While the crew pre-rigged, Pfister conducted 12 days of tests, evaluating a series of technical matters that included gel colors, makeup, smoke and fog, visual effects, camera-motion systems, tracking vehicles, and, of course, Batman’s cape and cowl. (“You don’t want to get those wrong on a Batman movie!” Pfister notes with a laugh.) He and Nolan prefer to work in the anamorphic 2.40:1 format, so he also spent some time assessing various widescreen lenses. “I wanted to examine the three sets of Panavision anamorphics: the Primos, the C-Series and the E-Series. In the end, I primarily used E-Series lenses, but I used some C-Series lenses for handheld work. I used E-Series lenses on Memento and Insomnia and think they’re terrific-looking. I like the way the flares look, they’re more lightweight than Primos, and they’re very sharp. I mixed Es and Cs quite a bit on Batman Begins, though. If we found a 40mm lens that looked better in the C-Series than in the E, we’d use it. We shot almost all of Memento and Insomnia on a 75mm E-Series lens, but on Batman we used a wide variety. We shot quite a bit wider than we had previously to better establish the geography and because we were tracking action with vehicles. Chris preferred using wider lenses closer to the action and characters.” Pfister therefore shot a lot of footage with 35mm and 40mm lenses, but his workhorse was the 50mm. For close-ups, he often used a 75mm but occasionally employed a 100mm or a 135mm. “Longer lenses weren’t really feasible once we got to scenes involving smoke and fog, so we did most of those close-ups with the 50mm and 75mm.
“I tried to maintain a stop of T2.8.5 inside Cardington, though I opened up more at times,” he continues. “In Chicago I was probably closer to T2.8, and I also had to push the film. We used a lot of ambient city light in Chicago, so I needed a bit more stop. The other sets were between a T2.8 and a T4; I was generally at T4 for day-interior work. When you open up to T2.8, there’s a huge difference in the sharpness. Shooting at T4 can really give the focus puller a fighting chance, because focus becomes pretty critical when you’re shooting with a 135mm lens 5 feet from the action at T2.8. I have to say, first AC Clive Mackey did a nice job of handling some very challenging focus situations.”
Pfister’s main cameras were a Panaflex Platinum and two Panaflex Millennium XLs. “I always had one built in a standard studio configuration, one in a Steadicam configuration, and one as a handheld camera. Occasionally we brought in a PanArri 435 for high-speed work. For the Batmobile chase in Chicago, we also carried a bunch of Eyemos and smaller cameras.” Pfister operated the A-camera himself, even on second-unit footage, which he and Nolan supervised. Vancouver-based operator Steve Adelson handled the B-camera and Steadicam work.
Addressing the unusual step of eschewing a second unit on such a large project, Nolan offers, “In recent years, there’s been a trend on big films for some of the more interesting setpieces to be split off and given to another director. I can’t really work that way. After all, the reason I wanted to do this film is that I wanted to shoot the car chase, and I wanted to shoot Batman. I don’t really want to give those things to someone else; as a director, I have to believe that there’s some value in my brain being behind every scene on the set, not just in the edit suite. If you’re viewing the overall film in visual terms, it’s very hard to split off the shots that you think are unimportant or less than deserving of first-unit treatment. One of the things Wally and I do is to shoot all the inserts as we go along. Some people raise their eyebrows at that, but the truth is, that insert, that close-up of the hand, is going to end up on the same screen as the close-up of the actor, and it’s going to occupy the same space in the audience’s field of vision. Those insert shots are also about storytelling otherwise, you wouldn’t need them.”
In considering his “stock options” during prep, Pfister quickly settled on Kodak Vision2 500T 5218 and Vision 250D 5246. “I knew I was going to shoot most of the picture on 5218, and I also knew I wanted to push the stock. The more I examined the Chicago portion of the shoot, the more I wanted to use a lot of available light there, so I decided to push the film one stop for that entire sequence. I did tests to see whether Chris or the visual-effects team had any issues with the grain, and I found that 5218, when pushed in anamorphic, is extraordinary it really looks good. I tried rating it at ISO 400, and I liked that better than ISO 500, so when I wasn’t pushing it I overrated it to get a deeper negative and to enrich the blacks when they were printed down.
“I also did a number of bluescreen and greenscreen tests for the visual-effects team. 5218’s grain structure is exceptional, a huge improvement over [Vision 500T] 5279. I never would’ve considered pushing 79 a full stop on a picture like this, but the 18 has such a clean grain, particularly in anamorphic, that everything worked out well.
“I used 5246 for day work, which comprises about 15 percent of the picture,” he continues. “I tested 5218 for day work to see if I could get something interesting, but I ended up choosing 46, which is what I usually use for day work. In fact, a lot of the tests on this show involved me trying new things and then coming back to what I usually do! I rated 46 normally, at ISO 250.”
Pfister and Nolan decided early on not to do a digital intermediate (DI) on the show. “We’re both a bit leery of all the hype about DIs,” the cinematographer reveals. “I’d done a little DI work on The Italian Job [AC June ’03] and was not as happy as I hoped I’d be. I found the images picked up a little digital grain when they went through the process. Chris was also concerned about having too many hands on the material, and about how much time a DI might take. We both concluded that I could give Chris the look he wanted through the traditional photochemical process. I had a great experience with [Technicolor London] color timer Peter Hunt, and lab supervisor John Ensby, and Panavision U.K. rep Hugh Whittaker. The result is a print that is so rich in color and density that we’re thrilled we decided to go in this direction. Aside from pushing 5218, everything was developed and printed normally. The film will also be released in Imax, and the initial Imax tests were stunning.”
Following all of this prep work, Pfister felt confident that he was ready to head into production on the biggest picture of his career. During two interviews with AC, he outlined his approach to key sets and situations.
Young Master Bruce and Wayne Manor
Before Wayne becomes Batman, he enjoys a privileged upbringing at “stately Wayne Manor” as the son of extremely wealthy parents. Then the brutal murders of his mother and father leave him a troubled, embittered orphan with ample motivation for revenge. To convey the full emotional impact of this loss, the filmmakers wanted to render scenes of Wayne’s youth as “golden years” that held the promise of a bright future. Instead of using actual golden tones or a sepia look, which Pfister and Nolan deemed “too cliché,” Pfister played these scenes in soft light. “The light on Bruce as a child is very gentle, with a little more fill than I use in the rest of the movie. This softer, more pleasing light emphasizes that those childhood days were when he was happiest and when Gotham was in its prime. His parents were alive, the economy was good, the trains were running, and crime was low.”