Interviewed by Eric Steelberg, ASC, cinematographer Martin Ruhe, ASC details his visual approach to actor-director George Clooney’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic, which is also an intimate character study.
Based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, The Midnight Sky juxtaposes the journey of a crew of astronauts aboard the spacecraft Aether returning to Earth from a mission to K-23, a habitable moon of Jupiter, with the terrestrial efforts of scientist Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) to contact the crew and prevent them from returning home following a global catastrophe. Lofthouse, who lives alone within an otherwise abandoned Arctic research base, suffers from a terminal disease, so as he endeavors to communicate with the Aether crew, he must also survive his harsh reality.
The Midnight Sky is the third collaboration between Ruhe and Clooney (seen below), following the feature The American and the miniseries Catch-22 — the latter of which Clooney served on as executive producer, actor and director. “George and I were at the premiere of Catch-22 in Los Angeles, and he invited me to work on his next project,” Ruhe told American Cinematographer. “He explained the story was like a mixture of The Revenant and Gravity, and I thought that sounded great. He also referenced On the Beach.”
To capture the size and scope of the locations, Ruhe selected Arri Alexa 65 and Alexa Mini LF cameras paired with Arri Prime DNA and DNA LF prime lenses, respectively.
Ruhe collaborated closely with production designer Jim Bissell (E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial, 300, Velvet Buzzsaw) and visual-effects supervisor Matt Kasmir (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Catch-22) as principal photography took place between November 2019 through February 2020, with production beginning on location at the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, which stood in for the exteriors of the Arctic research station.
At Shepperton Studios, the production deployed the StageCraft LED wall in-camera visual-effects process pioneered by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) on the Disney + series The Mandalorian (ACFeb. ’20). For the background imagery, Kasmir oversaw the capture of live-action footage in Iceland from an array of five Alexa Minis.
Ruhe says that the StageCraft process brought yet another layer of realism to the cinematography. “There’s a shot when Lofthouse is in the control room drinking coffee in the morning and looking out the window. All those reflections in his eyes and on the set are in-camera and real. We used the LED wall to achieve those reflections and basically light the set itself.”
Ruhe was born in Paderborn, Germany, where he lived until he began military service in Augustdorf. After he was discharged, Ruhe departed Germany to study photography at the University of Seville in Spain.
Following his graduation, Ruhe moved to London, where he gained his first practical experience in the film industry working at Samuelson’s Camera Rental and Cell Animation at Motion-Control Studios. After a year of working, Ruhe returned to Germany to study at the State School of Optics and Photography in Berlin, and he earned a diploma as a state-approved first camera assistant.
Early in his career, Ruhe worked as a focus puller on commercials, music videos and television movies before moving into the role as director of photography. Since then, he has worked as a cinematographer on a number of music videos for artists including U2, Depeche Mode and Coldplay, and commercials for companies such as Coca-Cola, Adidas and Mercedes.
His other narrative credits include the theatrical features Control, The Countess and Harry Brown. His other television credits include the series Counterpart and the feature American Pastoral.
For his work on the telefilm Page Eight, Ruhe won the 2011 ASC Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Motion Picture/Miniseries Television, and his work on the Mykki Blanco music video “High School Never Ends” garnered him the 2016 award for Best Cinematography in a Video at the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography Camerimage. Among his accolades, Ruhe has received awards from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the London Film Festival, the German Commercial Awards and more.
He became a member of the ASC in 2018.
A Los Angeles native, interviewer Eric Steelberg’s upcoming supernatural comedy Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the cinematographer’s eighth feature film collaboration with director Jason Reitman, following The Front Runner; Tully; Men, Women & Children; Labor Day; Young Adult; Up In the Airand Juno. His other credits include 500 Days of Summer, Baywatch and the period biopic Dolemite Is My Name.