The American Society of Cinematographers

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The Aliens Strike Back

Markus Förderer, BVK puts a premium on simplicity and realism for the summer blockbuster Independence Day: Resurgence.

Unit photography by Claudette Barius, SMPSP, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

In 1996, a powerful and violent alien invasion brought the world to its knees and devastated major cities across the globe. If not for the genius of satellite expert David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and the bravery of Marine Corps Capt. Steven Hiller (Will Smith), humanity would surely have perished. In an epic speech to rally a ragtag band of American pilots, President of the United States Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) announced that the final battle, fought on July 4, would mark the date as not just an American holiday, but as the day the entire world declared its independence as a united planet.

Twenty years later, the nations of Earth have partnered to form an immense defense program. Scavenging downed alien spacecraft, scientists have studied the engineering and integrated extraterrestrial technology into the Earth’s weaponry to better defend the human race if the aliens ever return. And return they do, in an unprecedented force that no one could have predicted in Independence Day: Resurgence.

Writer-director Roland Emmerich returned to helm this long-awaited sequel to his blockbuster action film — this time with Markus Förderer, BVK at his side to bring the colossal tale to the big screen. Förderer’s previous work includes the Mike Cahill-directed drama I Origins (AC Sept. ’14), along with Emmerich’s Stonewall. “The main challenge of something like this is, how do you make the movie look consistent in its own universe, but still have an interesting take and variety to it?” says Förderer. “My goal was to make it feel like an Independence Day film, but to give it its own character.”

The original film (shot by Karl Walter Lindenlaub, ASC, BVK; AC July ’96) has a particularly special place in the cinematographer’s heart. “I watched the first Independence Day in the theater with my sister and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing! I have to become a filmmaker!’” Förderer recalls. “I started reading books and figured out that what I was really interested in was cinematography. Independence Day was the film that sparked that in me. I know that movie inside and out; I had it on VHS and I watched it hundreds of times as a kid.

“For Resurgence, Roland wanted a really dark look,” he continues. “Usually you fight as a cinematographer to make [a movie] interesting and darker, and the director will say, ‘I want to see the performance! I want to see their faces!’ But Roland would be like, ‘Darker! Darker!’ until there was almost no light hitting the sensor! The way to get away with that is to make sure you have the right kind of eye light — then you can go dark and still be connected to the characters.”

Förderer shot 4K and 6K anamorphic on Red Epic Dragons for the bulk of the movie. For selected scenes when multiple cameras were rolling, he employed a prototype Red Weapon camera fitted with a 6K Dragon sensor. The Weapon was often employed in “tight car interiors where the compact form factor allowed us to shoot with longer lenses inside the car,” he notes. Both camera models recorded RedCode Raw at 5:1 compression to 512GB Red Mini-Mags.

In prep, the cinematographer spent significant energy and time developing a one-look LUT that was used for monitoring on set throughout the entire film. “We shot a 15-minute sequence in prep to set a look,” Förderer says, “and then tested that look on a number of different types of shots in our sequence to see how it held up. Supervising colorist Florian ‘Utsi’ Martin created the show LUT with me.”

The LUT that was ultimately used was based on Kodak film-print emulation and also incorporated aspects similar to what happens in the toe of Fujifilm negative, while taking advantage of Red’s own color matrices as well. “With the film-print emulation, you get a really nice roll-off on the highlights, but we were still incorporating the native color space of the Red to get the detail in the shadow areas that film would compress,” Förderer details. “Some Fuji-like characteristics came in the shadow range to put just a little green shift into the low end. We loaded the LUT right into the Weapon camera, whereas the Dragons were connected to a Fujifilm IS-Mini LUT box for monitoring on set.

“This way, everyone was looking at the image the way we wanted, and this LUT was baked into the dailies so that Roland, the editors and our visual-effects artists were working with it from day one,” the cinematographer notes. “That makes a huge difference, because if you don’t have look management from set to post, and then you get into the color suite and set the original intention, everyone is thrown for a loop from the sudden change. I prefer to make sure that the intention follows through the entire process.”

The final grade was performed at FotoKem in Burbank. Förderer worked with Martin as well as colorist Walter Volpatto; the DI employed a 2K and 4K workflow, grading EXR files in Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve. “I worked with [Martin] to set the look for the 2D master and continued polishing with Walter Volpatto,” Förderer says. “We then did the 3D version and Dolby Vision HDR.

“I like working with just one LUT,” Förderer adds. “It’s like shooting the entire movie on one film stock. I don’t want to mess with 10 different looks for day and night, interior and exterior. Once I had the LUT, I knew I was lighting for that specific look and everything we were doing was going to work with that LUT, because I was seeing the results immediately. Other than that, we didn’t do any grading on set or for dailies.” Jeroen Hendriks served as on-set digital-imaging technician throughout the shoot.

Even on a tentpole production the size of Independence Day: Resurgence, speed and efficiency were paramount, as the feature — generally a two-camera show — was shot almost entirely onstage in Albuquerque, N.M., over the course of a scant 78 days. It thus took a bit of convincing for Emmerich to consider anamorphic lenses, according to Förderer, who ultimately decided upon Vantage Film 2x anamorphics — Hawk V-Plus zooms and Hawk V-Lite primes. “Roland used to be a big spherical guy, and he really likes to use zooms to be fast,” the cinematographer says. “He saw me work with the Hawk Front Anamorphic zooms on Stonewall, and saw how fast I could be with them and still get an interesting look, and that helped convince him. He loves the look of anamorphic lenses and how they render skin. I’ve worked with the Hawks several times, and I think they have the right balance of being a newer lens but with a really nice organic look. The Hawks have all the things we love about anamorphics — the all-important oval bokeh and the wonderful characteristics of light distortion and subtle flare.” The production made frequent use of the V-Plus Front Anamorphic 45-90mm and 80-180mm zooms (both T2.8). The Arri/Fujinon Alura 15.5-45mm (T2.8) zoom was also employed on the production, as well as Zeiss Compact zooms — the latter mainly for visual-effects plates.

“I like to use digital cameras to our advantage,” Förderer emphasizes. As an example, he offers, “Sometimes you just want to be a little tighter on a shot, and changing a lens or moving the camera can take too long in the middle of an intense scene, even with an amazing crew. In those situations I just crop in on the sensor, changing down to 4K instead of 6K, and that lets me get a little tighter. You can click a button and get a different field of view. In a wide shot you want as much detail as you can get, but in a tighter shot you’ll never see the difference, and you still have plenty of resolution to work with. It’s a wonderful tool that allows you to move really fast.”


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