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DNxHD Marvel

Mar 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman

Behind the DNxHD 36 workflow for Iron Man.


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<i>Cinematographer Matthew Libatique says he opted against using the Panavision Genesis HD camera system to shoot Iron Man because the movie largely relies on daytime exteriors, limiting that camera’s advantages in low-light situations. Instead, he used Panavision Millennium and Millennium XL film cameras.</i>

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique says he opted against using the Panavision Genesis HD camera system to shoot Iron Man because the movie largely relies on daytime exteriors, limiting that camera’s advantages in low-light situations. Instead, he used Panavision Millennium and Millennium XL film cameras.

Shooting Shell Head

As he got ready to enter the digital-intermediate phase of the Iron Man project at EFilm, Hollywood, alongside Director Jon Favreau and Colorist Steve Scott, Cinematographer Matthew Libatique mused about the effort behind his first gigantic visual-effects-laden feature film.

“It's a difficult film to talk about because it's unlike any film I've been a part of,” Libatique says. “Because of the visual effects, in a strange way, it's more collaborative than other films. You are so reliant on other departments. You have to exercise different muscles because you are taking preventative measures, and yet trying to be aggressive with the film. It was a learning curve for me.”

In particular, Libatique says he felt he had to create a look, choose stocks, and light in a way that took the film's extensive visual-effects requirements into account.

“The primary mission to get my head around was reverse-engineering the look of the film based on what was required for visual effects,” he says. “I didn't want to do a variety of processes that would make it difficult for them to do composites. Luckily, [Visual Effects Supervisor] John Nelson was willing to stay away from lots of greenscreens and [accepted] handheld or moving cameras without the benefit of motion control quite a bit, so I had to take that into account and not create issues [for the visual-effects team]. Also, Jon Favreau was bothered in past films by [heavy grain]. I'm a big fan of grain, but for him, I wanted to create a thick negative with fine grain. Beyond that, though, I stayed in my wheelhouse — mixing color temperatures, measuring what language I could, and using the character of Tony Stark as motivation for creating an emotional language of light for the character.”

Libatique nixed Favreau's initial idea to shoot the movie using Panavision Genesis HD cameras, successfully arguing that much of the movie takes place during the day, thus preventing the production from taking advantage of Genesis' strengths in low-light situations. Instead, he used Panavision Millennium and Millennium XL film cameras — outfitted with Panavision Primo lenses, Angenieux Optimo zooms, and a brand-new Cooke 15mm-40mm lens that served as his primary lens on the Technocrane camera.

He shot virtually the entire movie, except for some effects plates, using Kodak Vision2 500T Color Negative Film 5218, rated at 320 and 400. Although he had the benefit of HD dailies throughout the project, he periodically filmed out sequences to judge color and light. “I love the digital intermediate, but I need a guide to see where I am, and I like doing that with printer lights,” he says. “For this film, it was consistently in the low 40s, and that helped me judge the grain. Seeing the effects shots that [were ready at press time], this process helped me stay consistent.”

Suit light

Libatique also faced the challenge of lighting pieces of the various iterations of the Iron Man suit — the original steel suit, the silver second version, and the advanced red version.

“The beauty of the first suit — a stunning creation by Stan Winston — is the interesting way it accepted light because of its dull sort of armor,” Libatique says. “Imagine something made out of old missile parts. You don't really have to light it, per se. You just create a naturalistic setting for the environment, and you don't have to keylight it in the traditional sense. The first iteration of the modern suit is completely silver and shiny, though. This one accepted light even further, so I worked at very low light levels when we shot that suit. Otherwise, it would scream. And then, the final red suit — the big problem with that was I have an aversion where skin tones can easily turn magenta. To combat that, you normally add green to the image, but that can take away from the red of the suit. So that was problematic — I had to keep faces from going magenta without taking away from the redness of the suit. Generally, if we keylit somebody, I would be conscious of what the color temperature was under the keylight. It was about balancing the color of keylight, and not letting the suit be affected by the lights for people's faces in the scenes. In the end, much of the final suit [was] created by ILM. This gave us some breathing room to cheat color.

“But, really, I didn't contend with letting the effects dictate the look in terms of color, other than that one maintenance issue. That and giving it a thick negative to combat grain are really the only two things I did differently. But in terms of color and contrast, I mainly worked like I always do.”

For a handful of visual-effects greenscreen plates, Libatique made the unorthodox decision to shoot them with a Panaflex 5-perf 65mm camera. That move was made for specific inner-helmet shots in which viewers see parts of Tony Stark's face viewing computerized data inside his helmet — an attempt to allow viewers to connect with the Stark character during an action beat.

The DP says he felt he could avoid lens distortion with a wide lens inside the cramped space in this manner.

“The problem was, when you push in to get physically close, you are on a wide lens,” he says. “If I went to a longer lens, I felt too far away, so I had a dilemma. I thought, ‘What if I went with a bigger format?’ I could come in with the wider lens, and therefore, flatten it out a bit, and optically, I wouldn't get that distortion. A 40mm lens in a 65mm format would be different than a 40mm lens in 35mm. I got that physical proximity to his face, and I wanted that proximity to be apparent to [viewers].”
— M.G.

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