THE SMURFS 2
About the Photography
The film's director of photography, Phil Meheux, BSC, made a key change that would affect the way the audience saw the film: a new camera. "On the first film, we learned that if the Smurfs are all going to be in focus within a certain shot, we need more depth of field, and that means more light or more sensitivity from the camera," explains Meheux.
To capture as much light as possible -- and allow the filmmakers the greatest depth of field -- the filmmakers shot with the new Sony F65 camera. The camera's state-of-the-art image sensor offers a higher image fidelity than any other digital cinema production camera.
"I light the Smurfs even though they don't appear. What I do is light specially made Smurf character models, accurate in size and shape," explains Meheux. "There is a camera which captures HDRI and measures the lights, what direction it's coming from, and what value it is, so they can replicate that in the computer."
Once again, lighting the Smurfs was informed by the lessons from the first film. "We have to shoot a lot of sequences and pieces where the Smurfs appear to be moving things, so we've learned new ways of animating objects," explains Meheux. "We know what's coming. We know how best to deal with it, and whether it's worth doing. For instance, in lighting the Smurfs, if a Smurf is in a place where I can't get the light at him, I would give the heads up to the visual effects supervisor: the light there is not exactly how it is, you will need to create the light for that. And he makes a note."
Before filming a scene, Meheux and the filmmakers relied on actors to portray the Smurfs. "When we deal with the Smurfs in any particular scene, we have two voices that play all the characters for us," explains Meheux. "We have little models with moveable heads and arms, so we actually animate them and act out the scene, so that we can get the atmosphere of the scene."
Actors Sean Kenin and Patricia Summersett, who filled in for the Smurfs in these rehearsals, were instrumental in incorporating the use of puppets into the filmmaking process. "On the last movie, we were just voices," says Kenin. "But I thought we could be of more help by puppeting the characters around, so Raja could look at the shot, and he agreed."
"We work closely with Raja to give the puppets life," continues Kenin. "When they're walking somewhere or interacting with each other, they have heads and arms that move that we can play with to give them a little bit of a life, rather than just sticking a thing in a frame and taking it out."
But in addition to being particularly helpful with the lighting challenges, the Sony F65 camera also allowed the filmmakers greater flexibility artistically. "One of the big advantages of making a movie with animated characters is that you're not locked in to what you captured in principal photography -- on a 100% purely animated film, they are constantly tweaking, changing jokes, changing animation, sometimes right up until they lock the picture. The challenge with our movie is that it's a hybrid of live-action and animation -- we have to give the animators that flexibility, but, as we discovered on the first film, they were often hindered by a camera movement that had been locked in months earlier when we shot the movie. So this time, the question became, how do we solve that? How do we let the animators change the action after we shot it?"
The answer was the F65. "Since the camera shoots a 4K image, we were able to compose a frame-within-the frame: we captured a larger image than we intended to use, and we had more room to move the frame around in the captured area," says Richard R. Hoover, the film's visual effects supervisor. "In other words, we built a 10% pad into every shot we did, allowing us in post-production to blow up, reframe, and move the camera around. It worked out great for us."
As certain interiors were reproduced and shot on soundstages in Montreal, Meheux's photography would have to sell the idea that the two locations were one place. "If you're recreating a real location indoors, you try and capture the light," says Meheux. "I made notes on what everything looks like, how they light the Eiffel Tower, the Trocadero Fountain that's in front of it, and when I recreated those elements in the studio, I had notes, photographs and memories from our location scout."
Of course, nothing matches filming in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. "Who wouldn't want the job of capturing the beauty of Paris?" he says. In addition, the fact that the movie is a big, bright comedy was attractive to the cinematographer, who is best-known for his work on action films like Casino Royale, for which he was honored by his peers, the British Society of Cinematographers, with their award for Best Cinematography. "I like doing films for the whole family," he says. "This is a change for me. It's amusing, it's fun, and I get to do attractive photography as opposed to hard-edged photography."
Which is not to say that there isn't plenty of action in the movie. For the film's central sequence -- a stork ride above the city -- the filmmakers called upon a number of techniques. "We were able to fly the cameras in Tuileries Park, around the Ferris Wheel, and around the model of the Statue of Liberty," says Gosnell. "But, as you can imagine, we looked for something a little safer when it came to some of the other parts of the sequence, like the flying buttresses. For those, we used a Steadicam -- a man walking through, doing the flying motions, and we sped it up. It's old-school, but it still works perfectly. For other shots, we used cranes or camera cars -- every shot had a slightly different approach."
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