The American Society of Cinematographers

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Oz the Great and Powerful
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To the Wonder
Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up

Oz opens with a black-and-white sequence in Kansas, where Diggs is performing with the Baum Bros. Circus. Tired of playing to hayseeds, he longs for the life of a great man. For these scenes, the stereo effect is reduced, and the action is presented in a pillar-boxed 1.33:1 aspect ratio within the 2.40:1 frame. A few magical moments burst through that matte, however, including a fire-breather spitting flames into the audience. “Colors don’t always have the same brightness, tone or density in black-and-white, so to give the other departments an idea of how their colors would look in the final image, I gave them a photo of a Macbeth chart that I had completely desaturated,” says Deming.

Based on Deming’s notes, digital-imaging technician Ryan Nguyen used an early version of FotoKem’s NextLab Live application to create color-decision lists for the raw output from each camera rig. That data was passed to data-management supervisor Kyle Spicer, who used the NextLab mobile system to apply color decisions for left eye and right eye. Spicer also set the convergence point, synced sound, backed up data and packaged data so that FotoKem could produce the deliverables.

Most of the action in the movie is set outdoors, which meant Deming and his crew had to light about 90,000 square feet of stage at a time. The lighting plan also had to accommodate quick transitions motivated by Kansas’ changeable weather. “I read that The Wizard of Oz required so much light that MGM had to pull extra power from the Culver City substation, and there were often brownouts in town because of that,” says Deming. (A historical about the production published in AC in Dec. ’98 notes: “The Technicolor photography for Oz was difficult because of the vastness of the sets. It would have been next to impossible except that Technicolor had just introduced its new, faster film, which today would have an ASA rating of about 50.”)

“The Epic is rated at ISO 800, but that’s primarily in a daylight scenario,” notes Deming. “We were a completely tungsten show, so we started with a rating of ISO 640; that dropped to 320 once the beam splitters and Wave Retarders were taken into account.” His electric crew, led by gaffer Michael Laviolette, provided an extra 60,000 amps of power by moving four additional transformers onto the Raleigh lot.

Deming shot most of the picture at around a T4, “with the night work usually at a T2.8/T4. Sam originally wanted to shoot the entire film at a T5.6 because when you actually shoot outside, you’re typically at a T5.6 or higher; he thought that depth-of-field would make the images feel a bit more real to the viewer.”

Deming started by establishing a general overhead ambience, lit to about T4, using hundreds of 1K Par heads up in the stage perms. The lamp heads were mounted to Par bars aimed straight down at the floor. “Production wanted all the sets up and running at the same time,” notes Laviolette. “Pars are easy to rig and mount, and you’ll never run out of them.”

All told, rigging gaffer Roger Meilink and key rigging grip Tracy Neftzger hung 1,200 Par bars across five stages, with each lamp on a separate dimmer channel. To diffuse the Pars, Sloan’s grip team hung 40'x60' sections of Light Grid just beneath them, with enough room for the rags to billow but still hang tight to the ceiling. “Sam wanted a lot of wind during the farm sequences in Kansas, and the Light Grid just billowed up and down,” recalls Sloan. “It was perfect.”

With a base ambience created, Deming then needed to find a realistic “Big Sun” source that could span the 250' length of the larger stages. He recalls, “Michael [Laviolette] designed these things called Par pods, which were six 1K pars in a row that we could arrange vertically or horizontally.” Laviolette adds, “They’re like Par bars, but there are no yokes. The heads are packed very tightly into a single pod, and when you arrange these pods in an erector-set fashion, you get 9 inches on center from globe to globe in any direction, and you can build it out as big as you want with perfect consistency.”

The Big Sun was comprised of 28 Par pods, 168 lights in a cluster approximately 11' square. Wide lenses were used along the bottom row for spread and to keep the foreground from being overlit and overheated, and medium lenses were used on the rest of it to reach as far as possible. “Once we turned that thing on, we felt the heat!” recalls Deming. “Anything closer than 50 feet just got too hot, and we needed a certain amount of distance to the subject before all those 1K bulbs merged into one source. At 100 feet out, it was pretty much a single shadow.”

Although each lamp head was connected to a dimmer channel, the Big Sun was almost always deployed at full strength. (Smaller setups employed a Mini Sun, six 12-light Maxi-Brutes packed together on a scissor lift.) Diffusion rags and gels were stretched across 20'x20' frames and treated with fire retardant. In the early Kansas scenes, Deming started with a white 1⁄4 silk to add a small amount of diffusion without losing more than half a stop off the source. When the script called for a storm to roll in, the 1⁄4 silk was swapped for thicker 1⁄4 Grid and then, finally, Full Grid.

When the storm hits, Diggs tries to flee in his hot-air balloon, but the craft is no match for a tornado, and Diggs is sucked into the swirling vortex and loses consciousness. When he wakes, he peers over the edge of the gondola and thrills to a landscape unlike anything he has ever seen. In a moment that echoes the transition from sepia to color in The Wizard of Oz, the camera sweeps 180 degrees around the balloon to reveal Diggs’ view, the monochrome image blooms into full color, the screen expands from 1.33:1 to 2.40:1, the stereo depth widens to maximum effect, and the sound transitions from single-channel mono to surround sound. “It’s a moment, for sure,” says Deming.

Raimi wanted to build as much of Oz as possible mainly because “he was concerned that the actors wouldn’t know their environment [if everything was virtual],” says Deming. “The only place where we didn’t do that, because it didn’t make sense, was the Yellow Brick Road.” Production designer Robert Stromberg compares the design of Oz to the work of the Hudson River School in the late 19th century: “They knew photo-real paintings would just be boring, so they added pools of light and colored light and pushed their work into a place between a dream and reality.”

Raimi wanted to maintain a continuity between the physical Oz and the maps that appear in Baum’s books, and in some instances, Deming needed to make a camera move to or from a landmark on the horizon that existed only virtually. An augmented-reality system called Encodacam (from General Lift) helped them bridge the gap. “Sam, Rob Stromberg and the previz team designed all of our 360-degree environments in the computer,” Deming explains. “Then, the Encodacam team came to the set and did a complete survey of the stage space and the sets. They put tracking mechanisms on the dollies and cranes, and they did a live composite of the actual set with the digital background while the camera moved so the operator could see it in his return, and Sam and I could watch it at video village. To a certain extent, it was a guide for visual effects, but it was extremely helpful to us on set, particularly for the sets that were mostly virtual.”

 

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