The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents September 2016 Return to Table of Contents
President’sDesk
KuboandtheTwoStrings
Page 2
Page 3
Tulip Fever
TheEagleHuntress
ASC Close-Up

Passingham's notes to the LCs included information detailing the I/O and whether it would be animated during a shot. The LCs were then responsible for executing the stereo effects. "We all knew the parameters that we needed to work within to give the audience a good 3D experience," says Passingham. "You want to keep 3D comfortable. You want to use it in a way that benefits the storytelling as much as possible, yet keeps people entertained throughout."

According to Passingham, Kubo's look comes down to one key ingredient: the use of colors. Each of the main characters has a signature color, as does the mood of any given sequence. "In previs I worked out how I was going to use colors and light the whole project," the cinematographer notes. "I like previs because it helps me work out how much space we need for a set, how we can move sections out to give the animators access, and in what order we can shoot."

Regarding preproduction, the cinematographer worked part time for the first two months as the color script was developed. He then launched into full time, continuing to work with color and commencing "testing on the studio floor with available puppets and sets for about six weeks," he says.

"Hopefully you get to see some characters early on, but most come in at the last minute," Passingham continues. "I was able to get Kubo early, and I tested him in different lighting scenarios. I was fairly confident with him; I could put him under any light and he'd still look good. Usually certain characters won't look good in a certain light — certain colors might turn a character too green. Those are the things you want to discover early."

There were three characters that required compromises after Passingham evaluated their appearance. "The first Monkey they showed me was so white that I was horrified," he exclaims. "Monkey then became another color with a bit of lavender. We also had to make Beetle a bit lighter. And then there was the Moon King [Ralph Fiennes]. I had a good dialogue with the puppet and costume makers to make sure nothing was too dark on him. When I lit him, I could generally get him to look like this bright, spectral character."

Toward the end of the movie Kubo returns from afar to confront the Moon King in the main village, some time after smoke demons have paid an unwelcome visit and left the settlement charred in their wake. "Whenever we meet evil characters like him or the Sisters [Rooney Mara], we have specific colors on them," Passingham explains. "The Sisters unleash these smoke demons, which are a mustard-yellow color, so there is a little highlight of the same color on the sisters, as well.

"The smoke demons had a core of mustard-yellow but were mainly dark wreathes of smoke," the cinematographer elaborates. "We used a Lee gel called Mustard, and this would be augmented by some Plus Green at times when we wanted it to look particularly evil. This color was tracked on moving gobos to suggest the mustard light emanating from the smoke demons."

Passingham adds that the Moon King's arrival brings a shift in the lighting from "a dusky, burgundy light" to a greenish moonlight. "I used a combination of dark magenta and [blue gels] to produce the color for the dusk light," he says. "Arri 2K lights filtered with these colors were bounced off 8-by-4 silver boards on a set already lit with the green-tinted moonlight." The moonlight color was achieved with No Color Blue gel, "which is actually quite green," Passingham says. "Later on, when Mother has a nightmare in the cave, we [again] introduce that green moonlight.

"The 1⁄6-scale Skeleton Monster was mainly keyed with an Arri 2K with a 1K bounce, and there is a gold, yellowy light that comes from his midsection and a soft blue moonlight that comes from the top," Passingham continues. "The main [gels] used were Spring Yellow and Mist Blue augmented by other blues and yellows. We never geographically pinpoint either of those [light] sources, so when we want to, we can cheat the sources around. For instance, if we need to emphasize the drama and rake that light across his face, we can do it. Of course, the average viewer will be so caught up in what's going on that our light changes should be invisible."

Naturally, color also plays a key role in Kubo's opening sequence, for which Stewart was assigned as the LC, with Jake Carlson as camera assistant and Tyson Carpenter as gaffer. Passingham explains that the basic lighting for the cold open was achieved with a 2K key, which was gelled with Opal and No Color Blue and bounced off a 12x12 white, and a 5K key gelled with Summer Blue, which was directed through a "tracking cloud gobo," the cinematographer says. "[The 5K was] mounted to a motion-control rig with another linear mover in front of that, holding cloud gobos to create the stormy movement.

"The lightning effects were produced with a combination of 2Ks, low-voltage and LED units," he continues. "All LED units were custom built by practical-lighting engineer Matthew DeLeu because they all served different purposes — whether to illuminate a lantern, give a character an eye light, or produce [the many] other [lighting special effects] employed in the making of this movie."

In initial lighting tests, the crew discovered that the Mother puppet's face registered as being too blue on camera. "We asked Brian McLean in the rapid-prototype model shop to come up with a warmer face for her for this sequence," Passingham recalls. "After a few tests, the look was much more satisfying.

"We also had to [devise a method for] key-lighting her fine hair," he adds. "I had used ultraviolet light in the past to lift fine detail, and that technique worked again on Kubo." Supervising gaffer Bryan Garver notes that the production used Wildfire ultraviolet lights.

"Indeed," says Georgina Hayns, creative supervisor of puppet fabrication, "the most challenging part of the Mother stunt puppet was for the hair department. Jessica Lynn, head of hair, took on the challenge of building the wig in two components: from the head attachment to the hair ribbon and from the ribbon to the ponytail. On the top piece of hair there is essentially an internal spine, which is attached to the head and a connector point, allowing the hair to move around; the spine can twist and bend up and down and side to side. The ponytail works in a similar way and is also rigged at the connection point. Halfway down the ponytail, the rigs are located 360 degrees around, allowing for optimum access and performance. Chris Gough of the rigging department devised the entire rig, which looked like a spider when it was finished. There were so many winders and arms with small clips attached to allow it to animate."

For the opening sequence, Hayns continues, "the fabricators made the hair and costumes look wet by painting them over with a combination of silicone and gloss medium. For each shot, we would have to see a lit frame and then either dull [the puppet] or add more gloss accordingly. We were custom-dressing the puppet for every shot in the sequence!"

As the sequence progressed, Passingham watched dailies and visited the sets as often as he could, "more often when new sets and scenes were being set up," he says. If any adjustments were needed, they would be implemented based on his and Knight's notes. Stewart offers, "Most changes happen when we are in our editorial review. There will be a meeting between the director, LC, an editor and the animator. We also have to make sure the visual-effects supervisor is getting what he needs."

 

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