The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Robin Hood
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Presidents Desk
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Though some of the difficulties created by the summertime shoot were addressed in the digital intermediate, carried out at Company 3 with colorist Stephen Nakamura, Mathieson maintains that “a lot of the timing could have been done photochemically were it not for the 800-plus visual effects shots. CGI was often used to complement and extend landscape shots, allowing us to bolster the number of horses and soldiers to make it look like an army. You used to have to lock the camera off for shots like that, but you can do a surprising amount of movement now, and that’s good, because it makes the CGI less obvious.”

Maintaining an authentic feel to action scenes was important to the cinematographer. “It’s a down-and-dirty action film, so we didn’t want our visual-effects shots sticking out. A lot of those shots are very real, with multiple cameras and a lot of stunt men, riders and extras, so it was a matter of supplementing them. Arrows were put in [digitally] because with CGI, you don’t have to cheat the direction the archers are pointing. But we still shot some arrows on set. My father came down one day, and he used to be a professional soldier and wasn’t too worried about arrows raining down on him. He had experience marching right through them!”

One important advantage that visual effects brought the production was the ability to position camera operators in shot. Mathieson explains, “For a lot of the CG material, Ridley would stick a camera right in the middle of the action, so we’d all have to dress up in silly outfits and try to disguise the camera. We looked embarrassingly awful, but Ridley could put us right in there and then remove the camera [in post]. There was a lot of camera removal! We could go for the shot and worry about it later.”

The closing battle in Robin Hood takes place on a vast beach where French invaders are met by the English forces. Filmed over two difficult weeks at Freshwater West in Wales, the sequence involved 1,500 cast and crew members shooting action both on land and in the water, and called for more than 10 cameras. “The tide was our biggest problem because it was coming in so quickly,” recalls Hymns. “All the grip equipment and cranes were mobile, so we’d form a line, and as the sea came in, we’d retreat 50 yards, line up again and shoot until we had to go back another 50 yards. We had various tracking vehicles with cranes and remote heads, and a helicopter for the widest shots. Gary ‘Gizza’ Smith, our best boy grip, did a fantastic job rigging a Libra head onto a jet ski, which chased around all the landing craft coming in. I was with Paul Hymns on the Giraffe crane, which was mounted on a 25-foot trailer behind a tractor that backed us as far into the sea as we could go. We stayed out there in wetsuits and shot from the crane, pulling out at the last moment.”

Continuing an approach he used on Gladiator, Mathieson utilized different frame rates and shutter angles (most often 60-degree, and occasionally 45-degree) for this battle sequence and others. “Ridley likes that visceral stuff, especially for fights,” says the cinematographer. “If you narrow the shutter on a guy who’s wearing chainmail and armor and is soaked from fighting in the sea, he’s going to look a lot more agile than if you shoot with normal speed and shutter angle. There isn’t much slow motion, but we did go for a hard, crisp look — arrows are visible in the air, and you see the highlights on swinging swords. If you take away motion blur, you make everything crisper, and it gives action more adrenaline.”

For studio night interiors at Shepperton, fireplaces and candles had to justify the light in some fairly cavernous rooms. “I think that candles should look as though they’re actually lighting a ‘candlelit’ scene,” says Mathieson. “I like candles to give a bit of exposure to the area they’re in, so I tried to shoot as wide as I possibly could with the zoom. Obviously, you could shoot on primes, but for speed, we really had to use zoom lenses, and pushing the 5219 helped.” Using large numbers of single-wick, double-wick and triple-wick candles on chandeliers and candelabras gave a strong impression of source lighting, but Mathieson notes that “you also have to put some ambience in the room. For that, we’d often use space lights very low down or simple batten strips with household bulbs hanging overhead. You can’t be too noir about it. Candlelight is actually quite soft, and it does fill a room.”

Fireplaces were a useful source, particularly in King John’s sizeable throne room. “[Production designer] Arthur Max put a huge fireplace in that set, and John asked him to make the back and the sides removable, so if we weren’t looking directly at the fire, we could put in a lighting rig,” says Martin. “We had a row of Six-light Maxi-Brutes behind the fire that we wired to a dimmer so we could pulse each individual bulb. That, with a combination of gels, gave us the desired effect. We could make it as fierce or as low as we wanted.”

A menu of gels that Martin and Mathieson selected in advance helped create unique looks for different times of day and night on the interior sets. Blue gels in windows were often combined with warm gels inside to create contrast between interior and exterior light. Mathieson notes, “You can mix color temperatures in the frame more now, especially because of the control you have in the DI. That said, I did try to gel [lights] and shoot as though we’d be doing a photochemical finish, because if you expose the negative properly with the right colors at the right temperatures, you get a head start on the final timing.” Though he used many different gels, Mathieson avoided putting filters in front of the cameras whenever he could. “I’m always putting lights really close to the edges [of the frame], so if you put a piece of glass in front of the lens, you’re basically pushing the lens element forward, and you can get more flares. Also, with nine cameras, you’re not going to stop and say, ‘Let’s all change filters!’”

Scheduling conflicts prevented Mathieson from participating in most of the digital grade, so Nakamura worked with Scott instead. Several looks had been created when the visual-effects plates were graded, so Nakamura had a reference for the majority of scenes. Color correction was done on a DaVinci Resolve using 2K proxies; the final filmout was at 4K. “We tested a 2K filmout and a 4K filmout with the same grade to show Ridley how they looked, and he preferred the grain structure of the 4K version,” recalls Nakamura.

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