Cinematographer Sebastien Pfaffenbichler, AAC has been behind the camera on commercials for such well-known brands as Adidas, Toyota, American Express, Samsung, Geico, Hershey’s, and AT&T — and the list goes on. Here, the award-winning director of photography outlines his creative philosophy for crafting such compelling visuals.
Panavision: How important are visual references when you’re working with a director to define the look for a commercial?
Sebastian Pfaffenbichler, AAC: Visual inspiration is the essence of my work, so visual references are the core foundation of my creative collaboration with my fellow filmmakers. Once a director has shared their treatment and mood references, I search through my extensive library of books and films for analogies that will help us find an imaginative common language. We’ll work closely together to define an appropriate look that best reflects the vision for the final film, and based on that, I will select the camera, lenses and equipment, as well as develop a lighting concept to craft the project in the style that we’ve determined during development.
What brings you to Panavision for a project?
Pfaffenbichler: Nothing is impossible for Panavision to accomplish when it comes to meeting the specifications of what I may need. Even at short notice, they always deliver my requirements, which has made their service invaluable to me. Bob Foertsch from Panavision Woodland Hills and I have a great working relationship, so I like to bring him in as early as possible to help identify the right equipment to realize our cinematic goal.
Similar to how I used to choose film stock, I base my choice of digital cameras on the quality and ability of their sensors. Spherical and anamorphic Panavision lenses are exceptional to use; I love working with them, and I always appreciate Dan Sasaki's excellent advice, guidance and fine-tuning.
How do you determine which lenses to use for any given project?
Pfaffenbichler: It depends completely on the look we want to achieve — the combination of the camera sensor and lenses plays a vital role in achieving the final look of the project. I recently discovered the spherical H Series lenses; they have a beautiful bokeh, nice falloff and accurate rendering of skin tones, which I love. The image texture and slightly warm highlights are wonderful, especially in combination with the Millennium DXL2.
What inspired you to become a cinematographer — and what keeps you inspired today?
Pfaffenbichler: My late father was a painter and sculptor. He was and continues to be a great influence and inspiration to me. After a brief stint as a freelance photographer, and with a deep passion for movies, it was a natural progression for me to venture into visual storytelling. When I started studying cinematography in Vienna, the great cameraman Walter Kindler, AAC, BVK once said to me, ‘Every frame in this film camera is a single photograph.’ I find there is a lot of truth in that.
There’s no end to creative goals, and the search for a beautiful, perfect image is always ongoing. I greatly value working with actors and filmmakers, and I love the collaborations that bring these stories to life when using these wonderful tools and visual skills. And I still deeply love to be on set!
Photos courtesy of Sebastian Pfaffenbichler, AAC.