For The Lone Ranger
's return to the big screen, director Gore Verbinski and director of photography Bojan Bazelli, ASC designed visuals with the strong contrast and desaturated colors of a bleach bypass process. One of their goals was to avoid merely pretty pictures, a danger in the iconic exteriors where they filmed like Monument Valley in Utah and Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.
After extensive testing, Bazelli chose to shoot the exteriors on 35 mm film, with interior, night and low-light scenes captured on ARRI
ALEXA Studio cameras with Codex
recorders. The images were framed in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the lenses were mainly C-series Panavision
Bazelli overexposed the film and compensated by underdeveloping slightly, and combined that with DI manipulation to create the look of day exteriors. The ALEXA footage was matched to that look in the DI, which necessitated the extended dynamic range and richer resolution of the ARRIRAW workflow and Codex recorders.
The production took delivery of the ALEXA Studio just a few days before the start of principal photography. Bazelli has experience with the ARRIRAW workflow -- he was one of the very first cinematographers to use the ARRIRAW format, on Rock of Ages
, a teen musical that was a hit for Warner Bros.
and New Line in 2012. Bazelli says that in his experience, shooting with the Alexa and recording to Codex delivers superior quality and greater flexibility in post.
"In my opinion, it can be more forgiving to shoot on the ARRI Alexa because in certain situations, you need less lighting," says Bazelli. "With the additional dynamic range, you can occasionally disregard adding a little bit of lighting in the bottom of the curve. You know you have the detail there. With ARRIRAW, you have 14 or 15 stops of range, which the Codex can record. It gives you a greater comfort level."
Bazelli on the set of THE LONE RANGER with a 35mm film camera. He used 50 ASA stock on most exteriors. Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Bazelli had no qualms about cutting between slow (50 E.I.) daylight film stock and the ALEXA, which he used if the day clouded over. In one scene, which features a close-up of a pocket watch in the foreground, he needed the ALEXA's sensitivity. "We wanted infinite depth of field, and we could only get that with a Frazier lens," he says. "We needed a stop of 22, so even 500 ASA film wouldn't do the trick -- and we didn't want to shoot on high speed film anyway. So we used the ALEXA. No one can see the difference when we switch."
Matching dark interiors with an exterior view through the windows that was in tune with the look of full exterior shots was a concern for Bazelli. "Anytime you see exterior though the windows, whether it's on a train, in a jail, or in a bank, the amount of highlight, the tonality in the shadows and the degree of brightness is an identical match to exterior scenes," he says. "The cuts from interior to exterior match, and I'm very proud of that. If we had shot the interiors on film, I would probably have had to blow out the windows. You end up opening up the stop a little more to handle the mid-tones, and that would cause the windows to blow."
Helena Bonham Carter in THE LONE RANGER. Bazelli used ARRI ALEXA with Codex recorders in interiors and other low situations. Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.
"In the digital world, because you see exactly where the range is when you're shooting it, you can dial in the perfect third-stop or half-stop differences that are crucial to matching," he says. "I could dial the brightness to where I really wanted it. Every time I lit an interior, I found the stop by pointing the camera out the window, and adjusting the iris to the point where I liked what the exterior looked like. I'd lock that iris in and that was my exposure. Now, the interior was all pitch black, obviously, because there was no light, but then I would light the interior to that particular stop."
The result was perfect matching of inside and outside. "When you travel from interior to exterior, you feel it's all one world," says Bazelli. "And you wouldn't be able to do that with film. It's very tasty in my world. Nothing disturbs your vision or the flow of the scene, and the ALEXA, ARRIRAW and the Codex recorders helped us quite a bit with that."
Visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander (Titanic, The Village, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rango
) says that his top priority on the project was to make sure everything looked as real as possible. "Gore was very adamant about the movie feeling like a true Western and not a big VFX-heavy movie," he says. "Even in the moments where we were doing something over the top, the visual effects had to mesh and look real. There was no room for showing off. The trains proved to be a difficult task as well, as everyone knows what a train looks like. Even though it appears that the trains are doing things that are not extraordinary, they in fact are. Speed, two trains running side by side, or even running backwards are really just now achievable with normal trains and visual effects."
Alexander says that Codex was the right choice because of portability and reliability. "Because of the distant locations and tough working conditions like dust, moving trains, et cetera, the Codex was really the way to go with the cameras," he says. "We decided to shoot certain sequences digital and others film, with the goal of making the overall film feel like it had been shot on film. The RAW workflow was really the only option for us as we needed the best color depth and fidelity possible to match to the film, as well as to give us more control in the DI, later in the game.
Distant locations and tough working conditions like dust, moving trains put the cameras to the test. Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.
"We were using the new Kodak
VISION3 stock, which after we measured it came out to something like 20 stops of latitude," says Alexander. "We switched the show to a full 16-bit pipeline from the scanner all the way to final film-out to maintain as much bit depth and color fidelity as possible. At no point did we go to the industry standard 10-bit log DPX files."
Alexander says that the additional fidelity helps in a number of ways. "The more the better, especially in terms of pulling extractions," he says. "No compression makes edges better. Oftentimes compression is fine to the human eye, and a lot of camera systems use compression aggressively. But when we start manipulating the images, the compression artifacts really show and make the visual effects artist's task more difficult. Given the choice, I would always go for the deepest bit depth possible and no compression on digital sources."
Both Alexander and Bazelli hope to use the ARRI ALEXA again and, when they do, they want to pair it with Codex recorders. In particular, both of them look forward to upcoming enhancements to the Codex that will make their jobs easier: Alexander is eager to exploit a higher frame rate to make small events look larger, or in cases where he needs to do aggressive retiming of a sequence, and Bazelli is excited to know that Codex recorders will soon be onboard the camera.
The Lone Ranger
is a perfect example of how a feature film can skillfully integrate 35mm film and digital footage, each used for what it does best. Now that the ARRI ALEXA Studio enables filmmakers to use anamorphic lenses, and the Codex seamlessly records the images, there's no reason why Bazelli -- or any other cinematographer -- can't combine film and digital for a filmic look.
Title graphic, top of page: Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer in THE LONE RANGER. DP Bojan Bazelli, ASC designed a bleach bypass-like look that features high contrast and decreased color saturation. Photo by Peter Mountain. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry Bruckheimer Inc. All Rights Reserved.