Photos taken with Sony A7III & Nikon 50mm f1.2
Photos taken with Sony A7III & Nikon 50mm f1.2
An unknown character's reflection is visible on the surface of muddy water. The camera tilts upward as the man reaches under the water and grabs a bunch of worms in his hands. He notices an aircraft (known as a spinner in the film) fly nearby. The spinner lands and dust fills the air.
In a previous scene, Ryan Gosling's character, 'K,' is shown riding the aircraft that just landed. Rather than keeping him in the spotlight, we are introduced to a new character, a protein farmer, and we see the next few shots in this character's perspective. Based on my movie viewing history, opening scenes tend to stay fixed on one character, but I believe Denis Villenueve intentionally chose to shift characters quite early in the film to build tension and keep both characters on an equal playing field.
In terms of the cinematography of this scene, I like the way the first shot of this character starts with a medium-shot of his reflection (1) rather than his actual face. The camera tilts up (2) but it does not go past his ankles. We then cut to a full shot of his whole body (3), getting a better sense of his surrounding but still unable to identify who he is. By limiting our visibility of his physical appearance, Villenueve is purposefully withholding the character's identity for a later scene, and as a result, heightening our curiosity.
(3) Great composition in this shot through the use of leading lines, natural framing, and symmetry.
The sequence ends with a mid-shot of the protein farmer looking at K's aircraft flying above (4) and cuts with it landing nearby (5).
(4) The main subject, K's aircraft, is highlighted by using natural framing. Also, by using a low-angle shot, the character appears massive in comparison to the aircraft.
Once the spinner lands, a drone exits the aircraft and levitates upwards nearby a lifeless, gray tree. We then see 'K' walk through the dense fog, observing the environment around him. He peers at nearby facilities that look like greenhouses while walking towards a building with a yellowed entryway. He arrives in front of the yellow door, pauses, and quickly scans his surrounding. We see 'K' enter a dimly lit living room and slowly walk towards the kitchen. A pot is boiling on the stove top, the blue flames bright and active. Someone is home. 'K' turns around and glances behind him before cutting to the next shot.
It's easy to miss, but the reflection of the tree can be seen on the spinner's front window (1). The camera then tilts upwards, revealing the tree in the center of the frame (2), pausing ever so slightly before cutting to the next shot. The use of negative space and center composition seems to suggest that the tree holds some value. These details may seem insignificant, but they help draw the audience's eyes to objects that not only hold symbolic meaning but play a part in the plot of the story.
The building 'K' enters is, in my opinion, one of the most beautifully lit sets in Blade Runner 2049. Roger Deakin's minimalist approach to lighting is perfectly appropriate for the introduction of the film. With the windows as the main light source, the interior is dark enough to give off a moody, eerie vibe without completely crushing the blacks in the shadows. The shot of the kitchen (9) is a great example of how a dimly lit set can still retain a ton of details.
(6) Great depth in this shot. You have the "greenhouse" in the foreground, 'K' the resident facility, a tractor, barrels, and more miscellaneous props in the middleground, and the mountain/hills in the background.
The dirt pathways act as leading lines which help to move the audience's eyes towards the subject, 'K.'
(10) Nice, subtle lighting on 'K's face. When watching this scene for the first time, I caught myself first staring at the bright window, the light reflecting off his forehead, then finally to the whites in his eyes. This is a good example of how proper use of minimal lighting can help achieve interesting images.
The protein farmer rinses his suit before off his helmet, finally revealing his face. He looks towards his left and sees the spinner parked next to the leafless tree. The drone is seen patrolling the surrounding.
The way that the film shifts from the perspective of one character to another seems to indicate that at this point of the film, both characters are on an equal playing field. We don't really know who the main character is because both roughly get the same amount of screen time. We see what 'K' sees and also what the protein farmer sees. Is one the hero and the other the villain?
Suspecting that someone may have broken into his home, the protein farmer walks cautiously towards his kitchen. As he gets closer to the kitchen sink, we see 'K''s silhouette against a window nearby. He is sitting quietly. The protein farmer washes his hands in the kitchen sink. Then the first lines of dialogue begins.
Again, the use of minimal lighting to create great contrast between lights and shadows is exemplified perfectly in this scene. In the first shot, silhouettes of the characters created by the warm light near the entrance of the home and the cool window lights visually help guide our eyes to the subject. The use of silhouettes to frame the characters is also present in shots 4 through 9. These lighting techniques help add mood to the environment of the scene and add beauty to what is a relatively mundane room.
(1) This shot was photographed beautifully. Two windows and a doorway are positioned in the center line of the frame. By differentiating the the doorway to the two windows with varying color temperature (warm vs. cool), dimension (large vs. small), and content (subject vs. no subject), the protein farmer stands out.
(3) The use of contrasting colors makes this shot really dynamic.
(4) Silhouettes created beBoth 'K' and the protein farmer are framed using the window light. Though blacks are dominant in this shot, there's enough light to illuminate the kitchen and ground. The shadow on the ground below the protein farmer adds a nice touch to this image.
On Saturday June 16, I had my first job on a film set. I was one of the two production assistants (PA for short), for the shooting of an episodic comedy web-series starring an all black cast. As a PA, my role falls on the way bottom of the totem pole so my responsibilities ranged from setting up chairs to cleaning ants off tables. It was probably the least glamorous job I've ever done, but to my surprise, it was fulfilling. I was finally on a film set working with directors, actors, a DP (director of photography aka cinematographer), and many other people collaborating to create videos! Coming from an accounting job where I would sit down all day, this was a totally new but exciting experience.
There are a few things that I've learned on the job as a PA:
Overall, it was a great opportunity to be a part of a film set. Looking forward to the next one.
As a child growing up in the 90's, my movie viewing history consisted mostly of Disney animated films and cliche summer blockbusters. If the movie did not have a copious amount of explosions, guns, or colorful animation, I likely did not watch it. Films released before my time, particularly the ones shot in black and white seemed to lack what most people crave in movies still today: entertainment.
It was not until the past couple of years when I began to appreciate and enjoy watching older films, starting with classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Godfather, and eventually black and white films. I found the stories in these films to be much more captivating than the ones I was used to viewing. Craving for animations and action sequences were soon replaced with films that told great, sometimes simple, stories, that were often less concerned with special effects and heavy plots, and more about interesting characters, believable worlds, and strong themes.
Bicycle Thieves, one of the first black and white films that I have watched, opened my eyes to how films can function as works of art rather than entertaining pastimes. The film, directed by Vittorio De Sica, an Italian filmmaker, tells an emotional, tragic story of a father and son searching for a stolen bicycle. Yes, the plot sounds overly simplistic, but the film is nothing short of a masterpiece. I'd like to focus on two aspects of the film, the story world and characters, that I feel make it an exceptional piece of work.
Note that there may be spoilers in the commentary.
Tip: Click on the image to enlarge it.
Bicycle Thieves, which takes place in post-Word War II Rome, relies on imagery and character actions rather than dialogue to illustrate the world. It is filled with shots of ordinary citizens living in the city and going about their daily business.
For example, scene S1 depicts a group of men gathered next to an apartment building looking for jobs. They appear to be desperate for work, even angered and envious when when they find out that Antonio Ricci, the protagonist, is offered a job. The next scene (S2) shifts to a group of women in line, waiting to gather water from a pump surrounded by a barbed fence. They hold large buckets so they can carry water back to their homes. Scene S4 shows men biking around the city. These introductory scenes of Bicycle Thieves vividly paints what the socioeconomic environment of Rome was like without characters explicitly calling it out: many men were unemployed, there was no running water in apartment buildings, women often were outside pumping out water, and citizens often used bikes as a form of transportation.
Shot S3 is a more symbolic representation of Rome and her citizens. A pawn broker, who purchased bedsheets from Antonio in exchange for a bicycle, is shown walking up a ladder that leans against an infinitely high shelves that are layered with bedsheets. This is a ingenious and comical way of portraying the socioeconomic landscape without the use of dialogue. It instead relies purely on imagery and the audience's interpretation of it. As the scene concludes, we are left asking, "How many other people like Antonio and his wife pawned their bedsheets?"
Scenes S5-S8 are further examples of scenes that focus on everyday citizens to illustrate and help set the context of Bicycle Thieves's story world.
Where the supporting characters help establish the socioeconomic environment, the primary characters, Antonio and his son Bruno, drive the narrative forward. Their relationship is particularly interesting because as the story progresses, we start to better understand who they are and the relationship they have as father and son. Similar to the story world, the film does not rely on dialogue to reveal character details.
As a disclaimer, the descriptions below are my personal interpretation of the characters. I believe that films are subjective and often intentionally left ambiguous, and therefore open to multiple interpretations.
Antonio & Bruno's relationship
2001: A Space Odyssey is by far one of the greatest sci-fi films of all times. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and written by Arthur C. Clarke, the film is a true work of art in both its visual and storytelling elements.
Thanks to Christopher Nolan's unwavering commitment of re-releasing Kubrick's masterpiece in 70mm format, which was developed using preserved original negatives, I was fortunate enough to watch the film again, but this time the way audiences viewed it for the first time in the late 1960's.
Since a majority of films and television show we see today are shot on digital cameras, watching 2001: A Space Odyssey in the analog format was a breath of fresh air. The unpolished, soft yet textured look of the film not only adds to the film's stunning cinematography, but also evokes a sense of realism to a science fiction film made five decades ago!
It is without a doubt one of the most beautifully shot films and will likely remain in my top ten list until the day I die. If you have not yet watched the film, I urge you to do so.
Here are images of some of my favorite shots accompanied by brief commentary and/or description. Note that there may be spoilers in the commentary.
Tip: Click on the image to enlarge it.