battle scene that introduces the samurai is quite striking.
How did its design come about?
Toll: We wanted to create a
sense of mystery and suspense in this sequence because at this
point in the story, the audience has not yet seen the samurai
and they have only been referred to as a threat. The scene was
written to have the samurai come galloping out of the fog, and
we struggled with how to do this. While scouting in New
it became obvious very quickly that a bright, sunny day there
did not easily lend itself to creating a believable foggy morning.
We also wanted a setting that wouldn't duplicate the setting
of the final battle, which takes place on an open field. So we
tried to find a forested area that was open enough for horses
to gallop through, but heavy enough to give us a mood of mystery
and provide cover from sunlight. We eventually found a forested
area that was actually a tree-harvesting enterprise operated
by the local government. It looked pristine and original, but
we were able to do trimming and cutting as necessary because
the trees were all going to be harvested. Art director Jess Gonchor
did a great job of shaping it exactly to our needs.
biggest challenge in shooting this sequence was maintaining continuity
in the light and in the levels of smoke used for the fog effect.
We shot the scene for two weeks, and the weather and lighting
conditions were constantly changing. At times the sun would streak
through the trees, and at certain angles it looked quite dramatic
coming through the smoke, but it was impossible to get off more
than a couple of takes before the shadows and sunlight changed
drastically. Also, because it's an action scene, we needed to
shoot many different angles, and it was impossible to shoot anything
in direct frontal or even cross sunlight in the smoke because
it looked ridiculous. We needed to be able to completely control
the light in some areas of the set, but the UFO was impractical
because of the trees and because the frame was actually too small.
Mick suggested hanging blacks in the trees to keep the sun from
hitting an area of the set. We initially thought a couple of
20-by frames would do, but I think we eventually hung eight 20-by-20
blacks on pipes end to end to create the areas of shadow we needed.
We hung them vertically from pulleys and could set them up just
out of shot. It was like having a 20-by-160-foot black teaser
to block the sunlight. The blacks went up and came down very
quickly, and we just used that same section of forest for everything.
continuity in the smoke was a nightmare, because some days were
perfectly still and others were windy. Special-effects man Stan
Blackwell supervised the smoke team, and he did a great job.
Trying to control smoke in windy conditions has got to be one
of the most frustrating situations we encounter, and it's made
worse when we're trying to match something shot on a calm day.
Everyone on the set seems to have an opinion on how to do it
better than the person doing it, and in spite of all of the help
and advice I was eager to give Stan, he kept his sense of humor
and pulled us through it. But even with that, we had some serious
matching problems, and this is one of the scenes I'm finishing
digitally. The ability to alter contrast and match color in a
DI will help enormously in fixing some of the continuity problems.
was the last scene we shot in New Zealand, and by that time of year, the sun was much lower
in the sky. That and the overhead blacks meant I needed as much
exposure as possible, so I shot 5218 without 85 and rated it
at 400 ISO. When I needed more exposure, I force-developed it
one stop. It worked very well, and I saw very little difference
between the normal and force-processed 5218.
did you approach filming the climactic showdown between the
Japanese army and the samurai?
Toll: All of the battles were
storyboarded, and our shooting schedule for them was based on
the boards. The schedule was laid out by Kevin De La Noy, our
production manager for New Zealand, and Nilo Otero, our
first AD. Kevin organized all of the support for the battles.
He dealt with the thousands of production details inherent in
this type of work, and also supervised the construction of the
base camps and the roads needed for access to the sets. It was
a massive job that he performed flawlessly.
complexity of the battles required a second unit and a visual-effects
unit to work alongside the first unit. Given the time-consuming
nature of the work with the horses and the coordination of the
explosions and stunts in the final charge, this sequence was
a classic second-unit situation that could be shot while the
first unit was filming other parts of the battle. I recommended
director/cinematographer Gary Capo be the person to shoot it.
I had worked with him on Wind and The Thin Red Line (AC Feb.
'99) and knew he was a great choice. Gary's second unit worked
on the horse charges in both the final battle and the fog battle,
as well as many details in both of those sequences. Also, there
were about 150 effects shots planned for the picture, many of
them in the battles, and Jeff Okun worked with New
Zealand director of photography
John Mahaffie on shooting the various plates and elements he
would need for that work. Jeff eventually created twice the number
of effects shots we originally anticipated, all of them very
impressive and mostly invisible as effects because they blend
perfectly with the naturalistic style of the rest of the film.
Both Gary and John made huge contributions to Last Samurai, and
we were fortunate to have them. Throughout the battles, I also
had two extra camera crews working on first unit, operators Darrin
Keough and Cal McFarlane, and operator Leigh McKenzie worked
with Gary on the second unit.
doing storyboards in prep, Ed and I discussed various ways to
shoot the horse charge. We planned on doing both tracking and
stationary shots, and I wanted to use longer focal-length lenses
for both. This required a stabilized remote head for shooting
the tracking shots from an insert car. I had heard good things
about the Wescam XR remote head, and I was familiar with the
Libra head, so I shot a test during prep and decided to use both.
When Gary arrived in New Zealand, we had both remote heads,
along with Wescam tech Steve Rogers and Libra tech John Bonnin. Gary's unit worked with a
full-sized insert car from Auckland that had two crane arms mounted on it; one was a Giraffe
with a Pan-Arri 435 mounted on the Wescam, and the other was
an arm David Nichols had built with a Pan-Arri 435 mounted on
the Libra head. Both cameras worked with 11:1 [48-550mm] anamorphic
zooms, and both the Wescam and the Libra heads worked extremely
reason for the long lenses on the tracking shots was to shoot
close-ups of the principal actors riding in the horse charge.
For safety reasons, the horses couldn't work close to the crane
arms, and even though they would be running parallel to the car,
they would be galloping in an open field, so their distance from
the camera was likely to be irregular. I was hoping to use focal
lengths of at least 250-350mm on these shots, and as it turned
out, we were commonly working at 550mm on one camera and in the
200-400mm range on the other. It became pretty obvious that shooting
the scene this way was going to be very challenging for the first
ACs/focus pullers. During prep, I was discussing this issue with
various people at Panavision, including my first AC, Chris Toll,
and another AC who happened to be there, Baird Steptoe. Baird
told us about a prototype range-finding device that Moe Shore, a designer from Panavision, was developing to
work in conjunction with the Smart Lens system. Essentially,
this rangefinder, the Panatape Long Range, uses infrared laser
to measure subject distance out to a distance of several hundred
yards. It performs this function 100 times per second and within
an accuracy of two inches. The subject-distance information is
fed to a Smart Lens display on the camera, where both the subject
distance and the lens focus distance can be seen as witness marks.
When the focus puller keeps the two witness marks aligned, the
subject stays in focus. An important part of this system is making
sure that the infrared is targeted on the subject you want to
be in focus; this is done through a viewfinder built into the
Chris and I first saw the Long Range, it was in an early stage
of development. We asked to do some tests, and Phil Radin was
happy to oblige. We suggested several changes, all of which Moe
adopted from our ideas. We took two of these units when we started
shooting, and Chris and Tommy Klines used them periodically and
made minor alterations, but they were used mostly in the battles.
By that time, Tommy had the idea of adapting the infrared viewfinder
system so it would be visible on a separate video monitor, and
this made the unit much more practical to use. Gary's first AC,
Mike Fauntleroy, used it with great success; he was working on
an insert car at the long end of the 11:1, most of the time at
550mm, and he found the unit very reliable. All of the ACs agreed
that using the Long Range took a little getting used to, but it was well
- Anamorphic 2.40:1
- Panaflex Millennium XL, Arri 435ES, PanaStar
E- and C-Series primes; Primo zooms
- Kodak EXR 100T 5248, EXR 200T 5293, EXR 500T 5298, Vision2
- Digital Intermediate (select scenes) by Cinesite
- Printed on Kodak Vision Premier 2393 and Vision 2383