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The battlefield scenes were shot during the English winter, when daylight doesnt last very long. Out of necessity, Primo 11:1 and 3:1 zoom lenses were used the most, and multiple cameras were deployed to capture the thousands of extras in combat. "We used [Panavision] Platinums and GIIs and a bunch of Arri IIIs, and we used an Aaton [XTR] as well," Mathieson details. "For handheld shots, everyone would scramble for the Aaton because it was lightweight. The focus guys were suspicious of it because its light and delicate, but the Aaton was very popular and reliable. That was the camera I used a lot, because I knew I could just walk off somewhere with a short zoom and get a shot. [Assistant director] Terry Needhams logistics were incredible. I would say, Terry, what the hell is going on? And hed say, Well, youre over here. This is going to happen, so point the cameras that way. It was a struggle and a bit of a rush to get through such a big schedule. I would just do what I thought was going to be good in a given situation."
Having a large arsenal of up to seven cameras at a time allowed Mathieson and Scott to operate periodically, along with A-camera operator Peter Taylor and Steadicam operator Klemens Becker. "Peters very good at handheld work; he kind of floats along," Mathieson testifies. "Klemenss Steadicam work is very elegant and precise. In those [multi-camera] situations, I was thinking, Someone has got to be getting something good."
Throughout the production, the filmmakers steered more toward a variety of tracking shots (accomplished with dollies and a mobile Giraffe crane mounted with a HotHead II), as opposed to sweeping crane moves. Mathieson submits, "Ridley and I dont like a lot of high shots. The light flattens out. All of the operators just had to learn to get really strong frames Ridley Scott-type frames!"
The cinematographer maintains that Scott was quite flexible when it came to getting what he wanted photographically. "We didnt wait for the light," he explains. "Look at the opening sequence. Theres sun, then theres clouds, and then theres smoke. I said, Ridley, its f***ing snowing! He yelled, Cut! I dont care. At least if youve got multiple cameras in that situation, you can get a lot of coverage under one condition."
Mathieson photographed the battle scenes at various frame rates and with a 45-degree shutter. This technique, employed to great effect for the battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan, helped to make the combatants appear more aggressive, and to reveal clear sword movement through the air. "We got into trouble one day with the light towards the end of the battle, so we couldnt shoot at 45 degrees," he reveals. "Instead, we shot everything at 8 frames, which gives you two more stops, and printed that back to 6 frames. Then we stretched that back out [to 24 fps]. Of course, each exposure is really long. Youve got these people swinging swords, and its no longer frenetic with all of these sharp edges you get a far more brushy stroke. The sword becomes almost like a fan as it gets pulled through the air. It worked very well for the scenes in question, which happen as the battle is winding down. The approach wasnt designed ahead of time, but Ridley is flexible like that."
The films lengthy battle campaign was shot using uncorrected Kodak Vision 200T 5274, and the only filtration consisted of polarizers, which helped to keep things simple while yielding a cold winter look. Much of the blue hue of the tungsten film was taken out during timing sessions at Technicolor in London and Los Angeles. "In London, we got some very nice results from [timer] Keith Bryant, and Dale Grahn did the print [in Los Angeles]," Mathieson says. "We used 5274 and [EXR 50D] 5245, which I often pushed by one stop. The idea was to keep it simple. I used 5274 outside for [scenes set in] Germany, all of the night exteriors and some of the interiors. I would push the 5245 for day interiors or exteriors if it got difficult."
Adjacent to the charred and muddy battleground was the Roman encampment set, which features the emperors large tent as its centerpiece. Mathieson recalls, "In the eave of the tent, we stuck some batten bars, simple light bulbs across the top, which gave off a very low glow. That created an ambience so the scenes wouldnt dive into deep black. It was very difficult to rig into. We lit from the floor, basically. We used 5Ks and 10Ks through some heavily diffused Chimeras, and we put Cosmetic Hi-Light and straw [gels] in front of them to give the scenes a candlelit look."
Two cameras were used whenever possible. Since the motivated sources were oil lamps on stands or tables, the lighting units were placed no higher than eye level. In order to enhance the soft, flame-lit glow, opal and shower-curtain diffusion were added in addition to the gels. A bit of bounce and soft Zap lights were also used, as well as small, hidden Kino Flos to pick up pieces of shiny armor. Those fixtures were gelled with the same colors, but if the Kinos were burning too cold, 1/8 or 1/4 CTO was added.
In the encampments courtyard, Mathieson went for a less inviting look by replacing his straw gels with L.C.T. Yellow (a light greenish-yellow color), while keeping the Cosmetic Hi-Lights on the 5Ks and 10Ks. "It would have been nice to use smaller [lighting] units," he concedes. "But since we didnt use very fast stocks and because we wanted a heavy negative while shooting in Super 35 we had to stick with those fixtures and even 20Ks in other scenes. We used a Wendy outside in the courtyard to give us a backlight, and we warmed it up with 1/2 CTO. I didnt want a cold backlight. I didnt want the warm candles and a moon sort of thing."
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