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I recently sat down with Director of Photography Bill Pope, ASC and Visual Effects Supervisor Robert Legato of the recent visual spectacle, The Jungle Book. We discussed the modern role of a cinematographer and the important collaboration between the visual effects department and physical photography.
Yuri Neyman, ASC: Bill, what were your visual references for The Jungle Book? How did you go about developing the look and language of the film? Robert, how did you become involved with the project and what was your input like in the early stages of pre-production.
Bill Pope, ASC: Jon (Favreau, Director) and I referenced many films, for both good and bad attributes. We did not wantThe Jungle Book to look like what we called the first generation of CG films: perfect in lighting and camera movement, and therefore sterile. We wanted something closer to Never Cry Wolf, which was shot on location in the Arctic, with a more visceral and real feeling.
Robert Legato, ASC: I was brought on at the very beginning to help plan the entire project in terms of work process and methodology and create a test for the director and the Disney executives. I was hired in the pre-planning stages and worked extensively with executive producer Pete Toby in creating the pipeline. I also helped establish the virtual camera procedure based on my past experiences with virtual production dating back to Avatar to firmly emulate the photo-real quest of the project. Adam Valdez of MPC, Bill Pope and myself helped establish the look of the film based on the simplicity of the Alexa curve. Adam Valdez with Technicolor established the “Show Lut” which was used in both dailies and the final DI.
Yuri Neyman, ASC: What was the collaboration process like once you got on-set, with the integration of live-action photography (Bill Pope) and visual effects (Rob Legato)?
Robert Legato, ASC: I was the 2nd unit director and director of photography and also additionally operated the virtual camera which created the template for the film in close collaboration with Bill. He set many of the lighting directions and tone of the scenes, both on set and virtually. I also managed the methodology of how certain scenes were to be realized including camera platforms, partial sets and stunt capture. By the end we had two stages going everyday and leap frogging setups to keep to the schedule. I usually was shooting 2nd unit and additional 1st unit shots as the needs of the sets dictated. We worked together to maintain the same look regardless of who was shooting it at the time.
Bill Pope, ASC: Every department had to coordinate every step of the way. We would gather in Rob’s corner of the stage, next to the editor and Camera Capture areas, and review each day and set-up with all Heads of Departments. Artistically and technically, the most difficult aspect is explaining and reaching an accord with all departments on even the simplest of building blocks.
Yuri Neyman, ASC: The film tackles some of the most complicated visual effects imagery in recent memory. How did each of you approach using the advanced technology necessary for the virtual camera and lighting design?
Bill Pope, ASC: The new tools created many great possibilities, and will always be in the back of my mind as a possibility for every film. In regards to the virtual lighting, first the camera capture was lit in Photon. Then the set was lighted to match. Then the VFX folk (MPC and Weta) added their animals and backgrounds to match. Each step was reviewed by Jon (Director), myself, Chris Glass (Prod. Designer), Andy Jones (Animator), and Rob. One of the most satisfying moments on the project was being in the Camera Capture Cage, and making pure imagery with minimal constraints.
Robert Legato, ASC: There was no separation between the sensibility and discipline of translating what was to be done live on stage or virtually captured. It was a straightforward integration both creatively and as a planning tool for live action or as the photographic basis for a full CG shot. Adam Valdez (Technicolor) and MPC created the CGI pipeline early on and produced remarkable results. We never shied away from lighting conditions or shots that featured traditionally difficult CG recreations (fire, water, hair/fur, etc.) Besides the state of the art hair and grooming tools they created in house the use of a fully featured “Ray Tracing” renderer created the exact simulations of “real light.”
Yuri Neyman, ASC: What advice would you have for young DPs just starting out, who would want to shoot The Jungle Book 2 (or 3, 4, 5…), what advice would you have for them at this point in their careers?
Bill Pope, ASC: Your future is determined by who you choose to work with. Cinematography is in a very exciting time. We have more storytelling tools to work with, and the audience has become more accepting and aware of artistic effort. Some of the best professional advice I received was, “If the schedule is impossible, then ignore it.”
Robert Legato, ASC: The tenets of photography are exactly the same, the more practice you have in any format will bode well for the future of more CG rendered films. Having a firm foundation in composition, blocking and lighting and the understanding and appreciation that CG is just another form of camera will prepare you for a smooth transition. Fear of the notion that they are totally different disciplines or require a specialized form of training will inhibit you from embracing the future. Not all films will be created this way but many will have some sequences in one form or another included in the process.
Continue reading the full interview in our most recent Global Cinematography Institute Newsletter here:
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