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The Auriga's color scheme compounded Fichter's lighting problems, as the station's ominous, unnerving characterization led to it being a rather dark-hued model. He recalls, "I kept asking, 'Can't we paint the model lighter, shoot it, and then print it down?' But Darius didn't feel it would have the same quality, so we struggled to do it the difficult way. In the end, though, that was the correct approach."
While the muted shades of the three previous Alien films made them largely monochromatic movies, Alien Resurrection is relatively colorful, much like the dreamy images in Jeunet's fantasy The City of Lost Children, which was co-directed by frequent collaborator Marc Caro. "Funnily enough, we originally talked about taking a monochromatic approach on this film," says Fichter, "yet somewhere along the line, [the palette] became their version of a monochromatic look. But Darius used the ENR process to take some of the garishness out of the colors, and I was actually a little bit surprised the look is gorgeous and richly detailed."
The same can be said of Fichter's miniature photography. The Auriga emerges as a angst-ridden art nouveau monolith that absorbs all illumination, in stark contrast to the Betty, a bright, insect-like craft which radiates light: "One thing I wanted to experiment with, and for which I got Darius' blessing, was to have light emanating from the Betty rather than striking it. However, we did have to compromise a bit, because the director wanted the Betty's cockpit [canopy to be made of dark smoked glass], which threw off our exposures. We couldn't get enough light emanating from the interior cockpit, but it looked pretty good once we started playing with the practical lights on the model."
Fichter also used practical lights to illuminate the miniature interior of the Auriga's docking bay for a sequence in which the luminous Betty rises up a vertical shaft inside the space station's pitch-black belly. "Because part of the lighting theme required the use practical lights, we had to separate many layers of lights [as separate camera passes] in order to control them," Fichter explains. "If we exposed properly for the blue tracking lights, that exposure would be totally inappropriate for the engine glow lights, so we were separating lights left and right. One thing I'm grateful for is that under normal circumstances, the producers would have sacrificed the look by saying 'Just put them on the same pass.' But the people on this film tried every which way to get the look right."
Fichter may have licked the God-light problem, but working in the tented, inferno-like model stage became quite a hellish undertaking. He explains, "We were exposing at T22 most of the time partly because we weren't using the best model scale for the job and we needed more depth. We also ended up using snorkel lenses, which are rather slow, to get down into the models. But with our lighting approach, the heat got really terrible. To us, the shots seemed to go on forever."
The buildup of heat caused the 12' resin Auriga model to begin melting. Air conditioning was virtually useless on most passes because the model required smoke for depth, and temperature changes from stage floor to ceiling produced visible heat ripples. To counter this dilemma, Fichter began using dramatically longer exposures to reduce the level of light, and therefore the heat's intensity.
But Fichter's shooting methods led to a bizarre chain-reaction in terms of reciprocity (a film stock's relative sensitivity), as the T-grain emulsion began failing its ASA reading. "I was under the impression that Kodak's T-grain technology didn't have much reciprocity failure, but if we needed a 10-second or longer exposure at T22, we ran into big-time trouble. We started having these color shifts, and the director said, 'It looks bluer this time.' I hadn't changed my lights, so I went to the lab, because I suspected we had a problem with the ENR process. When I finally looked at a reciprocity test, I realized that the film was becoming less sensitive. We were losing a stop to a stop-and-a-half due to reciprocity failure."
One solution would have been to switch to a faster film stock. Such a change, however, could have affected an already-evolving problem involving Kodak's T- grain stocks and greenscreen matting difficulties. "The faster the film stock, the more adjacency problems we ran into," Fichter states. "It was a no-win situation. All of the Kodak T-grain stocks, even the new ones, contributed to edge artifact problems when we were shooting against greenscreen. But I stuck with Kodak because they make such consistent and dependable stock."
Consistency and dependability were two qualities Fichter counted on while dealing with Alien Resurrection's complex compositing issues. He explains, "Early on, I had a long conversation with Duboi [the Paris-based effects company founded by Pitof, Alien Resurrection's visual effects supervisor], who were doing the matting. We did a series of tests to isolate where they wanted greenscreen or bluescreen used. But when I presented the tests to Duboi, they said, 'We have a problem.' It turned out that all of the effects houses in Europe were having problems with the use of greenscreen."
The greenscreen system had been failing to generate the fine-edged detail necessary for believable mattes of the Betty and Auriga. Usage of bluescreen was out of the question because its characteristics ran counter to Khondji's desired look. "Darius would go crazy with the blue because it's so contrasty and grainy," Fichter explains. "At that point, I called Jonathan Erland of Composite Components, who was extremely helpful. We started talking about using a UV matting technique, and I thought, 'Do we really want to get into this?' These processes require coating the models with special UV-sensitive paints and shooting them extremely carefully, which would've been a monster problem with that huge Auriga model. But then John and I came up with a way to handle a UV red-screen; we only accessed the red [of the emulsion], which gave us the sharpest mattes and wasn't grainy. Although the red layer is slow, it has the finest grain, and it got us away from the very contrasty and grainy blue layer. I thought everything was perfect."
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