WWI: The Cinematography of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2’

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two was a gut-wrenchingly funny and deep exploration of science fiction with a solid cast, deep characters and a moral complexity unseen in most large-budget films. The cinematography is a visual feast which boosts the appeal of every sequence to it’s maximum in it’s bombastic stylistic craziness. It adds a zing and energy to every scene which underlines core motivations, heightens the humour of a joke and helps deliver the emotional punches where necessary. Henry Braham is extremely talented at framing and camera movements to add a certain comic or dramatic edge to each and every quip or dramatic turn throughout the intertwining narrative. He understands the source material and works closely with digital design to shift tone through his use of colour, lighting and pure ingenuity. The film is beautifully respectful of its source and marks a step in the right direction for the MCU as a new visual style in their ever-expanding comic book universe. I was gripped by the pure joy spilling out from the colour schemes and photography throughout the entire duration of this feature film.

Guardians was shot with the Red Weapon 8KVV with Pannavision Premo 70s lenses. The reason for this was it’s small compact form which allowed Braham to shoot handheld or on a rig with the same compression and detail. Arriving at the space battery platform we see a very interesting set. The talent is lit by the orange glos of the batteries. The blue storm clouds are kept white to contrast against the pallete of the warmer practical edge light. The final light source is an uplighting from the platform to create a soft illumination. This subtlety creates a nice colour composition. The talent are surrounded by a 270 Sike of digi-blue screen. To create the lightning effect they used a really hot toplight. The transluscent panels act as an uplight to practically light the set. The virtual cinematography in the background includes a golden city with a blue sky to create a nicely contrasted pallete. The gilmble was used for the majority of the sequence. When Gamora leaps at the beast the Wendys 1K parlights flash to give a strong backlight. Unlike the rest of the sequence this bit is shot with an Oculus head to play the role of a gimble on a Super-techno 50. She is shot in static on a running machine as the virtual cinematography captures the moving environment.

To shoot Gamora slaying the beast Saldana was put in a wire rig jumping from a platform with the support of the harness. This was shot with a cablecam in a linear path with the same gimble below for full coverage. The camera drops straight down as the talent falls lit by Creamsource LED Image 80s imitating the final slaying of the beast. This lighting allowed them to change colour and dim so as to give the set the ambient light feel. The final part of the sequence is shot with the Cable Cam, Mitchell Mount, Chapman Leonard stabiliser and the Oculus Head with the RED camera and Pannavision lens. To end this sequence we have a shot of Drax stabbing at the beast from the inside. To shoot this the production crew created a cross-section of the organ with a pipe break and two grips holding the gimble while the camera was remotely operated.

During the Sovereign introduction, the whole scene is covered in gold with a slightly blue palette mimicking the look of a trophy. The lighting matches this creating a large gold light source on all of the Guardians. The background lighting is white while the toplighting was yellow. The floor is made shiny to complement the LED strips on the flooring. One remarkable aspect of this is the virtual reflection of the city on the black shiny floor to make it feel more tied together. When shooting rocket in this scene virtually the CG team did a great job with Braham in creating realistic eyelights and a gold edge light.the exposure is perfect. Switching to Ayesha we ssee a mid-shot of her in front of the main set. The colour pallette and lighting creates a nice comic book look without appearing too digital at any point. This scene was lit with a gold shiny LAME material alongside some cineo HS2s which have been bounced from the LAME into the set to create the illusion of daylight. The look is therefore white light with a bit of bounced gold light. All elements including the LEDs were practical for added realism.

Shooting the digital spaceship chase sequence we are orientated so that the sun or light source is always coming from the right. This motivation is carried throughout the sequence. Starlord is seen with the red practicals in the background for the sci-fi look. The talent is hit by a hard light from the right. Baby Groot is also lit in this way with some bounce back warm light digitally illuminating his figure. This sequence was shot with the Oculus again pointed into a reverse shot and lit by the MOL beam from the right to create the hot light. This sequence adopted an up and coming approach with the Event LED screen used as a source of diverse lighting. The shift in colour adds even more realism. This is enhanced by the Aery Skypanels, some T-bones and some Chroma screens and a skyjack on a gimble alongside some LEDs which are uplighting the floor alongside the lightgear panels. The skypanels boomed out onto the over the windows are shooting out coloured light into the top.

Moving to a shot after this sequence we see Gamora lit entirely by practicals including an LED and some console BOCAs with a blue cyan ambient and some red for the spaceship feel. Alternatively, when we see Yondu in his escape sequence a different set of methods are used. We see Tedsla coil with a purple tint in the background complementing the red sci-fi light and his red eyes with lots of cool lighting to go with it. This was shot using the same gimble instead of a MOVI. Henry wanted the RED camera for its ability to shoot 8K with such a big sensor fitting on such a small gimble which auto-levels itself while being remotely operated. This is all kept lightweight by the Preston MDR box and coils with the wireless headset. Therefore communication with Henry could be consistent.

Shooting the large Ravenger sequence at thevery end of the film continued the trend of the Oculus head with a RED camera. The typically blue practicals are a little bit magenta. The coloured glass are LED edge lighted to give the impression of a see-through display. The backlight panels at floor levels add to the scene by giving it a strong sci-fi feel. The old-school lamp sconces are warm and hint at the eighties feel of the film. The really high-tech lighting contrasts nicely with the old-school vibe.

Meeting Ego we see a very interesting set-design in whgich his spaceship is oval with a wamly lit interior architechture.We meet him in a 200mm lens to flatten him out and pout him in front of very rounded ethereal shapes to create a warm, inviting scene. The white to grey gradients, curves and warmth give the impression of a god like paternal figure. The design language is modern and visually pleasing with it’s curved lines. The lightign is recessed so that you never see the source and it appears to come through a diffusion layer giving the scene several highlights and gradients. This scene is the cinematic equivalent of painting which really catches the viewers eye. The scene is clearly uplit by some LED and uses some TV screens with diffusion to bounce around the edges. The framign of the scene is not central because the crew know they have to centre cut safeing it to 4:3. The colour correction corrected the harsh redness of the LED screens surrounding the empt spaces.

Moving on to Ego’s planet we see drax looking at a magical water bubble which turns into a montage linking into the terrace dance scene between Star Lord and Gamora. The Oculus HEAD and RED vista vision camera capture this scene with a 10 inch boucne giving the scene a nice top light. This particular scene is shot directly onto blue screen with a practical handrail. The second half of this sequence is shot directly into a Muzz-lit shooting into grey and white to get the correct reflections and lighting on the talent’s skin. This adds realism to the appearance of skin under sun lighting.

When we begin to sense somethign is wrong, we see a shot of Drax and Nebula with the same twilight blue sky light in the background. The practicals are put on either side of Drax. In sharp contrast to this we see an external scene with Gamora seen running from the gunfire of an overhead spaceship. The red Mars-like looking sand jumps up as the cable came flies after the talent. To get the reverse shot we see the scene is backlit by the Wendys as the technician flicks thge explosive switches in quick succession. The handheld gimble is held by two operators as they run infron of the talent to get an incredible pulling back shot.

Overall, Braham has adopted a diverse range of lightign techniques and setups to create awesome palettes of coloru on screen and fantastic visual compositions. The contrast in colours works perfectly in sync with the production design and more often than not comes together cohesively with the virtual cinematography.  Braham demonstrates a clear understanding of how to adopt new technologies and techniques and move them onto a larger scale feature film smoothly and effectively. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of every shot as it lives and breathes the 80s wacky Star Wars vibe throughout the whole narrative.

WRITING WITH IMAGES: THE CINEMATOGRAPHY OF ‘GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2’

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