Emmanuel Lubezki, one of the industry’s top cinematographers, opted for digital over traditional film stock. The CGI of every scene, as well as everything else about the film, is impressive, despite almost everything is fake. Alfonso Cuarón (director) and his team pre-visualized the film shot-for-shot before shooting began due to the complex intersection of paradox realism and animation techniques.
Through the use of the sun as the main light source, deep shadows, and high contrasts, Lubezki made being in space seem natural. Also contributing to the successful visuals was the creation of a box with a LED screen, which was used to project the backgrounds of the scenes into the box and give the actors visual references for their acting.
The camera never stops moving, floating across the characters and giving the impression that it has no gravity, pivoting in three dimensions. We can debate whether or not it is a good film, but it is certainly impressive.
Andrew Haigh and Ula Pontikos use a fly-on-the-wall technique to capture intimacy in this film using handheld camera movements. It is stunning how easy it seems as though the viewer is intruding on the characters’ private moments and conversations. Several angles are obstructed, there are images of the surroundings, and there are seemingly unimportant shots, all of which help create a more realistic atmosphere.
A Canon 5D, shot on a low budget, has some inherent limitations, such as noise and inconsistent lighting, but these are not distracting and they blend well with the simple color palette and the chosen shooting style – which complements such a passionate and powerful piece of content. Considering the low production costs, this is even more impressive.
The Grandmaster (2013)
This was a journey that took three years, directed by Wong Kar Wai with the help of French cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd, who made it into a constantly vibrant arty picture. It was every bit as captivating whether it was a calm scene, a lingering one – so common in Wong Kar Wai’s films – or a tense fight. It wasn’t easy achieving this, because the director of photography had to go to China to work on the film, carrying a translator around all the time and ignoring the fact that there was no script for him.
Particularly when you are trying to capture martial arts in the way that Le Sourd did, using perfect timing and certain elements to create shadows and movements that make a significant impact on the story. Additionally, there were interesting aspects, such as fight choreographies, mixing slow with fast-paced scenes, and giving the feeling that it is a Wong Kar Wai film despite its unusual cinematographer. There is a clear representation of his universe and influence, which shows why he is so good.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Another collaboration between Robert Yeoman, ASC, and director Wes Anderson: there’s the obligatory illustrative style that fuses theatre and cinema with complex storylines, while still offering compositional specificity about every shot. There are also other recent works of these two, such as Moonrise Kingdom (2011), but The Grand Budapest has a whole new set of visual experiments.
The film utilizes a wide variety of aspect ratios, including the Academy ratio (4:3) used in the 1930s scenes; a panorama-like format from the 1960s; and the most common ratio today, the 1.85:1 ratio, for scenes set in the 1980s.
Another interesting feature is the use of analog for most of the action, natural light whenever possible, and lamps throughout the film. The use of a single camera only emphasizes the long dolly moves and swish pans you’ve come to expect from Anderson, and, of course, the color palette can’t be missed.
At the beginning of the production of this film, cinematographer Phedon Papamichael wanted it to be in black and white. Being a character-driven film, it was necessary to make it as visually unique and interesting as possible, so he initially considered shooting in B&W 35mm. Although it would have looked beautiful, shooting in black-and-white is still considered antiquated in several markets. To make it as similar as possible to the aesthetic of Kodak film, he first tested color stocks and digital cameras with the help of his colorist.
The fact that it was shot on location across the American Midwest added sensitivity, but its consistency is what really sets it apart. The responsible filmmakers, who had always imagined “Nebraska” in black and white, only had the excuse that some stills looked better in monochrome and that the story and landscapes “lend themselves to black and white”, according to Papamichael. The choices were interesting and perfectly captured the feel of the film.
Life of Pi (2012)
In terms of pure cinematography, this technical marvel is considered by many to be the most beautiful movie of 2012. Even though it couldn’t be filmed, Ang Lee made sure it only appeared that way with dazzling computer animation and making it a visually stunning film to say the least.
As a visual wonder, the whole experience is a solid candidate. The film’s most unique creation, the tiger, was entirely created by computer graphics. Lee knows how to work new ground and take advantage of it, always employing jaw-dropping CGI that makes the camera appear to float below the surface of the water as if it were also lost in the ocean. In the 2010s, this is one of the best gifts to photography and computer animation.