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Old 02-08-2014, 08:23 AM   #51
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

I think the best set from the entire trilogy is the freezing chamber.

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Old 03-09-2014, 03:04 PM   #52
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Great stuff from an older thread:

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Originally Posted by sithgoblin View Post
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.

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Old 03-09-2014, 03:05 PM   #53
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Quote:
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Here's a perfect example of the difference in quality of framing, composition and lens-sizes. Which is the more artistic and beautiful image? Which image really implies action, intensity and focus? ESB (top) or JEDI (bottom)? I know my pick is definitely for the top. The bottom image is a great example of poor, very boring framing in my mind.





Despite ESB being a much "shadowier" and "darker" film, its interesting to note the degrees and variations of lighting. ESB (on top) uses lighting to imply different layers and levels within the scene as the light grows, gradually, more intense as our eye follows the action from Luke to Bobe Fett walking across the hallway. Compare that to the image from JEDI (below) which implies only two-tones of lighting at best and lacks subtlty. You can't even see what's in the foreground because much of it is either not lit, or the exposure of the camera is turned down too low.





Here's an example of what - in my opinion - is a similar idea done two ways: very well and very badly. The scene from ESB (above) is a carefully composed shot that not only embues a sense of space, but also beautifully shows the ships in the background and has lots of interesting clutter in the foreground (the backs of the pilots heads). Notice how the expansive width of the lens and the arrangement of the actors naturally causes the eye to focus in on Princess Leia? It should be noted that this is also a crane-shot, it opens with a pilot running over to the huddle and then craning down to focus on Princess Leia. The shot from JEDI (bottom) is what happens when you don't have a specific idea on how to cover a conversation and just end up shooting everything from every angle. We're seeing an unflattering angle of the back of Bib Fortuna's head, 3PO and R2 are squashed onto the bottom left hand end of the frame (even though they are the focal point of the shot) and the back wall is lit up from a light source that is never established within the scene (and so is 3PO who is shining like a piece of jewelry in a supposed dark and dank tunnel). It should ALSO be noted that in the scene depicted in the ESB screenshot (above), after Princess Leia delivers her speech she is interrupted by a pilot asking "Two fighters against a Star Destroyer?". When he asks that question, the camera RACK-FOCUSES onto him over her shoulder and then RACKS BACK onto Princess Leia when she answers the question. ESB = dynamic, JEDI = paint by numbers. You decide which is better.
...

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Old 03-09-2014, 03:05 PM   #54
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

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Here are a series of establishing shots. Notice how the ESB shots (top) use the entire width of the frame and the expansiveness, given by the lens, to show the room and the scenery? Also take note of the colors as well. Compare this with the JEDI shots (bottom) which force the eye to focus only on what's in the center of the frame, thereby deadening the impact of the shot in of itself? You barely have time to notice the shuttle landed in the background because you're too busy concentrating on the poorly framed Han Solo and Rebel Soldiers marching on the bottom of the frame. Would it have been too much to ask to pump some smoke into that forest shot? Have some light-beams filtering through those trees? Of course that was the Director and DOP's decision, but it seems a shame to me to waste such a beauty shot. Again keep in mind that the ESB shots are also dynamic, MOVING shots, while the JEDI ones are locked-off and standing still.




Although these are two very different scenes that are shot under very different circumstances (so perhaps judging the lighting may be moot), the framing is still uniquely interesting. In short notice how the framing in the ESB screenshot (top) isolates Luke on the far right hand side and leaves a huge gap of nothingness on frame-left, heightening his isolation and his sense of helplessness. In the JEDI screenshot (below), the frame is crowded with tonnes of actors all standing in a neat row (a classic "Hollywood Group Shot" from the 40's and 50's). This scene is, of course, meant to be about Luke walking the plank, but the shot doesn't focus on his face where his emotions are being played. It's too wide and has even been compositioned "up" to include Chewbacca in the frame, even though he's irrelevant to that "moment" in the drama. Luke doesn't seem isolated or in danger, he looks like he's waiting to get on a bus. A little harsh? Maybe, but I certainly am not a fan of this kind of framing at all.
Quote:
Originally Posted by sithgoblin View Post



So here's an interesting comparison. Notice the very subtle, but highly atmospheric lighting used to not only illuminate Luke and Yoda, but also the mist and treetrunks behind them. Note the eerie color and subtle, but effective use of shadows on Luke's face and the area surrounding them. Contrast that with the JEDI image below of Luke and Leia. Firstly I don't know WHY they're framed like that - i mean sure there's something way off in the distant background there, but I can't actually SEE what it is nor do I find it particularly interesting to boot. And whats with all that headspace above Luke and Leia's head? It's not balanced by similar space below, so again its squashing both characters into the edge of a relatively boring and not very well-lit frame. In the ESB Yoda scene (above), he is actually talking ABOUT his size and the Force "around them" so a shot that wide works well with the dialogue. But the Luke and Leia scene is nothing about their surroundings, its about their emotions and really ought to be a lot tighter on their faces and really emphasising Luke's turmoil and Leia's conflict.


IN CONCLUSION?

There's loads more examples I could cite, but basically these are just some illustrations to show the difference between being "dynamic" in how you shoot your film and being "by the book". One way isn't actually harder than the other, in terms of the advice that I've been given, it's just that one way is what you'll always find in the film books while the other requires experimentation, vision and being willing to go that step further and have more patience with your shot construction.

Just like in storytelling, concepts and other aspects of production like acting, production design, art, wardrobe, makeup and everything else, cinematography is something that people only give a "certain amount of thought to" before dropping it and moving on. But what you do end up with is a filmmaking style that doesn't evolve, doesn't improve and, frankly, ends up looking like everyone else's. If you're not going willing to push yourself further in how you shoot a film your movie will end up looking like a costume drama, which is (in MY OPINION) exactly what "Return of the Jedi" looks like.

I would love to hear other people's feedback on these screenshots and also challenge my opinions on the cinematography of these movies and also how they apply to how they shoot their own films!

May The Force Be With You!
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Old 03-09-2014, 03:19 PM   #55
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Good read!

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Old 03-09-2014, 03:20 PM   #56
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Yeah, a bit on the long side but the differences in cinematography between the two films is pretty stark.

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Old 03-09-2014, 03:29 PM   #57
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

ROTJ had a very old look, while to this very day, Empire looks very modern and slick. For years I couldn't figure out why Empire just looked better than ROTJ, and why ROTJ looked inferior..until I had this long geeky conversation with a friend at a party a few years back. Yeah, the compositions in ROTJ were flat and often kinda confusing. I hate to say this but Lucas was on set almost everyday during the ROTJ shoot, and did some 2nd Unit. He has a love for mid-shots.

Meanwhile, Empire had very tight editing, and a variety of different dynamic shots and blocking. This article brought up the source lighting, something that I didn't noticed till now. Yes, it does make the film more atmospheric.

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Old 03-31-2014, 07:50 AM   #58
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

A couple pics I've never seen:








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Old 03-31-2014, 09:57 AM   #59
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Nice! I hadnt seen a couple of those either

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Old 03-31-2014, 07:58 PM   #60
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Those cinematography posts were fantastic.

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Old 04-06-2014, 12:06 PM   #61
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread


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Old 05-13-2014, 04:59 AM   #62
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Just finished anh and about to start esb for the first time. Star Wars was just something that never grabbed my attention before but once I sat down and gave it a fair watch I absolutely loved it. Can't wait to start esb.

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Old 07-20-2014, 10:04 AM   #63
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Default Re: The Empire Strikes Back Appreciation Thread

Wow
Come back and tell us what you thought!

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Old 08-24-2014, 01:37 PM   #64
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