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Skyfall
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Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

    For this sequence and many others in Skyfall, Deakins made use of a Power-Pod remote head mounted on an Aerocrane jib arm, a technique he has often used in the past. In fact, much of his camerawork followed the approach he and Mendes had developed on their previous collaborations: a mix of careful planning and spontaneity. “It stays the same — it’s not about the scale of the movie,” says Deakins. “On Jarhead, Sam said to me one day, ‘Here we are, doing a $70 million picture with all these stunts and explosions, and you’re shooting with a handheld Arri 3-C!’ It was the same on Skyfall. Some days, [B-camera operator] Pete Cavaciuti and I would both have handheld cameras on these big stunts. That’s the way Sam and I like to work; we both enjoy being quite instinctive on the day.”

    Big action scenes, such as a train crashing through the roof of an underground bunker, required multiple camera positions, but in general, the number of cameras was kept to a minimum. Deakins notes, “It varied from day-to-day and depended on the scene, but it wasn’t like we had to do everything with five cameras just because it’s a Bond movie. Sam likes to have the main cameras focused on the characters and the dialogue. Sometimes we’d add other cameras to get little pieces, and, of course, with all the complex action sequences, we did use additional units. Both [2nd-unit director of photography] Alex Witt and [splinter-unit director of photography] Peter Talbot shot some fantastic footage.”

    The visual-effects team also used Alexas. “Because he had no experience with digital capture, Steve Begg, our visual-effects supervisor, did some very comprehensive tests in prep with a number of film formats, as well as another brand of digital camera, in all sorts of situations where the dynamic range of the camera was key,” Deakins notes. “Steve did some fantastic work on the film both with models and CG comps.”

    The cold look developed for the Shanghai skyscraper contrasts with a view Bond gets of a room in a neighboring hotel, which is suffused with yellow and stands out like a box of light in a cold environment. “Color was very important throughout the shoot,” says Deakins. “We tried to shoot London exteriors in overcast conditions, though that wasn’t always possible. In the story, MI6 is driven underground into bunkers beneath the city, and there we used harsh fluorescent lighting and a monochromatic feel. When we cut from that to Shanghai, we punch into this futuristic world, and then, for the casino in Macau, the idea was to go back to an older, more mysterious world, so we chose red and gold. Each color palette was designed in the context of the others.”

    The waterfront Macau casino was also a set built at Pinewood Studios. The sequence begins with an exterior shot of Bond approaching the casino on a small boat, surrounded by hundreds of floating lanterns and navigating through

illuminated arches in the shape of dragons’ heads. “We shot that on the Paddock Tank at Pinewood,” says Deakins. “We wanted some sort of boom arm to track behind the boat, but we had to get back from the edge of the tank in order to make the most of the space. My grip suggested a 100-foot SuperTechnocrane, and that allowed us to do the tracking shots, get the very high angles we needed, and work very quickly. I think it was the first time that particular crane had been used in England, and just about every grip in the country came out to see it!”

    The dragons’ heads provided the strongest light source, while the floating lamps were dimmed-down 100-watt fixtures. Higgins explains, “The wiring was underwater, and for safety reasons, we had to find bulbs that would run at a low voltage. We used 24-volt fixtures that ran off a power supply rather than batteries, and we gave them a bit of flicker. They had stabilizers hanging down from them, so we didn’t need anyone in the water. We were lucky it was a calm night, because a strong wind would have caused real problems! In the background, the entire outline of the casino was lit with thousands of 60-watt golf-ball fixtures on dimmers. That was a massive rigging job for my practical team.”

    Once Bond enters the casino, the camera follows him around in an extended Steadicam shot, which largely dictated the lighting design. “You see the whole set in that one shot, so we had nowhere to put normal movie lights,” continues Higgins. “Roger fought to get a two-day pre-light, and we rigged various kinds of practicals. We had a workshop at Pinewood, and whatever the art department designed went through there. Every practical in the movie was modified or made on site.”

    “We rigged about 260 practical lights, and most of them held a heavily dimmed 1K bulb,” Deakins elaborates. “Another part of the set was lit by about 100 double-wick candles that had to be replaced every 10 minutes. Over the gaming tables, we modified some big overhead lanterns by lining the shades with a gold stipple reflector and putting in 2K bulbs, which were dimmed, to bounce off the gold and create warm, glowing light over the tables. For the sequence in the bar, we did a big, gold bounce rig, which was the most complimentary way to light faces. We used a number of different techniques.”

    The set had the appearance of being entirely lit by practicals, but Deakins’ crew did rig other lights for closer work. “In the center of the main gambling area, we had a 20-foot circle of 2K Blondes on a truss that could be lowered to give a soft, gentle light, with the Blondes dimmed to about 20 percent,” says the cinematographer. “We also had well over 200 300-watt Fresnel lamps on scaffold pipes that we could drop down to get the light at 45 degrees to the actors.” Higgins adds, “The poles varied between 6 feet and 20 feet long, with multiples of six Arri 300s, going up to 18 on some of them. We used multiples of six because the dimmer packs output in six channels, so a single cable from the dimmer could deliver six circuits.”

    For Mendes, the lighting of the casino set was a good example of how digital capture benefited the production. “The way Roger lit that set, with all those practicals, was extraordinary, and there’s no conceivable way we could have done that on film,” he says. “That’s just one of many examples of how much flexibility the Alexa gave us without sacrificing the look of the picture for one second.”

    Other aspects of digital acquisition, however, pleased Mendes far less. “With a lot of big monitors on set, there’s a slight sense of a spread of focus, which is not what I’m used to,” he observes. “There is also a certain loss of magic in the process of transformation that happens between shooting an image on film and first seeing it on the big screen. It gives you a huge lift to see what you shot the previous day projected large, if it has been properly timed. On Skyfall, it was the other way around, because we could look at the image on a very good monitor on set and see it exactly as Roger intended, and when we saw dailies the next day, they were lower-resolution images and wouldn’t look quite as good. So there wasn’t that wonderful sense of surprise.”

 

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