic lenses.

Förderer worked with a camera team of 13 people; the entire grip and electric department numbered about 50. They decided not to use a second unit. “If you light for it, it’s way faster to shoot all the elements yourself,” he explains. “You work a couple of hours longer at the end of the day to shoot your own inserts.”

Because of an accelerated production schedule, two colorists worked on “Resurgence.” Florian “Utsi” Martin, who had earlier collaborated with both Emmerich and Förderer, helped fashion the film’s look during the first few weeks of the digital intermediate process. Walter Volpatto, a colorist based at Fotokem in Burbank who had worked on “Stonewall,” crafted specific scenes for “Resurgence”; once Martin left, he finished the color for several versions of the film, including its 3D iteration.

Förderer stayed in the suite with Volpatto throughout many of the sessions, while Emmerich came in about every other day for reviews and notes. “Markus and Roland shared the same vision for the movie,” Volpatto says. “This made my job very easy.”

Volpatto appreciates the film’s somber tone. “I think Markus plays the shadows very well,” he says. “He is not afraid at all to use backlight. The movie has a dark sci-fi look, bold, but there’s still plenty of cinematic imagery to look at.”