Hammer Time

Actor Chris Hemsworth and director Alan Taylor work out a scene.

The lenses for Thor: The Dark World were Panavision anamorphics, mostly C-series anamorphics, with some G- and E-series to round out the sets. ATZ (Anamorphic Telephoto Zoom) and AWZ2 (Anamorphic Wide-Angle Zoom) zooms were also used. All these lenses were optimized by Dan Sasaki and Panavision UK to work with the ALEXA.

Morgenthau had worked with ALEXA and the Codex on Game of Thrones, but not in the ARRIRAW format. "The anamorphic lenses with the ARRIRAW file format were just stunning compared to spherical," Morgenthau says. "The lenses brought some of the magic and mystery of photochemical back to digital, that big-movie look. Once I saw the uncompressed camera original ARRIRAW files on the big screen, the decision was made."

Production was mainly on stages at Shepperton Studios in the UK. A large outdoor set was built at Longcross, a facility outside London where tanks were tested during World War II. Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London, also provided some locations. There were some exteriors in the English countryside, and in Iceland, including Skógarfoss Waterfall.

Massive sets were built depicting larger-than-life worlds like the planet Asgard. The production designer was Charles Wood. Huge dimmer board rigs controlled arrays of 20Ks, beam projectors and Spacelights via an iPad.

"The dimmer board operator would stand next to me, and we were able to control everything right from where I was standing," says Morgenthau. "It was a real luxury to be able to light that way, to paint on the spot with the dimmer board. A lot of the color of the light was done with just the dimmers and some gels. The color wasn’t imposed. It was mostly done in-camera."

The film was shot with an ALEXA/ARRIRAW/Codex workflow. DP Morgenthau also employed Panavision anamorphic lenses.

Adds the DP, "There was a lot of interactive lighting done with LEDs that were designed and prebuilt into the sets. We had extensive lighting cues that would later work with CG elements that would be added later—for example, lightning would come off of Thor’s hammer or certain barriers would be broken. We timed it to a cue for every take so that it would happen interactively with the stunts and the visual effects."

The additional sensitivity of digital formats has had an impact in lighting. Many cinematographers have been taking advantage by introducing projected backgrounds where previously greenscreen-compositing techniques would have been used. Claudio Miranda, ASC, used this approach extensively on Oblivion, saying that it made for much more convincing interactive light and created a more realistic working environment that helped the actors. Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC, reportedly used projected video backgrounds on Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.

Morgenthau used a somewhat similar technique a few times on the Sleepy Hollow television pilot. On Thor: The Dark World, he threw interactive light onto actors from large combinations of 8×8-foot LED screens. "We used projected light from the background plate as interactive light," he says. "I got the idea from John ‘Biggles’ Higgins, a gaffer who had used it extensively on Skyfall with Roger Deakins."