The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2006 Return to Table of Contents
Casino Royale
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Craig’s Bond engages in more hand-to-hand combat than the character has seen in some time. One such scene takes place inside the titular casino where much of the film’s action is set. In the scene, Bond must fight off two enemy operatives — one wielding a gun, the other a machete — in a battle that takes them down four flights of stairs. “It’s much more immediate and horrible when you get the camera right in there,” says Campbell of the handheld work. “The bad guys attack Bond and then they all go down four flights of stairs, throwing themselves over banisters and such. We built the whole set of stairs onstage at Barandov, and on each level a doorway and window appeared to be leading to a corridor. The set went almost to the ceiling of the stage, but it was important to be able to see the whole thing and follow the fight all the way down.” 

Méheux notes the importance of collaborating with the production designer — in this case Bond veteran Peter Lamont — and the art department when creating sets. “Originally, they were going to make the stairway enclosed by four walls,” recalls the cinematographer. “I said, ‘That really that stumps me as to where the light’s going to be, because I need to look down it and up it and not see film lights.’ So I suggested we make each level look like there’s a frosted-glass window and a corridor on the other side of that. They put in these windows made of alternating yellow and white squares that gave a very interesting effect when I lit through them.” 

Méheux used 5K tungsten lights without lenses and lit the glass from the other side, letting the different squares cast discernible shadows on the actors and the set. This was augmented by practical fixtures in the stairway; he was able to control these so that Bond was lit in shots featuring Craig, and in shadow or silhouette in shots featuring the actor’s stunt double. 

True to the spirit of Fleming’s novel, a lot of the drama takes place at the card tables, where a form of Texas Holdem Poker has replaced the more Continental game of baccarat. One of Méheux’s challenges was finding cinematic ways to cover these scenes. “There are three card games in the film,” notes Campbell. “How do you make 10 people around a table playing cards interesting? We had to discuss it quite a bit, but I must say Phil made it wonderful.” 

“Betting in itself is pretty boring,” says Méheux. “The audience isn’t necessarily going to know the game, so if Bond says, ‘I’ll raise you,’ and they turn over the next card, how many people in the audience will know if it’s a good card or a bad card? So you have to deal with the drama between the characters. It’s all about looks, so you never really want to be too wide, but you also don’t want just a bunch of close-ups. We had a whole day of rehearsal with all the actors playing their cards and running dialogue, and then we worked out where best to seat everyone and how to shoot it. We tried to approach it with as many variations as we could within those limitations. We did one card game that was all filmed with a static camera, and we did another where the camera was constantly moving around the table. Then we did one game where the camera starts pretty far back and slowly closes in on Bond and Le Chiffre.” 

Méheux and Campbell are very much in agreement that camera movement should be motivated by the drama. “You can fly a camera down a wire as two people are having a conversation in St. Paul’s Cathedral, and it can be fun for a moment, but you very quickly start to diffuse the drama if you’re just moving around them,” says the cinematographer. “I try always to avoid movement for movement’s sake. “ 

Of course, this is still a Bond film, so once the character is introduced and the new style established, Casino Royale does offer its share of big stunt and effects work. Much of this was handled by secondary units. “The tragedy of action films, and any cinematographer will tell you this, is that a lot of the fun stuff is done by the second unit,” says Méheux. “We had a superb 2nd-unit director, Alexander Witt, who handled most of the big action scenes, and almost any stunt where the lead actors can’t be identified in the frame. Those shots take a lot of time; you put wire rigs up and cranes to hold people in the air, and that takes forever. You just can’t have 150 people on the main unit waiting around.” He would discuss key information about film stocks, lenses, filtration, and printer lights with all the cinematographers, and then they would take off with their crews. (These units used Arri 435s most of the time.) “In one stunt sequence, an Aston Martin turns over on the road and flips over eight times, and apparently that set a world record for the number of turns a car has done in midair,” Méheux says excitedly. 

Some of the action sequences combine stunt work, digital effects and traditional 3-D models. One such sequence is set at Miami airport, where villains attempt to destroy a new jumbo jet and an errant 747 takes out a police car. The main unit shot the primary action at Prague’s airport and at an airfield in Surrey, England. “At the airport in Prague, all the floodlights are daylight blue with a slight tinge of green,” says Méheux. “I figured if I was going to add light to what they produced, the best thing to do was use HMIs. Then, at the field in Britain, I had the art department put up additional towers, and we bought about 30 of the same kind of floodlights they had at Prague and I used HMIs again to fill in the gaps. I warned everyone that it would come out a funny color [on film], but I knew I could pull out some of the color in the DI to make it look more like white light.” 

For the view beyond the airstrip, visual-effects artists created Miami-skyline background plates. “Like a lot of big action films, it blossomed from a theoretical 80 shots to 550,” says visual-effects supervisor Steven Begg. “We didn’t start out thinking of this as a visual-effects film, but it certainly became a medium-sized visual-effects film by the end.” 

The effects were divided up among several London facilities, with Peerless Camera Co. doing the majority of the CGI work. Digital visual-effects supervisor John Paul Docherty explains how the Miami plates were created: “They were all keen on the look of Michael Mann’s Heat for the airport portion of the film. We shot plates of the Miami skyline with a Panavision Genesis and used it for reference in creating our CG elements. Because of differences in color space, we were worried about combining Genesis material and 35mm in the same shot.” 

The effects team used Maya and SoftImage XSI to create a CG skyline, and Renderman to render the images. All compositing was done with Shake and Inferno, and these tools were also used to create, model and render the top half of the jumbo jet, which was superimposed on a 747 sitting on the Surrey airfield. By anchoring the CG part of the plane to a real one, the team had less to create from scratch, as well as a real 3-D reference to help with size and perspective issues. “I’m a big believer in the notion that it’s better to augment something real with digital effects than try to fabricate a whole scene or an entire object,” says Begg.

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