The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents July 2008 Return to Table of Contents
The Dark Knight
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
A Hybrid Finish
Get Smart
Short Takes
DVD Playback
ASC Close-Up

The Dark Knight centers on the relationship between Batman (Christian Bale) and police Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and their attempt to curb crime in Gotham. They are joined by District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), who, with Batman alter ego Bruce Wayne, forms a love triangle with Assistant D.A. Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). A new villain, the Joker (Heath Ledger), presents a difficult challenge for law enforcement because of his nihilistic methods.  

“In this film, Batman is going in a new direction, and the environments we created are completely different from those in Batman Begins — Wayne Manor has burned down, and the Batcave has been replaced by a brightly lit secret bunker,” says Pfister. “We wanted to suggest a colder, more modern world, and rather than going dark with everything, we had fun with some brighter environments. The red-yellow patina of Batman Begins came naturally from the sodium-vapor lamps we used so much, and Dark Knight’s different environments became an excuse to play with colors a bit more.”  

The new film features three distinct tones: one is slightly blue-green; another is neutral, almost black-and-white; and the third is a rust-like tinge that references Batman Begins. “Early on, I suggested to Wally that because the film is called The Dark Knight and is about, metaphorically, extremely dark subjects, it would be interesting to play against that for much of the film and make things as bright as possible, even as the material gets darker,” says Nolan. “I encouraged Wally to be open to different textures for different scenes and not be too rigid in terms of an overriding style, and he really warmed to that. His style of photography is very naturalistic and very subtle; he’s very good at making things feel real with an unforced and natural beauty, and that’s what we were really after on this film.”  

The 35mm material was shot with Panavision cameras, two Millennium XLs and a Platinum, and the production carried the same E-Series and C-Series anamorphic lenses Pfister had used on The Prestige, along with some Panavision Super High Speed lenses. The picture was filmed on two Kodak Vision2 emulsions, 500T 5218 (rated at EI 400) and 250D 5205 (rated at EI 200). In certain situations, Pfister pushed the stock a stop to gain speed while maintaining solid blacks. “I’m not a guy who changes film stocks to create a different look,” he notes. “I like to have a simple set of tools and change the look with lighting and exposure. 5205 has a very solid grain structure, and I usually use it all day long with ND filters during the brightest parts of the day. By the end of the day, the filtration is out, and we’re not scrambling to change stocks.”  

The first 66 days of the shoot took place in Chicago, mostly on location. “Chicago is the most spectacular-looking city, and to be able to shoot the smallest throwaway scene in such large-scale, real locations adds grandeur and texture [to the picture],” says Nolan. “A lot of the key imagery in Batman Begins was shot in Chicago, and the city was very accommodating, so I wanted to do as much of The Dark Knight on location there as possible.” Asked if there was a connection between the decision to shoot Imax and the vastness of many of the locations, Nolan says, “They were very much tied together. I talked extensively with Wally and Nathan Crowley about using the full height of the Imax screen, and when we scouted locations, we were very mindful of getting a lot of height and scale to really use that frame. One of the biggest challenges I put to Wally was that we would have a lot of nighttime photography where we put the camera on the ground to shoot people walking towards the camera, yet we’d still see the tops of the tallest buildings. In terms of hiding lights and keeping them out of frame, that’s an enormous challenge, but he and his team came up with some pretty innovative solutions for that.”  

One solution was to light the action with fixtures that appear in frame as practical sources. Also, many of the basic decisions about lighting were rooted in the locations. Much of the story plays out in bright, vast spaces, uncluttered expanses that emphasize Batman’s solitary nature. Several major Chicago locations were buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, including the IBM building at 330 N. Wabash. A number of locations from Batman Begins were revisited, including Lower Wacker Drive and the Old Post Office.  

The shoot began with the bank-heist sequence, which was shot in the Old Post Office. The scene was a trial-by-fire of the Imax idea and was chosen in part because it unfolds in the daytime. Built in 1921, the Old Post Office features a granite-and-marble lobby where most of the heist action takes place. Huge windows lined one wall, where gaffer Cory Geryak and his crew used a dozen 80' Condors with 7K Xenon lamps to mimic shafts of sunlight. Additionally, 100K Softsuns came through giant bay windows at both ends of the space. Existing fluorescents were augmented by new high-output fluorescent fixtures. “Stylistically, it was a fairly uncomplicated lighting setup, but because of the size and shape of the Imax frame, which left very little room to hide lights, the setup was huge in scale,” says Pfister.  

The most complicated exterior situations in Chicago were the chases on Lower Wacker Drive and a series of rooftop scenes. The filmmakers had shot a major chase on the same two-mile stretch of Lower Wacker for Batman Begins and knew the stacked thoroughfare would offer several advantages: it’s effectively a covered set, so weather is less of a concern, and the overhead concrete offers places to mount additional lights. Pfister’s crew positioned Par cans to highlight the arches that line the river side of the street and stationed BeBee Night Lights on Upper Wacker and the overhead deck of lanes to throw light on the background buildings across the river.  

“With two miles of road to light up, there’s only so much you can do, even on a budget like ours,” says Geryak. “We’d shot anamorphic on Batman Begins at a T2.8, pushing the film half a stop, so we knew we could get away with it. In situations like Lower Wacker, sometimes it’s better to create points of light. For one section, we had a foundation of existing sodium-vapor lights and added some soft white tungsten lights by strapping them to pillars. For chase shots, that gives you a little more life in the negative and the feeling of speed as they flicker and flash by.”  

Typical of the interior situations in Chicago was Bruce Wayne’s home, a vast penthouse apartment that actually comprises a number of locations. The biggest scene there depicts an elegant party for Dent that is eventually crashed by The Joker. The penthouse bedroom was filmed in the top floor of Hotel 71, a boutique hotel on the Chicago River. The party scenes were filmed in a ground-floor hotel lobby, ostensibly Wayne’s living room; in order to create the illusion of being on the top floor, the production lined the windows with greenscreen material that was backlit by 40 2K tungsten lights and later replaced with city views. The art department created large bookshelves along one wall to hide the lobby’s elevator banks and hung cascades of tiny Christmas lights between the shelves. There was also a smattering of practical table lamps.

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