I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve interviewed quite a few people and I actually think you have the distinction of being the first cinematographer I’ve ever interviewed, oddly enough.
Excellent. Let’s do this.
Because sometimes I just use it for my own edification, how about the work of a DP? What are you doing?
Sure. Excellent question. If we think of a DP, whatever the film, whatever the media, whatever the genre, my job is to lead this team which determines, with the director, with the editor, what is the implementation plan. scene and camera for the film? That is to say, how is the film shot? Where is the camera? Does the camera move? What types of lenses do we use? How do you go from one plane to another? What is the visual style of the film in terms of what we see? And in the animation, we also look at how the characters are staged? How are they related to each other? Where are they in the set?
Often in live-action, actors come in and they go through a blocking process with the director, and the DP finds an angle that works. Since we don’t really have actors on set, we have animators and they come after us, layout, our team figures out where those characters are and what their brands are. Buzz is going to come in, he’s going to turn to his friend Sox, and he’s going to sit on the bed. They are going to have a conversation. Sox will run away, Buzz will follow him into the kitchen, or whatever. And do we like it? Should Buzz be sitting on the bed? Shouldn’t he be sitting on the bed? How it works? This is the outline of what a DP does.
You mentioned the general terms of what a DP does in filmmaking in general, but how does that compare to doing that for a gigantic scope animated film versus doing it for a movie of real action? How does this change the scope of your work?
It means I can make a lot more mistakes. For example, a live action movie, you do your shots, you shoot everything you’re going to shoot, and it goes to the editor and hopefully it all works and it cuts together. Maybe if you’re lucky you get a re-shoot day or a few re-shoot days or whatever. But man, it’s really up to you to make sure everything’s okay. Here, it’s much more collaborative, it’s much more iterative. For example, we’ll build a bunch of shots and put together how we think the sequence might play out. We’re going to build alternate cuts or different blocks, different stagings, maybe we’ll try a camera like this for this shot, instead. It’s all editorial, but we’re working very closely with whoever is editing this scene. And sometimes it’s another editor, before Tony Greenberg, our editor-in-chief, takes it.
So while they’re watching it, we’re watching it with him and anybody can say, ‘I don’t think this transition from this shot to this shot is working. Do we have anything else? Can we film anything else? “Yeah. Great. Actually, you’re right. This camera seems too fast. Let me go back and fix it and send it.” Or even now we do lighting reviews, it’s like, “I don’t think Buzz is as focused as he should be.” “Okay, fine. I’ll fix this. It’ll take me two minutes and then you can redo the render.” Rather than, “Shoot, that whole roll was a blur. Guess we’re gonna have to get Chris Evans back. Is he free? He’s not a busy guy, right? Can we do that? I know it’s “It’s my fault. It’s okay. Right?” I’ll never work again. That way we can kind of do whatever we want.
We can also make any equipment we want. Want a crane? I found you a crane. We want to do a drone, a tracking shot, whatever, we can do it. With all that freedom, however, comes that added responsibility, of not going to town and doing whatever you want. You always have to respect the craft, or understand that when you move a camera, the whole image moves. Everything moves at the same time. Audiences are so sophisticated, even though they may not know it, what a film looks like and how the cameras move. Yes, you can also do a lot of CG and live-action stuff, but it has to have weight. He has to give the impression that he is a real presence in the shot, especially in CG. We’re going to all that pain to make sure it feels real enough that you can suspend your disbelief for 90 minutes and say, “Yes. I’m watching Buzz Lightyear in space on this planet fight Zurg.” As soon as this camera starts doing something strange, I question everything. As an audience member, I’m like, “Well, this isn’t real. Wait a minute.” Now I’m no longer following Buzz’s adventure. I am reviewing the movie on my own.