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With intricate choreography and grand staging, Disney's Cinderella takes its cues from classic MGM musicals and Frank Capra films to create a modern, but non-musical, classic.

For this throwback to old-fashioned filmmaking, director Kenneth Branagh reteamed with his favored cinematographer, Haris Zambarloukos, BSC, with whom he had collaborated on three previous films – Sleuth, Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Panavision was their camera house of choice on those films and was again naturally for Cinderella. “It really was a no-brainer,” says Zambarloukos, who also has shot such features as Mamma Mia! and Locke. “We knew with Panavision we would have at our disposal any camera system, any lens system, any format we wanted. On the other hand, we did all our other productions through Panavision and knew what the service would be like, what the staff would be like. Most importantly, we knew what the equipment would be like.”

For such a complicated, stage-oriented film, Zambarloukos did enjoy a lengthy, 17-week preproduction process that included more than 12 days of test shoots for lenses, cameras, film stocks, color palette and screen tests. “That's the usual process we go through with Ken for a film – extensive testing,” the cinematographer notes. “And extensive rehearsals that I take part in.”

To recapture the aesthetic of a golden era of studio moviemaking, this test period was critical. The subject of 65mm shooting was broached, but ruled out due to logistics—the only 65mm lab was FotoKem in Los Angeles and they were shooting in and around Pinewood Studios in the U.K. Ultimately, the filmmakers decided upon an approximation achieved with sharp Primo anamorphic lenses and low-ASA 35mm KODAK film stocks, such as KODAK VISION3 50D 5203 for daylight exteriors and VISION3 200T 5213 for interiors and night exteriors.

“I have used every single type of anamorphic lens that Panavision has,” Zambarloukos says, “but I'd only really shot Primos on Sleuth, and I remember wanting a certain clarity there. Primos combined with low-ASA Kodak stock just looked fantastic, and we were very happy with it.” 

Through Panavision London, Zambarloukos selected his favorite Panavision Millennium XL cameras and Primo lens packages. He also added some choice C-series anamorphic lenses because of their inherent diffused glamor-shot characteristics.

Lab work was done at i-dailies, Company 3 London handled HD dailies, and Deluxe did print dailies. Company 3 and digital colorist Rob Pizzey performed the DI.

The resulting look of the film is crisp and colorful. “It really was a film done in a very classic sense in that this is what the film stock gives you, this is what the lens gives you, this is the color palette from the costume department and the production design department,” says Zambarloukos.

Only a touch of filtration was used on the lenses, no more than an eighth or quarter strength of Schneider Classic Soft when necessary. “At that level it doesn't change any characteristics of the lens but does help with candles just to give them a bit of a glow,” he notes.

Nearly 8,000 candles were mounted on chandeliers and around the grand ballroom set, which was shot on the expansive 007 stage. Propmaster David Balford created cylinders filled with paraffin oil and wicks to simulate candles that would last for eight hours, stay the same length and not be a safety issue. “It was a stroke of genius,” Zambarloukos recalls. “We could get through most of a day's work without lowering and refilling them with paraffin.”

Candles alone, even 8,000 of them, didn't provide enough light for exposure. “Trying to shoot at 200 ASA at my preferred stop of T4 in a ballroom like that and do wide shots was quite a task,” the cinematographer remarks. “I had big tungsten softboxes on the perimeter of the set mounted on electric winches and DMX-wired back to a dimmer board. They were flattering to our actors, brought out all the colors in the costumes and allowed me to choreograph wide crane shots.”

Wide shots were the rule, as Zambarloukos explains: “This film was different in that it wasn't 'cutty.' Shots breathed in a more classic way. We did a lot of shots that were framed masters on a Primo 50mm that came into a mid shot and then into a slightly wide close-up. It was so sharp, the colors pop and we got beautiful flares. I think that was where the Primos excelled, in that midrange of 40-75mm.”

Panavision did come to the rescue for a particular Steadicam shot involving a 30mm C-series anamorphic. The focal length was just right for the composition but the C-series edge distortion hitting Cinderella's feet was a bit too much. A 30mm focal length isn't part of the Primo set, so Zambarloukos pleaded for the newer G-series 30mm lens by itself. “Panavision did break a G-series set, and that's above and beyond a contract,” he remarks. “It's just another typical example of how it's not about deals and contracts, it's about helping cinematographers achieve what they want to get.”