The backings black for night scenes and white for day were lit with a mix of 10K Fresnels and 5K Skypans; there were about 60 Skypans and 30 Fresnels in use at all times. All of the lights were patched into a dimmer board using an ETC rack system.
It took six miles of 4/0 cable, which fed four 24 x 12K racks, to light the Armory. The cable also fed two 48 x 4K racks enough to illuminate an average suburban neighborhood. Some 20Ks were also used to create sidelight. Every light fixture was run through the ETC. Wall outlets on the set were practical and were also patched into the dimmer controls. The stage was kept rigged at all times because whenever exterior filming during the Chicago winter proved too harsh, the production headed indoors for coverage.
Hall modulated his interior lighting shot by shot, using what he calls "room tone." "Room tone is the light that results from light bouncing off of walls, ceilings and floors," Hall explains. "It gives a sense of presence to what I don't want to see." To create this effect, Stern and his crew employed LTM Peppers, and occasionally other units ranging from 1Ks to 4Ks. The small Fresnel instruments were usually aimed directly at white parts of the ceiling to create a soft bounce fill. If areas of the ceiling had color value, the crew put up a white showcard to use instead. Because many shots in the film were captured with a locked-off camera, it was relatively easy to hide the Peppers behind objects on the set.
Hall worked closely with Mendes, costume designer Albert Wolsky and production designer Dennis Gassner to develop a cold period look for the film. "The palette for the movie was very muted," Mendes says. "Very early on, Conrad and I talked about creating a sense of great contrast within images by using hard light from the side and chiaroscuro. We wanted dark backgrounds and dark sets with dark, muted greens and grays. Albert Wolsky's costumes are all very controlled, with soft outlines and very soft silhouettes." Hall offers, "I felt that a less colorful palette was best suited to the story. The film's period trappings the cars, the costumes and the architecture dictated much of the look, so the photography was more about capturing our story in that heavy Depression atmosphere in a naturalistic way."
Road to Perdition was filmed in Super 35, and Hall used Panavision Platinums and Primo lenses ranging from 27mm to 150mm. He used Kodak Vision 500T 5279 for interiors and Eastman EXR 100T 5248 for exteriors, and operator Scott Sakamoto notes that the cinematographer "consistently shot at the bottom of the aperture. We shot a lot at T1.9 to T2.5, which cut down depth of field, made the focal plane more specific and softened the backlight."
"I like to shoot wide open, with only one point in the depth of field sharply focused," Hall acknowledges. He feels that this technique gives the imagery an emotional dimension. "With Perdition, I like to call the look 'soft noir.'"
"We had four or five trailer loads of lighting and equipment," says gaffer Stern, "and although production would probably say it was really big, I'd say we had just enough. Sam and Conrad try to get the emotion on a piece of film, and they're both masters at it. As mechanics, we try to keep all the deus ex machina elements out of the arena so they can work in any direction they want."
No matter how much previsualization is done, Hall's crew knows that the cinematographer won't determine how a shot will be lit until he arrives on set. Stern says he thinks of his primary job as "holding the palette" for Hall: "Conrad will often dabble; he'll 'sling paint.' Bill Young and I stand back with a palette of about 100 paints, and Conrad will pick three. His work has incredibly smooth consistency, and he's masterful at creating depth on a two-dimensional piece of negative film. His tools are totally subservient to the emotion, the performance and how he gets moved artistically.
"There weren't any big, 360-degree shots, but each scene had an organic life as Conrad and Sam developed it," Stern continues. "As the direction of a scene became clear, we'd begin to work on [lighting] it. The trick was to make it work seamlessly and quickly without a lot of compromises."
"Conrad is an intuitive creature," affirms Mendes. "I knew from working with him on American Beauty that the most important thing for him is a kind of telepathy on the day you're shooting. However much you plan with Conrad, he will always want to be left free to improvise on the day of shooting. He understands that a pretty image is not something that advertises itself; beauty is in the textures of light and the way light hits a wall, or it's in the 'weight' of the image and how people move through space."
Hall often uses unorthodox methods and materials to achieve his unique lighting effects. "He's totally different from most cameramen, and he uses a lot of trickery that he's learned over the years," says Young. "For example, he'll use black silk for daylight exteriors because it cuts a perfect amount of light to make a scene look as though it's in the shade. White silk makes light flare, but black silk doesn't bring all that flare back and doesn't fill the whole scene up with fill light. On this film, we never shot in harsh sunlight; we always used black silks to dim down the scene and then relit it the way Conrad wanted it to look. He also uses different papers and double softs, and mixes hard and soft light almost constantly."