February 29, 2016

A Primer on the Cinematic Techniques of 3-Time Oscar-Winning DP Emmanuel Lubezki

After his third straight win at the Oscars, it's pretty safe to say that Emmanuel Lubezki is one cinematographer that has become a master at his craft.

His work in The Revenant has been the topic of conversation for months (especially after winning an Oscar for it last night), and before that, and the brilliant "seemless" camerawork in Birdman. But what exactly distinguishes Lubezki's cinematography from other DPs? This video from wolfcrow breaks down the techniques of the illustrious cinematographer, including how he uses natural light, as well as what motivates him to move his camera. It's a great starting point for those who want to know more about good ol' Chivo!

One interesting thing about Lubezki's approach to cinematography is that even though he certainly has his own distinctive style, he has shown that he can produce images that directors want. In other words, he's very adaptive, which is a trait that all great cinematographers should have.

Speaking of adaptive, as digital filmmaking started becoming a mainstay in the industry, Lubezki managed to make the transition from film to digital in brilliant form. In the video below, he talks about when he began shooting on digital cameras, how at first he promised to only shoot landscapes and grand vistas with them, but as time went on he realized that they provided a clean, grainless images that he thought captured the emotional impact of the images better:

It's the first camera that I worked with that really -- that almost translates to 100% of what you're feeling when you're at the location.

Lubezki is definitely a DP that is more than worthy of our study, and hopefully the video from wolfcrow provided a great springboard for more of it.     

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16 Comments

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February 29, 2016 at 9:30PM, Edited February 29, 9:34PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1918

I'm always curious how much of his great look comes from raw video & how much from grading. I think the one who grades for him should have more attention.

March 1, 2016 at 8:00AM

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Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist
1358

I love his cinematography, but there are a lot of factors that play into what makes a beautiful image. The Revenant is a beautiful film and a different cinematographer might not have used the camera as effectively as Lubezki, but there were times where I felt like the film was an Arri Alexa advert, especially knowing that the whole film was shot with natural light. There is still a lot of choice that goes into when to shoot, where to shoot, and where to point the camera though which can't be discredited, but this film would have been much different on a less capable camera.

March 1, 2016 at 9:05AM

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Alex Everingham
Video Editor
568

Alexa advert? Wouldn't it be an advert for whatever camera was used? All those choices that you mentioned is why he's a great dp and won his third consecutive Oscar, not his choice of cameras. I believe they used Red epic dragons as well (most likely for aerials).

March 1, 2016 at 10:50AM, Edited March 1, 10:50AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1209

I'm pretty sure he, like most veteran DP's gets most of it in camera. Back in the film days not as much could be done in post so you had to get it in camera. Don't think he's talked about that kind of thing but Deakins only spent a week on the DI for Sicario which isn't a lot.

March 1, 2016 at 10:53AM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1209

If you read the ACM article, the colorist talks about their approach. Very interesting. There's also another article where Chivo talks about the Alexa 65 not having as much highlight latitude as the normal Alexa which surprised me.

March 1, 2016 at 11:21AM

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Rob Wilton
DoP
324

Wow? Really? Seeing how it's essentially the same sensor that's kind of weird. Could also be attributed to the lenses in part. The coating on my Contax glass definitely treats highlights differently from the more modern ZF.2 line.

March 1, 2016 at 1:20PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1209

That's fucking weird, since A3X is made from three Alev3 sensors. If anything it should have more sensitivity.

March 2, 2016 at 12:31PM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1744

For Birdman and The Revenant, he relies a LOT on color grading, with a ton of subtle windows : lighting up the faces and adding some local contrast to them, bringing down some of the background, adjusting saturation etc etc. I'd really like to see what the movies would look like with a simple Rec709 LUT without grading. (All that doesn't make him less of a great DP mind you)
Here's and interview of Birdman's colorist, he does some demos : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxXWs74dKnE

March 1, 2016 at 5:37PM, Edited March 1, 5:37PM

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Tom Yanowitz
DP
81

chicken and egg though. He never would've shot the film this way if he knew he was ending up with a one-light process i.e. no grade.

March 2, 2016 at 1:41AM

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Rob Wilton
DoP
324

For the Revenant Technical spent over 2,000 rotoscoping out the actors face to allow the lighting to be shaped in post since they so often had the sun in frame so couldn't have any diffusion working. He's clearly very talented but saying he gets it in camera is a bit absurd considering his last 3 films are gravity, birdman, and the revenant.

March 12, 2016 at 7:12PM

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Derek Means
Director of Photography
319

Its not like he is hands off with the grade. Good DPs understand what can be done in post and use that information when they shoot. Then they sit in with the colorist and direct that process. Sure, I think his colorist should be well known, but Chivo is the one determining the look, even through the color.

March 1, 2016 at 9:07PM

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Ricky
Director/DP
253

grading cannot change framing, focal lenght, lighting reflections, direction of light, and so much things...
Grading help and develop only that just are in raw file, cannot build somethign from scratch.

April 6, 2016 at 2:39PM, Edited April 6, 2:41PM

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Carlo Macchiavello
Director
993

Brilliant cinematographer. Captures landscape like no other. His use of natural lighting is strategically brilliant. Great to see the evolution of his work and his transition into digital... although there is a lot of talk about the alexa 65, what's he using in the photo? Is that a RED?

March 1, 2016 at 1:35PM, Edited March 1, 1:35PM

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M. Tob
81

It's an Alexa M I believe. He talked (can't remember which interview) about how the mini would've been perfect for this film, but since it hadn't been released by the time principal photography began, they went with the M instead.

March 1, 2016 at 1:51PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1209

"the brilliant "seemless" camerawork in Birdman"

The word is SEAMLESS.

March 5, 2016 at 3:21AM, Edited March 5, 3:21AM

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David Gurney
DP
2284