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The Design Of Valkyrie
From the beginning, Bryan Singer knew he wanted VALKRYIE to defy the usual look and feel of a film set in the World War II era. He envisioned a visual style that would echo the moody beauty and intensity of classic films of the 1940s yet would rocket with the pace and tempo of a modern action-thriller. Quite early on he began consulting with long-time creative collaborator director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel on how they would create this on screen. 

Sigel most recently worked with Singer creating the comic-book worlds of X-Men and Superman Returns and he was excited to face a completely different challenge. "Instead of worrying about green screens and wire removal, we were going to be capturing history,” Sigel says. "I was very excited because I'm fascinated by history and politics and the social mechanics of the world, and it was great to make a film with Bryan about all of those things.” 

There was also a strong personal connection in Valkyrie for Sigel. "My mother was born in Berlin and fled in 1938 right before Kristallnacht, so on an emotional level the story resonated very deeply for me,” he says. "Working on this film gave me an opportunity to talk to her about things I'd never heard from her before.” 

Sigel and Singer discussed finding a distinctive but understated look for the film that would allow the anxiety and emotions of what these imperiled conspirators were experiencing to come to the fore. "We mixed the classical look you see in some of the films from that period – with their more formal framing and weird oblique angles – with elements of a contemporary thriller,” he says. "I'm usually very impressionistic in my style, but we held back more on this film. We felt strongly that we wanted the visual style of the film to be very respectful of the reality of these events and the sacrifices made. The lighting, the angles, the relationship between camera and subject – they always had to be one of singular and simple truth.” 

They also determined the camerawork would subtly evolve from the first half of the film when the plot is in its planning stages to the latter half when the plan to assassinate Hitler is in full motion and stakes are ratcheted to relentless levels. "The beginning of the film, before the bomb goes off in Hitler's [conference hut], is done in a more classical way, with cranes and dollies and more formal, fluid compositions,” Sigel says. "But after that, it's almost entirely hand-held. We used a particular kind of hand-held work with the cameras on the shoulders that feels almost like a hand-held dolly. The result creates a kind of subtle nervous energy, a feeling of uncertainty, increasing the suspense and anxiety.” 

To delve deeper into recreating the inner world of the Third Reich, Sigel watched lots of old footage, including recently discovered color film from World War II and eerie home movies shot by Hitler's mistress, Eva Braun. "The footage was very helpful in giving me a sense of the way people moved and dressed and the feeling of the atmosphere, which is something we wanted to authentically capture,” he comments. 

In terms of palette, Sigel focused on varying shades of red. "Red was really the symbolic color of the Nazi Party and I think it represents the primal bloodthirstiness of this regime,” he says. "Like the camerawork, the colors get more intense as the film progresses, and you also see some of the warmth and optimism of the conspirators start to fade.” 

Lighting challenges were another major element of the photography, particularly because Singer and Sigel hoped to recreate the tense, shadowy feel of Berlin at night, where citizens were told to keep all lights out and curtains drawn in case of sudden bombing raids. "That was one of our biggest challenges, because the city had to be very dark at night,” says Sigel. "In fa

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