Photographed by Larry Fong, ASC and directed by Zack Snyder, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel (photographed by Amir Mokri), and kicks off the DC Extended Universe with the first silver-screen teaming of the comic-book realm’s two heaviest hitters.
If only it were under more amicable circumstances. Following the destruction of Metropolis, the world struggles with the existence of a Superman (Henry Cavill) — is he friend or foe? — while in Gotham City, the Batman (Ben Affleck) has already made up his mind, turning his one-man war on crime into a war on the Kryptonian. Meanwhile, eccentric tycoon Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) schemes to capitalize on the heroes’ feud, and the mysterious Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) watches from the sidelines.
Snyder points out that Dawn of Justice takes many of its cues from Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, in which an aging, jaded Batman goes head-to-head with a fascist-state version of Superman. Fong recalls that during his student days at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, it was schoolmate Snyder who got him into comics and graphic novels — and not only Miller’s work, but Watchmen, which the collaborators later adapted for the big screen (AC April ’09). However, it was the photographic realism of Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister’s Dark Knight films, and the desaturated, handheld aesthetic employed by Mokri in Man of Steel that Fong was most concerned with honoring. “But Zack said to me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s fine. We’re going to create our own world,’” Fong relates.
“I don’t want to dictate my point of view, other than to say that this is what works for us,” says Snyder. “That being said, I’m pretty involved when it comes to the film’s palette, and Larry is an amazingly receptive person. He understands my point of view, even as I’m formulating it.”
Dawn of Justice was primarily photographed in 35mm anamorphic, with select sequences filmed in 15-perf Imax and 5-perf 65mm. With some exceptions, the entire film was shot on Kodak Vision3 500T 5219, which under most conditions was rated at 500 ISO. (Fong used 85 filters and neutral-density filters to control color temperature and exposure.) “It was the first time I’d committed to just one stock, but I chose to [do so] for consistency — and because it’s a great stock,” says Fong. “We pushed our film one stop for some night exteriors. Our philosophy was that if we’re going to shoot film, then don’t be afraid to show a little grain, so when the kids ask why we’re shooting film, we have something to point to. In this age of artificially added grain, flares and film-emulation software, it feels good to do it all for real.”
Panavision Woodland Hills provided Fong with Panaflex Millennium XL2s, System 65 Studio Cameras and Arriflex 435s. Imax MSM 9802 and MKIII cameras were provided by Imax. Additionally, some nighttime aerial and underwater sequences — photographed, respectively, by David B. Nowell, ASC and Ian Seabrook — were captured with Arri Alexa XT cameras. Simulated documentary footage was shot on Super 16 with Arriflex 416s, and TV-station footage was shot on digital video with Panasonic VariCams by Geoff George and his team. Canon EOS 5Ds and GoPros were used for select car-mount and surveillance-camera footage, and even iPhones were used for minor digital-video elements. “I think the only format we didn’t shoot was Super 8,” says 1st AC Bill Coe.
Shooting the Imax sequences posed certain challenges. Actors sometimes found the cameras’ size and noise levels intimidating when filming close-ups, prompting Fong to swap in the quieter and more compact System 65 camera bodies, fitted with System 65 prime lenses. With Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC concurrently shooting Imax for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, parts and personnel were often shuttled internationally between the two productions. The struggle was more than worth it to the filmmakers. “That giant format is a way to take the audience one step further into an immersive world,” says Snyder. “I love the feeling you get from those cameras. It’s like looking at large-format still photography.”
According to Coe, the MSM and MKIII Imax cameras are mechanically the same, except that the production paired the MSM with spherical Hasselblad lenses and the MKIII with spherical Zeiss lenses. By far, the filmmakers’ preferred lens was an 80mm Hasselblad owned by Christopher Nolan.
“We called it ‘the Nolan 80,’” says Coe. “It’s a fast lens, and it focuses down to 2 feet, 3 inches. The other lens we used a lot was the Hasselblad 100mm, but the minimum focus on that lens was 4 feet, so we’d use diopters to get into the close-ups. The depth of field on Imax cameras is already minimal, so when you add a diopter it makes my life as a focus puller incredibly difficult.” To ease the situation, a system was sometimes employed in which A-camera operator John Clothier would work off a video monitor, while Coe would look through the camera’s eyepiece and pull focus with a Preston remote.
Fong’s anamorphic lens package included two complete sets of modified Panavision C Series anamorphic primes, from 25mm up to 100mm, as well as 135mm and 180mm E Series anamorphic primes. In the zoom category he had a 40-80mm AWZ2 (T2.8) for crane work and a 70-200mm ATZ (T3.5), as well as 11:1 48-550mm (T4.5) and 3:1 270-840mm (T4.5) anamorphic zooms — the latter of which is known as “the Hubble” because of its size.
ASC associate member Dan Sasaki, Panavision’s vice president of optical engineering and lens strategy, describes the process by which the anamorphic primes were tuned to Snyder and Fong’s specifications: “Larry wanted a C Series look but with a different tonality, so we did three things: designed a custom flare, gave the lens a unique appeal, and baffled it for usability in any type of lighting condition. We’ve never produced a lens quite like this.”
According to Sasaki, a piece of raw, polished glass will transmit light, but still reflect greater than 20 percent of the light back out. This unwanted reflection is mitigated with lens coatings, which use constructive interference to increase transmission by cross-canceling the light coming into the lens with another reflection.
“By experimenting with the thickness of the coating layers on key internal elements, we were able to control the color of the light that gets reflected out and the color of the light that’s transmitted, so we were able to go from the standard C Series blue-purple flares to a more striking red-blue, which Larry responded to because those also happen to be the colors of Superman’s costume,” Sasaki explains.