The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents January 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Pan's Labyrinth
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Allen Daviau, ASC
Little Children
DVD Playback
Production Slate
Post Focus
Short Takes
ASC Close-Up

“We didn’t do much fill at all — just enough to lift stuff out of the black,” continues Lee. “We’d do a little piece here, a little piece there, just grabbing what little light there was with a card. Guillermo and I tend to work that way anyway, but the degree to which we’d just let it go was greater on this film.”  

Indeed, one of the things Del Toro likes about Navarro is that “he’s not afraid of the dark,” says the director, adding, “I’ve always fought for movies to be as black as possible, with figures emerging from the darkness.” Navarro notes, “Darkness is a very important part of Pan’s Labyrinth, and we didn’t chicken out about it. Many times, the way to keep things dark is not necessarily having very low levels of light. Today’s film stocks are very sensitive, so they can actually see quite a bit more in the dark areas than you would imagine. To keep things dark, you actually have to have highlights at a stop where the film doesn’t have an opportunity to reach in — something where you might think you’re at a T1.4 but are actually at a T3.5. That also avoids milkiness. On this film, the look is pretty contrasty.”  

Lee says that for most of the shoot, “We were well outside my comfort range — it was throw-your-meter-away dark! In most interiors and in a lot of the night work, we were playing down in that range where the number you’re getting on the meter bears no correlation to the number on the lens.” On top of that, the production’s only dailies were on high-definition video. “With video dailies, you’re never quite sure what you’re getting, so I just trusted Guillermo [Navarro], who would say, ‘That’s fine, it’s enough light.’”  

The filmmakers’ mixing of color temperatures was equally bold. In the storage room, for example, the only obvious source is daylight; this light is glimpsed through the doorway and appears quite cold, yet the palette inside is warm. “If you look at that set closely, you’ll notice a lot of weird stuff going on color-wise,” says Lee. This was partly because “we would be doing a setup and the light would be one way, and by the time we were done with the setup, the clouds had rolled in and it was a very different feeling.” Meanwhile, the lamps pushing in the windows stayed at a warm color temperature. “Guillermo [Navarro] was aware of the color imbalance and might decide from scene to scene that it was desirable, or at least interesting,” says Lee. “It was a decision both Guillermos made instinctively. If it worked for them, they’d let it go, and they have enough experience to know what they will get in the end.  

“Part of what was liberating about the film was that the approaches were fairly simple and straightforward,” continues the gaffer. “I didn’t have a bank of 900 Pars outside a window on a construction crane. When the time came to light the scene where Ofelia crawls into a tunnel and finds a giant frog, the answer was drilling tiny holes [into the set] and putting tiny lights outside them, and trying to pick out little bits here and there. We had a little fiber-optic light on the camera for her face, and that was it. For about 70 percent of the movie, I was somewhere in there with some kind of card just to get a little bit of light in the eyes, a little bit of reflection here or there, a little bit of fill on the face.”  

One of the few “toys” the production allowed itself was a sausage-shaped lighting balloon, which Navarro’s crew gelled Steel Blue to illuminate the final scene in the labyrinth. “We had to use a balloon because there were so many wide shots and there was no way to really rig anything in the labyrinth, which was built around trees,” recalls Navarro. “That became a very strong limitation for both lighting and camera.” During this sequence and other overhead shots of the labyrinth, the puchi was retired in favor of a Technocrane to achieve greater height.  

All of the story’s visual motifs come to a head in the climax, which is heavily filtered in blue but backlit by bright-orange explosions caused by rebel activity nearby. Because there was a record dry spell during the filming, no fire was allowed, so the explosive effects were created using “dirt and cork and a festival of lights on dimmers,” says Navarro. “The units had to be very big. We had [Nine- and Eight-Light] Maxi-Brutes and some instruments that are not necessarily in the catalog.”  

A digital intermediate (DI), carried out at Deluxe/EFilm in Toronto with colorist Chris Wallace, allowed Navarro to improve continuity in certain outdoor sequences that were too difficult to control on location, and smooth out the day-for-night work. But he notes that the picture’s color extremes were “pretty well decided in camera, and we could see them in the dailies.” Lee’s digital stills of lighting setups served as a reference in the DI, and also “helped the lab that did our processing and dailies [Image Laboratories in Barcelona] understand what we were doing, because they always think you’re making mistakes, and when they try to help you, they screw you up big time,” says Navarro.  

About 300 shots in the picture involve digital effects created by CafeFX, Inc., but the bulk of the effects were created in camera under the supervision of David Marti and DDT FX in Spain. Animatronic puppets included the giant frog Ofelia must confront, numerous insects, and a fetus-like root that Ofelia places under her mother’s bed to help drive her illness away. The larger creatures were a combination of puppetry, special makeup and digital enhancements. “For the faun, the blinking of the eyes and the movement of those awkward animal legs were digital, so they were greenscreened, but otherwise, the mechanisms and servomotors were hidden in the horns or in other prosthetic pieces,” explains Navarro. “In general, the visual-effects treatment was very casual, in the sense that we knew what the technical requirements were for each shot, but we didn’t stop everything and say, ‘Look out! Here comes a visual effect!’ We tried very hard to integrate effects into the dynamic of the shot.”  

This attitude toward some rather extraordinary elements in front of his camera is one of the qualities Del Toro appreciates in Navarro. “His images are high-protein, not eye candy,” says Del Toro. “He has a beautiful understanding of the tonalities of light, and the beauty of his light comes from the beauty of everyday life — even if it’s fantasy life.”

<< previous || next >>