×

Cinematographers Embrace Large Formats and Rich Images

Whether on film or digital, many cinematographers feel the need to create visually sumptuous pictures

Handicappers eyeing the upcoming Oscar race in the cinematography category are unusually confident, predicting that 2018 will be the year Roger Deakins finally brings home a statuette after 13 previous nominations without a win. “Blade Runner 2049,” pictured above, showcases the DP’s masterful taste, skill and instincts, and the esteem in which the original “Blade Runner” is held can’t hurt.

Also, this time around, the highly regarded Deakins won’t be competing against himself, as has been the case more than once in the past.

A number of visually sumptuous films promise to compete, however, including several epics shot with 65mm film, among them Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” (cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos) and Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” (Hoyte van Hoytema).

Film emulsion in the standard 35mm gauge was used by perennial contenders Janusz Kaminski (“The Post”) and Ed Lachman (“Wonderstruck”), the latter shooting black-and-white stock for period scenes emulating classic silent-era films that also serve as a metaphor for a deaf protagonist’s perceptions.

Lenser Matthew Libatique and helmer Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) returned to the Super 16mm film format for “Mother!” to lend texture. They said that 35mm film was “too clean” for the tale.

Larger formats were a growth sector in digital, as well. The ARRI Alexa 65 camera, originally designed as an effects plate camera, is now enthusiastically embraced by directors of photography for its filmic portraiture and boosted, yet organic resolution. And distinctive lensing continues to serve as the best way to lend flavor to a film’s imagery.

Seamus McGarvey chose the ARRI Alexa 65 for “The Greatest Showman,” a three-ring-circus period musical.
“There’s a big, kinetic style to the film and I wanted to use the ARRI 65 to give a sense of the scale of it all,” McGarvey says. “But we start in a much more macro fashion before the story evolves and opens up into the big stuff. So the format is perfect because its attributes cater to displaying both scenarios. It brings me back to my background in still photography and medium format. The incredible randomness and gradations, the details in the eyes — it’s extraordinary.”

Top-flight visuals also grace a number of high-tech fantasy films, a genre that has suffered at times from a lack of imagination, according to some observers. Jess Hall’s extraordinary and enveloping imagery for “Ghost in the Shell” dovetails perfectly with the design and visual effects to echo Japanese manga. Javier Aguirresarobe’s delicate color work in “Thor: Ragnarok” recalls the work of artist James Turrell. Both of these films were done on the Alexa 65 with Codex Vault Lab 65 technology.

“We were able to control color to an extent previously unattainable,” says Aguirresarobe. “LED lighting, the Alexa 65 camera and post-production meant that everything was possible. The camera captures a tremendous range of color with consistency and accuracy. I got fantastic faces and never missed filtration. Sometimes when the image is technically perfect, it can be boring. Instead, the combination of camera and lenses gave the picture a natural sweetness and smoothness.”

Hall used lenses carefully tuned to his specs by Panavision, and also took a very detailed approach to color.

“In manga, there’s a certain painterly quality as well as a certain kind of bloom or halation around highlights,” he says. “We were looking for imagery that paid homage to the visual quality of the anime, but that also worked for what we were doing — a movie. We needed a format subtle and sophisticated enough to rival film in terms of color reproduction, and the spatial resolution to work with all the different distribution types.”

Hall adds that they planned to shoot in Hong Kong at night “using a lot of available lighting, and the correct perspective — flatter, and wide angle, with a wide field of view but without distortion.”

Among the human-scale dramas generating Oscar buzz are “Mudbound,” directed by Dee Rees and sensitively photographed by Rachel Morrison, and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” directed by Martin McDonagh and photographed by Ben Davis.

The latter took the audience prize at the influential Camerimage Festival of the Art of Cinematography in Poland. Prizes in the main competition went to Hungarian Máté Herbai (“On Body and Soul”), Russian Mikhail Krichman (“Loveless”) and Brit Anthony Dod Mantle (“First They Killed My Father”).

Of course, the technology means nothing without the soul of an artist behind it.

“The great cinematographers take naturalism to a new level,” says Morrison, whose work for Ryan Coogler in “Black Panther” will hit screens in early 2018. “I know how much work it takes to make it seem effortless, but it makes all the difference. Engaging the audience, and taking them on a journey through the character’s eyes — that true subjectivity is perhaps the style most influential to me.”

More Artisans

  • RYAN GOSLING as Neil Armstrong in

    Big Breakthroughs Seen in Below-the-Line Categories

    Is 2018 an anomaly, or is it a harbinger of things to come? The awards derbies of recent years have seen a predominance of indie films at the expense of big studio features — resulting in a slate of Oscar contenders devoid not only of genuine blockbusters but also of more modest mid-budget crowd-pleasers. This [...]

  • Ryan Murphy - Outstanding Directing for

    Ryan Murphy to Be Honored by Costume Designers Guild

    The Costume Designers Guild has selected Ryan Murphy as the recipient of its distinguished collaborator award. The producer will be honored at the 21st Costume Designers Guild Awards on Feb. 19 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. The distinguished collaborator award honors individuals who demonstrate “unwavering support” of costume design and creative partnerships with [...]

  • 'Captain Marvel' and 'Bird Box' receive

    ‘Captain Marvel’ and ‘Bird Box’ Score Multiple COLA Awards

    With the 2018-2019 awards season barely out of the gate, Marvel Studios’ “Captain Marvel” (pictured above), set for release in March, has already staked a claim in the 2019-2020 race by racking up a couple of trophies at the California On Location Awards. Additionally, Netflix’s “Bird Box,” in limited release and streaming starting Dec. 14, [...]

  • Visual Effects Studio Digital Domain to

    Visual Effects Studio Digital Domain to Open New Location Studio in Montreal

    Visual effects studio Digital Domain has announced the addition of its ninth location with the opening of a new shop in Montreal. The unit joins the eight existing Digital Domain offices in Los Angeles, Vancouver, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Taipei and Hyderabad. Digital Domain Montréal will open in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood on March [...]

  • Aquaman 2018

    Morocco Lures Filmmakers With Geography, History and Incentives

    At the confluence of Berber, Arabian, and European cultural influences, the North African nation of Morocco boasts a long and sunny Atlantic coastline, the soaring and snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains, and legendary cities such as Fez and Marrakesh that offer urban landscapes suggestive of eras ranging from Biblical times to the modern age [...]

  • Dynasties BBC

    Bristol Is Home to Production Companies Known for Global Wildlife Projects

    Bristol, two hours west of London and known by toon enthusiasts as the home of Aardman Animations, also happens to be the world center of wildlife filmmaking and home to the top producers, directors and camera pros creating the influx of natural history shows that continue to grow ever more popular on TV screens around [...]

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content