The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents January 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Pan's Labyrinth
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Allen Daviau, ASC
Apocalypto
Little Children
DVD Playback
Production Slate
Post Focus
Short Takes
ASC Close-Up
 

Working with the Madrid rental house Cherokee Luz, Navarro assembled a Spanish crew that featured many new faces. He recalls, “Pedro Almodvar was shooting Volver at exactly the same time we were shooting Pan’s Labyrinth, so a lot of the guys I had used on Devil’s Backbone were already busy. I had to have some ‘blind dates,’ but it actually worked out very well.” The film’s gaffer, David Lee, who has worked with Navarro on a number of projects, says, “It was mostly a younger crew, but they were very good technically and very enthusiastic. In Spain you get your crew through the same place that you get your equipment, so Guillermo got in line with an equipment house that offered up a younger, less-set-in-their-ways crew. This was important, because [key grip] Rick Stribling and I wanted to use an American grip/electric system, as opposed to the European system they were used to.”  

The production also benefited from the Spanish film industry’s tradition of 5 1/2-day weeks. “Saturday is a half day — you finish things up or do a little scene,” explain Navarro. “That was one of the advantages of working in Spain: we bought more days. Also, the dynamic is slower, so we were accomplishing the setups we needed, but they were not big numbers.” The schedule allowed shooting to continue for three months.  

Along with Lee and Stribling, Navarro arrived in Spain with the Moviecam Compact cameras he owns and uses to shoot all his movies. In addition, he used his own Arri 435ES for some of the film’s visual-effects scenes. The cinematographer used two lines of Zeiss lenses, Ultra Primes and Variable Primes, depending on the setup.  

Some of the production’s most-used equipment was homemade in Spain, especially a small crane dubbed the puchi, in an apparently garbled translation of the English command “push in.” Navarro explains, “I first used the puchi on Devil’s Backbone and immediately fell in love with it. It’s a crane that’s handled by one operator and gives you the ability to move the camera very freely. It’s very versatile. You can rest it somewhere, undersling it, or sling it over your arm; you can lay track and move it; you can start very low and go up to the height of a person. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of equipment I’ve encountered. I actually purchased one and brought it to Los Angeles.” Usually equipped with one of the Variable Primes, the puchi was often operated by Navarro; it was occasionally used side by side with a Steadicam operated by Jaromir Sedina, another of Navarro’s frequent collaborators.  

Navarro defines the picture’s camera style as “searching.” From the earliest scene, as it follows the flight of a mysterious insect that catches Ofelia’s attention, “the camera is looking and revealing things to you and teaching you, rather than simply presenting things to you,” he says. “We had very elaborate setups. The camera moves and finds every corner of the set, and it was a very complicated lighting proposition each time. It was also very difficult for the focus puller, and thank God I had a fantastic one, Juan Leiva.” To create fluid transitions — or sometimes just to enhance the constant prowling of the camera — the filmmakers used elements in the frame to motivate wipes. “The camera would go by a tree, or by a black flag that we would put in the shot, and boom, we were in another shot,” says Navarro.  

The cinematographer used three Kodak film stocks on the picture: Vision 250D 5246, Vision2 500T 5218, and Vision2 200T 5217. The latter emulsion was used for interiors and exteriors that occupied a visual middle ground, either those with a particularly blue palette or those that required day-for-night photography. The filmmakers shot day for night for sequences that take place in the forest at night; this was necessitated by the scope of the shots and the difficulty of lighting the location after dark. Navarro underexposed 5217 by 3-4 stops to film these scenes, which take place at a point in the story “where the worlds are crossing each other,” he notes. “You feel in a naturalistic environment of the night, but with certain ingredients that only the sunlight gives you. We were basically collecting light with boards and silver reflectors, so that when the sun hit the greens in the forest, they would pop.”  

The extremes of color are easy enough to spot in Pan’s Labyrinth. When Vidal’s men greet dinner party guests at the mill during an evening rainstorm, the Steel Blue gel Navarro uses lends the images a forbidding, almost monochromatic sheen. “It’s a blue that has a bit of green to it, so it has a silvery look,” he says. “I dislike the traditional candy-blue nights. This steely blue is colder and doesn’t feel so foreign.” At the other extreme, sequences where Ofelia undergoes her trials in the fairy-tale world, such as one where she must snatch a knife from the dining hall of the faceless Pale Man, have uniform warmth. “Sometimes the color was on the lights and sometimes it was on the camera,” says Navarro. “If I wanted to affect the entire image, I used a chocolate filter on the lens.”  

But the filmmakers did not adhere to the color guidelines rigidly, even in the picture’s early scenes. Ofelia’s encounters with the faun in the deep well, or pozo, beneath the labyrinth are clearly within the steel-blue range, as are the faun’s visits to Ofelia in her attic bedroom. “In the pozo, cooler tones felt more organic to the exterior nights and to the scenes that would connect with it,” says Navarro. In Ofelia’s bedroom, the cold palette contrasts dramatically with the warmth of the Pale Man’s set, which she enters after drawing a chalk doorway on her bedroom wall.  

The film’s fantasy environments were particularly challenging to light. “The pozo was basically a cave with a 10- to 12-foot-wide hole at the top, and squeezing enough light to light the entire space through that hole was logistically tricky,” recalls Lee. “We didn’t have a lot of ceiling height, so we couldn’t get very far back from the hole. The only way we could get some distance from it was to do a bounce.” Lee’s crew surrounded the hole with instruments that shot up into a silver card overhead, which then bounced the light down into the well. “The quality of the light was a bit soft and felt organic,” says the gaffer. “Because it was silver, we could punch through a little bit stronger light here and there, and just sort of paint this big room through that little hole.”  

In the Pale Man’s intensely warm environment, which is dominated by red tones and a blazing fire, Navarro’s lighting team was faced with similarly limited options. In the corridor Ofelia walks through to reach the dining room, small skylight-like holes were built into the ceiling to allow for sources. Lee recalls, “We brought in something fairly soft from there, just so there would be a little bit of level as she walked through. Rick Stribling and I rigged Source Four Lekos around the holes and bounced them into white or silver cards. Then we had places to plug in small lamps hidden throughout the hallway. We hung 150-watt Linestra tubes on the backsides of the columns and then taped them until they were doing something that didn’t look like we’d just hidden lightbulbs everywhere. Sometimes we put an Arri 150 or 300 on the floor and bounced it into something, but this was rarely possible because the camera moved so much and saw so much.
 

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