The American Society of Cinematographers

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Dark Knight Rises
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Nolan usually doesn’t create storyboards for scenes unless visual-effects work is involved, and in those instances, boards and animatics are created for every shot. When he and Pfister met with visual-effects supervisor Paul Franklin during prep for The Dark Knight Rises, most conversations began with, “Can we do this for real?” Nolan explains, “When it comes to visual effects, the idea is to always do as much as possible practically. I think that whenever you can shoot something for real, the computer-generated enhancements, when you need them, will look that much better.”  

Even the most complicated visual-effects shot also contained a substantial number of practical effects created by special-effects supervisor Chris Corbould and his team. “The whole point of our visual-effects work on the Batman films is that we don’t want the work to grandstand,” says Franklin. “There are no surreal digital moments. Every visual effect in The Dark Knight Rises has some kind of photographic element, be it a foreground element or a background plate.”  

The most complicated visual-effects shot in the film required more than 10,000 extras, a team of stuntmen and live explosions. The scene takes place at a football stadium where a Gotham Rogues game is underway. Bane has rigged bombs to explode at various locations in Gotham City, and he has placed several beneath the stadium. When the charges detonate, the football field and most of the players on it are sucked into a massive hole.  

The filmmakers captured the action on 15-perf 65mm at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. In post, visual-effects artists at Double Negative, working with a 5.6x4K image from an 8K scan of the negative, rotoscoped the foreground elements from the CG collapsing field, while also enhancing Corbould’s practical pyrotechnics and increasing the horrified spectators from 10,000 to 80,000.  

Corbould also supervised the full-scale fabrication of Wayne’s fearsome combat aircraft, the Bat, which was either mounted on a gimbaled vehicle for action on the ground or suspended from a heavy-lift helicopter for high-flying stunt work. In order to capture high-dynamic-range lighting references of the full-sized Bat on set, Franklin developed a panoramic camera system that comprised four DSLRs with 8mm lenses that produced overlapping fields of view. The panoramas were stitched together digitally, and lighting maps were created to drive a custom physics-based lighting system.  

As is typical of his collaborations with Nolan, Pfister operated the A camera of the first and only unit. On this production, however, he was joined by B-camera/Steadicam operator Scott Sakamoto, SOC. “Chris and I used a second camera more on this film than we have on any other, mostly because of Scott’s extraordinary skills and abilities,” enthuses Pfister.The Dark Knight Rises opens on a small plane wherein some CIA operatives are interrogating their prisoner, Bane. Despite his shackles, Bane threatens to hijack the aircraft, much to his captors’ amusement. Suddenly, a C-130 flying fortress overtakes the small plane, and armed mercenaries rappel from the C-130 onto the passenger plane and hook wires to its tail. The larger plane then literally jerks the smaller plane off course so that it’s suspended nose-down, and then the attackers blow off its wings and tail. 

Corbould and production designers Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh collaborated on a full-scale fuselage mockup for tight shots outside the small plane, a Bandeirante, and dramatic action inside. The fuselage was mounted to a gimbal outside the production’s stages at Cardington in Bedfordshire, England. The task of destroying the plane’s wings and tail fell to a miniature unit ensconced at New Deal Studios in Playa Del Rey. (Cinematographer Tim Angulo shot this work in VistaVision.) Wider shots of the crippled plane were filmed with the full-scale fuselage dangling on wires from a heavy-lift helicopter over Scotland; Nolan and aerial cinematographer Hans Bjerno captured the stunt in both Imax and VistaVision from a nearby chase helicopter. “An MSM and a Beaucam were mounted underneath the helicopter,” says Hall. “The Beaucam was there as backup, and only the MSM was rigged with remote focus and iris. Both cameras performed well, and the Imax footage was used in the final cut.” The scene ends with a spectacular Imax shot looking down into the fuselage as Bane’s men cut the plane loose over Inverness. 

Despite such complicated action, Nolan says his decision to set much of the story during daylight hours created his biggest directorial challenge. “I made that decision because I thought it was the last barrier to reality we hadn’t yet jumped over,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to disguise the fanciful nature of the characters and the story when you’re working in the dark.” 

Day exteriors were filmed on Kodak Vision3 250D 5207, with locations in New York City and Pittsburgh serving as parts of Gotham. Pfister’s approach to these scenes was mainly about controlling sunlight to keep the working stop close to T4. The filmmakers tried to stage action in the shadows of tall buildings or beneath one of the six 20'x20' UltraBounce flyswatters they kept on the periphery of the set. Close-up work was augmented with a 4'x4' beadboard or 12'x12' UltraBounce. Garcia describes the approach as “eliminating reflections and unwanted light as opposed to taking the sun off everything and bringing in 18Ks to relight the scene.” 

Gotham City’s night exteriors were shot in New York and Los Angeles. While scouting the locations, Geryak took photos at Pfister’s intended exposure levels — most of the night material was shot at T2-T2.8 on Kodak Vision3 500T 5219 — and then jotted notes on the photos before sending them to each city’s respective rigging gaffer, Jeff Soderberg in Los Angeles and Clay Liversridge in New York. Using the lighting diagrams, the rigging gaffers would return to the locations and secure the background points they needed to light “so that by the time we got to set, the background was already roughed in, and we’d have more time to light the foreground based on what the actors were doing,” says Geryak. 

Of all the night-exterior work, the Batpod chase through the streets of Gotham was easily the most intensive, calling for nearly eight city blocks of downtown Los Angeles to be lit almost entirely from the ground up. “L.A. uses LED lamps in its streetlights now, so there was very little usable practical light,” says Geryak. 

Soderberg’s rigging crew positioned Nine-light and 12-light Maxi-Brutes to uplight background buildings, creating splashes of light to give them texture and shape, and rigged more than 80 streetlights with two 2K Blondes each that were wired back to dimmers. The lighting console was positioned in a room in a nearby high-rise hotel that offered a bird’s-eye view of the streets involved. The majority of the chase, which involved a helicopter as well as dozens of stunt drivers in cars and on motorcycles, was lit by these streetlights. Additionally, at different points along the route, four manned 7K Xenons took turns mimicking a helicopter searchlight sweeping after the Batpod.
 

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