The American Society of Cinematographers

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The Grand Budapest Hotel
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Presidents Desk
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RobertYeomanatNAB Subscriber Only

Production in Görlitz began with the hotel scenes set in the 1960s, and then the art department spent three days redressing the location for the transition to the resplendent Grand Budapest of the 1930s. The lobby’s drop ceiling was taken out to reveal an additional three floors (cheated to six in the film), chandeliers and an enormous stained-glass skylight.

For day interiors in the lobby, Yeoman placed 20 4K HMIs on the department-store roof and used frames of stretched muslin to bounce them through the skylight. “The downside of working in Germany in winter is that it’s light at 8 a.m. and dark at 4 p.m.,” he explains. “By creating our own daylight, we were able to shoot as long as we wanted.”

Daylight was supplemented throughout the lobby with warm practicals. “We liked the tungsten contrast with the cool daylight,” says the cinematographer. “Whenever possible, we wanted to work only with the artificial daylight and practicals, plus the occasional fill light.” Night interiors were lit only with practicals and tungsten units.

The hotel’s servant quarters and service areas, filmed in an empty building near the department-store location, appear less inviting than the rest of the hotel. Stockhausen incorporated fluorescent sources into his production design for the kitchen and safe room, whose lighting was accentuated by small tungsten bounces. Gustave and Zero’s tiny bedrooms were lit with bare incandescent bulbs and China balls. “Adam did extensive research on the lighting fixtures of the time, and we tried to be as historically accurate as possible in what appears onscreen,” says Yeoman. “We mainly used tungsten lights supplemented by HMIs and Kinos.”

The production transformed other locations in and around Görlitz into mini soundstages. A shuttered concert venue, the Stadthalle, makes several appearances in the film, each time masquerading as a different location. One room in the venue serves as the Desgoffe trophy room at Schloss Lutz, where Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) gathers the bereaved for a reading of Madame D.’s will. (The rest of the house was filmed on location at Germany’s Schloss Waldenburg.) Much of Anderson’s camera blocking in this scene required a 360-degree sightline, so Yeoman and gaffer Helmut Prein floated two skirted Zasa 9'x9' 5K tungsten helium balloons between the room’s chandeliers. Two 2K tungsten Fresnels were pointed at the large painting of a boar on the wall behind Kovacs, which is flanked by tungsten candelabras on dimmers. “Helmut was a wonderful collaborator, and we worked together to formulate the most effective lighting solutions,” says Yeoman.

The Stadthalle’s main auditorium was converted into the Grand Budapest’s dining room for the scene in which the adult Moustafa tells the Young Writer the story of how “this enchanting, old ruin” fell into his possession. The production brought in tables and practical lights and repainted the walls. An enormous painting in the style of Caspar David Friedrich depicting a stag atop a craggy peak was hung in the proscenium.

Yeoman floated three Zasa 20'x20' 30K tungsten helium balloons over the tables for ambience. On the floor, his keylights were 12-light Maxis bounced off white card through a 12'x12' frame of Full Grid and controlled with a 40-degree soft egg crate. “For the closer shots, we put an additional layer of diffusion between the bounce and the diffusion,” says Prein. A Keylite 5K tungsten Illico, China balls ranging from 250 watts to 1K, and 1K and 2K tungsten Jem Balls provided fill and additional sculpting.

The filmmakers experimented with dynamic lighting cues, fading down and up as Moustafa slips in and out of his memories. “We looked at One from the Heart [AC Jan. ’82] to see how Vittorio Storaro [ASC, AIC] accomplished all those great lighting transitions,” says Yeoman.

In a sequence partly inspired by Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, Kovacs is pursued through the Kunstmuseum by the murderous Jopling (Willem Dafoe). For this chase, the Stadthalle auditorium served as a gallery filled with suits of armor. Yeoman used menace arms to boom a snooted 2K Fresnel over each suit. “We liked the look of the hard light on the armor, though it was a bit tricky keeping the stands out of the shot,” he says. A handheld China ball provides a small amount of fill as the camera leads Kovacs through the room.

Train-car interiors were a combination of a set in the Stadthalle auditorium and a train façade positioned on a track built by the grips. “The shots where you see out the windows were shot from our outdoor train façade, and the soldiers in the distance were actually there,” Yeoman reveals.

The filmmakers also experimented with front-projecting window backgrounds for shots in the Kunstmuseum and in Madame D.’s suite at the Grand Budapest. Color-reversal slides were made from digital stills and reflected off a polarized mirror positioned 45 degrees to the camera-lens axis. Scotchlite backdrops positioned at 90 degrees to the lens axis reflected the slide image back to the camera. “There was a magical quality to the image that we all loved, but if things weren’t lined up exactly, there was a ghosting effect,” recalls Yeoman. “And the projector didn’t throw out much light, which meant we were shooting at a T2!”

Day exteriors utilized little artificial lighting, with Yeoman opting instead for practicals and bounce sources. In the same way, many night exteriors were shot day-for-night: cars traveling through towns and over bridges, and scenes with Gustave and Zero in a hayfield following the jailbreak. “We typically started shooting at dusk and went right up to dark,” says Yeoman. Practicals were placed in the shots to better sell the impression of nighttime, and Yeoman underexposed up to 1½ stops with the knowledge that the lab could print down, and that there would be a certain amount of digital sky manipulation. “Lighting a large field at night would have been very difficult, and I love the way our dusk-for-night looks,” he adds.

After gaining his freedom, Gustave seeks to clear his name by tracking down the Desgoffe-und-Taxis’ butler, Serge X. (Mathieu Amalric), in a monastery atop a snowy mountain. The monastery was another location in Görlitz, but parts of Gustave and Zero’s gondola journey to the peak and the wide mountaintop exteriors were created by the miniatures unit at Babelsberg Studios. Directing remotely from London, Anderson supervised a team comprising producer Jeremy Dawson, supervising model maker Simon Weisse and miniature-effects supervisor Frank Schlegel as they shot the live-action and stop-motion miniature sequences. This work was captured on film and digitally, with a Red Epic and Canon EOS 5D Mark II used for the latter. (Character puppets were fabricated by Andy Gent and animated by Andy Biddle at Clapham Road Studios.) All of the elements were combined at Look Effects in Stuttgart, Germany, by a team of artists led by visual-effects supervisor Gabriel Sanchez.

A hair-raising downhill ski-and-sled chase combines stop-motion animation and live-action with in-camera effects, “which we tried to do whenever possible,” says Yeoman. 

 

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