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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Casino Royale culminates in an elaborate action sequence that combined practical effects with miniatures and CGI. Bond’s love interest, Vesper (Eva Green), is imprisoned in a 17th-century Venetian villa that is being held slightly aloft from its foundation by massive helium balloons, so that damage far beneath the structure can be repaired. “For a long time, people were afraid Venice was sinking, and it turned out what was making Venice sink was the fact that houses were drawing water from wells under their foundations, and when the water went out, the foundation was sinking into the empty gap,” says Méheux. “They’ve stopped people from doing that, and Venice isn’t sinking anymore. But with that in mind, we fabricated the idea that this old-fashioned villa might be kept on the water line with fixed industrial balloons while it was being renovated. To distract everybody, Bond shoots a balloon, and as the house starts to sink into the canal, he manages to sneak in and hide behind a pillar. Then more of these balloons explode, and the house sinks further and further with Bond, Vesper and the baddies inside.” 

The interior of the house was built on the 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios. “The entire interior was a giant hydraulic rig conceived and built by [special-effects coordinator] Chris Corbould and his team, and controlled by computers,” explains Méheux. “It could twist and turn and physically drop many feet down. There were pipes underneath that could shoot water up into the set to suggest the house was sinking into the canal. It was very tricky to light, because the set was built inside a large metal casing that allowed it to be tilted in different directions. You can imagine the whole exterior of it is a complicated piece of metal trusswork that also went in front of most of the window openings. We couldn’t light from a lot of the windows anyway, because once that part of the house goes under water, your light source is underwater too. So with Peter Lamont, we worked out the idea of lighting through skylights in the roof. 

“That meant we had to bring all our light from above, pointing straight down. The set went to within 8 inches of the girders that hold the roof of the stage up, and as HMIs don’t work well pointed down, my trusted gaffer, Eddie Knight, and his team worked out a rig of Dinos with 24 Par 64s in each fixture above those girders. Under those, we hung a large silk, and then, about a foot under that, a second silk, so if you looked up, you wouldn’t see any individual sources of light. They all merged together. We added 216 diffusion to the skylights to spread the light even further. Each Dino was numbered and fed back to a dimmer panel so we could vary the light level for different angles.” 

Méheux had to take into consideration that the set would drop some 20' over the course of the scene, effectively lowering the light level. “Eddie’s Dino rig solved this problem. Every time the set sank, more of the lights came into the field of view of each skylight, so even though it dropped 20 feet, the amount of light inside hardly varied. Needless to say, that was a big lighting job!” 

The villa exterior was a miniature filmed in Pinewood’s outdoor tank. “The Bond movies have a tradition of large-scale miniatures,” says Begg, who also supervised the miniatures work on Batman Begins. “I thought it would be quite difficult to create the villa exterior using entirely digital effects, and I thought if we started with a miniature that looked good, we could augment it with CG and make it look totally believable.” Begg supervised the filming of plates in Venice with 120 extras looking on and practical bubble effects going on in the canal. “Then we shot a 25-foot-tall model that was designed to represent the five-story villa sinking into the tank at Pinewood. I wanted the natural light on the model to match the conditions we had when we did the Venice plates, and that gave us only about a two-hour window for shooting the model.” 

Begg’s team used four Arri 435s at speeds ranging from 30-40 fps because of the scale of the water. “I was very careful not to shoot at ultra-high speeds, because I think that can be a big giveaway with water. We also shot a lot of full-scale splashes at 24 fps by dropping things like car engines into the tank. Those splashes were later composited onto the miniature.” 

Deluxe Laboratories in London processed the show’s negative, and Arion Facilities transferred the footage to HDCam for dailies. Méheux supervised the picture’s digital intermediate (DI) at Framestore-CFC in London. The negative was scanned at 2K on two Northlight scanners; grading was done with a Baselight 8 system; and three Arrilaser recorders were used for output. According to colorist Adam Glasman, “The show’s color correction took six weeks, of which the first two were spent grading an HD version for previews. Once the edit was locked, we then moved on to the film DI, using the HD work as a basis. In general, the look for the film was the traditional handsome, glamorous feel [of the Bond franchise]. However, there were a couple of scenes where we went a bit over and above this. For the black-and-white sequence at the beginning, Phil had shot things to be quite dark and film-noirish. There was a danger of losing some of the details in the black clothing, so we tweaked that a bit. For the flashback fight within that sequence, Phil wanted a lot of contrast and grain applied in order to amplify the violence. We really pushed the highlights, making the scene very grainy and gritty. Then, for the Madagascar sequence, we wanted a color-rich grade that would suggest the heat and dust of a tropical island. 

“I think it’s worth adding that the film has several hundred visual effects shots, which makes it the type of project that really benefits from the DI process. We were able to finesse and help bed these shots in seamlessly — the airport sequence, the sinking building in Venice, and many others. In fact, during the climactic fight sequence in the sinking house, we applied some camera shake in the DI — an effect that’s more commonly applied during the effects work. The effects people and editor Stuart Baird joined us in the digital suite to add the shake to some of the non-effects shots. It was useful to be able to review the work on the entire sequence in the DI suite, rather than on a shot-by-shot basis, and to modify and refine the effect in real time.” 

Casino Royale was Méheux’s third feature DI, and he says he loves the control the technology offers, but he still prefers to do as much as possible in camera. “For the most part, I shoot the way I would if I were finishing traditionally. The more correct it is when I arrive at the DI house, the quicker and easier it’s going to be to grade it. Digital post tools are no replacement for getting the exposure right and making sure your lamps all match. I still want to get it right in the first place. However, DIs are perfect for films with a lot of digital effects. Nowadays, because of time constraints, many effects shots are sent to different facilities whose artists work or view on different screens. In the old days, [those shots] would be output to film till they looked right. Now they’re ingested as digital information, and there are often differences in color and contrast when it comes to the final grade because the [effects teams] were unable to see their work digitally projected with print emulation, the way we can in a DI facility. The DI process can sort these things out. I was fortunate to work with Adam, a top colorist who has studied photography. We could talk on the same wavelength, which was a great help.”
 

 

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