John Toll: Inspiration from Painting

From American Cinematographer, The War Within by Stephen Pizzello (February 1999)

"During the shoot, Jack Fisk brought us this book called Images of War: The Artist's Vision of World War II [1992, edited by Ken McCormick and Hamilton Darby Perry], which presents 200 paintings by many different artists. These were artists who spent time in the front lines and came back with this fantastic artwork depicting the scenes they had witnessed, including many combat situations. All of the artists had different and unique styles. We didn't necessarily try to reproduce these pieces of art, but they did give us good ideas about color schemes and so on. The illustrations basically served as a guide to the kind of atmosphere we were after.

We'd looked at many photographs from the war, but they seemed too detailed somehow, and I wanted the imagery of our film to be a bit less clearly defined. The paintings were great because they were much more impressionistic and abstract in a way that I found more interesting than the photographs. For example, there was one drawing of Japanese prisoners sitting on the ground, and the light they were drawn in — bright contrasty sunlight which left their faces in shadow — looked very similar to the light conditions we were shooting in. There was detail in the prisoners' faces, but the highlights of the background were bright and burned-out. I thought it looked fantastic.

In some scenes [that I'd shot to that point], I had lit the actors' faces or had used fill in situations with heavy contrast, but I'd begun doing it less and less because I started to like the way the film looked when I didn't use fill — overexposing quite a bit, getting detail in the shadows and letting the highlights burn out. It looked much less controlled in an interesting way. After seeing the drawing, which was a much more exaggerated version of what we'd been doing photographically, I went with less and less added light."

- John Toll, ASC

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