I found this amazing post on another board
. Props to NZPoe for writing this. He's written a lot more interesting stuff as well.
I thought some of you might be interested in this, so I'm reposting it:
Comparing Apples With Apples
A Comparison Between The Cinematography Of "The Empire Strikes Back" Against "Return of the Jedi"
Seeing as this is, primarily, a "Star Wars" fan film community and so many people here are confused or pondering the logistics of cinematography, I'm going to put forward the notion that the best way to learn how to make your own Star Wars movies is to go back to the source. In short, watch how they did it for real. And I DO mean REALLY WATCH. Anyways, here's some of my thoughts on this subject matter.
Firstly I won't beat around the bush on this point. I love the photography and lighting of "The Empire Strikes Back
" and a positively LOATHE the photography and lighting on "Return of the Jedi
". I, along with several professional DOP's that I've met and worked with, feel the "Empire" is just one of the best shot movies ever made. In contrast, I think "Jedi" is - in photographic terms - a right old bore and incredibly blaise, dull, uninspiring, unoriginal and basically was put together in a "shoot by numbers" manner.
This is pure opinion of course. None of this is a matter of fact. I am fully aware that there are legions of fans and filmmakers who adore the photography of "JEDI" and that's perfectly fine. But what's great
about this is that you end up with two films, shot relatively close to each other, with similar kinds of technology available, with very different looks, feel, mood and shooting philosophies.
This post isn't designed to convince you one way or another, but through my observation of the differences in the films, at least get people thinking about how they shoot and light their own films. Even if you are a fan of how "JEDI" was shot, I think it can be a very useful exercise to think about the differences in styles and philosophies so you know what you ARE doing and what you are NOT doing.
Make sense? No? Well nevermind, just follow my strange logic if you can.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
"The Empire Strikes Back
" was photographed by Peter Suschitzky, a relatively young (early 40's at the time) DOP who didn't have a huge filmography behind him, but has since gone on to shoot films such as "Dead Ringers
", "Immortal Beloved
", David Cronenberg's "Crash
", "Mars Attacks
" and "A History of Violence
". The film was directed by the great Irvin Kershner whose credibility as a director isn't even worth establishing on forums like these. We all know he was firing on all cylinders on this project at least.
The photography and lighting of "The Empire Strikes Back
" is an extreme change of gears from "Star Wars
". Most laymen will say it was a "darker" film visually and they wouldn't be wrong in that assumption, however there is something still quite different about the "darkness" of "Empire" versus the "darkness" of "Jedi" and the prequels that have followed.
The first thing that really strikes me about the lighting is that, generally speaking, most of the light in the scenes come from light-sources established within that scene. In layman's term, the character's faces are lit by things that create light in the room, there faces are NOT lit up by some magical spotlight that follows them around. This I think is in stark contrast to both "Star Wars" and "Jedi" which have a much more traditional notion of lighting - light the room, then light the actors. It's not to say that the characters in "Empire" are solely lit by set-dressing light sources, but that the film lighting they use is cleverly disguised. The end result is that the film is very shadowy, heavily atmospheric and portrays a greater range of mood.
The next obvious thing about the lighting is the intensive use of color. "Empire" is the film in the OT that uses colored lighting more than any other film. Even in our memories we can quickly bring up the cold blues of Echo Base, the hot red glow of the Carbonite Chamber, the sickly cold atmosphere of Dagobah.
Thirdly, what makes "Empire's" photography so superior, is Suschitzky and Kershner's very dynamic framing and moving camera setups. The Echo Base segment is a perfect example of it - sweeping crane shots, rack-focusing during conversations, dynamic tilted and skewed angles and of course lots and lots of smoke. Even the framing in the film is exemplary with excessive usage of VERY wide lenses (almost 180 degree field of vision) and tight framing to construct beautiful pictures.
In short, "The Empire Strikes Back
" seems to have a philosophy of making every shot in a movie into a beautiful picture, a work of art.
RETURN OF THE JEDI
"Return of the Jedi
" was, of course, directed by Richard Marquand and veteran old-school cinematographer Alan Hume, who had a track record as long as a man's arm. Hume, since then, has had to take a back seat and shoot mostly B-films and low budget dramas, though he did shoot the "Supergirl
" movie, the cult horror "LifeForce
" and the comedy "A Fish Called Wanda
" since working on "Jedi".
Not to disrespect the memory of Marquand, but whnever I watch "Jedi" I always see a very old-fashioned and assembly-line approach to their cinematography. While "Empire" was put together using carefully constructed concept-shots, "Jedi" has a strong feel of the old coverage system: establishing shot, master of the whole scene and then the closeups at the end. "Jedi" just seems to be riddled with scenes photographed in that same old forumla with very little fresh ideas or risk-taking.
Likewise in terms of the lighting, the movie has a very old-school feel about it. Every scene in the movie seems to be dotted with very convenient, unnatural light that follows and floods the actors faces and robs the scene of its mood or atmosphere greatly (in my humble opinion). There also seems to be a great lacking in use of color in the lighting except on very rare occassions (Luke and Leia's Ewok Village conversation for instance) which is what I personally miss the most.
Even the quality of the framing isn't to my taste. Many of the shots have an uncinematic lacking of DOF and a lot of beauty of the framing seems lost because of narrower lenses and/or the shot is a little too wide, has boring composition or leaves a great deal of headroom. There is a GREAT lacking of crane-shots, moving dolly or steadicam shots. And many of the angles are shot at eye-level and rarely do we see something from a high or low-angle, unlike "Empire".
In short, I propose that the photography of "Empire" is one of many amazing elements about that film that made it such a great success while "Jedi's" by-the-book methods of shooting seems to have endowed the final chapter in the saga with a less than epic feel.
But let's have some examples shall we?
THE EVIDENCE (?)
Let's see how they've lit up Vader across the two films. The ESB Vader (top image) has a very interesting lighting philosophy where they try to create the illusion that his shape and his lines are being lit up entirely by the room itself - lights from the computer consoles etc. The JEDI Vader (bottom image) while, admittedly, is in a larger room, seems to be less dynamically lit. Also the framing of the ESB Vader is - in my mind - a little more artistic, his placement in the frame, the amount of background behind him and the way it stretches across the canvas of the frame. The look for JEDI Vader doesn't seem all that flattering in his scene.
Two similar sort of images - one from ESB (top) and one from JEDI (bottom). Notice how, despite the illumination coming from space via the massive porthole windows, there is still a strange white light that is illuminating the floor and stairway that Luke and Vader climb. The whiteness of that light seems a little out of place in a room that has very little visible light sources and also estbalishes that the light from space is "blue". The image on the top, iconic as it is, suggests a far more threatening notion of a spider biding its time or a monster in its lair and feels far more aggressive than the Emperor ever feels in any of his shots. The ESB image has the illusion, again, to be lit only by the lighting in the room.
Here are a couple of comparison images of the interior of the Millenium Falcon from ESB (top) and JEDI (bottom). Notice how much brighter, more colorful and more atmospheric the lighting of the Falcon's interior is in the ESB shot. There even appears to be a slight diffusion applied to the image, possibly via a filter, to really bring out the lighting quality. Notice how the JEDI image is remarkably less interesting and dull, but also is again illuminated by a blank white light coming from "space" beyond. I personally prefer the ESB style again.