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November 2014
Issue: February 2006

DI: 'THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA'

By: Andrew Shuford

HOLLYWOOD - In "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," a unique production photographic strategy was combined with post production digital intermediate (DI) finishing to translate the beloved story by C.S. Lewis to the big screen. Combining both live action and computer generated imagery, director Andrew Adamson, ("Shrek," "Shrek 2") enlisted veteran director of photography Don M. McAlpine, ASC, ACS, and Technicolor Digital Intermediates senior colorist Stephen Nakamura to devise a system to have complete control over the visual canvas.

Beginning in the early stages of pre-production a DI was determined to be both economically viable as well as artistically desirable. The DI saved money during production as well as later in post. The 1,600-plus visual effects shots virtually dictated the need to have a means of ensuring a stable and consistent image quality throughout the film.

McAlpine is a seasoned cinematographer of over 49 feature films using traditional photochemical grading, but is no stranger to the DI process. One of his previous features "Peter Pan" was finished with a digital intermediate.

"Narnia" however marks the debut of a new approach to principal photography. Knowing he was going to a DI from the onset, McAlpine decided to shoot the film "neutral," meaning that he shot and lit toward the center of the film's curve, avoiding any extremes of over and under exposure.

McAlpine film stock choices for interior sets were Kodak Vision2 250D 5205 and Vision2 500T 5218. For day light situations he used Vision2 200T 5217. Vision2 100T 5212 was used for all visual effect plate shots. This particular stock lends itself well to effects work because of its tight grain structure and sharpness. Many of McAlpine's prior works have been in the anamorphic 2.40:1 format. However for this particular film he framed for 2.35:1 in the Super 35mm format. This provided him the option of reframing in post. This extra negative area on the top and bottom of the frame also enabled the effects people to move the image to accommodate digital elements.

Grading neutral also saved money on lighting gear and provided a purposeful tool for color matching live action and CG elements. Utilizing the support of multiple VFX houses such as Weta Ltd., KNB EFX Group Inc., ILM, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Rhythm & Hues, the DI process helped alleviate any color value discrepancies between the multiple vendors.

McAlpine spent eight weeks overseeing the timing of the film with Nakamura. The original camera negatives where scanned at 4K on a Spirit DataCine. This data was then down-rezed to 2K where it was timed on a da Vinci 2K color corrector enabling the technicians to work at 2K resolution in realtime.

One of the many goals of a cinematographer is to draw the eye of the viewer in and the DI provides just the resource to do so. McAlpine was especially fond of the digital intermediate?s ability to de-saturate specific colors. Visual theory tells us that specific colors and luminance values tend to come forward in the frame as opposed to others. By having specific control over color and contrast the cinematographer is able to digitally redefine the image so that the viewers gaze is directed in any manner he sees fit. Nakamura noted many instances when McAlpine would intuitively know to throw a shadow across a mountainside or to add a texture or quality that was not present in the original negative.

By using the DI process to put in the exact tonal value desired the production was able to save money on the cost of gels. Depending on the particular gel there is normally a loss of light associated with its presence. Heavy gelling needs more gear. Negating the use of heavy filtration enabled the lighting crew to use less equipment.

Another useful tool implemented by McAlpine was his on-set use of digital stills. Using a Canon digital camera, Photoshop software and an Apple Cinema Display, McAlpine was able to produce and manipulate stills of his setups for continuity and reference. Since the film was relying on digital dailies, that did not reflect the final look of the picture, he was able to use his own stills to show producers the conceived visual scheme.

The DI also provided the creators of the film the ability to examine and punctuate the various character and story arcs. Many timing sessions would begin with a shot being corrected for its placement in the story as it pertained to time of day and mood. McAlpine and Nakamura would then see where skin tones would fall and make any appropriate secondary corrections from there. Some of the tools used in the process included, but where not limited to, power windows, highlight keys, and a de-focus tool. The later can be used to latch on to an element by its color and luminance. For instance, if an actor had an unsightly feature the colorist could utilize the highlight key and isolate a portion of the frame and defocus it. This was used to get rid of hard shadows and wrinkles.

The finished product was outputted via an Arrilaser to eight sets of Kodak Estar negatives at 2K resolution and one set of 4K Kodak Estar negatives at 4K resolution. Prints from these negatives were made on Kodak Vision Premiere stock. Negatives were also sent to labs around the world producing first generation prints on a consistent basis.

McAlpine and Nakamura viewed their timing on a Christie 2K projector. When necessary, the production used two digital restoration tools: Thompson's Shout and da Vinci's Revival.

In addition to prints, Technicolor prepped the release for digital projection in select markets. They also oversaw the transfer of the picture into the correct color space for DVD release as well as any formatting, such as pan and scan. Eliminating the need to send an inter-positive to a video facility for such work the digital intermediate saved the production both time and money.

One of the many captivating qualities of Lewis' work was his ability to illustrate a fantasy realm with a childlike sensibility and yet strengthen its accessibility by having that world be a manifestation of earthly realities. These themes and motifs are very much at the forefront of McAlpine's visual interpretation of this world. The creative application of the digital intermediate process brought freedom to the filmmakers enabling them to craft images that evoke the author's feelings. In "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" McAlpine has painted a canvas that evokes his and director Adamson?s artistic vision and yet is reflective of the inner nature of Lewis' work.