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Crafts Roundup: The Year of Cinematographers Capturing Turmoil On Screen

by Bill Desowitz
November 26, 2013 2:15 PM
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It's been a great year for cinematography, with such an emphasis on survival, turmoil and trying to find beauty or redemption within the suffering. "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," "Captain Phillips," "Nebraska," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "The Grandmaster," and "Rush" are among the standouts. Whether they used digital or film, the results are organic to theme and design.

Will Emmanuel ("Chivo") Lubezki finally get his Oscar for "Gravity"? Maybe so, if you look at the recent digital trend that saw Claudio Miranda ("Life of Pi"), Bob Richardson ("Hugo"), and Mauro Fiore ("Avatar") take the award for three out of the last four years. 

For Lubezki's first foray into virtual production, he achieved a breathtaking photo-realism that approximates the NASA photos and IMAX films that he benchmarked, while delivering the long, continuous takes in CG that are a hallmark of director Alfonso Cuaron's visual style. But he needed the Light Box to help solve a very complicated lighting situation with the zero-g simulation in outer space. However, Lubezki made sure to illuminate the dark and infinite with the gorgeous light from mother Earth.

'12 Years a Slave'
'12 Years a Slave'

Still, there's nothing more awe-inspiring than going from an objective, wide-angle view of Sandra Bullock's terrified face to an extreme close-up and then into her helmet for a subjective POV before pulling out again for an objective panorama.

For Sean Bobbitt, "12 Years a Slave" represents the culmination of his three-film collaboration with director Steve McQueen. Only this one is a Goya-esque exploration of horror and beauty. For Bobbitt, the hanging scene stimulated his imagination and served as the embodiment of slavery. 

"Northup's hanging for the better part of the day is inconceivable. And yet nobody can touch him because he belongs to another man. And to see everyone else moving around behind him is such a powerful statement," Bobbitt explains.

The key to the hanging was finding the right composition, which was a matter of simplicity and authenticity. "Because your first thought is that no one can stand hanging for the whole day. The idea was to make it believable but also for the audience to viscerally become a party to that physical torture. But at the same time to be oddly beautiful so that it resonated and it wasn't an image that you could just throw away."


  • joeS | November 26, 2013 2:19 PMReply

    Correction. NEBRASKA was neither "sumptuous" nor in "black and white." With all due respect to Phedon Papamichael, his decision to use a cheaper digital process and then taking out the color produces a bland looking movie that could have been specatular if it had been shot on 35mm BLACK & WHITE FILM.
    It's not "Black & White" - it's "Gray & Grayer"

  • JoeS | November 26, 2013 9:32 PM

    Bill, that is the point, though. Current day Digital on Digital (shot and projected) cannot reproduce true black at all. So EVERYTHING shot that way is gray - it can't be explained away as an "artistic choice". It's currently a technical IMPOSSIBLITY to reproduce true black right now with an all digital stream.

  • Bill Desowitz | November 26, 2013 3:21 PM

    Yes, it was technically captured in color on the Alexa (which I've added) and "stark" is really more accurate. However, the gray look certainly captures the mood and pace.

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