Cooke Anamorphic/i SF Brings Big Screen Looks to Star Trek: Picard

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The director of photography for the new streaming series ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is Philip Lanyon. His goal was to give the show the feeling of an epic movie adventure saga, and keep fans in a familiar visual world.

“Almost all of the Star Trek movies have been shot using anamorphic lenses and so is the ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ series, which switched to Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses in its second season,” he said. “I had the opportunity to shoot the sixth episode of that season and grew to love the Cooke lenses. I tested a lot of lenses for ‘Picard’ and a lot of different looks. But in the end, the Cooke Anamorphic/i SF lenses gave me the exact look and control I wanted.”

Philip shot six of the series’ episodes, alternating with DP Darran Tiernan. Having two DPs is standard practice on a series of this scope — while one DP is shooting, the other has two to three weeks of prep for the next episode, which begins production as soon as the current episode wraps. This gives each DP time to become fully familiar with the technical details and the story on each episode they are responsible for shooting.

“Darran and I would visit each other while we were shooting and discuss looks and new sets,” said Philip. “This was great as the production team carried over through each episode. We had LUTs, so we all knew the looks for every set, as well as camera movements and the mood we were going for.”

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Shooting with three ARRI Alexa MINI cameras — for double and often triple coverage — ‘Star Trek: Picard’ had two complete sets of Cooke Anamorphic/i SF lenses consisting of 25mm, 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65 MACRO, 75mm, 100mm, 135mm, 180mm and 300mm focal lengths. These lenses – SF stands for Special Flare – are specially manufactured with a coating that accentuates flares, bokeh and other anamorphic aberrations. They still have the consistency of a matched set but avoid a sharp, high contrast look, and create more texture in the image. All cameras and lenses were supplied by Keslow Camera in Culver City, CA. 

“The Cooke Anamorphic/i’s gave me a large virtual image on the sensor, equal to large format on a spherical lens,” Philip said. “The ‘Star Trek’ environment sits well with anamorphic for Picard, giving it that big-screen look and feel.”

With its warmer, gentler ‘Cooke Look’, Philip could use the lenses to achieve the exact looks he wanted. “With Picard and other characters in this story coming out of retirement, it just felt like the right fit. There’s a beautiful warmth to both the actor’s performance and the Cooke lenses that matched very well,” he said.

The series starts off in a natural Earth-bound landscape at the Picard vineyard and winery, and transitions to an artificially lit environment with LEDs and harder light sources with more flare. Most of the scenes use practical lighting and avoid the appearance of scenes being lit off-screen.

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“Even with the Special Flare lenses, I had great control over flare — whether adding more or taking it away,” said Philip. “I could just as easily do both. If I wanted more flare, I could put up a harder light on set, and then if I needed less later on, I would knock the light down.”

The sets for ‘Star Trek: Picard’ were specifically designed for the 2.39:1 anamorphic format. The Cooke Anamorphic/i SF 25mm was used for almost every scene to show the expanse of the huge sets being used. “The 25mm is the equivalent of a 12mm or 14mm spherical lens, giving us the freedom to use the space and show the hidden corners that the audience wouldn’t normally see,” he said. “When you combine that with the practical lighting, you create a very nice environment for the audience.”

Two other focal lengths stood out for Philip. “The 65mm MACRO is a great lens, especially for getting the extreme close-up details of what people are touching and interfacing with. Then the 100mm is just beautiful on faces. You capture a pleasing portrait with a 50mm spherical equivalent width, showing off the backgrounds out of focus.”

'Star Trek: Picard' is streaming on the CBS All Access OTT service in the US – episode one premiered on 23 January 2020.