The artists behind “The Mandalorian” aren’t shy about wearing their influences on their sleeves.
“We created a design scape that was inspired by Japanese filmmakers like [Akira] Kurosawa with ‘Yojimbo’ or ‘Princess Mononoke,'” director of photography Barry Baz Idoine explained on Variety’s Artisans, presented by HBO. “Just the idea that this desolate landscape had been ravaged by industrialization or something that had caused that horrible fire.”
Adding that one of his main inspirations is the veteran Japanese cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, Idoine discussed the challenges and opportunities presented during the making of “The Jedi” episode in Season 2. One of the biggest advantages he had was the VFX studio created by ILM StageCraft — an elaborate virtual background (which they also implemented in the first season) that can conjure up just about any alien landscape they can dream. The advantages to this technology are practically limitless, including holding “magic hour” for as long as the director of photography needs.
The “Star Wars” series team actually scouts these locations via “VR scouting,” Idoine revealed. “The production designer and I will spend a lot of time working with his designs and sets messaging them, rotating them, changing them, moving them around in concert with me adjusting my lighting so that we can create an environment that we know will work. The actors can see it as well, the directors can see it as well. They can relate to all of these story points that they might be looking at. If you shoot on a green screen stage, you don’t see that stuff — the actors aren’t immersed in this environment.”
However, all the technology in the world won’t fix practical problems like having a main character who wears a reflective mask.
“It’s very interesting being a [director of photography on ‘The Mandalorian’] because our lead character has got a big mirrorball head,” Idoine said of Pedro Pascal’s helmet-wearing role. “His big mirrorball head can reflect everything, whether it’s the crew standing there — or the camera.”
While Mando’s reflective helmet posed various challenges, Idoine said the vast amount of water in the episode provided exciting opportunities.
“The introduction of water into a set, initially one might think it’s a challenge,” Idoine said. “But I saw it as being a huge opportunity for so much that we had never been able to do before. When you’ve got lightsabers in a sunset scene reflecting in water, what an opportunity for beautiful photography.”
Praising executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni for giving him creative freedom, Idoine added, “Something that I’m most proud of from ‘The Jedi’ is… that the technology didn’t get in the way of [the story] but actually enhanced. It gave me the opportunity to use all of those years of experience that I had in the film industry… to do the best work of my life.”