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GANGS OF NEW YORK

The Visual Effects
Beyond authentic language and scenery, Scorsese wanted the look of GANGS OF NEW YORK to capture the almost hallucinatory quality of this New York City unlike any we have seen in modern times. For this, he collaborated with director of photography Michael Ballhaus – their sixth time working together. 

"Filming with Marty is such a pleasure because he is so visual," Ballhaus says. "He has so many images in his head, and to fulfill his vision, to bring it onto the screen is fantastic. I must say I feel this is the most exciting project Marty and I have ever done together. The film has so many elements –action, a great love story, a conflict between father and son in a way. I think this is the first movie that deals with this period in America, and that's very exciting."

  Ballhaus and Scorsese wanted from the beginning to conjure a spell with the film's lighting. "Before we began shooting, Marty gave me a book on Rembrandt that discussed the great painter's philosophy of light," recalls Ballhaus. "We wanted to understand it because we wanted to keep the source of light in the film very simple— a candle, a torch, fires burning in the street."

He continues: "In those days, there was smoke and fog everywhere. It was before electricity. Gaslight was used, and people also smoked a lot. Things were always burning, lots of little fires everywhere. I used very few filters because of the smoke, and in some scenes very little light. Most of the film takes place in a part of town that's very poor, so there is a lot of darkness and very little color."

Ballhaus also worked closely with production designer Ferretti. "Dante is such an incredible artist. His sets are built as if they're real, which allows you to work as if actually shooting on location. We were able to do some spectacular wide shots, photographing in every direction."

He continues: "For example, we did a shot of the harbor at night, starting close on a couple of mourning women who are walking alone. We see the coffins of their loved ones, and then the camera cranes up and up and we see rows of other coffins. And the camera kept going way up over the ship and then panned over on the water. We also did a very complicated shot in the Chinese Pagoda, starting with Bill the Butcher on the Pagoda stage with the camera behind him looking at the audience. Bill is pontificating about America while he's throwing knives at human targets. The camera pivots around him quickly and then returns to its initial position, so that you get to see the entire Pagoda and everyone in it, in one shot." 

Academy Award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell, working with Scorsese for the first time, also played a crucial role in creating the ambience of this other New York City: a world of men and women in beggar's rags and faux-Victorian finery. She began by pouring through whatever existing photographs from the period she could find. "It's an unusual period, not very much portrayed in movies, but we were lucky," she notes.

"Daguerreotype photography had just been invented, so we had images to look over. And I also had access to the reams of research Marty had done. But I didn't want to rely too heavily on research. Marty was very specific. He wanted me to create a world that hadn't been seen before, but a world that was based on reality. I took that as a guide."

One of her first tasks was finding a way to visually differentiate the various gangs. "Of course, the gangs didn't wear uniforms, but I wanted them each to have their own look. One thing I learned a

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