The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents December 2014 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
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ASC Close-Up

“Everything proceeded from Hoyte’s photography,” Franklin explains. “We wanted all of the effects shots to feel as if he just went out there with the camera and filmed what you’re seeing on the screen.”

Much of Interstellar’s fantastic imagery was actually photographed with miniatures. “We saved digital for the stuff we could not do any other way, like a wormhole or a 4,000-foot mountain of water,” says Franklin. Miniatures were fabricated by and filmed at New Deal Studios in Sylmar, Calif. Cinematographer Tim Angulo photographed the elements against a black background in VistaVision, and then digital artists at Double Negative used luminance keys and hand-rotoscoping to isolate the miniature elements from the rig. A detailed digital model was used for minor touchups and repairs.

Except for a single shot toward the end of the film, no greenscreen was used for any of the composites. “One of the reasons we shot against black was that we’d often flare the lens right across the miniature and the background,” Franklin notes. “We’d keep those [flares] and hide the key light with whatever is comped in the background.” However, a number of shots were achieved onstage with the full-sized spacecraft, frequently with the camera hard-mounted on the ship as it was shaken on a gimbal. “The idea was that the jitter imposed on a solid, hard-mounted camera would give a visceral sense of the ship’s speed and G forces without always having to resort to impersonal [camera] angles,” says van Hoytema. “We stay with the vessels and the astronauts.”

The filmmakers also devised a method of hard-mounting the Imax camera directly to the actors, “as if the actor had a small camera mounted to [his or her] head,” van Hoytema explains. “We built body mounts that were either suspended or placed on a pivoting rig, housing both the actor and the Imax camera. The whole rig could then descend on cables through the zero-G sets.” The cinematographer refers to the rig as “an ‘Imax GoPro.’ It let us [capture] visceral angles that are normally only possible with a GoPro camera, but in 15-perf 65mm!”

The film's post workflow closely mirrored the one developed by post supervisor David E. Hall and associate editor John Lee for The Dark Knight Rises. Two paths were taken to arrive at the 35mm and Imax deliverables. David Keighley at DKP 70mm handled all of the Imax 70mm film work, producing a 65mm negative comprised of 15-perf 65mm Imax original camera negative, 6K visual-effects elements filmed out at 5.6K to a 65mm digital negative, and 6K Imax digital blowups from a 35mm anamorphic IP. (Theatrical Imax prints preserve the 1.43:1 and 2.40:1 aspect ratios. 4K digital Imax presentation is 1.90:1 and 2.40:1.)

FotoKem produced the 35mm ’Scope film prints, which consisted of the 35mm ’Scope camera negative, 4K visual-effects elements (filmouts) from ’Scope and VistaVision that was scanned at Warner Bros. MPI, digital ’Scope extractions from 8K Imax scans, and optical ’Scope extractions directly from the 65mm negative to a 35mm IP/IN. FotoKem also created the 2.40:1 flat 4K DCPs from 6K/4K over-scans of the color-timed 35mm IP.

Colorist and ASC associate member Mato Der Avanessian performed the photochemical timing at FotoKem. He and van Hoytema tested a variety of different looks and processes, “but we didn’t want to enforce a look,” says van Hoytema. “We were more into finding the core of the negative.”

Even his preference in film stocks was predicated more on function than on achieving a particular style. “Kodak stocks are very consistent,” the cinematographer notes. “If you do exteriors with a lot of sun, you shoot with 50D; if you’re inside [with] daylight, you go to the 250D. For interiors [with] tungsten and on stage, you shoot 500T. The negative wants to register the light in its purest form, so I was pretty conservative with my exposures and processing.”

The adjective “unromantic” comes up throughout van Hoytema’s discussion of the approach to Interstellar. “It’s not always the prettiest or most polished way of doing things,” he observes, “but it gets us closer to the truth.”


2.40:1 and 1.43:1

65mm and 35mm

Panaflex Millennium XL; Imax MSM 9802; Beaucam

Panavision, Hasselblad and Miyama lenses

Kodak Vision3 500T 5219, 250D 5207, 50D 5203


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