WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES
Michael Seresin ONZM, BSC moves from native 3D 35-format ALEXA to ALEXA 65 for his second film in the successful PLANET OF THE APES franchise.
Having worked together on DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Michael Seresin re-teamed for the latest installment, along with writer Mark Bomback, production designer James Chinlund and AD Mathew Dunne. While DAWN was shot using 35 mm ALEXAs in 3D rigs, the filmmakers captured with the ALEXA 65 on WAR, opting to add the 3D effect in post. Seresin’s package from ARRI Rental for the long, grueling shoot in Canada paired the ALEXA 65 mainly with Prime 65 lenses – a combination that worked well for the film’s complex visual effects needs.
Did you and Matt want to take a different approach to the look of this second film; how did you arrive at the ALEXA 65?
I think the look was within the same cinematic culture, driven by how film looks. The ALEXAs really capture this, which I discovered when I worked on GRAVITY and then on DAWN. We liked that look so when the ALEXA 65 came along, which I had already looked into for THE JUNGLE BOOK but it wasn’t ready in time, I mentioned it to Matt and he said it sounded brilliant. It was a natural progression in a way – WAR is a bigger story, a bigger film, more epic and all of the other adjectives associated with 65 mm, so the format was appropriate.
I didn’t have to persuade Matt because we have a lot of mutual trust. It was a bit of a battle with the studio but in the end we won and I think they’re super happy that we did it because they love the scale of it. And if affects everyone. The production designer loved the ALEXA 65; the notion that his sets would be seen in 65 mm was very enticing.
What hopes and fears did you have about the larger format, going into the project?
I didn’t really have any specific hopes or fears; I was just aware of having a bigger negative and therefore a higher quality. It produces a different rigor, which I like. I’ve always been more of a lenses DP than a camera DP, but the whole system has to be simple to use for it all to work. I just want it to be easy, like film cameras were. The most positive element for me was that the system worked seamlessly and the only frustrating element, on a very personal level, was that all these additional lenses there are now weren’t available at the time. Different DPs like different lenses, so it’s great to have choices. But in terms of cameras, the ALEXA 65, for me, stands head and shoulders above anything else.
And once you were actually shooting with it, what did you make of the ALEXA 65 image?
There are different qualities inherent to 65, but they’re almost abstract, you can’t measure them. Maybe someone with a more technical brain than me could do it. I remember doing a close-up and saying to Matt, “God, look at that, there’s something incredible about this, isn’t there?” He said, “What is it?” And we couldn’t figure out what it was. I suppose it was a combination of things. Matt kept one particular close-up as his screensaver for a while and kept going back to it, saying he hoped it would be emblematic of the whole film.
What did you think of the Prime 65 lenses?
The biggest thing was that I wanted to shoot everything wide open, which I did. After doing tests I just liked the quality that we were getting, and it enabled me to use focus as another dramatic element, along with light and shadow. They did have a certain quality, which as I say was quite abstract and hard to describe. We just loved the image, we really did – especially people and faces.
Did you also have the Vintage 765 lenses?
We did have them but mainly because we were using up to eight cameras, between the various units, so we just needed a lot of lenses. If I’d had enough time to do some serious tests, I would have looked at them more; I just thought they might bring an interesting quality to it. In a way I’d rather control the look through lights and exposure, and also the Prime 65 lenses are a better choice for visual effects than the Vintage 765s. The visual effects team mapped all the lenses and the Prime 65 range just made their lives a lot easier.
To what extent were you looking at a graded image during the shoot?
On the tests we figured out all the LUTs, which were actually quite close to what we used on the previous film. We applied those and then we altered them slightly, depending on the sequence, so what I was looking at on my monitor was really close to the completed film. In fact it was better on my monitor than on the dailies, because of course you don’t get 6.5K dailies. We had a mobile lab with us up on Vancouver Island and a lab in the production office, so it was incredibly well organized. The physical amount of data is phenomenal, but it didn’t affect what I was doing.
When you got to the final grade and could examine the images in detail, did you learn anything more about the format?
I guess what I learned most of all was just the ferocious amount of quality that there is. When you zoom right in and look at something, there’s absolutely no degradation. The further we got into the final grade, the more I had a sense of the scale of the thing. We weren’t able to analyze why it had this feel of being bigger – it just has. Somehow it was perfect for this dystopian world of the apes. I found it quite overwhelming, and I’m rarely overwhelmed; I might be by a bottle of wine, but not by the scale of a movie!
Did you feel well supported by ARRI Rental?
I felt very well supported. And considering that they didn’t have a facility in Vancouver – amazingly well. There was a bit of concern from the studio and I had to lobby for ARRI Rental and for the ALEXA 65, but I was clear with them that Matt and I wanted this format, and ARRI Rental made it work. Sometimes the schedule would change and we would suddenly need more cameras, but it would always get done. The support was there from ARRI Rental in New York, in Atlanta, in London and in Munich. And now they’re opening facilities on the West Coast – they’ve proved that they can do it and the more they spread, the better.