Philippe Rousselot, cinematographer
David Yates’s Fantastic Beasts
As soon as director David Yates and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot wrapped principal photography on Fantastic Beasts 2, they huddled around a table then, just for the fun of it, lined up an entire array of lenses and decided to select the one they liked most from a purely aesthetic point of view.
And the winner was… “the Thalia! Just divine! Pure eye-candy!”
A quip that is far more serious than one might think.
Tests are often a nightmare for a cinematographer and Philippe Rousselot is no exception. Testing one’s equipment in a studio filled with extras one will never meet again, but with no set and no support, is already a major ordeal. Added to that, the initial (and inevitable) trial-and-error roller coaster often leads one to making choices that might be far more judicious were they made at the endof the shoot! So why not make them based solely on, well, beauty ? And why not be the first people in the world to choose the lenses Leica just released?
Philippe Rousselot had shot the first Fantastic Beasts(also directed by David Yates) on 35mm silver-based film-stock and in anamorphic scope.
The moment the film came out, it was obvious there would be a sequel – to be done, this time around, with a 65mm digital big sensor size camera. The decision to give up on the 35mm anamorphic was largely due to the fact that Scope is marred by a number of (mini-)aberrations – the edges of the frame, for instance, lack definition (when they are not downright fuzzy), and Rousselot is a stickler for precision.
The first thing he noticed during those initial tests was the fact that Thalia lenses “were perfect for the edges.” That consistent edge-to-edge sharpness – left to right, top to bottom – appealed to him all the more as it characterized the whole range of focal lengths, applied to any frame, whatever the size, and made panoramic shots absolutely flawless.
Throughout principal photography, that allowed for the most audacious compositions, placing the actors, for instance, on the very edge of the frame, thus favoring the depth of field and, consequently, giving the set its due.
For Rousselot – bucking today’s “heavy” trend – is enamoured with the depth of field, which is why he never was a fan of very high speed lenses. He doesn’t like fuzziness (“Too messy”) and above all, appreciates “the feeling of reality in an image” – which is exactly how legendary photographer (and Leica fan) Henri Cartier-Bresson approached his own work.
On the Fantastic Beasts set, much to the first assistant cameraman’s relief, the T-stop ranged between T 4.5 and T 11 and even, to Rousselot’s surprise, T 16.
Going for an important depth of field meant not to favor this or that actor, but to enhance the importance, and texture, of the fabulous 1920s-styled sets, ultimately giving the image a quality akin to that of a painting. “I’ve always been wary of ‘photographic’ effects.”
The second thing that appealed to Rousselot during the tests was that the wonderful resolution he was yearning for did not affect the rendition of the skins. “The Thalias have a nice fall of and are very clear but, unlike most sharp lenses, not cruel to the faces. And the outcome is so beautiful I never softened any close-up with filters.”
At the very outset of pre-production, director David Yates took a radical decision: NO ZOOM. A bold choice that required extreme discipline, from himself as well as the entire crew.
And so Fantastic Beasts stuck to the six currently available Thalia lenses: 30mm-35mm-45mm-70mm-100mm and 180mm.
The 24mm, 55mm and 120mm will come out early 2018.
If the other qualities of the Thalia series were not Rousselot’s main preoccupation during the tests, they provedpretty useful during the shoot.
- A tendentially very short minimum focusing distance: from 1’4 for the 30mm to 2’4 for the 70mm, including 2′ for the 45mm which served a lot.
- Lack of image distortion for short focal lengths; verticals and horizontals perfectly rendered.
Finally a “fuzziness that respects what the eye sees,” a nice bokeh that has no geometric deformation and no aberration in the high lights.
Throughout the making of Fantastic Beasts,those qualities, proper to the Thalias, critically helped Philippe Rousselot in his quest for “the right image”.
Now scratch all of the above and try to imagine what would have happened had Thalia, the Greek goddess who presided over comedy and idyllic poetry, hadn’t been so beautiful…
Written by Ariane Damain Vergallo