The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Table of Contents May 2012 Return to Table of Contents
Game of Thrones
Page 2
Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up
Given the show’s subject matter, locations, schedule and budget, the cinematographers’ lighting skills have proved crucial to its success. Most important, the low-light conditions dictated by the material played to the Alexa’s strengths. “We shot some scenes with one candle, hardly any light at all,” says Kenzie. “I’m not sure we could have been that brave if we’d been shooting on film. The Alexa’s recommended ISO is 800, and that makes a big difference on a project like this — we have lots of dark sets, crypts and underground tunnels, and lots of night work. We shot a lot by candlelight and firelight, trying to always be realistic and not have the light coming out of nowhere.”

One major set in the episodes Kenzie shot was the ruined castle called Harrenhal, which was built on stages and on an exterior lot at Banbridge, near Belfast. Interior and exterior portions of the set were built at the studio, with the rest of the illusion completed with CGI. “The place was meant to look like the towers were ruined, semi-destroyed and uninhabited until soldiers take it over,” Kenzie explains. “I thought it would be good to block out as much of the toplight on the exterior set as possible, so we used a crane to hang a 40-by-40-foot black above the set. It didn’t cut out the skylight entirely, but it made it look like there was [something] above us, and the light from the sides looked stronger. That effort was a real success; it was daylight, but it looked weird and spooky.”

Morgenthau crafted a different type of solution for a memorable nighttime chase scene that takes place at Craster’s Keep, north of the Wall. “It’s the closing sequence in episode two,” he explains. “We were in the woods in Northern Ireland in the summer, using artificial snow. There was nothing to motivate light except for the moon, and it’s challenging to light a night exterior with snow without making the snow too dominant. Creating the perception of darkness in that situation is one of the tougher things to make believable.

“We used Wendy Lights up on cranes, and we also floated [tungsten] balloons in different areas of the woods. The Alexa is so sensitive that you have to be careful finding the right balance between underexposure and noise, the whiteness of the snow and the darkness of the woods. Being able to see people’s faces was challenging.”

In terms of focal lengths, this season’s cinematographers rarely went to what Morgenthau calls “extreme optics.” Rather, “it’s classical storytelling, and therefore intimacy is the most important thing. Most of the time I stayed between the 21mm and 75mm Cooke S4 primes, and I maintained that with the Angenieux Optimo zooms.”

Kenzie notes that the Cookes proved extremely reliable in Iceland. “Most of that material was shot handheld, and we tried to get the sun in the shot whenever we could. It was November and December, and if the sun appears, it stays very low and isn’t too intense. With the sun in shot, the prime lens gives you a nice star-like flare, not a mushy one. Outside of Iceland, we shot a lot with the 24-290mm Angenieux Optimos.”

The typical workflow this season involved capturing at 23.98 fps in Log C 4:4:4 to the Codex recorders, which ran removable Solid State Datapacks. The data mags were taken each day to Yellowmoon, where data was first downloaded through a Codex Digital Lab 3 system. Referencing about 20 preset look-up tables that Morgenthau and Kenzie had developed during prep and each cinematographer subsequently refined, Reid color-corrected footage using the Trulight Color System, and then copied that material to a 10TB Codex Megapack as JPEG 2000 files, storing imagery in the Codex Virtual File System. Those images were used to create Avid media and DPX pulls for the visual-effects team, and then uploaded to the Pix server for wider viewing. “Rob Wright, Scott Ferguson and I were the dailies team, and having this system allowed us to have someone working on the Codex 24 hours a day,” says Reid. “When a unit traveled to Croatia or Iceland, one of us went with it.”

In Croatia, the production utilized the same system to process and distribute data fresh off the set. Morgenthau credits Italian DIT Francesco Giardiello with “having a great eye and being able to quickly dial in a look. We were able to create our own color on set with Truelight On-Set and then send the LUT to post nearby for dailies.”

Having a dailies colorist close to the cinematographer, no matter what the location, was a significant asset. “The cinematographers, the editors, the visual-effects team and even HBO benefitted from having our own dailies department and colorist [on hand],” says Spence. According to Kenzie, small creative adjustments could easily be tried and incorporated not long after the imagery was originally shot. He recalls, “There’s a scene at a harbor location where we see some sailors for the first time, and they had interesting green-blue costumes. I told the dailies colorist I thought it would be interesting to enhance the color of those costumes in order to make those characters really stand out. More generally speaking, I would pick a LUT for the day, and we’d occasionally change the LUT on set. But we were organized so well that most of the time, we could go with the ones we planned.”

The post team conformed each episode in-house using the Codex Lab, and then sent complete episodes as conformed DPX files to Finley at Modern VideoFilm. Finley did the final grade with a DaVinci Resolve. “Doing the final conform ourselves in Northern Ireland made everything more efficient,” says Reid.  

“One of the show’s big achievements is its scale, and you feel that every inch of the way when you are making it,” Taylor concludes. “Kramer and the other cinematographers did a remarkable job. Making a show like this look epic on a budget is hard, but they pulled it off.”



Digital capture

Arri Alexa

Cooke S4, Angenieux Optimo

<< previous || next >>