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Cinematography Filmmaking Interview

Tarantino on Ultra Panavision

The 65mm workhorse of roadshow films.
Photo courtesy of Roy H. Wagner ASC
Via The American WideScreen Museum

Excerpts from  Bill Desowitz at Thompson on Hollywood.

Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson ASC digs into the technical nitty-gritty of the large-format anamorphic film process that hasn’t been used in nearly 50 years.

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The comeback of motion picture film will literally get its biggest boost yet with the Ultra Panavision 70 release of celluloid defender Quentin Tarantino’s post-Civil War Western “The Hateful Eight.”

Shot on 65mm film with classic Panavision lenses in the widest aspect ratio of 2.76:1, this marks the first anamorphic 70mm theatrical release in nearly 50 years. The two-week roadshow engagement (they’re aiming for 100 theaters with the Cinerama Dome in contention for LA, of course) would be the best holiday gift for cinephiles.

“The Hateful Eight” will also pit three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator,” “JFK”) in a shoot-out with Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, who’s going for a third Oscar in a row for his own frozen wilderness adventure, “The Revenant,” from “Birdman” director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. (Both films are racing to the editorial finish line for a Christmas Day release.)

Richardson proclaimed that Ultra Panavision 70 more than reinforces the notion that film can coexist with digital: it provides such unparalleled scope, resolution and beauty that everyone should be using it. “When we saw Sam Jackson in a closeup — or anyone — it just aided the skin. It’s remarkable. We never used diffusion, the only filters we ever did were outside. It was stunning.”

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The last Ultra Panavision 70 release was “Khartoum” (1966), the biopic with Charlton Heston as British Gen. Charles Gordon. The list also includes “Ben-Hur,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “The Battle of the Bulge.”

In fact, Panavision took Tarantino into a screening room and surprised him with the chariot race from “Ben-Hur,” starting with the sides at the normal width and then spread out to expose the full frame — and the film nerd was totally hooked on Ultra Panavision 70.

But this all began accidentally: “We went in thinking we were going to shoot standard format for 65mm and one day I was with Gregor Tavenner, my first camera assistant, and Dan Sasaki [Panavision VP of optical engineering] was showing us standard Panavision lenses for 65mm and while looking at them, I slipped behind the curtain and saw this shelf filled with odd-shaped lenses [triangular with prisms]. They were Ultra Panavision lenses,” Richardson said.

Panavision also made a 2,000-foot magazine for the film cameras to accommodate Tarantino’s penchant for long takes.

The team brought a very analogue approach to shooting in Telluride and onstage at LA’s Red Studios, where they lowered the temperature to 30 degrees. They screened dailies in 70mm, with no digital intermediate, and the film is being color-timed photochemically, the old-school way, by FotoKem.

“There’s a great deal of interior landscape available and the actors loved it. Also, I think they enjoyed the visual feast that was given to them in terms of their own faces,” said Richardson, who admitted, though, that throwback photochemical color timing has been frightening.

“I’d become reliant on a digital intermediate for fixing things in post and you can let certain things go. For example, you realize that the backgrounds are blown out but you don’t want to take the time to put a hard gel up. You know you can rescue that with the window and tracking, or if your weather doesn’t quite match, it’s easier to work a look between sunny and overcast.

But not when it came to this gorgeous look. And this is just the beginning, as Gareth Edwards’ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is also reportedly being shot with Ultra Panavision 70 lenses.

Thanks to the Widescreen Museum and In70mm for technical information.

Parts of this story originally appeared in Carolyn Giardina’s article in The Hollywood Reporter from Cine Gear Expo.

 

 

 

 

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Cinematography Oscars

Congratulations to Alfonso Cuarón and Emmanuel Lubezki.

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Great minds think alike.

Facing the Void. From American Cinematographer.

The 3-D feature is enhanced by long takes and fluid camerawork that immerse the viewer in the beautiful but dangerous environment of space with a groundbreaking level of realism and detail. It is the fruit of a five-year collaboration involving director Alfonso Cuarón; cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki, ASC, AMC; visual-effects supervisor Tim Webber, and their talented teams. Longtime friends Cuarón and Lubezki have worked together on six features to date, including Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men (AC Dec. ’06). Webber supervised visual effects on the latter.

 

The technical and aesthetic accomplishments of Gravity become all the more impressive when Lubezki reveals that the only real elements in the space exteriors are the actors’ faces behind the glass of their helmets. Everything else in the exterior scenes — the spacesuits, the space station, the Earth — is CGI. Similarly, for a scene in which a suit-less Stone appears to float through a spaceship in zero gravity, Bullock was suspended from wires onstage, and her surroundings were created digitally. (Most of the footage in the space capsules was shot with the actors in a practical set.)

 

In many ways, Gravity provides a new paradigm for the expanding role of the cinematographer on films with significant virtual components. By all accounts, Lubezki was deeply involved in every stage of crafting the real and computer-generated images. In addition to conceiving virtual camera moves with Cuarón, he created virtual lighting with digital technicians, lit and shot live action that matched the CG footage, fine-tuned the final rendered image, supervised the picture’s conversion from 2-D to 3-D, and finalized the look of the 2-D, 3-D and Imax versions. “I was doing my work as a cinematographer on Gravity,” says Lubezki. “In the process, I had to learn to use some new tools that are part of what cinematography is becoming. I found it very exciting.”

 

Cuarón notes that whenever he was tempted “to do a camera move just because it was cool, Chivo would not allow that to happen.” He cites the example of the opening take, which ends with Stone drifting away toward open space. “When we were doing the previs, as she started floating away, I said, ‘We don’t need to cut. We can keep following her in the same shot, so the first two shots would be just one shot.’ But Chivo said, ‘I think when she’s floating away is the perfect moment to cut. If this were the chapter of a book, this would be the last phrase of the chapter.’ And he was right. Otherwise, we would have started calling attention to the long take and creating an expectation that that’s what the film was about. But that’s not what it’s about. The camerawork serves … I don’t want to say it serves the story, because I have my problems with that. For me, the story is like the cinematography, the sound, the acting and the color. They are tools for cinema, and what you have to serve is cinema, not story.”

 

Lubezki shot most of the live-action material in the film with Arri Alexa Classics and wide Arri Master Prime lenses, recording in the ArriRaw format to Codex recorders; the package was supplied by Arri Media in London. (Panavision London provided a Primo Close Focus lens that was used for a single shot.) He filmed a scene set on Earth on 65mm, using an Arri 765 and Kodak Vision3 500T 5219, to provide a visual contrast to the rest of the picture.

 

The robot arm was originally designed to assemble cars, according to Webber. He explains that Warner Bros. executive Chris DeFaria read about a San Francisco design-and-engineering studio, Bot & Dolly, which had used the arms to move a camera. Webber adds that the production worked with Bot & Dolly to add increased flexibility to the system, including the ability to adjust the speed of the preprogrammed moves so they could be adapted to the actors’ performances. To create even more options, they added a special remote head that was manned by camera operator Peter Taylor. Based on a Mo-Sys head, this remote unit was adapted to make it smaller and lighter, partly so that it would block less light. It could be operated live or set to play preprogrammed moves driven by the previs.

 

Gaffer John “Biggles” Higgins, who also worked with Lubezki on Children of Men, marvels that he has “never seen anything like the set of Gravity.” Apart from the LED Box, he notes, there were also other, slightly more traditional setups. For interiors of the space capsule as it hurtles to Earth, for instance, the filmmakers used an Alpha 4K HMI without its lens to simulate the sun, moving the source around the stationary capsule with a crane and a remote head. Higgins says they selected the Alpha because “it is the only head that can be operated shooting straight down.” He adds that Lubezki would provide ambient light by punching powerful tungsten 20Ks through 20’x 20′ frames, using two layers of diffusion, Half and Full Grid Cloth, as well as green and blue gels, to simulate sunlight. “These diffusions were mainly used on the real capsules,” explains Higgins. “The green and blue filters were stitched to the back of the closest diffusion, the 20-by-20 Full Grid.”

 

Full list of winners here