You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Lucy in the Sky’ DP Shifts Frame to Show Inner Turmoil of Natalie Portman’s Astronaut

What drew cinematographer Polly Morgan to “Lucy in the Sky” was how Noah Hawley’s script so clearly illuminated the emotional breakdown of astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) in a way that felt very insular: The visual cues were on the page — and conveyed an unusual approach to charting the character’s journey.

“When things fall apart in our lives, what we feel inside isn’t often illustrated visually,” says Morgan, who previously worked with Hawley on Seasons 2 and 3 of FX’s “Legion” and just wrapped production on “A Quiet Place 2.” For “Lucy in the Sky,” she says she brought a subtlety to the look “that could be really evocative to the viewer.”

In the film, Lucy finds that when she comes back to Earth after a stint in space, she can’t quite remain grounded. The film is loosely based on the story of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who suffered a nervous breakdown after her 12-day journey into space on the space shuttle Discovery in 2006. 

Morgan’s visuals include a fluid camera and quiet lighting choices that amplified Lucy’s emotional state. Morgan and Hawley also used a shifting aspect ratio and soft edges as storytelling tools throughout the movie.

Popular on Variety

“When she’s feeling at ease — in outer space or at NASA — we would shoot wide screen, 2.40:1, to capture the sense of wonder in space and freedom she felt at work,” Morgan says. “But when she was on Earth and at home, we would restrict the frame back to a square 4:3 for a sense of claustrophobia. We also used a unique 8:1 aspect ratio, which is extreme widescreen, to illustrate detachment and scale in certain locations.”

Hawley took things one step further in post-production and created his own aspect ratio of smaller boxes within the frame for specific beats. The goal always was to tell a subjective story that used only Lucy’s point of view — her experience in space and coming back to Earth. They initially talked about shooting on film because of the texture and the visual quality that it provides, but ultimately chose the Panavision DXL2, which offered flexibility in its 8.2K sensor to shoot with Panavision G-series anamorphic lenses and then crop in for a 4:3 extraction.

When shooting with a modern, large-format camera, DPs often choose to use large-format lenses that cover the full sensor and hold up optically. (Most lenses are designed to cover a 35mm sensor.) Instead, Morgan chose older anamorphic lenses that barely covered the 8.2 sensor. 

“We stretched them to their capacity, exaggerating one of the main optical artifacts that you get from anamorphics: that oval distortion around the edges — a focus fall-off,” she says. “When testing the lenses, we felt that worked perfectly for Lucy’s distorted view of her life when she returned from space. What was especially great was when we cropped to 4:3, the effect became more apparent in the top and bottom, which supported the purpose of that aspect ratio. Plus, it gave a painterly feel to the image where everything wasn’t crisp; it was feminine, despite the rigid and sterile atmosphere of NASA and the coldness of space.” 

More Artisans

  • chadwick boseman 21 Bridges

    '21 Bridges' DP Seeks New York-Style 'Street' Cred in Philadelphia

    In director Brian Kirk’s “21 Bridges,” Chadwick Boseman plays a very different kind of hero than T’Challa in “Black Panther”: He’s an intense New York cop tracking a pair of killers throughout the city one fateful night, trying to box them in by closing the titular connections between Manhattan and the mainland. Along with Kirk, [...]

  • Two Popes Production

    How 'Two Popes' Production Team Re-Created the Sistine Chapel, Frescoes and All

    When Mark Tildesley read Anthony McCarten’s script for “The Two Popes,” he saw how integral the Sistine Chapel was to the narrative. As the film’s production designer, he knew he couldn’t film inside the Vatican, which meant he’d have to reproduce the location. “We did visit it with a leading expert — [producer] Enzo Sisti. His [...]

  • The Aeronauts Movie

    'The Aeronauts' Production Team Helps Hot-Air Balloon Saga Soar

    For cinematographer George Steel, the key to “The Aeronauts,” director Tom Harper’s $80 million film starring Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne as balloonist-scientists who soar to 35,000 feet to break records in 1862, was to take the viewer along for the ride. When Variety visited the cast and crew on set in London, Steel was crouched [...]

  • Al Ghouta, Syria - Dr Amani

    Capturing the Sounds of War in National Geographic's 'The Cave'

    When director Feras Fayyad and sound designer Peter Albrechtsen spoke about “The Cave,” Fayyad knew sound was going to be an important element in the documentary. “The Cave” depicts the harrowing and true story of the Syrian War. As bombs rattle the walls of a Syrian hospital and planes fly overhead, Dr. Amani Ballour and [...]

  • De-aging Robert De Niro For Scorsese's

    'The Irishman': A Closer Look at the De-Aging of De Niro in Scorsese's Mob Epic

    Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” hits Netflix today and it stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver who meets Russell Bufalino (Pesci). Spanning several decades, the film follows Sheeran as he gets involved in the greatest unsolved mob mystery – the disappearance of union boss Jimmy [...]

  • IRM_DAY032_110117_0719538.raf

    Thelma Schoonmaker on Editing 'The Irishman' With Martin Scorsese (Exclusive Short)

    If anyone knows Martin Scorsese, it’s Thelma Schoonmaker. Schoonmaker has worked with the director since 1980’s “Raging Bull,” which won her the first of three Academy Awards, along with six additional nominations. Most recently, she won in 2007 for “The Departed.” In this exclusive clip, Schoonmaker talks about the ideas for editing her most recent [...]

  • Bong Joon Ho Parasite BTS

    'Parasite' Director Bong Joon Ho on His Core Crew and Their 'Risky Choices'

    In Neon’s “Parasite,” writer-director Bong Joon Ho creates a rare film in which the audience has no idea where the plot is headed. Bong, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and rave reviews for the film, talks about the contributions of his colleagues — without spoiling the plot. Cinematography, Hong Kyung pyo On the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content