The American Society of Cinematographers

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Tulip Fever
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Grand Delusion

Cinematographer Eigil Bryld channels the Dutch Golden Age painters for the period drama Tulip Fever.

Unit photography by AlexBailey, courtesy of The Weinstein Company. Photo of Eigil Bryld courtesy of the cinematographer.

Photographed by cinematographer Eigil Bryld and directed by Justin Chadwick, Tulip Fever is set in a time and place that many filmmakers love to reference, directly or otherwise: 17th-century Holland. Also known as the Dutch Golden Age, it was a period rich with developments in science and art, and its economic prosperity was fueled by a fanatical obsession with, of all things, tulips. Indeed, the visual delight and unpredictable variation made the flowers a thrilling gamble among the Dutch aristocracy.

      Tulip Fever presents one such aristocrat, the merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), whose heart is fully invested in his young wife, Sophia (Alicia Vikander). Cornelis commissions a talented young painter, one Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan), to paint Sophia’s portrait. Soon enough, a passionate romance develops between the young wife and the talented artist, and the two develop a plan to play the risky tulip market in a bid to secure their future.

      “Painterly” is an adjective cinematographers often use to describe the way a soft three-quarter key light wraps around a subject’s face — as in the portraits of Rembrandt — or how the soft, directional light of a north-facing window spills into a room — as in the tableaus of Vermeer. “For me, a painterly quality has defined sources, strong sculptural volume and a tight light-dark composition,” offers Bryld.

      The painters of the Dutch Golden Age rooted their work in realism and favored portraiture, historical subjects, landscapes and depictions of everyday life. Bryld was particularly drawn to their “quality of light and the beautiful simplicity of their compositions. Those paintings are alluring, beautiful and elegant.”

      Striving for a similar quality with the look of Tulip Fever, Bryld chose to shoot with Arri’s Alexa XT Plus camera, recording 2.8K ArriRaw files to internal Codex XR Capture Drives and framing for a 2.39:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. “I think the Alexa has more tonality in the shadows and mid-tones than film,” the cinematographer opines. “I knew we would have a lot of dark interiors, so the challenge was to bring out that tonality but still preserve a contrasty image.”

      Bryld and on-set digital-imaging technician Christopher Nunn developed a master LUT based on the curve of Kodak’s 3383 print stock and tweaked it during hair and makeup tests to enhance details and tonality in the toe. “If there are too many variables, too many knobs to turn, it can be a distraction from the real world,” says Bryld. “It’s better to create a single LUT and adjust what’s in front of the camera, as opposed to tweaking the image on a day-to-day basis — that’s how you paint yourself into a corner. When I shot film I would choose one stock for the whole project.”

      Nunn also served as dailies colorist on the production. “I had the usual responsibilities of the DIT on set,” he explains, “but I also graded the rushes at my station and transferred the color information/metadata to the Mission Digital near-set lab for processing. The lab technician was Neil Gray and the workflow consultant was Jody Neckles. It was actually quite a unique workflow for this job. Proper grading from the ArriRaw took place on set. In preparation for this film, I worked very closely with Eigil, [colorist] Jean-Clément Soret, Technicolor and Mission Digital to sculpt the correct film-emulation LUT and color workflow for this job.”

      By the time Bryld joined the production, much of the design work had already been fleshed out by Chadwick, production designer Simon Elliott and costume designer Michael O’Connor. The cinematographer had a little more than two months to complete six non-consecutive weeks of prep. “It was a matter of going through the reference materials, talking about the things that inspired us, and letting Eigil fill the gaps in our design,” says Elliott.

      “It’s a gift of a period for any creative,” he adds. “I did quite a lot of reading on the subject and went to galleries. I was aware of other films set in this period, such as Girl With a Pearl Earring [AC Jan. ’04], and I wanted to avoid making similar references to Vermeer, so I focused my attention on the work of Gabriel Metsu and Pieter de Hooch.”

      Bryld and Elliott also used their research to glean specifics of 17th-century Dutch architecture. The long windows and narrow Amsterdam streets informed the high angle of light seen in many paintings of that era. “You can see that every window has shutters, but they’re only on the bottom section of windows,” Elliott notes. These shutters were incorporated into sets both on stage and on location, and Bryld used them as a means of controlling and shaping the light while remaining true to the period.

      The filmmakers first considered shooting on location in Amsterdam, but as Bryld points out, “There isn’t any 17th-century architecture like that in Holland anymore. Denmark has some, but it was too expensive to move the production there, so we did it all in the U.K.”

      Tulip Fever’s story primarily spans the months between early spring and fall, and more than half the movie takes place in the two-story Sandvoort house, which was constructed in its entirety — complete with a courtyard — on Pinewood Studio’s B Stage. This allowed Chadwick to direct his actors from room to room in long takes, or move between the stories without an edit. Bryld tried to give each of the house’s rooms its own character, and Elliott designed the set in such a way that Bryld could emulate the depth and compositions of the paintings they had studied. The ability to see the ceilings offered an additional level of realism, and when the ceilings were out of shot, Bryld could hang a grid formation of low-profile 2’x2’ tungsten and daylight-balanced Barco VersaTile LEDs in each room.

      Bryld lit through windows in two tiers. He stacked DMX-controlled Arri 8x4 Lightflos fitted with tungsten and daylight bulbs into 16x4 configurations behind Full Grid Cloth, positioning them close to the panes for a bright, warm glow. Another set of Lightflos, behind 3mm Depron diffusion, was positioned farther back from the same window, to create a directional source that fell off in a more even fashion. The cinematographer notes, “I went for a slightly harder, more directional light, which allowed me to embrace the textures and details in faces and sets.”

      Onstage, board operator Peter Gilmour used a GrandMA lighting desk to program ripple effects and other patterns for the stage lights. Direct “sun” was provided by Arri T24 and T12 tungsten Fresnels equipped with remote shutters, which enabled Bryld and gaffer Mark Clayton to control the fixtures’ intensity without affecting their color temperature. The Fresnels were mounted to Arri MaxMover motorized heads and were panned while the shutters opened or closed to make it seem as though clouds were passing in front of the sun. “We wanted to constantly remind Sophia of the passage of time and this outside world that’s being denied to her,” Bryld remarks.


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