The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Swiss Army Man - Directing
ASC Close-Up

      “I prefer to use older glass as opposed to a filter,” Seiple adds, “because there’s much more of an innate, otherworldly feel to it. There was a real glow.”

      The dreamlike imagery on the bus began with a slow, dramatic, slider-enabled pull-out on Dano, who is revealed in his makeshift “Sarah” outfit and wig. With daylight fading, an M90 was used to backlight the actor in brilliant sunlight and trigger horizontal flares, yielding a stylized beauty shot that leads into a lovingly crafted homage to Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, complete with the classic dinosaur film’s iconic melody. “I didn’t think we were going to get the song,” Seiple marvels. “I was like, ‘No way will they give us the rights to use this amazing song for a movie about farts.’”

      The bus was ultimately required to explode, creating an ideal opportunity for Kisvarday, who specializes in practical gags. “We scored all the supports of the bus and tied ropes and strings to them, and we had an air-mortar filled with sawdust and baby powder,” Kisvarday relates of the “lo-fi” effect. “At the count of three, several people hiding off-camera tugged on their strings and pulled [about half of] the set over, as we set off the air mortars and Larkin flashed a few lights to make it look like there was some sort of pyrotechnic explosion.”

      Kisvarday also designed an effect that provided the backdrop to Hank and Manny’s nighttime, airborne escape from a bear. The footage was a night-exterior “pickup shot in my backyard,” the production designer says. “A couple friends and I built this miniature 6-foot tree and attached a cable to the top of it, and led that to a pulley attached to a branch high up in the real tree [above it].” The camera — secured on a tripod and facing up — captured the fake tree as it was lowered. Small lengths of pipe were in place to break miniature branches as the tree descended. “They later composited in the two guys flying through the tree,” Kisvarday adds. The tree was lit with ETC LED Source Fours to serve as moonlight. The sequence was shot with a Red Epic Dragon 6K fitted with Zeiss Super Speed Mark 3s.

      “I love miniatures,” Kisvarday continues with a laugh, “and I always try to work them into projects — usually unsuccessfully. It’s become a joke that that’s my first solution to a lot of things.”

      Hank and Manny’s subsequent descent through the trees necessitated the use of a chest mount in order to fit a Red Epic Dragon — shooting 6:1 Redcode Raw to 256GB Red SSDs — onto Radcliffe’s body, with a Cooke S4 25mm lens facing the actor. With the camera in place, Radcliffe stood in a darkened room surrounded by a circular rig of LED “pixel tubes,” which simulated “moonlight circling around him as though he were falling head over heels,” Seiple explains. “The tubes are RGB, have 16 pixels per meter and take DMX directly. There were six people hitting [Radcliffe] with branches, and [there was] someone behind him with a tree so that when he landed, the tree would end up against his back. We shot him against a 20-by-20 solid, as we were trying to pull it off practically.”

      Particularly useful for the bear-attack scene were three Condors, each fitted with a theatrical moving-light rig — comprised of two Vari-Lite VL4000 Spots, two GLP Impression X4s and a wireless DMX receiver — that Ardine controlled via a GrandMa2 lighting console, and remotely via iPad or iPhone. “We never had to extend a lift up or down,” Seiple notes, “or even put a [crewmember] in it. They were all unmanned Condors, which made it a lot quicker.”

      Ardine notes, “The Condors were placed as a straight backlight and two kickers at 45-degree angles. The Vari-Lite 4000 Spots have a large zoom range and a long throw to light specific parts from far away. The X4s were used to wash parts of the background.”

      Also used for the bear scene, Seiple relates, were “two Matty Pads mounted on [a single] stand with a wireless DMX receiver so that we had a large mobile soft source.”

      Sheinert credits Ardine with another night-exterior lighting array, which was used throughout the production. The co-director describes the rigging as a “lo-fi lighting grid with complex lighting setups all [linked] to a board, so that we could switch lighting cues and tweak things really quickly, after very brief dialogue with Larkin — which allowed us to shoot a pretty ambitious amount. It was a lighting grid like you would have in the studio, except he was doing it out in the woods, using speed rail or whatever we had around, or attaching [fixtures] to trees in non-invasive ways. If we had a gap in time, like a costume change, Matt could put on a little disco show to keep us all entertained.”

      Seiple adds that Ardine’s rig comprised “ETC Source Four Series 2 [LED] Lustr units, which were [hung] in trees or used to hit bounces that were rigged in trees. These lights have a seven-color light engine, which allows us to use it as moonlight fill for one shot or fire-flickers for another without the need to change gel. By putting a wireless DMX receiver on each light, they could float around the set and be quickly utilized anywhere.”

      Further, Seiple supervised the construction of a rig dubbed a “fire pie” to supplement firelight. “It was like a covered wagon,” he says, “but we built a circle — like a pie — and we put [24] MR16 [100-watt] bulbs in there, and covered it with chicken wire with diffusion and red and yellow gels. It has a kind of violent flicker effect to it, but because there are so many sources, it’s also soft.”

      Seiple notes that an Arri Alexa Mini was used for pickup shots, including a flashback sequence of Hank on the bus, and that a Sony PMW‑EX3 was used for a news-footage sequence and the movie’s final shots of Manny in the ocean.

      When the duo suffer a perilous fall into a river, Manny reveals his ability to serve as an air tank, which obliged the filmmakers to shoot an underwater sequence in an outdoor pool about an hour north of Los Angeles. A flyswatter was mounted on a Condor over the water, and M90s on stands were aimed toward the submerged actors.

      “We had to make it feel like a riverbed,” says Seiple, “but we couldn’t get the pool dirty because it would have required a massive cleaning fee. Instead, we layered it with black tarp [and added bits of plant material].” Underwater operator Ian Takahashi employed an Alexa XT and 25mm Cooke S4 lens encased in a HydroFlex housing for the sequence.

      In a comically stirring segue back to dry land, Manny launches himself and Hank above the water’s surface in a series of slow-motion shots, which were captured at the same swimming pool with a Phantom Flex4K — fitted with a Cooke S4 25mm lens — recording Phantom .cine raw files to CineMags at 2,000 fps and 2040x1152 resolution. Two stunt doubles on a wire rig were pulled upward at speed against a greenscreen and beneath lighting designed to match a plate that was shot with a Red Epic Dragon in Eureka, Calif., during initial location scouting. Contending with bright daylight at the pool, the production employed a 20’x20’ Full Grid Cloth on a flyswatter over the water, and aimed two M90s diffused through an 8’x8’ 1⁄4 Grid Cloth from just off camera, “to give it a little bit of glare,” Seiple notes.


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