The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents July 2008 Return to Table of Contents
The Dark Knight
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
A Hybrid Finish
Get Smart
Short Takes
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

Geryak floated four 8K cylinder-shaped tungsten balloon lights to create a foundation. “We could move them around to keep the light side-y or edgy,” he says. “There were also existing ceiling lights that we replaced with Par 38 cans, straight down, with diffusion taped over them to help with the ambience.”  

Pfister was the A-camera operator, and on close work, he and Geryak often worked in tandem, with Geryak handholding a lightweight softbox containing Litepanels LED lamps; diffusion frames are interchangeable on the device. “Our light is often toppy or side-y, and Wally wants to see a little ping of light in the second eye,” says the gaffer. “Because we’re often handheld, the eyelight can’t go on the camera, so we’ll hold it off-axis on the other side. I’m always watching him and his frame line, and he often signals to push it in or pull it back as he’s shooting. He likes to judge that light through the camera.”  

Several key scenes take place on rooftops, including the roof of police headquarters, where Gordon lights up the Bat Signal to summon Batman. These shots required some of the most elaborate lighting setups, with Geryak and his crew spread out over multiple city blocks. A week and a half of rigging, followed by a 10-hour day of prelighting, preceded the actual shoot days.  

Pfister shot as wide open as possible to best capture the nighttime cityscape. To augment the skyline, roughly a dozen buildings were lit from inside through windows Pfister chose. Points of light were also emanating from the tops of parking structures. Sodium-vapors and bare bulbs were scattered across neighboring roofs. Color temperature was varied for a realistic urban look. At Geryak’s request, Lee Filters developed a combined Full + Half CTS gel for the BeBee lights “to help us [avoid] the color fading of gels when they’re doubled up on the BeBee,” says the gaffer. “About 60 Maxi-Brutes were shooting light up the sides of neighboring buildings. We tried to create a streakier, architectural feeling this time, as opposed to the more general washes we used on Batman Begins. In the first movie, Gotham tends to be a little more gritty and seedy.”  

One important scene on the roof of police headquarters provides a glimpse into the efficient and flexible mode of working that Nolan and Pfister maintained in spite of the sprawling size of the production. After putting their heads together about the best way to shoot several pages of dialogue involving Gordon, Batman and Dent, Nolan and Pfister decided to do the scene in a single circular Steadicam move, maximizing the Chicago skyline in the background. “In the story, these three men form a triumvirate, and it was very important to bind them together and show them in this massive environment,” says Nolan.  

“The question was how to light the faces while seeing 360 degrees,” says Geryak. “We thought it would be great to do a nice soft toplight and then come in with an eyelight, but there wasn’t anywhere to tether a balloon up there. We were shooting anamorphic, so we did have some headroom above the frame. Key grip Mike Lewis suggested rigging a truss coming over the top of a stairwell door. We knew it would take about 90 minutes to set up, but we also knew that once it was finished, we could burn through the pages very quickly. Chris is really smart about making those time investments up front, and he agreed to it. Mike used some very clever counterbalancing on a rig that shot out over the edge a good 15 or 20 feet. We built an 8-by-8 softbox housing four Kino Flo fixtures shooting through Light Grid and skirted around the sides.”  

“I’m pleased to note that we used the exact Steadicam master, the first take of that scene, in the edit,” says Nolan. “I try to be very realistic about which coverage we’re going to use, and I try not to put people through that process if the results aren’t going to be in the movie. If I hadn’t worked with Wally and Cory for years before, I’m not sure I would have been prepared to make the leap of faith and say, ‘Okay, we won’t film for an hour and a half, but then we’ll have a very versatile setup.’ But I knew from experience that they could deliver. Similarly, they knew I wasn’t just changing the shot on a whim. In preserving that creative spontaneity, even on the grander scale of a film like this, the experience of working with people previously is a huge advantage. That spontaneity is possible because of trust and thorough preparation.”  

The production also filmed in the United Kingdom for 53 days, returning to the cavernous Cardington hangar to film sets and shooting on location at Battersea Power Station on the outskirts of London. Some set pieces from Batman Begins were redressed, but the street-exterior sets seen in the first film were much less prominent on the schedule. The exterior of the Pruitt building, an eight-story structure built inside the 200'-high hangar by fire brigades for practice and testing, makes an encore appearance in The Dark Knight. This time, its interior also appears in a climactic sequence.  

Batman’s sleek secret bunker was built in the hangar at Cardington, a walled open space that measures 200' long by 60' wide and has no support columns. Onscreen, the entire ceiling of the bunker emits light. “Cardington is an enormous space, and it took a bit of engineering to light it from above,” says Perry Evans, a veteran of Batman Begins who served as gaffer for the U.K. shoot. “Our lights couldn’t interfere with the construction that supported the ceiling, so we brought in a rock ’n’ roll-lighting company that built a huge gantry that hung 40 feet above the set.”  

Evans and his team hung 300 space lights about 15' above the actual ceiling; each lamp had six 800-watt bulbs, diffusion and silk skirting. The production tested various materials for the actual ceiling to find a type of Perspex that allowed enough light through while hiding the actual elements. Around the entire light rig, the crew hung a series of 20'x20' white sheets to contain and smooth out the light. The thorough prep, which included six weeks of rigging, made for smooth shoot days in the bunker. Evans kept a couple of Image 80s on hand for closer work.  

The script called for a light gag where the lights in the bunker come on and off in dramatic fashion. Possibilities discussed included dimming lights up, starting in the center and expanding concentrically, or in a chase, one at a time. During prep, Evans and his team programmed a variety of options and Nolan chose a method that followed the action. As Batman walks toward the elevator to exit, the lights go off in rows moving away from camera until Batman is seen in dramatic silhouette, lifted out of the frame by the elevator. Then the last light goes out. “That was a fun challenge,” says Evans. “It took a couple of takes, but once we got it right, it looked really good.”  

Shots done in the Pruitt building inside the Cardington hangar were meant to intercut with shots done from a helicopter as a SWAT team slides out a window on a rope. In the story, the building is under construction, and that cued most of the lighting decisions. “Wally decided to go with the harshness of plain bulbs in the interiors,” says Evans. “We tested some normal bulbs and just couldn’t get them to flare enough. In the fighting that takes place there, we wanted a sense of disorientation and a certain brutality. We found a type of security light, and the art department made a little cage for it so it would look like a light you’d see on a construction site. There were dozens of temporary support posts in there, and we could clip our lights to them quickly and easily, depending on the shot. Sometimes we’d augment with a 1K Par or a 650-watt bulb off-camera.”

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