The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents December 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Black Swan
Page 2
Page 3
Directing
Resident Evil-Afterlife
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Technicolor’s Sam Daley pre-pared DVD dailies for us, but digital dailies don’t really tell me where I am with my exposures. To check the exposures, Joey Violante, the head timer at Technicolor New York, would put the footage up on an analyzer for me.

Did you bring in any outside experts to help with the ballet sequences?

Libatique: We didn’t have any consultants for our theatrical lighting because I didn’t really have enough lights to justify it! I also didn’t have enough time to collaborate with somebody else; I didn’t want to get into a situation that would involve a lot of back-and-forth. When we got to those scenes, I’d literally be shooting something in the dressing rooms with the actors, and then, between takes, I’d run up to the stage area, look at what the crew had put together, and start changing a few of the colors and cues.

For the dancing, in addition to our choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, we had the Pennsylvania Ballet come in to work with us — they were between seasons at the time, and we were fortunate that their hiatus worked for our time frame. They did all the choreography for us onstage while I was playing around with the lighting. While we were shooting all the scenes surrounding the Swan Lake performances in the third act, Benjamin and the Penn Ballet were rehearsing the performances in detail with the idea that Natalie would be inserted into the performance. As our crew pre-rigged around rehearsals, we kept a constant eye on the ballet they were creating so that we’d have a place to begin when I was ready to start setting lighting cues. I wish I could say we did that efficiently, but we did not; in typical fashion, the lighting was created and finalized on the day of [shooting], but a great deal of preparation was done to lay the groundwork for me to be able to work with the guys creatively. Because I was shooting and there was no money for prelighting, I decided I wasn’t going to chase what the ballet company was doing; instead, I listened to the music for cues.

The main lighting source was the cyc strips above the dancers’ heads; we had about eight rows of 1K cinema globes running 60 feet across the stage. We just used different gels and put the lights on different channels; we’d go from a green gel to white to magenta, and we also started to mix them, which was nice. It was less complicated than using moving lights. For one sequence, we combined a moon backdrop with a rain effect that we created by filling a pool of water with broken glass and placing it at the base of the background. We just powered Source Fours into the pool and modulated the water movement with fans.

In the climactic dance routine with the black swan, we had a big sun piece as our backdrop, and we used 2K nook lights in the footlights on the stage. Those came in handy for an earlier scene that shows the dancers rehearsing the number; we didn’t have the set completely built at that point, so I used the nook lights to create nice, hard shadows of the dancers on the back wall. I knew we’d lose those shadows in the full-costume performance of that routine, so I decided to backlight Natalie to make her a silhouette in the middle of the sun, and let all the other dancers have the frontlight. I kept her in the shadow of two light sources to create that symbolic element of light and darkness.

The work of the artist Olafur Eliasson also influenced the look of our ballet scenes. He did an installation at the Tate Modern in London called The Weather Project that was a great inspiration in terms of our stage design; we were impressed by his use of reflection and scale.

The handheld camerawork really takes the viewer inside the dancing onstage.

Libatique: Every performance was covered in long master shots, which we just augmented with other moves as necessary. To Natalie’s credit, we rarely did more takes for her; if we required additional takes, it was usually for us. She trained for three or four months beforehand, and she did a phenomenal job. We knew we’d be shooting her from the chest up most of the time, but we knew we’d be in great shape, performance-wise, as long as we could see her face and arms. For wider shots, we could just use her dance double. Darren wanted Natalie doing as much of the performance as possible, so he would often stay on her face or torso instead of going to those wider shots. It was important to him to capture Nina’s internal struggle, and Natalie definitely nails those emotions. We did almost everything handheld. The only Steadicam shot is at the climax of the final dance number.

Who were your camera operators?

Libatique: At the beginning of the film, I had Joey Cicio, whom I’d met on the Iron Man movies. We were looking for somebody who was close to my height and Natalie’s height, because we knew we wanted to be subjective with the camera without looking down at her. Steve Constantino, whom I’d worked with on Spike Lee projects, finished the more dramatic sections of the film — the apartment scenes and so forth. I did some of the operating myself, but very little. Sometimes I’d shoot the rehearsals just to show everyone how we wanted the shots to play.

What were your goals in the DI?

Libatique: I worked with Tim Stipan at Technicolor New York, and we spent most of our time finessing specific colors. It was hard to get some of the colors just right. For example, we really worked on the red for the sequence in Act 2 when Nina is onstage by herself with the moon behind her. We also did a lot of cosmetic fixes here and there. One of my main goals was to get on the same page with Tim to determine the contrast levels for the entire film. I didn’t want the image to be too contrasty, and if the cinematographer doesn’t sit in on those sessions, most colorists will give the images more contrast because it looks sharper. I was actually in L.A. during that process, but I did two sessions with Tim at Technicolor’s facility in L.A. while he and Darren were in a Technicolor New York suite. They were able to patch the image into the L.A. suite so we could all look at the same image in real time, and I was able to give Tim my corrections over the phone. It was probably the best DI experience I’ve ever had.

 


TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

2.40:1

Super 16mm and Digital capture

Arri 416; Canon EOS 7D, 1D Mark IV

Arri Ultra Prime 16 and Canon EF prime lensese

Fujifilm Eterna Vivid 500 8647, Vivid 160 8643

Digital Intermediate

Printed on Fujifilm 3513DI


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