The American Society of Cinematographers

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Brad Bird and Claudio Miranda, ASC, picture a bright future for Tomorrowland.

Unit photography by Kimberley French, SMPSP, courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Director Brad Bird calls his new movie, Tomorrowland, “a very unusual film,” both in terms of its look and how it was made. Inspired by the section of Disneyland with the same name, the film tells the story of a former boy genius (George Clooney) and a teenaged girl (Britt Robertson) who stumble into an alternate future reality built on secret scientific achievements.

In visualizing the screenplay he co-wrote with Damon Lindelof, Bird insisted on an image that would hold up to 4K digital projection. “I was looking for something that would have a rich look,” Bird says. “We figured 4K digital projectors would be the best way this movie would be exhibited. I thought maybe 65mm could be used to acquire the image, but we didn’t feel confident that the movie could be projected [in 70mm]. I also thought maybe we could shoot different formats — something I had done [on Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol] — but at the end of the day, it became too complicated to get everything mastered in 4K.”

Helping Bird make the decision was cinematographer Claudio Miranda, ASC. “I liked the way Claudio talked about film vs. digital,” Bird recalls. “I knew he would give me an honest assessment about the best way to do this; he was very even-handed, which I liked. He knew I had some issues with digital, and when I talked to him about them, he always had solid recommendations to help me avoid the pitfalls and get what I wanted.”

An extensive testing process ultimately led to the decision to shoot primarily with Sony F65 CineAlta 4K cameras. For the tests, Miranda configured what he calls a “big rig” that supported seven cameras that captured various digital formats in addition to 35mm and 8-perf and 15-perf 65mm film. All seven cameras rolled simultaneously so that Bird could evaluate the same shot in each format. “I shot day and night footage on Upper Grand Street [in downtown Los Angeles] to see what the cameras could do, and we projected each one on a 60-foot screen in 4K,” Miranda relates. “I took the labels off and asked Brad what he was looking for. He wanted a sharp, big image for a 4K release, so I would have needed to be at 200 ASA on film. 15-perf 65mm was great for daytime, but it fell apart in low light — and besides, it would have been impractical to shoot this kind of movie with Imax cameras.

“We also had all these visual effects, and I was planning to use lots of low-level lighting and practical lighting tricks,” the cinematographer continues. “In these tests, you saw the strength of digital with available light. Tomorrowland is not about being soft and mushy and squishy — it’s really about an Imax-type, big-negative experience. The F65 was the best option for achieving all our various needs.”

Miranda estimates that 95 percent of the picture was shot with F65s, with Sony F55s used for lighter-weight applications such as cable-cam, Steadicam and certain visual-effects requirements. (The finished film includes 1,161 visual-effects shots.) According to digital-imaging technician Alex Carr, the filmmakers recorded 16-bit linear raw files to the F65’s internal recorder with a 2.20:1 frame marker on the footage, so that the movie could be configured for both standard 2.20:1 — “Brad wanted to honor the old 65mm format,” notes Miranda — and Imax 1.90:1 presentation. The 2.20:1 frame marker was used for the F55 footage as well.

The filmmakers’ lens package comprised Arri/Zeiss Master Primes (ranging from 14mm to 150mm) and Fujinon Premier zooms (14.5-45mm T2.0, 18-85mm T2.0, 24-180mm T2.6 and 75-400mm T2.8-3.8) — essentially the same package Miranda paired with an F65 for Oblivion (AC May ’13). Miranda opines that the combination of Master Primes and Premier zooms is “the sharpest way to go” when shooting with an F65 for a 4K master.

First AC Daniel Ming notes that the 4K mandate kept the focus pullers on their toes. “It became apparent that what is generally considered to be within tolerance for lens calibration was not good enough for 4K, especially with wider lenses,” Ming says. “An image that looked good at 2K or HD could look soft at 4K, so we had to keep a close eye on things, especially when temperatures started to vary wildly. When the temperatures would drop at night — to below freezing sometimes [on location in Vancouver] — the focus markings on the wide lenses went out the door, and we had to check focus solely on the monitor. Plus, Claudio likes to motivate his light sources from practicals and use realistic interactive light levels for visual effects. We were at a T1.4 frequently in those situations, which is always a challenge.”

Carr built a workflow methodology for Miranda that allowed the cinematographer to view imagery on a mobile monitoring cart that was linked by fiber-optic connection to Carr’s main DIT cart. The smaller cart — which included a Sony BVM-F250A Trimaster OLED reference monitor, two Leader LV5330 test monitors, two HME wireless base stations and basic video routing controls — could be maneuvered into tight spaces while Carr stayed back with his larger cart, from which he provided a basic color grade, remote camera control, fiber transmission and receiving, and video routing to VTR and camera operators and assistants. Carr typically transferred one take from each setup to grade on set with Miranda; then, at the end of each shooting day, he sent XML metadata grades and reports to a near-set lab operated by digital-dailies vendor Sixteen19, which handled archiving and processing.

“All the footage went through my system,” Carr explains. “Second-unit media was always shuttled to me before going to the lab, and I inserted each card recorded from both units into my machine for checking and downloading selects. I used Colorfront Express Dailies, limited only with a curve and CDL. Secondary corrections were not easily translatable and were not recommended going through the dailies pipeline. Sixteen19 brought a Colorfront system to handle audio sync, reports and media generation for all the various deliverables. Justin Staley was our dailies operator, and he used [Colorfront On-Set Dailies]. Colorfront is a powerful tool for bridging the set with dailies and editorial; tied to a MySQL database to be used with visual-effects pulls later on, it is a very efficient way to create grades and keep them throughout postproduction.”

Miranda often kept the cameras on cranes and dollies, sometimes flew them on cables, and made extensive use of a 73' Hydrascope on a Titan base. “Tomorrowland is a place we haven’t seen before,” the cinematographer notes, adding that scenes set therein consequently have “more hero shots and vistas [than scenes set] in the real world.”

Bird sought to further distinguish Tomorrowland with an interactive lighting scheme that would suggest a sense of living light and energy. For particular sets and long sequences, Miranda made interactive lighting effects the primary — and sometimes only — sources. In fact, Miranda says the intent with virtually all of the light in Tomorrowland was to make it constantly move with “a Tesla type of energy, like electrical charges.”

“Claudio was very attuned to light, how it reacts and how to keep it consistent, whether we were in situations with effects and bluescreen or not,” Bird says. “He has this amazing ability to orchestrate the light from one scene to the next, changing it in an almost musical way.”


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