The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents March 2010 Return to Table of Contents
Shutter Island
Page 2
Page 3
John C. Flinn III, ASC
Sol Negrin, ASC
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Robert Richardson, ASC delves into darkness for Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, which follows a federal invsetigation at a sinister psychiatric facility.

Unit photography by Andrew Cooper, SMPSP, courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In a novel, dreams and reality can be melded solely with words, but on a film, that feat requires an army of talents and state-of-the-art technology. On Shutter Island, his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel, director Martin Scorsese was well stocked on both counts, thanks to a team of familiar collaborators that included director of photography Robert Richardson, ASC and Rob Legato, the show’s visual-effects supervisor and second-unit director/

Set in 1954, Shutter Island establishes a porous line between dreams and reality, presenting a protagonist, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose mental state is put to the test as the story unfolds. A World War II veteran and U.S. Marshal, Teddy travels to Shutter Island with his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an inmate from Ashecliffe Hospital, a psychiatric penitentiary on the island. Though Teddy and Chuck are given a warm welcome by the physician in charge, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), Teddy becomes increasingly suspicious of the doctor and his staff, and when he begins experiencing fierce migraines and vivid visions of tragedies in his own past, he begins to fear that he has become Cawley’s latest experiment. 

Scorsese’s goal was to place viewers directly in Teddy’s shoes, and he wanted to convey the character’s fluctuating mental state with a variety of visual cues, primarily utilizing color and lighting. “The lighting, color and texture all contribute to the blurring of reality and hallucination, raising the question of what is subjective vs. objective,” says Richardson. “Marty plays with this blurring of lines throughout the film, I think with great prowess. The film is a journey within one man’s mind, and what you see could be real or imagined.”

The film’s color palette alternates between a slightly desaturated look, used for the present day, and the saturated look of 1950s-era Kodachrome, used mainly for Teddy’s memories and hallucinations. Scorsese’s initial inspiration for tapping the Kodachrome look was director/cinematographer George Stevens’ 16mm Kodachrome footage of the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau; Teddy’s wartime experiences included the liberation of the camp, and the horrors he witnessed there are among the visions that haunt him. “Most of the footage I’ve seen of the liberation of the camps is black-and-white and the Stevens footage is shocking when first seen because in contrast to the black-and-white, it is, for lack of a better word, hyper-real,” says Richardson. “That footage served as the template for Teddy’s World War II experiences, and from that the concept of Kodachrome grew. Rob Legato methodically analyzed the inherent characteristics of Kodachrome, using a vast library from the 1950s, and created a look-up table that enabled us to achieve something similar in the digital intermediate. The extraordinary vibrancy of color became the key to Teddy’s dream states.”
The rest of the picture is rendered in a palette that approximates a light application of ENR; this look was also achieved with a LUT. “ENR provides an apparent desaturation of skin tones and heightened grain, which enhanced the contrast with the fine-grained, vibrant properties of the Kodachrome look,” says Richardson.  

In prep, the filmmakers tested various methods of further enhancing the hyper-real look of Teddy’s visions; 65mm, anamorphic 35mm and high-definition video were all considered as mates for the project’s main format, Super 35mm. “The goal was to capture as much detail as possible for the DI suite,” says Richardson. “There weren’t as many differences among the filmouts as you might expect — the DI was the great equalizer — but 65mm had a definitive edge. We could wrestle with it in the digital world without the normal side effects encountered with a smaller negative. After he saw the tests, Marty agreed to shoot Teddy’s dream states on 65mm.” Unfortunately, after filming one day with a Panavision PFX System 65 Studio and an Arri 765, both cameras broke down on a frigid night. “Only a few of those shots remain,” says Richardson. (Ed. Note: These can be seen in a dream sequence that shows Teddy in Dachau in civilian clothes.)

The filmmakers decided to shoot the rest of the hallucinatory sequences on Super 35mm and rely on the digital grade, carried out at EFilm, to differentiate that look from that of the rest of the picture. (Ed. Note: HD was used for the film’s final shot, a hanging miniature, because Scorsese needed to see and approve the shot via the Internet. “The only way to see the depth-of-field properly was to shoot on HD, which gave us a perfect exposure on the monitor,” says Legato. “I knew it would match the body of the film quite well, and Marty got to see the illusion as if it were real via a QuickTime file as I was shooting.”)

LUTs devised by Legato, who determined how to digitally approximate Technicolor’s three-strip and two-color processes for Scorsese and Richardson on The Aviator (AC Jan. ’05), were integral to achieving Shutter Island’s contrasting palettes. “Using the same method I applied on The Aviator, I re-created the look of Kodachrome
in [Adobe] After Effects and then generated a color chart based on that manipulation,” Legato explains. “An EFilm-friendly LUT was created, and more LUTs designed to achieve varying degrees of the Kodachrome look were derived from that.

“We discovered that the difference between three-strip Technicolor and Kodachrome lies mainly in the yellows,” adds Legato. “Yellows are very pronounced in Kodachrome, so I added one more step to the LUT that accentuated the yellows.”

Determining exactly when to apply the LUT was a matter of trial-and-error. “It took time to find the proper path,” says Richardson. “Should it be prior to timing or after? At what level do you do the timing? Do you place the desaturation process first and then add on top?” The team initially baked in the LUT early in the process, and although “that worked well for the overall feeling of dailies, when it came to the final rendering,
we found there were aberrations both in the highlights and in the skin tones,” says Richardson. “The desaturated/ENR LUT influenced the Kodachrome LUT. On a 50-inch screen, the effect wasn’t noticeable, but on a 30-foot screen, the issues were magnified.”

Legato and EFilm colorist Yvan Lucas, who graded the HD dailies as well as the final picture, diagnosed an additional problem when they noticed how the LUTs amplified any bias inherent in the Kodak film stocks, Vision3 500T 5219 and Vision2 200T 5217 and 100T 5212. If the uncorrected footage was overly warm or cool, that trait would be exaggerated in unpredictable ways, and to a degree that could be difficult to remedy downstream. Legato realized that before any LUT could be applied, the film had to be perfectly white-balanced. “That way, when we amplified each color, it wouldn’t bias in one direction or another, and the result was predictable,” he says. He also determined that the LUT should not be baked in until after HD dailies were generated. Lucas therefore saw a LUT’s effect in view-only mode. “That added an extra step,” says Legato, “but it also gave us full control.

“As soon as you bake in the Kodachrome LUT, you’ve recorded a digital file that looks like Koda-chrome,” he continues. “You can then turn off the LUT and color-correct on top of it. But if you can’t achieve the color correction you want with normal manipulation, like desaturation, then you have to bake out the LUT and start clean by creating another LUT.” In all, Richardson and Lucas worked with about five variations of the Kodachrome LUT in the DI.

next >>