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Totino and Howard conjure a new, edgy look for Inferno



Inferno is the seventh feature film collaboration between director of photography Salvatore Totino ASC and director Ron Howard, and the first to be shot on a digital format. Their previous credits together display a wide range of subject matter and visual styles: The Missing, Cinderella Man, The Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels & Demons, and The Dilemma. Inferno is the third film adaption the duo has made of a Dan Brown novel, but it required its own unique approach to color, contrast, camera movement and composition. In the story, the main character wakes up in a hospital room and discovers that he is the target of a manhunt, for reasons unknown to him. He must solve an intricate historical riddle while on the run.

The film takes many of its visual cues from the architecturally vibrant cities where it was filmed, including Budapest, Venice and Florence. At the same time, it exudes a more realistic tension than the previous films, according to Totino. 

“We wanted Inferno to look very different from the other two films,” he says. “It needed to feel raw, with a more visceral approach to lighting. The previous two films in the series took place in churches and chapels, with big, bold strokes of god-light – like an Italian painting. Inferno is more modern, more believable. There’s no god particle and no long scenes about religion. It’s much more plausible, having to do with a biological agent. The Robert Langley character is much more edgy this time around, and he gets beat up a lot. So there’s nothing fake about the images. I wanted it to feel like you were there, like that’s the way it was at this moment.”

Early on, Howard told Totino that he could shoot film if he so desired. But the cinematographer considered the logistics of shooting in far-flung European locales and the difficulties of shipping and processing film, and decided instead to go with ARRI ALEXA XT cameras with built-in Codex recording. The images were framed in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio in order to better incorporate the cityscapes. Totino also made use of the ALEXA Mini in situations where he needed a smaller camera. The camera is usually moving, and is often handheld. The lenses were Cooke S4s.

Digital Imaging Technician Francesco Sauta helped Totino set up an in-set camera LUT that was sent to CO3 dailies colorist Matt Wallach along with the exposed mags. “During the preparation, before filming, I had my monitors calibrated and perfectly matched with the monitors used by CO3 for the dailies,” says Sauta. “The engineers at Sony generated a curve that Matt and I both used for the film. That way, every CDL or LUT created on set would be exactly the same in the dailies. On set, I was creating LUTs and CDLs for every set-up. And, for every exposed mag I was making a safety back-up on my system.”

Those CDLs and LUTs were also shared with the 2nd unit DIT. “Sal asked me to prioritize image quality control and uniformity in the look for all the cameras,” says Sauta. “Communication was important. I wanted to make sure that the 2nd unit DIT and the colorist were constantly informed of the choices in terms of LUTS for every scene. We shot in three visually-rich cities. Therefore, we decided to strive for a look that was organic to the story and the beautiful locations where we filmed. The challenges were related mostly to adapting to the different locations while keeping the look and the workflow consistent and uniform.”


On-set color correction was smooth, thanks to Sauta. “From a creative standpoint, ARRIRAW is like film negative, similar to having a canvas to paint on,” he says. “In my opinion, Codex is the most reliable technology. It allows for the QC of material, editing of metadata, creation of deliverables and archiving of original camera data. Because of our workflow, I decided to use Codex Thunderbolt & SAS readers. We shot a lot of footage, usually with multiple cameras, every day. With the fast pace, I wanted to be flexible and accurate at the same time. My aim was to guarantee that no frame was left without grading and quality control.”

Inferno is scheduled for an October 2016 release by Columbia Pictures. Totino says that all involved are very happy with the images. “I just feel that the ALEXA is the closest thing to film,” he says. “I like the look. It’s not as chronically over-processed as some of the other cameras. I have teenaged kids, and they both understand and appreciate when something looks really electronic and over-produced. It looks fake to them. It’s not about resolution. When you get caught up in having the highest resolution, you’re moving away from the aesthetics, from what is really important – what’s coming from within you, what’s in your heart and your head.”

Images courtesy their respective owners.

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