The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
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The sometimes-aggressive cam-erawork required for the second unit’s battle sequences stood in contrast to the main unit’s propensity for elegant moves. A pertinent example occurs early in the film when Prince Stefan’s father, the ill-fated King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), leads his troops against the magical inhabitants of the Moors, who in turn are led by Maleficent. Semler used a Russian Arm to capture sweepingly majestic images of Henry’s troops as they approach through gently rolling hills. The second unit then took over as hostilities escalate into open conflict, capturing the action with strident moves on Technocranes that lead into handheld cameras amid the battle proper. Taggart used longer lenses to ensure the images were filled from foreground through to the background. The 85mm Primo, for example, was often used for what the cinematographer terms “long wide” shots.

The penultimate battle between Maleficent and Stefan begins in the castle’s Great Hall. After escaping a trap set by the king, Maleficent turns her familiar, Diaval (Sam Riley), into a fire-breathing dragon, and the castle rapidly becomes a raging inferno. “The castle set was beautiful,” recalls Taggart, “so we burnt it down.” The special-effects department had several methods at their disposal: gas pipes built into the set allowed for a selective, controlled burn; a flame-thrower with a range of 30' served as the dragon’s incendiary breath; and kitty litter soaked in accelerant created a slow-burning rain of fire.

Nine-light Maxi-Brutes with Full and 1⁄2 CTO provided firelight effects throughout the set. “The combination of practical fire effects and the flickering light on reflective surfaces such as the soldiers’ armor and the sweat on their faces brings the images alive and really sells it to the audience,” enthuses Taggart. “If they see actual flames in shot, the electronically controlled flickering light isn’t noticed.” Fill light, Taggart adds, wasn’t required for this sequence. “The images were kept quite moody to let the firelight get into the shadow areas so that it read well.”

 Semler has nothing but praise for his crew. “My English crew was fantastic,” he says. “Many are veterans of large-scale productions such as the Harry Potter and James Bond franchises, so they were completely at ease on a production the size, scale and complexity of Maleficent. I wish I could mention every single one of them. A-camera operator Gary Spratling and first AC John Ferguson headed up the camera team. Steve Evans was my unflappable digital-imaging technician. Elliot Purvis, whom I first worked with in Budapest on Angelina’s film [In the Land of Blood and Honey], was the central loader. And Johnny Flemming was my key grip; we had first worked together as young lads more than 20 years ago on The Power of One, shot in Africa.”

Despite Maleficent marking the 19th feature Semler has completed with EFilm, there was a surprise in store for the cinematographer. “Neither Yvan nor I had seen any of the visual effects, which make up a huge part of Maleficent,” Semler notes. “I was dumbfounded watching the brilliant images and creatures created by Rob and his team. Having said that, my work still plays an essential part within all the digital imagery. The basic principles of cinematography remain the same: the director’s vision has to be fulfilled, the screenplay has to be transformed into moving images, and the sets and, most importantly, the actors have to be lit. I’m really proud of what we accomplished on Maleficent.” 



Digital Capture

Arri Alexa Plus

Panavision Primo

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