Emmanuel Lubezki: Smoke and Lightning

From American Cinematographer, Galloping Ghost, by Stephen Pizzello (December 1999)

"There are some elements in the film that might be viewed as 'cheap', such as the heavy use of smoke, but in a weird way, those elements help to make the images more beautiful and interesting. Using smoke also allowed us to get a consistent look for the movie. When all of the sets are smoked, you can't tell what was done on stage and what wasn't. I didn't want teh light to be too baroque, with all kinds of backlights, kickers and little lights. Most of the lighting was created with very big sources, so you can't really tell where the light is coming from. In the Western Woods set and at some of the other locations, you can definitely see the smoke-- it looks like the fog they used in the old Frankenstein and Mummy movies! Balancing the smoke therefore wasn't much of a problem on exterior sets, but it became really complicated when we used it in a smaller set like Ichabod's room, where I didn't want the audience to feel the smoke. It's difficult but after a week of using smoke you get a better feel for the proper level and how much is too much. Our use of smoke was also dependent on the CCE process. In our case, we could use more smoke, because we knew that the process would 'see through' it. The smoke affected the blacks, but the process also affected the blacks in the opposite way, so everything balanced out. Of course, if you're going to use smoke, you have to live with the limitations. One problem with using smoke was that sometimes, when we were working outside with our big cranes, the smoke would reveal where the light was coming from. That drove me insane, and I lost the battle a couple of times; in two or three shots, I had to beg the visual effects team at ILM to erase the light that was closer to the cranes, or to take the edge off."

- Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC

"Usually I hate lightning as an effect, because it has the potential to take the viewer out of the movie a bit. If it's supposed to be raining, it's fine, but otherwise it can be a bit much. When we did tests with the Headless Horseman, though, we found that the lightning really added a lot of energy to the character-- it made him more impressive, scary and Burtonian. Every time the Horseman is going to kill someone, the lightning appears as dramatic punctuation. The problem with lightning is that it really affects the editing of the movie. If it's really fast paced in one cut, and you go to a shot where the lightning doesn't match, you start to feel this lack of freedom. It took us a while to learn how to keep it constant without obliterating the images with lightning. It looks really interesting when you're shooting it, but you have to control yourself!"

- Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC

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