The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Presidents Desk
Gone Girl
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ASC Close-Up

David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth, ASC, embrace a new workflow to visualize Gone Girl.


Unit photography by Merrick Morton, courtesy of 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises.

Based on the best-selling novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl paints a dark psychological portrait of the married couple at its core. After Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) goes missing without a trace, her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck), is squeezed by an unrelenting media circus as he works desperately to either find his wife or cover up the fact that he is responsible for her fate. The portrait’s shadings become clearer as the movie jumps around in time, spanning approximately a year as it cuts between Nick and Amy’s backstory and the present-day mystery.

The material is a perfect fit for director David Fincher, who once again teamed with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, ASC. For this project, they opted to work with 6K-capable Red Epic Dragon cameras, which had not yet been put through their paces on a full studio feature. (According to Red, Transformers: Age of Extinction used the camera but used other cameras and formats as well.) In turn, the choice of camera pushed Fincher’s post workflow into a new realm; among other methodologies, Adobe Premiere Pro CC was used on new Nvidia Quadro K5200-equipped workstations to cut the movie in HD ProRes, and a special 6K DI data-processing pipeline was developed at Light Iron in Los Angeles.

These decisions mark a logical step forward in Fincher’s long-term pursuit of a larger imaging frame and more data in general with which to create what he calls “a more beautiful 4K environment” for viewers to enjoy. The director has pushed this agenda for years, particularly since he adopted Red camera technology, and blurred the lines between his production, editorial and finishing pipelines on The Social Network (AC Oct. ’10) and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (AC Jan. ’12).

When Red told Fincher and Cronenweth, just as Gone Girl was ramping up in late 2013, that four Epic Dragons were available, the filmmakers jumped at the opportunity to work with the new cameras — even though many of the details of building a 6K pipeline that would allow them to process their imagery at its native resolution remained to be worked out. As Peter Mavromates, Fincher’s longtime postproduction supervisor, elaborates, “We ended up with a 5K extraction out of a 6K field [that will] be distributed in 4K and 2K. But the 4K and 2K are better when you front-load the quality, which we were able to do with the 6K sensor.”

Furthermore, “the extra pad,” as Cronenweth describes the larger sensor, afforded the filmmakers additional real estate to better control, manipulate, reposition and stabilize the frames themselves. “Based on the experience we have had on the previous movies with Red, there was no reason not to take this opportunity with the 6K sensor,” Cronenweth elaborates. “In essence, we used the 6K camera to operate pretty much like we had on the last two pictures — to create a 5K 2.40:1 frame line out of the 6K that we captured. That gave us a lot of room outside of our frame for stabilization and any repo we found necessary. This has been Fincher’s methodology all along: to use the system best equipped to help us get the most appealing images through color science and resolution.” Plus, the cinematographer adds, “the latitude was irresistible. Because we were shooting with prototypes, I would say we were working with somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 stops. But that was 15 months ago, and I feel it’s more in the 18-to-20-stop range today.”

Fincher stresses, though, that extra resolution is only as good as the creative choices it serves. “People can forget that the art of photography is first and foremost about manipulating emotions,” the director states. “All the ones and zeroes and pristine glass and titanium fittings do not matter [unless] they help impact the viewer’s feelings. For us, collecting 6K was simply a way to get to the most pristine 4K, because then we could do all the stuff we wanted to do in post to emphasize the performances we liked. If I really like this take or that performance, but for whatever reason there was a minor imperfection, we can better fix that with the larger frame.”

The production carried four Dragons, with Peter Rosenfeld operating the A camera and Cronenweth operating the B camera. They typically recorded their imagery to onboard 256GB and 512GB RedMag SSD cards at 6K 2.0:1 (6144x3072) resolution, and framed for a 5K 2.40:1 (5120x2133) center extraction. According to assistant editor Tyler Nelson, whom Cronenweth refers to as “the workflow guru,” the filmmakers utilized RedColor3 and RedGamma3 color/gamma settings throughout the shoot, since the project launched before newer tonal science for the Dragon sensor had been finalized.

Nelson teamed with 2nd AC Paul Toomey (on location in Cape Girardeau, Mo.) and fellow assistant editor Billy Peake (in L.A.) to take charge of data ingest, backup and flow. On location, Nelson worked out of a hotel near the production office, and in Hollywood he and Peake worked in the production’s edit rooms so as to meet Fincher’s desire for a small on-set footprint with no video village. Nelson operated a FotoKem NextLab data-integration platform, taking charge of data from the time it left the camera, through dailies and editorial, and into the digital intermediate. Nelson uploaded dailies for the filmmakers to review, comment on and interact with using the Pix online remote-collaboration system; he emphasizes that this tactic enhanced both collaboration and creativity, because it allowed the filmmakers to see the dailies edited from the 2.40:1 center extraction as well as the full 6K frames. 

“I used the NextLab to ingest, transcode and archive dailies to 256GB RedMags,” Nelson explains. “When processing dailies in the past with a similar center extraction, we would crop the image to see only the framed extraction in our offline edit timeline. However, on this show, we edited the movie with Adobe Premiere, which gave us the ability to transcode our edit media to a nontraditional size — 2304x1152 ProRes 4:2:2 LT QuickTimes — and edit with those files in a 1920x800 [2.40:1] timeline. That allowed us to start editing by seeing only what Jeff was framing for on set, and to manipulate the framing, meaning we could move the image up, down, left, right and so on without having to re-transcode the edit media. We also prepared Pix-playable QuickTimes, which showed the 2.40:1 center extraction surrounded by the full 2.0:1 frame at 50-percent opacity, and those were automatically uploaded to Pix upon transcode.”

The 6K sensor also impacted the choice of lenses, as not all optics can cover the Dragon sensor’s increased dimensions. Cronenweth says he chose to carry Leica Summilux-C primes ranging from 16mm to 100mm, “although 80 percent of the time, we found our bread-and-butter to be between 21mm and 40mm.

“[Gone Girl is] a psychological drama,” the cinematographer explains, “and I felt the Leicas had a quality that was a bit more forgiving and sympathetic to the human face, yet still managed to maintain the sharpness and resolution that we wanted. Plus, they’re smaller in physical size, and David is always pushing us for as small a footprint as possible so we are never limited in blocking or composition based on the size of the gear. Additionally, we often shoot two cameras and we need to get them as close as physically possible in order to maintain eye lines — what we call ‘trading paint,’ which is a borrowed NASCAR phrase. We shoot close to wide open so that we can maintain depth of field as a subjective choice. That makes it an incredibly difficult job for our camera assistants, but they have adapted to using myriad techniques [including monitors and finders] to better judge an actor’s distance.”


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