Behind the Scenes: Anomalisa (2014)


I recently had the chance to interview Joe Passarelli, cinematographer of the stop-motion animation film Anomalisa (2014), for Filmmaker Magazine. Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Feature, Anomalisa was shot over the span of two years on an army of 18 Canon 7D cameras – one for each miniature set. Below is a quote from my Filmmaker piece highlighting the challenges of shooting stop-motion. Then continue onward for a gallery of production stills.

“We had one shot where the camera slowly pushed in that took five or six months to animate. Each frame, the camera is moving less than an eighth of an inch. So when you’re shooting something over that period of time, you’re going to deal with all of those technical things that you mentioned — people bumping cameras, people bumping lights, bumping props. When that would happen we would have to go on to set and try to fix it. But if something was really unfixable, then visual effects would come in and we’d talk with them to devise a plan. But even beyond the animator or somebody hitting something on the set, every morning we would come in and we would turn on the lights and the sets would look like an earthquake happened. Because it was cold in the morning but the night before it was warm because the lights had been on for 12 hours, the wood would breathe and (as the temperature) changed things on set would shift. Then sometimes the camera would sag slightly if the lens was heavier and it was on a motion-control rig. It was a very interesting process to figure out.” – Joe Passarelli


Five Frames: Bone Tomahawk cinematographer Benji Bakshi

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The Film: Bone Tomahawk
The Cinematographer: Benji Bakshi
The Tools: Shot on Red Epic Dragon
The Plot: In this western, four disparate men (sheriff Kurt Russell and deputy Richard Jenkins, accompanied by Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox) embark on a rescue mission to retrieve Wilson’s wife from a tribe of cannibalistic cave dwellers.
Further Reading: Check out my interview with Bone Tomahawk director S. Craig Zahler for Filmmaker Magazine.

How was your experience with the Red Epic Dragon?
Benji Bakshi: The Dragon was a serious improvement from previous models. Color was much more accurate and the latitude has improved, which was essential for our day exteriors. As always I tend to underexpose with Red, which gives more room in the highlights. The Dragon was improved in the shadows as well versus previous models, but in testing I saw noise at the toe. Knowing we intended to ride the edge of darkness, I set up a LUT to crush the shadows, which forced me to put light there. On set sometimes people would mention it was very dark, but I knew when the LUT was removed it would reveal lots of detail in the shadows, which proved to be the case. Normally I lift the shadows by using atmosphere (haze) but since our sets weren’t airtight the haze would have drifted in shot so in general I didn’t use it. So the LUT took the place of physical atmosphere to put light into the shadows. Continue Reading ›

Pic of the Day: Rocky III frame echoes classic Ali vs. Williams photo

Rocky IIIWhile gorging myself on Rocky movies a few weeks back – trying to beat the clock on their expiration from Netflix – I came upon this shot in Rocky III (1982) that reminded me of Neil Leifer’s memorable bird’s eye view from the Ali vs. Williams 1966 title fight at the Houston Astrodome.

Ali scored a third-round TKO over Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams that night to retain his heavyweight championship. I’ve been aware of this photo – taken by a camera rigged 80 feet above the ring – for years, but had never heard much about the man splayed on the canvas. Williams apparently fought Ali with a bullet lodged in his hip and sans one kidney, both the result of a policeman’s bullet fired into his abdomen during a traffic stop in 1964. Continue Reading ›

Look Book: The mid-century photojournalists that inspired Carol

Carol #4 (weinsteins)

“Far from Heaven was inspired by the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the (late 1950s), but with Carol we weren’t referencing the cinema of the late ’40s and early ’50s. We instead looked at the photojournalists who were documenting the time. Many of them happened to be women, people like Esther Bubley, Helen Levitt, Ruth Orkin, and later Vivian Maier. Another reference was Saul Leiter, who we also referenced in Mildred Pierce. The idea was to create these layered compositions that were like obscured abstractions, images seen in reflections and in partly visible spaces through car windows, diners, apartments, doorway glass spattered in raindrops, urban steam and the night’s condensation. All these ideas are about creating an emotional language in a story through the images that represents who these characters are and their emotional states.” – Ed Lachman, Carol cinematographer, in Filmmaker Magazine

Back in May of last year, I took a look at the inspiration that mid-century New York street photographer Saul Leiter lent to Ex Machina. Leiter’s name surfaced again when I recently interviewed Carol cinematographer Ed Lachman for Filmmaker Magazine – along with the names of a host of other photojournalists from the era. Here’s a look at some of their work, which informed the desaturated, muted tones of Carol’s Ektachrome-esque palette as well as the film’s motif of obscured abstractions. Click on any photo for a larger version. Continue Reading ›

Five Frames with The Final Girls cinematographer Elie Smolkin

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The Film: The Final Girls
The Cinematographer: Elie Smolkin
The Tools: Shot on the Red Epic with short Angenieux zooms and Cooke S4 lenses
The Plot: On the one-year anniversary of her Scream Queen mother’s death, a young woman (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends are transported into her mom’s most famous movie – a campy camp slasher à la The Burning.

The deconstruction of the 1980s slasher film began before the corpse of the short-lived subgenre was even cold. Student Bodies (1981) started digging the grave. Scream (1996) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012) disinterred the body and scattered the pieces.

So why tune in for another poke at the carcass of the stalk-and-slash flick? Because The Final Girls is more than just another mocking of the slasher film’s “sin equals death” conservatism.

It’s a PG-13 comedy that captures the spirit of the “dead teenager” movie without the gruesomeness. It’s a visually inventive delight that, rather than emulating the look of Friday the 13th, presents its alternative reality as a Technicolor world awash in purples and hyper-saturated greens. And, most importantly, it has a heart at its center thanks to an emotional turn from Farmiga as the grieving daughter.

The Final Girls cinematographer, Elie Smolkin, broke down a few shots from the film for us.

Check out other interviews in the Five Frames series here. Continue Reading ›