MATTHEW JENSEN UTILIZES PANAVISION PRIMO Vs TO ACHIEVE REALISM IN FANTASTIC FOUR

The Fantastic Four debuted in Marvel comic books in 1961, more than 50 years ago, and the group has since been the subject of at least four television series and four feature films, including an unreleased film produced by Roger Corman. The long-awaited cinematic reboot, directed by Josh Trank, is finally here. In it, the heroes teleport to an alternate universe, gain new powers, and learn to harness them in order to save Earth.

Behind the camera for this 20th Century Fox production was Matthew Jensen, ASC, who says that the goal was to ground the characters in a believable physical world.

“We really want you to believe in these characters, that they actually existed on planet Earth and that what happens to them – the fantastic powers that they get – is based in some sort of scientific reality,” says Jensen. “We didn’t want a lot of unnecessary camera moves and shots that looked like they had been designed in a computer or by a pre-viz team. We wanted simple, dynamic composition, and camera moves that were motivated by the characters.”

The filmmakers looked for cues in films by Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, and David Fincher, as well as San Mendes’ Skyfall. “That film has very heightened naturalism, and the use of color is very bold,” says Jensen. “That gave us a framework, and the specifics evolved from the sets and the locations.”

Fantastic Four was filmed mostly in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area. Sets were built at Celtic Studios, and augmented by locations at LSU and at a disused hospital.

From his earliest meetings to the DI, Jensen worked on the project over the course of a year and a half. The production designer was Chris Seagers.

"...the choice of glass is everything, and that’s why we’re seeing this renaissance of older glass. Panavision is certainly on the forefront of that."

“When I came aboard, I noticed that a lot of the initial conceptual art was framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio,” says Jensen. “I responded to that and I wanted to preserve that. The cameras were ARRI ALEXAs. The question then became whether to shoot anamorphic or spherical. We did a lot of tests, and we wanted to shoot anamorphic, and that naturally led us to Panavision. We loved the G Series (Anamorphic Prime) lenses, but given our lighting and rigging budget, my desire to shoot at a 4-stop, and the need for visual effects to be able to move around the frame, we decided to go spherical.

“That’s when David Dodson suggested the (Panavision) Primo V lenses,” says Jensen. “I tested the lenses and liked them very much. They really came as advertised, in that they are designed for use with a digital sensor. Technically, they are perfect – flat all the way across the whole field, and yet they still have a filmic roundness to them. They don’t look overly hard, like some lenses do with digital sensors. They photograph faces very well and they perform very well wide open. I was really happy with them.”

The ALEXAs were set up to capture the full 4:3 frame, with the 2.40 frame extracted. Jensen and Trank generally kept to two cameras, and sometimes only one, preferring the control of a single angle. They tended towards wider focal lengths to emphasize depth and show off the sets.

“Even when you’re framing in for a close-up and you’ve got that 2:40 aspect ratio, you still want to have a sense of the background,” he says. “Where normally you might shoot a close up on a 75 or a 100mm lens, we were on a 40, in closer. Basically, 21mm to 50mm is where we photographed the movie, with a few exceptions. We were pretty disciplined in maintaining the wider focal lengths, which often necessitated a single camera – otherwise your eyelines can get really wide, or it’s harder to hide the other camera.”

The choice of glass, always extremely important to cinematographers, has become even more crucial. “So many of the digital cameras are cut from the same cloth,” Jensen says. “In the film days, you could push or pull a stock, under- or overexpose, and the alchemy of the photochemical process would give you a certain look. Digital is very predictable, and it’s hard to get something that has personality. So the choice of glass is everything, and that’s why we’re seeing this renaissance of older glass. Panavision is certainly on the forefront of that.

“What I love about Panavision is that, even though they’re a big company, it always feels like a very personal relationship,” he says. “They’re very much interested in what you’re doing from a filmmaking standpoint, and there’s not a technical situation you could throw at them that would stump them. And it’s nice to know that just about anywhere I go around the globe, they can provide gear and service for me. I’m always in good hands.”