Rupert Sanders’ neon-dipped cyber-punk slice of sci-fi drama exhibited a feast of visual spleandor. The immersive world-building was only matched by it’s engrossing colour schemes and atmospheric composition. Moreover, the lighting in each scene served to accentuate ther colour groupings of each environment and the tonality of every sequence. Furthermore, the smaller scale action felt well-paced as a result of Hall’s clever use of space to imply scale and the procedural feel to every moment of combat keeping pace with each emerging element. A relatively young DP, Hall makes a series of bold progressions from his previous work and strikes out on his own to some success. Having worked on Hot Fuzz and The Spectacular Now in a similar role he had always been heavily directed or minimised however in this project he was really able to speak freely and with conviction in the way he approached filming.
The film was shot with a Cannon XE15 in part but mostly with the Aery Alexa 65 in a close A shot B shot double up for those smooth transitions. The two camera coverage makes sense for the high star power visual effects explosions scenes so as to improve coverage as long as one is consistently on the same axis. The Pannavision lenses used are standard and reliable sources. This equipment is supported by one of the newer Oconnor 65s with a Chapman Hussler 4 Dollies. This standard equipment makes perfect sense as doe sthe choice of camera; it being able to capture so much more light and it’s framing dexterity. The two camera set up meant that we could see a profile and a 3/4 frontal angle simultaneously cut between one another. In typical sci-fi manner the practical sets used a lot of digital sputnicks.
When shooting the boat scene we see a Lieberhead beign used in overslung mode to absorb as well as to balance out the swing and waddling of the boat. Impressively this was shot on a practical location to encourage colour correction and add to the realism. This added to the immersive feel of the sequence and allowed Major’s monologue to be delivered in a more responsive manner. The shot is fairly telephoto using an extreme depth of feild of view so as to highlight the content of the dialogue over the beauty of the surrounding city. To fully achieve the A and B shot they used somethign called Q-Tig with VTR in a 52 position to record the different feeds. This is really necessary on film and digital because if the director agency wants to watch playback the camera unit can go set-up without having to playback from the camera. When scoping out these shots Hall used an Pannavision Alexa 65 view finder to reflect the appearance of the digitally squeezed version.
In the beginnign sequence when Major is being constructed we have a very dark space with a very bright light and something blocking it on top of which are several transluscent mechanical elements, shiney elements and repeated lines and red highlights to create a beautiful composition and to add a poetic eloquence to the visuals. Sci-fi usually uses a cyan backlight with red practicals. While a lot of it is practical such as the camera movements but a lot will be computer generated. The following shot is a mid-shot profile of the android which has translucency but also a blue coloru correct with little red practicals in the background. Then we switch to an arc of practicals surrounding a front on mid-shot of the android with light from above. To add rythm to this sequence Hall switches to a textural closeup of the head as it is clipped into place. Each shot links tinto the next in a logical sequence reflectign the beauty and slickness of the manufacturing process and immitating the effect used in car advertisement.
The almost complete CGI reveal of the full body is not real but in keeping with the lighting with one direct light source and the hazing to surround. Following this we see a low angle shot of the mould dispelling as we see the light source creating a strong edge light on the robot body. The mould layer catches the light almost as a flourish or signature as everything is revealed in a full shot. During this sequence it was lit with extreme blue saturation which was turned down greatly to a dark green in the colour correction process. This was to achieve a very specific colour scheme without seeming unnatural or out of place. The lights surrounding the figure are on a chase in a circular fashion and a re digital Sputniok DS1s which is a n innovative use. Red digital sputniks are also seen below shining red to match the low red accents. This shot pulls in and up for an upward looking shot at the model using a Hussler to smoothly grip into place. To achieve the blue saturation effect they used a sky panel with some super blue into the background. This is all complemented by the focus puller.
The shutter for this sequence was 172.8 so that it could deal with a 50 Herz flicker. The white balance was left at preset so that the lighting on set could be altered with a static light absorbtion setting from the camera counterpart. The outputs are 709 going to the director, while the second is going to the DIT to do some preview grading and EVF is getting 709 also. It is amazing how much of this sequence was captured in camera with practicals. It shows how much of Hall’s work relies on the authenticity and realism of a deeply engaging real-life robot skeleton construction. When we see the brain being implanted we see how much is being captured by getting the camera movements, texture and general placement accomplished in frame.
To capture the sliding shot of the full skeleton the digital original spier is used in conjunction with a 25×75 and a Tango head. In terms of lighting an ETC source 4 is used to the top-right with a Cineo red LED with little red dots showing up as reflections. The android raising out of the white goop is shot practically against the green. Liquids can be difficult to shoot in 3D so Hall adopted a slow motion shot with an Alexa 65 at least for plates if they weren’t already comping over it. To shoot the fianl reveal a surprising amount of the set was shot practically to match the feel of the original Anime in the way it captured foreground/background. A big sky light comign straight down with a digital sputnik 1 pushes some blue light towards her to add soft coverage on her features. This is rounded off by a passive reflection frame adding white reflection into the scene and a 12x light grid with digital sputnik DS6s pushing through it as an active filler, the key light being from the top.
Moving on to the roof-top scene we see what can be assumed to be a digital camera move as we are flyign through the city up to the roof at which point it turns into a real shot in which it wraps around Major to land on a 3/4 profile. This mimics the original perfectly while also initiating us into the hybrid environment we will soon become familiar with. This shot takes a different tone and acts as an establishing shot to encapsulate the urban scene, the hawk-like crouch adn it’s parallels, the voyeur esque sweeping insight of Major as she contemplates. The lighting for Major used a digital sputnik with an egg-crate to control it and two circular bounces on the bottom to fill in. This is helped by a 20x of half frost and on a Chapman Super Pi Wi 4. This results in a pretty hard pinged-out eye light. The partial built antanae and lots of chroma green adds context to the jump and adds perspective to the talent.
The following commerce meal scene starts with a wide-shot and the forepanel lit from below with some ergonomically shaped lamps. The first shot is a techno crane shot pushing through telescoping out over the table using a Scorpio 5 stabilised head crane using a little used mode for extra clearance moving so low to the table. This articulation of an initiating shot means that we get a feel of the atmosphere, setting, context and subtext immediately and complements the sound design. The flooring for the real set is recessed to give an erganomic unity to the scene. They use two soft banks overhead with digital sputniks with two skylights and an aditional 40×8 grid with two grids supported by Truss to hold the practicals and the cream saws. The floor uses light ribbon LEDs lighting in on itself for each panel to uplight the set. The walls are black shiny plexi.
The effect of this design is to create a calm feung she as the calm before the storm. This is reflected by the soundtrack and rythmic swaying of the animatronic waitresses in the initial shot. It demonstrates a nature and Asian inspired production design to match the tone of the sequence. This is reflected down to the material used for the anamatronic waitresses with the avoidance of any matt fabrics and the adoption of reflective surfaces. Therefore the one light source is ominous and simplistic. To achioeve the dramatic entrance a 12×12 with a sider is used pushing a ton of DS-6s through it in the purpley sci-fi back light colour. Major jumps in slow motion through the CGI window and then runs up the wall using wire work. Which cuts between a slow motion pan and then switches mid-shot to an overhead view for a sense of scale and to articulate the three piece action in it’s full dexterity as well as beign a gratuitous shot of the LED floor.
Jumping to the third act we see Aramika being surrounded by Hanka mercenaries reminiscent of the film ‘Drive’. An orange/green CTS 20K LEDs are strung up with digital sputniks turned green as an alternative to sodium vapour in lighting this scene. This scene was shot with a scorpio stabilised head and achieved the rain effect with the rain towers to add reflective floors, atmospherics and to reflect the main light achieving the sickly yellow glow to the scene. This 20K with a CTOS tuned yellow on it colour codes the scene as subconsciously dangerous and adds to the calustrophobic opressive feel. For the first part of this sequence they use a Moviebird 65 Telescopic technocrane to pan out from the car interior in such a way as that we feel roofed off and trapped much like in the contained space of a car.
In conclusion, Hall is an extremely adept, able and competent with camerawork, composition, lighting and how he composes sequences with vastly different underlying purposes. He distinguishes himself with his problem-solving ability and knowledge of lighting techniques to instill a sense of atmosphere colour coded throughout achieved through a knowledge of technical and logistical shortcuts. Although this essay has not covered every element of his work in this film it demonstartes a limited range of his growing talents for his craft. I would criticise that some of his shots feel repetitive or out of place with tone, however this is outpaced by his confident balance of finger-licking style and steadier dialogue-based substance. He goes the extra-mile to achieve the exact shot he wants by overcomign obstacles with his technical prowess as a keen and highly intelligent DP.
WRITING WITH IMAGES: THE CINEMATOGRAPHY OF ‘GHOST IN THE SHELL’ (2017)