December 21, 2015

Panavision Designed New Anamorphic Lenses Just for 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

Star Wars Force Awakens Panavision Camera Death Star
When you're on a big show like Star Wars, you can get lenses designed just for you. 

Director of Photography Dan Mindel, who shot Star Wars: The Force Awakens (along with a number of J.J. Abrams films), worked with Panavision to come up with some new anamorphics, along with the two custom cameras built for the film (you can see one of them above). Mindel was looking for a set of lenses that called to mind the warmth of the lenses used on the original films, but didn't want any of the technical issues that are generally associated with the older optics, like edge falloff on the top and bottom. 

Panavision Camera Star Wars Desert

Here's a little bit more on what they did (via Studio Daily, emphasis mine):

Panavision started with C and B series cylinders, and developed a hybrid version that used some T Series technology. Current optics were used for the spherical components. Once the right combination was determined, it was applied to a full set – 35, 40, 50, 60, 75, and 100mm, with a minimum T-stop of 2.8. A couple of longer focal lengths were also adjusted slightly. Dubbed the Retro C Series, these lenses were on the camera for scenes featuring the brave Rebel Alliance, rendering a warmer, softer feel. New Order Stormtroopers were usually filmed with Panavision Primo glass for a harder, cooler look.

“The level of forgiveness with the softer lenses is so beautiful,” says Mindel. “It will definitely affect the audience in a subconscious way.”

Some desert exteriors and effects plates were shot with 15-perf IMAX. On those shots, the lenses included T-2 80mm and T-2.8 50mm models refitted with Panavision mechanics and Panavision proprietary glass. These IMAX lenses had been originally developed for Wally Pfister, ASC on Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

Panavision Camera Anamorphic Star Wars Desert

Since I've only seen the film in 2D digital, I can only comment on the image in that respect. I think Panavision and Mindel achieved their goal coming up with anamorphics that weren't too sharp but also weren't too soft and didn't have strange artifacts. These lenses, combined with shooting on 35mm (and some IMAX), definitely gave the image some added warmth that's noticeably absent from most sci-fi films, and it would not be surprising if the next films in the series used these same lenses.

The Force Awakens definitely delivered on the nostalgia aspect, and the lens/film combo certainly helped.     

Your Comment

13 Comments

Gorgeous, I would love to load and thread that baby.

December 21, 2015 at 7:59PM

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Brice Pardo
Cinematographer/Film Student/Creative
236

Designing lenses for your film? Feels like an overkill to me. Oh, he wanted soft and warm? These things are for the post-processing team to handle.

If I were the studio I'd tell the DP to be reasonable: there is so much glass out there, does he really have to make his own?

But yea, I aint the studio, I'll just keep shooting on my point and click :/

December 21, 2015 at 8:58PM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
4177

Sour puss ? Jealous ?

Both. Given the expected box-office I think you can give your DOP some candy.

December 21, 2015 at 10:04PM

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You can only reproduce so much of a lens signature in post. It's about more than just soft and warm. Good luck trying to emulate something like a Super Baltar in Nuke or Resolve. Ain't gonna happen.

It probably was overkill to design custom lenses for the show, but considering that they will shoot the next few sequels with them that will generate billions in ticket sales the cost is a rounding error on the budget sheet. Hollywood wastes far more money than the cost of those lenses on other things that are genuinely idiotic.

December 21, 2015 at 11:33PM

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More importantly, if anyone gets to have this type of fun and push forward, mights as well be the crew working on Star Wars for Disney.

Is it needed? No,
was it fun?
I'm sure it was!

December 22, 2015 at 9:59AM

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Seth Evans
Editor
410

Not too aware of how Panavision works, are you? They customize their lenses for lots of movies. They change out coatings, switch optical elements, adjust close focus, and adapt lots of other lenses for use on their cameras, all to suit the needs of cinematographers. They even adapted the fabled 0.7 Zeiss lens into a T1 anamorphic for Jan De Bont on Die Hard.

December 22, 2015 at 11:08PM

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J.J. really love those flares <3

December 21, 2015 at 9:21PM

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Arrenze Dionela
Waterboy
81

If the idea was to give the film a similar look to the original trilogy then they failed miserably. The originals had a much more muted, organic look while TFA's colors are overly saturated. It's almost like they went out of their way to use film just to end up making it look like video in post.

December 22, 2015 at 2:01PM, Edited December 22, 2:31PM

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Andrew W
DP/Director/Idiot
255

Just what I was thinking. When it comes out on BluRay I'll be tempted to re-grade it just to see what it would look like if the storm troopers were white instead of blue. Oh and crush the blacks. Why is everyone afraid of shadows now?

December 24, 2015 at 3:21PM

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Nathan Taylor
Jack of all trades, master of none
300

Man, I wish 40mm was a more standard focal length in sub-10K prime lens lineups.

December 23, 2015 at 11:17PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
975

I know right. I love the 40mm focal length, to me it strikes the perfect balance between 50mm and 35mm.

December 26, 2015 at 9:06PM

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you know what the non-anamorphic equivalent of 40mm is in FOV terms? cos it aint 40mm.

January 6, 2016 at 8:14PM, Edited January 6, 8:14PM

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So, why were so many of the Close-Ups out of focus then?

Wasn't as bad as Interstellar, but still annoying when Han is tack sharp and Rey is soft.

December 25, 2015 at 2:47AM

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Stewart Fairweather
Cinematographer
469