Cinematographer Matt Lloyd, ASC, CSC, has used Cooke Optics S4/i prime lenses many times since they were first introduced, including the pilot for the television series ‘Fargo’. But following discussions with director, producer and actor David Oyelowo, Matt knew that the feature film ‘The Water Man’ would need a look that was more majestic than a spherical lens could produce. Then Matt met Michael Koerner of Koerner Camera in Portland, Oregon, who would supply the lenses and cameras for the project.
“Michael suggested that I take a look at the Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses at his Pacific Northwest Lens Summit,” said Matt. “Honestly, I didn’t even know Cooke made an anamorphic lens. I had been leaning towards another manufacturer’s anamorphics, but I trust Michael and after talking with a Cooke representative at the Summit, I was sold on the Cookes. The anamorphics would perfectly match the S4/i lenses that I would be using for VFX shots.”
The Water Man is a present day tale of a boy who sets out on a quest to save his mother, who is ill, by searching for a mythical figure living in the forest, said to have magical healing powers. The film was shot in Portland in Spring/Summer of 2019, using a talented local camera crew.
“David and I talked a lot about how the characters would exist in the majestic forest locations,” said Matt. “But filming in the forest is very different to walking through it. Looking through the lens, you often can’t see the forest for the trees. The anamorphic format is wide and rounder, and pushes the mid-ground and the backgrounds apart in a very distinctive way. It defocuses the foliage, and gives David a more three-dimensional feel than the flatter perspective you capture from a spherical lens, especially when elements are so densely placed in a shot.”
Factors that would drive the look of The Water Man came out early in the scouting process. “David liked to do things by hand,” said Lloyd. “He’s physical with script, with pen, thumbnails and notes. I noticed that on the front of his script, in bold letters, were the words ‘This is an adventure,’ and that became the motto of the film. No matter what, we would experience the magic and adventure of a young person venturing off into the wilderness.”
Two Lenses, Two Formats, One Look
Using two ARRI Alexa Mini cameras, The Water Man was shot single camera style. “We shot ProRes 4:4:4 2K for standard capture and ARRIRAW 3.4K for VFX shots – that’s what the S4s were for,” said Lloyd. “If you’re not digging into the image, then RAW can sometimes give you too much data – especially when downloading and data management is difficult on location – but it can be perfect for VFX work. ProRes 4:4:4 has always been robust enough for what I am doing from a colour perspective.”
Matt’s kit for the Anamorphic/i primes consisted of the 25mm, 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm MACRO, 75mm, 100mm, 135mm and 180mm lenses. At the time of production, the 300mm was not yet available. For his S4/i kit, he had the 14mm, 18mm, 25mm, 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm and 100mm.
“As I mentioned, the anamorphics and the sphericals matched nicely – all I had to do was a bit of number conversion,” he said. “But that 65mm really saved us. I would use it as a straight 65 and as a macro. It’s much better than using diopters. It really proved its worth in close-ups capturing textures, insects and the kids reading maps.”
For one particular scene, he described how viewers can see how the macro function of the lens really helped make certain shots possible. “There’s a scene right after the two kids are camped out for the night, where trees are falling. They are trying to take shelter but are overcome by insects. In the following scene the next morning, the two kids are thinking about giving up their search. They’re seated on a rock, but we wanted it to appear as if they were sitting on a cliff edge.
“The 65mm gave me great shots of one of the kids’ hands hugging her knees and then bringing the shot up. The falloff of the trees really helped with the isolation of this shot. The skintones are great, of course, and the over-the-shoulder shots show off the geometry of the lens really well.” As well as the 65mm MACRO, Matt often relied on the 40mm and the 100mm Anamorphic/i prime lenses.
He instinctively knew that the S4/i primes would be excellent for the VFX shots. “These VFX sequences were becoming very challenging for our vendors, so I needed to simplify the capture, which is where the /i Technology lens metadata really helps everyone,” he said. “We had very complex 2D composites to work out. The VFX house knows exactly what we were doing – and as we’re doing it, we can see all the data we need on the monitor on set.
“There’s no more asking ‘what’s the…?’ It tells you immediately. The S4s are extremely useful lenses, even the 14mm where lines are just vertical. It was up to the VFX team to make sure that the spherical shots also matched the natural distortions of the anamorphics.”
A Classical Feeling
Both Matt and David had a classical feeling about The Water Man. “It’s not inherently rough or stylized,” said Matt. “It finds its own style, due to the choice of lensing and the majesty of the environment we’re shooting in. It’s a very youthful adventure, embracing the nature of the Pacific Northwest – it’s a softer, cleaner type of light.
“We didn’t go wild with colour temperature. Daylight was neutral, with our interiors mostly at night, so we added some warmth to play up the family’s bond with lots of practicals and concealed lighting pushing warmth into space. We see them as the loving people that they are, while rendering them that way.”
Production went smoothly, but Covid would have an impact on post production. “I’ve worked with colourist Sean Coleman from Company 3 for a long time, but this would be my first and only 100 percent remote DI,” Matt said. “We would do whatever was necessary, though it was a bit nerve racking with Sean and I sending stills back and forth. Nevertheless, we took advantage of getting more time than we normally would, and once it was in the cinema, it looked fantastic.” www.cookeoptics.com