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Star Trek Into Darkness
Page 2
Presidents Desk
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Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC and J.J. Abrams combine anamorphic 35mm with 8-perf and 15-perf 65mm for Star Trek Into Darkness.

Photos by Zade Rosenthal, SMPSP, courtesy of Paramount Pictures

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: What follows is an excerpt from our June 2013 cover story on Star Trek Into Darkness; the rest of the article is now available to all subscribers. We’ve previously published the full text of cover stories on this site, but due to the considerable effort required to assemble these articles, it’s sounder editorial policy to keep most of the text behind the “pay wall.” We hope you can appreciate our reasoning, and we also hope that you will consider subscribing to gain full access to our site’s many informative features and departments.

For Star Trek Into Darkness, director J.J. Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC initially planned to shoot digitally in 3-D, but in the end, their shared affection for the anamorphic format and their desire to maintain visual consistency with 2009’s Star Trek (AC June ’09) led them to choose film instead. Mindel likens their decision to a confrontation between the Enterprise crew and an intergalactic threat, recalling that it sparked “an epic battle.”

“I was never too keen to shoot in 3-D,” says Abrams, “but the studio [Paramount] wanted to do it that way.” However, some stereoscopic-conversion tests conducted on clips from 2009’s Trek convinced him that it was possible to shoot in 2-D and create high-quality 3-D in post, and Mindel lobbied hard to emphasize the anamorphic visual style and the lens flares that distinguished the look of the first movie. The cinematographer recalls, “All along, I was suggesting to J.J. that we shoot 3-D only at certain points in the film, and then create the rest of the 3-D in post. That would allow us to use all the anamorphic lenses we love and be less constrained during production. A conversation sprang from that, and when we were able to look at all the options and tests, we decided not to shoot in native stereo.”

Abrams also became interested in adding large-format material to the mix. “Once J.J. decided he might want to do that, I contacted Wally Pfister [ASC] to discuss his experiences shooting Imax [on The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises] for Christopher Nolan,” says Mindel. “Then, Pfister and Nolan started lobbying J.J. to shoot film, which gave me some allies. In the end, J.J. agreed we should use anamorphic combined with Imax. So, we set off down a road that involved 15-perf and 8-perf 65mm and anamorphic 35mm, and that allowed us to create a gorgeous movie.” (Some inserts and aerial plates were captured digitally with Red Digital Cinema cameras.)

The basic breakdown involved shooting 35mm for all interior scenes and 65mm for exteriors. Abrams mandated long sequences in each format because he didn’t want the transitions to be distracting. “As the information changes, the mind goes with it if [the approach] is consistent,” he observes. “I think most people won’t be aware of the format changes.”

According to A-camera 1st AC Serge Nofield, one of the challenges of moving between the two formats was working in the different aspect ratios. “In an effort to bridge that difference, we didn’t use the entire [1.43:1] Imax negative — we masked it to achieve a ratio of 1.66:1,” he says. “When viewed in an Imax theater, the movie will shift from 2.40:1 to 1.66:1.”

When Mindel spoke to AC, he was shooting another blockbuster sequel on film, the latest Spider-Man, but he recognizes that film acquisition may not be an option on such productions for much longer. Still, he is convinced that anamorphic film images suit the Star Trek franchise best. “The shape of the Enterprise is perfectly captured in the anamorphic frame, and so is the geography of the ship’s bridge,” he states. “For this film, we did a bit of a makeover on the ship [by making it bigger], but we’ve kept the essential symmetry and feeling of it.”

Abrams is equally pleased that he was able to shoot Into Darkness on film and convert to 3-D. “I think film has the greatest look and the greatest resolution,” he says. “The studio wanted a 3-D movie, and [shooting film] became an easier decision once we realized we could deliver that with a quality conversion. We were lucky to work with stereographer Corey Turner, who did incredible work that adds to the thrill-ride aspect of the movie. My goal was to make as good a film as I could in 2-D and let it be converted to 3-D for those who wanted the ‘hot sauce.’ I think we achieved that.”
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