DEVISING A NEW ASPECT RATIO FOR THE DINOSAURS OF JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World is another in a long line of big-budget tentpole features for cinematographer John Schwartzman, ASC (Armageddon, Seabiscuit, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, The Amazing Spider-Man). With a production scale rivaling that of its dinosaur-sized subjects, this fourth installment in the series served up something Schwartzman had not had on any film prior: the opportunity to create a new aspect ratio.

“Nobody can support a movie with multiple shooting units like Panavision” 

Schwartzman, an anamorphic advocate, wanted to shoot the film in 2.40:1, but executive producer Steven Spielberg preferred 1.85:1 because that ratio provided enough headroom for the dinosaurs. “Director Colin Trevorrow and I felt like 1:85 was too much like high-definition television in terms of an aspect ratio,” the cinematographer says. “That's where we conceived a 2.00:1 aspect ratio. We made a ground glass and shot some tests. It was such a great way to frame. It has the benefits of 2.40 without losing all the headroom. It's a 2.00 aspect ratio in what would be called a 1.85 container for the DCP (Digital Cinema Package), which means if the theaters set up their screens at 1.85, there will be a very small letterbox top and bottom and the good screens can adjust their cutters to maximize the picture. Coming up with our own aspect ratio was cool.”

On every one of his films, Schwartzman has used only Panavision. In fact, Panaflex number 452 is reserved solely for him and has been ever since The Rock in 1994. For Jurassic World, he selected multiple formats – including KODAK 35mm and 65mm film and RED Dragon 6K digital (aerials) – that were employed by a number of photographic units. “Nobody can support a movie with multiple shooting units like Panavision,” he asserts. “That's why I'm always at Panavision.”

Schwartzman lobbied for film as opposed to digital capture because of the shooting location. “Having previously done Pearl Harbor in Hawaii where there is a lot of contrast, I knew that film was going to give me the dynamic range that I needed,” he says.

Dialogue coverage was filmed on 4-perf 35mm. Large format 5-perf 65mm was strategically employed for master shots and for visual effects. With a native aspect ratio of 2.20:1, 65mm provided Industrial Light & Magic with some additional frame space to maneuver for the film's 2.00:1 aspect. “The 65mm film negative gave ILM an incredibly high-resolution image for effects shots,” he says.

When it came to optics, Schwartzman wanted Primos of a different flavor, one referred to as “de-tuned,” so as to add a bit of glamor to what he considers “very contrasty and very sharp” lenses. Enter Dan Sasaki, Panavision's VP of Optical Engineering.

“The problem with de-tuning a lens,” Sasaki says, “is there is never a black-and-white answer, and what is de-tuned to one is not necessarily the same for another. As a result, we end up creating a variety of looks by bracketing the tests with different degrees of the adjustment in an attempt to target what the cinematographer wants. John wanted a type of glow around the lens, which required our adding passive optics in the middle of the lens to induce deliberate amounts of spherical aberration and small amounts of chromatic degradation.”

“I'm an anamorphic guy,” Schwartzman explains, “and since I couldn't shoot anamorphically, I didn't want something as recognizable as the Primos. I had Dan soften the contrast and make them look like Zeiss lenses from the 1970s, and they were absolutely beautiful.”

“We were able to find the 'look' for the movie after three rounds of tests and applied the treatment to the remaining focal lengths, including the zooms,” adds Sasaki, who de-tuned four sets of Primos for Schwartzman.

The cinematographer notes that the 30mm and 60mm were used predominantly. “The idea was to put the viewer in the environment as opposed to being a voyeur,” he notes. “Due to location restrictions, we sometimes went as wide as the 24mm, but we were very conscious not to be 'self-conscious' with lens choices by trying to stay in the 'normal' lens range.”

The Hawaiian jungle canopy pierced with sunlight made for a high-contrast image, so Schwartzman shot with as much natural or augmented backlight as possible and made liberal use of ambient smoke to reduce the contrast ratio. A SuperTechno 50 topped with a Libra Blue Stripe remote head was mounted on a Taurus all-terrain base to provide reach and maneuverability within the forest. “We also had a Panavision technician with us to clean the lenses every day so we wouldn't have any problems,” Schwartzman mentions. “From my previous experience shooting in Hawaii, I know the salt air just runs roughshod over the gear.”