The first STAR WARS ANTHOLOGY movie is also the first film captured entirely with ALEXA 65. DP Greig Fraser ASC, ACS additionally used ARRI SkyPanel lights.
ROGUE ONE stands slightly apart from the numbered STAR WARS films, telling a self-contained story set within the same fictional universe. Felicity Jones stars as Jyn Erso, a new recruit to the Rebel Alliance who gets involved in a plot to steal blueprints for the Empire's Death Star -- the same blueprints that Princess Leia hands to R2-D2 in the original STAR WARS film, released in 1977.
Director Gareth Edwards turned to cinematographer Greig Fraser ASC, ACS for ROGUE ONE, and together they looked at different camera format options. Edwards was initially interested in shooting on film, but while visiting ARRI in Los Angeles, Fraser was given a preview of the ALEXA 65. Available exclusively from ARRI Rental, ALEXA 65 is a large format camera system that offers a true digital version of the historic 65 mm film format.
"When I was first shown it I wasn't sure what I was looking at," says Fraser. "I was expecting to be shown something smaller than the standard ALEXA, not a bit bigger. But then I looked in the lens port at the sensor and was just completely gobsmacked by the size of this thing. It was one of those moments where the dominoes instantly start falling in front of you; I remember thinking, 'Right, here we go -- this is the beginning of a new era in cinematography'."
Testing followed, with Fraser building an appreciation of what the ALEXA 65 image gave him. "I think people sometimes don't fully understand what the benefits of 65 mm are," he says. "The images are sharper and have more resolution, and those things are an advantage, but for me it is about the depth of the image -- there is a three-dimensionality to it. Often the beauty came from the texture; we found that the camera excelled when we were filming something with texture; it really enhanced the quality of picture."
At the time, in 2014, the ALEXA 65 had not been used to shoot an entire film, so a great deal of trust was required to go ahead with the system.
"I remember when it got to the point where we were discussing the idea of shooting 65 for the whole movie, the producers asked what our backup plan was," says Fraser. "The backup could have been to do some scenes on film, but really -- nothing ventured, nothing gained. I have learned to trust that if ARRI say something is possible, then it is. I've worked with ALEXAs having wind and sand blown at them by helicopters, and these cameras are absolutely rock solid. ARRI makes products that are dependable and reliable, and they don't over-promise. They were confident that we could shoot the whole film with ALEXA 65 and I believed them, so we did it. We walked out on a gangplank of filmmaking and we jumped over the edge."
Aiming to create a look for ROGUE ONE that would resonate with viewers familiar with the original STAR WARS films, Fraser opted to combine ARRI Rental's ALEXA 65 with vintage 1970s lenses that were supplied by Panavision, along with the camera accessory and grip package. The production was based at Pinewood Studios outside London, with location filming taking place in England, the Maldives and Iceland.
It was not just ARRI cameras that were utilized on ROGUE ONE, but also ARRI lights. Pinewood MBS Lighting supplied ARRI SkyPanel LED soft lights to the production in significant numbers. The company has one of the largest SkyPanel inventories in the world and has provided them to other major upcoming movies such as LIFE, THE MUMMY and STAR WARS: EPISIODE VIII, which used well over 1,000 SkyPanel fixtures.
Filming on ROGUE ONE ran through 2015 and postproduction through 2016, with the movie released internationally this December. Fraser attended the premiere and comments, "I just thought it looked amazing. The wide shots are magnificent, the close-ups are magnificent, and it just has that depth -- that three-dimensionality. In 10 or 15 years I think this is going to be a standard format. That's my prediction."
Since completing ROGUE ONE, Fraser has worked again with the ALEXA 65 on the Garth Davis movie MARY MAGDALENE. For this biblical drama he paired the camera with custom-designed ARRI Rental lenses, as well as optics of his own, illustrating the great variety of bespoke lens options available for the system.