The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents April 2014 Return to Table of Contents
Noah
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Presidents Desk
Need for Speed
ASC Close-Up

How did you tie the Iceland and New York locations together?

Libatique: In Iceland, the landscape is so vast and clear that it’s hard to get a sense of depth. Initially, I was worried that going from that vast landscape into a forest wouldn’t be believable, so I suggested we work at a more shallow depth-of-field in the arboretum. But when I got there, I realized the forest was quite beautiful and needed to feel real, claustrophobic and rich with life. I became less concerned with shallow depth-of-field and concentrated more on composition.

The digital set extensions helped bridge that gap as well.

Libatique: Yes. Methuselah’s mountain had to be digitally placed into shots where we are looking back at the ark, which was also partly CGI. The funny thing is, the ark was so big that we often didn’t strive to reach past it. I was always conscious about how many visual effects shots there were in a given scene, and in some cases, if I was reaching past the set, I’d try something practical to try to make the shot work with fewer visual-effects elements. For instance, I might add smoke to the deep background and then backlight the smoke to create the impression that there was something farther away.

How did you light the scenes in the arboretum?

Libatique: I was still using a lot of natural light. If it got dark or the weather wasn’t good, we would throw helium weather balloons 20 or 30 feet up into the trees and then bounce 4K or 6K Pars or Arrimax 18Ks off them. That helped us maintain the direction of natural light without bringing in too much from the side. Sometimes we used them as a sun blocker. The scene where we used them the most is the one where Tubal Cain first meets Ham, Noah’s middle son, in the forest.

Tell us how you approached the flood.

Libatique: It was a deluge every night for 31⁄2 weeks. It was probably the hardest shoot I’ve ever experienced because there were so many things that could go wrong, and every time something did, it brought the creative process to a halt. Everybody knew it was going to be hard, and we were as well prepared as we could be, thanks to my A-camera first AC, Aurelia Winborn. We had four cameras on the ground and two on Chapman Hydrascope cranes with [Angenieux] Optimo zooms. We had Air Knives from HydroFlex on every lens and rain bags on every camera. On top of that, the first ACs still had to do their regular job of keeping everything in focus!

The deluge takes place during the day, so why did you shoot it at night?

Libatique: One of the biggest hurdles we faced was shooting a battle scene in overcast weather in late August in New York. That weather didn’t naturally occur. We experimented with doing some type of cover set, but the expense was insane because of the size we needed. There was no avoiding shooting at night. We ended up hanging 16 to 18 daylight-balanced helium balloons from Condors, and then we had two 100-ton cranes each carrying 100-foot rain bars, and another 100-ton crane carrying an 80-foot rain bar, with two 32K balloons on each rain bar. The challenge of shooting in artificial light in artificial rain is the dead giveaway of how light reflects off people’s faces. The only way to blend that many reflections into one is with a polarizer, and I needed a 2-stop polarizer because the 1-stop didn’t have enough juice. I was rating [Kodak Vision3 500T] 5219 at 1,200 ASA, lighting to about a T8 or T8.5, shooting at a T4 and pushing 2 stops in the lab, which got me to about 1,600 ASA. That T4 gave me the depth-of-field to still see the rain in front of my subjects.

Tell us about Tzohar, the supernatural light source in the story.

Libatique: It’s a naturally occurring mineral with supernatural properties. It’s used as an igniter and a warm glow source. The few times you actually see it, its glow is CGI, but the rest of the time, you only see its practical effect. To help us create that, the team at LiteGear made battery-operated 1-by-1-inch high-intensity LED panels for us in daylight and tungsten, and we would just drop them into little saucers or bowls so the camera couldn’t see them. John Velez cut some small, wafer-sized gels, 1⁄4 CTS or 1⁄2 CTS, and put them between the LED and a slice of milk Plexi diffusion that was about a half-inch or a quarter-inch thick to warm up the light based on the color balance of the scene. We’d add a little smoke element to diffuse the glow, and that was our gag.

Did you shoot the ark interiors on location?

Libatique: Very little was shot inside the practical ark. One shot we did there shows Noah closing the ark door during the battle against Tubal Cain and telling Shem to protect the family. However, we shot the reverse of Shem at the Marcy Armory in Brooklyn, where we built a three-level ark-interior set, as well as part of the exterior ark door. Many shots of Noah at the door of the ark looking out were done against a bluescreen. After the deluge comes the part of the story we call ‘40 Days and 40 Nights,’ where the ark is completely sealed up. We wanted it to feel almost coffin-like, and from a lighting standpoint it was a challenge because of the interesting but difficult angles by which we had to bend the light. Also, there’s the conceit that all the light is motivated by a furnace shaft in the center of the ark and the main furnace, which is located on the mammal deck. We had a great special-effects supervisor, Burt Dalton, who provided us with practical fire effects as a motivating source. To augment the furnace, we used 12-bulb batten strips built by Mike Bauman, the gaffer I worked with on Cowboys & Aliens [AC Aug. ’11]. They work on independent channels, with different rates of flicker and modulation for the individual bulbs. We call them ‘John Fords’ because it’s a batten strip with a wire around it to accommodate diffusion, and it looks like a covered wagon. We augmented these main sources with 5K and 10K bounced light that was usually placed at the shaft on the floor directly above where we were shooting.

How did you create the sense of daylight outside the ark set?

Libatique: Production was still working on the mammal deck, the first floor of the ark, when my key grip, Lamont Crawford, and rigging grip, Craig Vaccaro, went into the armory and started to build a giant white

ceiling bounce made up of smaller UltraBounce surfaces. It covered not only the ceiling but also headroom on the north, east, west and south sides of the set. Bouncing into it were 20 20Ks, which we rigged on each side, underslung on the truss, and also 25 Mole-Richardson 12-lights. I used every scene before the completion of the ark to suggest that part of the ceiling wasn’t in, but the bounced light from the ceiling didn’t reach all the way down to the bottom deck. It just gave us a certain level of ambience to work from, so we used large tungsten units to create strong shafts of daylight coming through, and augmented the ambient light with [Kino Flo] Image 80s pointed down from the second floor.

After the ark is opened up again, the quality of light is very different.

 

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