Roger Deakins Breaks Down His Award-Winning Cinematography Career

Roger Deakins is a British cinematographer who worked as a DP on films like Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, Sicario, Fargo, Blade Runner 2049 (which got him an Oscar for best cinematography in 2018), and recently on 1917. He has over 30 years of experience working with directors like the Coen brothers, Sam Mendes, and Denis Villeneuve. Youtube channel Rotten Tomatoes published a video about Deakins’ impressive career. Let’s take a short look at what he has to say.

Rotten Tomatoes publishes lots of interesting information on their website and their Youtube channel. They measure the percentage of positive reviews from movie critics and publications and deliver movie ratings based on those. They also produce plenty of interviews with inspiring people from the movie industry like this one with Roger Deakins.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins

Roger Deakins is a British cinematographer and member of both the American and British Society of Cinematographers. He is best known for his work on the films of the Coen brothers, Sam Mendes, and Denis Villeneuve.

Deakins talking about the Skyfall Helicopter Ambush Scene. Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Over more than 30 years working in the film industry, Deakins shot films like Barton Fink (1991), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), No Country for Old Men (2007), True Grit (2010), Skyfall (2012), Sicario (2015), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). In 2018 he won an Oscar for best cinematographer for his work in Blade Runner 2049.

1917 (2019)

Behind the scenes of 1917. Source: Rotten Tomatoes

His most recent cinematography work is the movie “1917”. In this video from Rotten Tomatoes, he talks about this movie and the challenges of its production. Since my colleague Jeff already published a whole article about this movie, I will not just repeat what he wrote. The link to his article is here – Inside the Look of 1917 by DP Roger Deakins.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

As I wrote above, Blade Runner 2049 is the movie that got Roger Deakins an Oscar for the best cinematography in 2018. In this video, he was mainly talking about the “Hologram Sync Scene” where a girl and a hologram blend into one. Deakins’ VFX team wanted to shoot one girl against the blue screen, but Deakins was against that, because it would affect the lighting. In the end they did it directly on set with both girls to match the lighting better.

Blade Runner 2049 Holograph Sync Scene. Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Deakins stressed out how important it is for him to always be part of the pre-production with every movie. He likes to do location scouting himself. He wants to know exactly how each set looks, to be able to plan it thoroughly and not be surprised later during the production.

By the way, Roger Deakins has some useful tips about lighting on his website RogerDeakins.com. He breaks down lighting of various scenes from his movies including Blade Runner 2049. It requires a registration to see them, but I think these are really useful resources.

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall Helicopter Ambush Scene. Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Another movie he talked about in this video, is the James Bond 007 movie Skyfall. Deakins described the challenges of shooting the helicopter ambush scene. They shot the exteriors of the house on location outside of London and the interiors and the lake scene in the studio, so it was challenging to bring all those scenes together to create a consistent story. The helicopter crash was partly model and partly shot on location.

 

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Jesse James Silhouette Scene. Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Deakins mentioned the night train scene from this movie. The director Andrew Dominik wanted to have a very dark night scene, so Deakins did a silhouette shot. He remembered one other time when a director wanted a silhouette shot, but then he complained that he cannot see actors’ faces. The harmony and good communication between a DP and a director is vital and sometimes it require a long working relationship for a DP to truly understand the director’s vision.

Jesse James Train Scene. Source: Rotten Tomatoes

The light on the train was a 5K tungsten, so it was a very strong source for that kind of dark environment. Thy ended up gradually dimming the light as the engine came closer towards the camera. They were also panning the light for the shots of the bandits waiting in the woods. This would never look the same in the real situation, but that is the point in filmmaking. Deakins says, that movie lighting does not have to reflect reality. It can be shaped in various ways to support the story.

Other Movies and Working with Directors

When it comes to working with directors, some of them are looking for something special, but they don’t neccessarily know how to describe it. They will only know when they see it, so for DPs this can sometimes be a real challenge to give that something special to the director.

Roger Deakins on set with the Coen Brothers. Source: Rotten Tomatoes

Roger Deakins also remembers the movie 1984 (1984) as one of his career highlights. It was Richard Burton’s last film and Deakins remembers special moments talking with Richard in the backstage “discussing life”.

What do you think of Roger Deakins’ cinematography? Which of the movies he worked on, is your favourite? Let us know in the comments underneath the article.

Source: Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb

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Stellina: imaging the sky with a smart telescope

Stellina Telescope Camera
$3,999 | vaonis.com

Stellina is a self-contained, portable telescope designed to easily take photographs of celestial objects. All you need is the Stellina itself and a smartphone. It is not a traditional telescope that lets you explore the universe through an eyepiece. Instead, it captures images with its built-in camera which then you can view on your phone (or tablet). During my latest trip to Yellowknife, Canada I was able to put the Stellina to the test and capture some classic telescope targets.

When folded, the Stellina looks like a retrofuturistic home appliance and one could hardly guess that it holds a telescope and a camera inside. Its weight of 11 kg (25 lb) makes it portable but its bulky size of 49 x 39 x 13 cm (19 x 15 x 4.7 in) and the lack of handles makes it a little awkward to move around. The Stellina comes with a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod (1.3 kg, 2.2 lb) which provides leveling and stability to the telescope.

Stellina is a portable astronomical telescope and camera. Everything you need to take photographs of celestial objects is contained in this unit and on a smartphone/tablet app.

Setting up the Stellina

The Stellina requires 5.1V / 2.4A to operate. It can be powered by an external battery connected through a USB Type-C port and stored in a compartment, or by an AC external power adapter. The 10,000-mAh battery included with the Stellina should provide approximately 5 hours of use. Once powered up, the Stellina creates its own Wi-Fi network which you use to control it from the Stellina app (available for both iOS and Android devices) .

The Stellina reads the local time and GPS coordinates off your smartphone and then it automatically focus and aligns itself by looking around the sky and identifying stars. All this is done in a completely automated fashion and in just a mater of minutes. Pretty smart!

The Stellina comes with a 10,000-mAh battery that is easily stored in its own compartment and provides approximately 5 hours of use.

Imaging with the Stellina

The Stellina uses a 400mm F5 apochromatic lens and a 1/1.8″ CMOS Sony sensor (3,096 x 2,080 pixels, 6.4 MP) to produce a series of exposures which are then combined into a final image with a Field-of-View (FOV) of 1° x 0.7°. But first you must pick a target.

Once the automated calibration is completed, the Stellina offers you a catalogue of astronomical objects that are visible from your location at that particular time. For each of these objects the Stellina app provides you basic information about the object, its current location in the sky (altitude and azimuth), as well as the recommended exposure time.

Stellina provides useful information of the potential targets up in the sky at the current time, including recommended exposure times.

According to Vaonis, the Stellina manufacturer, “The catalogue includes all Messier objects and the most interesting NGC targets in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.” Some objects whose angular diameters exceed the Stellina’s FOV are excluded from the catalogue, but Vaonis plans to extend that list when they add the ability for the Stellina to combine multiples images in a mosaic.

Vaonis is also planning to let users enter sky coordinates manually and point at any direction in the sky. That will be another welcome feature since the Stellina does not let you manually slew. Luckily, these features should easily become available through software updates.

I selected the Andromeda Galaxy, the Stellina slew to the correct location in the sky, and started imaging. To do this, the telescope relies on a technique called image stacking where a series of relatively short exposure are combined to produce an image with a higher signal-noise ratio. As more images are exposed and added, you can interactively review how the stacking and image processing improves the final image and decide when to stop exposing.

In the two screenshots below, you can see how the image improved from a combined exposure time of 2 min 40 sec (16 exposures of 10 seconds each) to a combined exposure time of 8 min (48 exposures of 10 second each). As expected, the spiral arms of the Andromeda Galaxy appear more prominent as the Stellina gathers more light.

Comparison of a 2 min 40 sec exposure with a longer 8 min exposure. Stellina has the impressive ability of showing you in real-time how the final exposure improves as more images are added and total integration time increases.

I could have exposed for a longer time but, unfortunately, clouds rolled in. Impressively, the Stellina software rejects cloud-covered images and does not add them to the stack, so when clouds cover the FOV you will notice how the total exposure time pauses until the clouds move out of the way. Evidently, automation is at the heart of Stellina and Vaonis has done a great job in the programming of this telescope.

On the other hand, what did not impress was the feedback given by the Stellina app when saving JPEG photos. You can either save images on the app itself or on your smartphone’s photos app (and in the cloud if your phone is set up that way), but if you choose the latter, the photos are deleted from the app (with no warning) along with any observation information. That is, photos copied to your photos app are saved without any metadata. Furthermore, JPEG photos produced by the Stellina are downsampled from 6.4 MP to 1.4 MP.

There’s definitely room for improvement in documenting Stellina’s features

If you want to enjoy full-resolution images you need to retrieve FITS (Raw) files using the USB port. That’s great! As long as you know that options exists. And therein lies a problem. The Stellina instruction manual does a good job of explaining how to set up the telescope up to the point of connecting it to the app, but nothing further. Once you start controlling the telescope via the Stellina app, documentation and feedback from the app is underdeveloped.

I learned about the ability to save Raw images on a Q&A page on the Vaonis support site. Unfortunately, by then I had returned the unit. There’s definitely room for improvement in documenting Stellina’s features. I look forward to someday using the Stellina again and processing its FITS files.

Resulting (JPEG) Images

Below is the resulting 8-minute exposure of the Andromeda Galaxy. The Stellina did a good job of automatically focusing, tracking, stacking, and processing the images. Nevertheless, a bright vignette is fairly noticeable. According to Vaonis, the vignette ‘is produced by the luminescence of the sensor’ and they are working on improving the image processing algorithm.

1.4 MP JPEG of the Andromeda Galaxy saved from the Stellina app. This is the result of 48 10-sec exposures stacked automatically by the Stellina for a total exposure time of 8 minutes.

Afterwards, I selected the open cluster The Pleiades from the catalogue and let Stellina combine 60 10-sec images. Judging by what the Stellina captured in a total exposure time of 10 minutes, it’s a shame that the clouds rolled in again. The blue reflection nebula around the cluster stars was starting to nicely show up in the final image.

1.4 MP JPEG of The Pleiades cluster saved from the Stellina app. This is the result of 60 10-sec exposures stacked automatically by the Stellina for a total exposure time of 10 minutes.

Final Thoughts

The Stellina is a well-thought out smart telescope. It can easily be transported from one location to another and setting it up cannot be more simple. A carrying case to move the telescope around would be a welcome addition.

The fact that the Stellina finds its orientation with respect to the sky, focuses, exposes, stacks, and process images in a completely automated fashion is quite the feat for a prosumer device. Although the Stellina app needs further development, the whole experience of operating the Stellina is fun and the ability of seeing the final exposure improve as more images are stacked is quite gratifying.

The whole experience of operating
the Stellina is fun

Once you’re happy with your final exposure you can easily share your astrophotographs with friends and the rest of the world in a matter of minutes. Stellina is definitely a telescope for the social media age. Then at home, you have the option of experimenting with the Raw files.

Unfortunately, all this comes with the high price tag of $3,999. For that price, some will consider instead the more versatile combination of camera, lens, tripod, and star tracker. But if you want a fun-to-use, click-and-shoot device that will work for you while you relax and enjoy the night sky then the Stellina is right for you!

What we like:

  • Extremely easy to set up
  • Smart and highly automated
  • Instant gratification of previewing images as they are stacked
  • Fun to use

What we’d like to see improved:

  • A carrying case included with the telescope
  • Ability to slew to any location in the sky
  • Further development of the Stellina app

10 Great Horror Movies That Everyone Likes

best sci-fi movies

Getting movie fans to agree on much of anything is rare, but on occasion even the most opinionated will cross the theater aisle to make peace. Over time, film fans have even found common ground in a few select titles offering that most peculiar form of voluntary self-torture – the horror movie.

Films like these that become widely loved are a strange lot, and not easily categorized – while they don’t all reach the pinnacle of artistic accomplishment, their popularity doesn’t automatically imply creative compromise. And these favorites aren’t all shiny, whitewashed PG-13 fare either – some are borderline traumatizing, and would normally be much more polarizing under other circumstances. But, we’re not here to explain why everyone likes these horror movies, we’re just here to list them.

 

10. It (2017) – Andres Muschietti

The newest entry on this list, It has quickly amassed a respectable fanbase of its own. Building on the legacy of a beloved miniseries which was effective but constrained by its television format, 2017’s film pulled out all the stops and delivered an edgy, truly terrifying experience. And this connection to the older It seems to contribute to the new one’s popularity – on some level, it feels like being treated to a grown-up version of a beloved show that you could only watch a sanitized version of as a kid.

King’s classic novel may have done more to spread a fear of clowns than any other book in history, but the film adaptations made certain that our collective cinematic psyche would remain forever scarred. Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the shape-shifting villain of the story, lives in the sewers of a small town and terrorizes the local children. But seven local kids decide they’ve had enough of the clown’s scare tactics, and band together to take back their psyches and their lives from this nebulous menace. Their camaraderie is the emotional heart of a story that triggers the deepest fears inside all of us.

 

9. Ringu (1998) – Hideo Nakata

Ringu (1998)

Ringu did as much as any movie to help usher in a new wave of J-horror popularity, which in turn provided the inspiration for many films to follow. With a plot only possible its own digital age, Ringu was perfectly positioned to engage a new generation of movie fans with a horror hook specially designed for their tastes. Though it quickly spawned a Hollywood remake, the Japanese original remains the preferred choice for students of cinema.

This story centers around a video tape which, once watched, curses the viewer with a certain, though slightly delayed, death. When a news reporter’s niece becomes one of the victims, she sets out to unravel the mysterious video’s secret. As she races against her own ticking clock, the reporter’s life hangs in the balance and drives her to find an answer. Ringu is a modern classic guaranteed to similarly haunt those viewers brave enough to watch it.

 

8. The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter

macready-thing

An updated reinterpretation of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s film keeps the skeletal plot of the original while boldly staking out its own identity. Additional on-screen violence is an obvious evolution resulting from the passing years, but The Thing also amplifies the tension and the terror to great effect. Kurt Russell anchors a uniformly excellent cast, whose performances help to keep this a perennial favorite.

A group of research scientists living in icy Antarctica fall under threat from a deadly, shape-shifting creature who begins systematically killing the members of their team. Far away from any potential help, the victims begin turning on each other, each suspecting that the evil presence may have taken over the body of a fellow scientist. The paranoia and tension escalate to an inevitable climax which is as entertaining as it is terrifying. This is one of John Carpenter’s very best movies.

 

7. Let the Right One In (2008) – Tomas Alfredson

let-the-right-one-in

This modern Swedish classic is beloved for its unconventional approach to its horror topic. You could call it “vampirism unplugged” – Let the Right One In sucks away the Victorian-style romanticism often applied by Hollywood to the vampire theme in favor of a more realistic treatment. And horror fans loved it, welcoming this much-needed reset to a genre in danger of permanently descending into self-parody.

At the center of the story is a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy who strikes up a close friendship with and finds an emotional refuge in his new neighbor – a girl who only makes her appearances at night. As the two kids grow closer, it becomes apparent that the girl has something to hide; her oddly specific rules about when and where she can go begin to annoy her new friend who thought he had found a kindred spirit. Let Me In is an intelligent movie that takes an honest look at the concept of vampirism, and follows its implications through to their logical conclusions. It’s also a touching story about human loneliness and connection, viewed through the eyes of two characters at sensitive stages in their lives.

 

6. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Roman Polanski

RosemarysBaby

This trailblazing classic still serves as a kind of bridge between classic and modern horror. Its style, its themes, and its 1968 release date all help it feel quite modern even while it deals with the business of witches and covens. Rosemary’s Baby has dynamic performances, stylish direction, and an engaging story that still hasn’t lost a step after all these decades.

Rosemary is the central figure of the film, and the baby she is expecting is the catalyst for the drama. While delighted about the news of her pregnancy, Rosemary becomes deeply suspicious of her husband’s friendship with the neighbors – an older couple who seem to take an excessive interest in her well-being. Rosemary’s investigations reveal mounting evidence that the friendly neighbors might belong to a coven of witches with evil designs on her child. But could her suspicions just be the result of the taxing physical conditions of her pregnancy? That is the question which creates the horror of Rosemary’s Baby.

34th Annual ASC Award Winners

The ASC has celebrated its 34th annual awards in Hollywood. The ASC Awards recognize excellence in motion-picture imaging for feature films, television, and documentaries. Winning an ASC Award may not come with the same level of fanfare associated with winning an Academy Award, but it probably should. These awards are one of the highest achievements … Continued

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