“A lot of the foreground action had been shot earlier against greenscreen — not bluescreen, because the foreground was filtered by blue moonlight,” he continues. “We then had fun matching the camera moves required for the various foreground plates with the fairground backgrounds. Sometimes this was just a matter of replicating the correct camera position and repeating the move, but this usually required trial and error, as our sets rely on false perspective and background moves generally have less apparent movement than the foreground. I’m sure there’s a formula for working this out, but I prefer to judge it by eye.

“The chase scenes in The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave allowed us to play with a variety of animation tricks to create visual excitement,” continues Riddett. “We hope we’ve developed these, but we always return to tried-and-true techniques, such as tracking our puppets past large sets, or tracking large sets past our puppets. These techniques sufficed for most sections of this chase as well. The practicalities involved building one very large building and using a Milo to move the characters past the building while filming them one animated frame at a time; obviously, this meant the animator had to follow the camera, and that we had to illuminate the large set evenly. Alternatively, we built two units where a 20-foot section of the building was mounted on tracks and moved one frame at a time behind the puppets; the set was designed and rigged so that when it got to the end of its travel, it could be returned to its starting position and carry on with no apparent change. These sequences were always filmed with go motion — moving the camera or background during the exposure — to blur the background.”

By the time Riddett and Oliver began filming these background plates, they had begun the final digital grade of the rest of the picture. They started grading select sequences for test screenings in February 2004, and this work was an ongoing process throughout the shoot. “As soon as the bulk of the compositing or effects work on a given sequence was complete, Dave or Tristan would travel to London to carry out the initial grade at MPC,” explains Barnes. Close to the end of the shoot, as they were able to view the picture in sequence both digitally and on prints from the output negative, the cinematographers returned to the DI suite to make further refinements.

Were-Rabbit’s footage was scanned at London’s Lip Sync Post so the filmmakers could take advantage of a 6K Northlight scanner. “When we began the movie, MPC was investigating scanners and hadn’t settled on one, and we were convinced at the time that Northlight was the best,” explains Barnes. At MPC, the cinematographers and colorist Max Horton did the color-correction at 2K on a Quantel iQ, viewing their work on a 32" high-definition monitor. “For a while, we were very much feeling our way in terms of how what you get on the monitor relates to what you get back on film,” says Oliver. “For big day exteriors, what you see on the monitor prints out pretty much the same, but whenever you have a level of contrast, as with night material, the monitor always looks much crisper and chunkier and more contrasty, but because film sees so much more into the shadow areas you get disappointing prints back — it all looks very milky and too light. In order to get the right result on film, you have to do a grade that looks incredibly dark on the monitor. The DI is infinitely better now than what we had on Chicken Run, but it’s not a perfect tool.

“In terms of color balance, what’s come out of the DI has been extremely good, and the tweaks we’ve had to make optically have been in terms of exposure,” he continues. “There was also some consideration to be made toward contrast, which we had to go back into the DI to do, but the colors have been pretty damn good. Instead of making a cue for every shot, as with an optical grade, we were able to go through it on a sequence-by-sequence basis, which is what we desperately wanted to do on Chicken Run but were unable to do because there was so much more discrepancy. It’s been a good, steep learning curve.”

MPC used an Arrilaser to record the color-corrected footage to Kodak 5242 intermediate stock, and then Riddett, Oliver and color timer Peter Hunt carried out the photochemical timing at Technicolor London. Shortly thereafter, the cinematographers flew to Los Angeles to supervise the final digital mastering for DVD and digital projection at Technicolor Digital Intermediates. “Having the directors of photography involved in post is taken quite seriously at Aardman, and Dave and Tristan’s supervision of the DI was budgeted as part of the movie,” says Barnes. “Nobody here wants the cinematographers not to be paid for that work, or not to be interested in it.”

What helps to keep them interested in all phases of the work, says Riddett, are “projects that have soul to them.” He explains, “After Chicken Run, some thought we could weave ‘the Aardman magic’ on any old script, but it isn’t so. You’ve got have a really good script and a really good feeling about the project, especially since you’re going to put a lot of passion and time into it — you’re going to do it for a year and a half. In that respect, Wallace & Gromit has been a gift. I always thought a strength of these films was that we could do a half-hour story with just three characters and it really held you, and at first I thought we might spoil it by putting a few extra people in there, but it’s worked very well. The thing is, no character in these films is really an extra. Because every item has to be made and put somewhere, the person who makes it really cares about it and thinks about it. No matter how small the role might be, every character has been built by somebody, and is loved.”




Mitchell BNC
(converted by Fries Engineering)

Canon primes;
Cooke Varotal 5:1 20-100mm and
10:1 25-250mm zooms

Fuji Super F-125T 8532 (animation);
Fuji Super F-500T 8572 (live-action elements)

Digital Intermediate

Printed on Kodak Vision 2383

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.