The Striking Stillness of 'The Revenant': A Video Essay

This breathtaking video essay showcases the best of The Revenant's quiet moments.

Life in the West in the 1800s was very quiet. Punctuated only by occasional warfare between Native Americans and settlers preaching Manifest Destiny, day-to-day living paralleled the rhythms of nature, with its streaming brooks, whooshing winds, rustling trees, and open plains. 

As any true The Revenant aficionado can tell you, it's these moments of stillness that lend the film its majesty. DP Emmanuel Lubezski won an Oscar for rendering nature's sweeping stillness onscreen (using only natural light, of course), and now Tom Williams has compiled some of the film's most striking moments into a video essay that captures its essence.

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s arresting score accompanies the visuals, which bring the haunting stillness of the 1800s Western frontier to life.     

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


This post made my day.

April 5, 2016 at 4:07PM

Ben Meredith

OMG. How stunning the visuals are...!!

April 6, 2016 at 1:25AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

Hope someone makes a proper vid essay on all the symbolism throughout the picture.

April 6, 2016 at 5:35AM

B.D. Sharples
Cinematographer and Director

Some of those visuals I recognize as being near
Calgary, Alberta, Canada (foothills, rocky mountains, etc)
and some footage I know is filmed in Argentina/Patagonia.

BOTH AREAS are utterly stunning in winter and
I know from experience just how cold and unforgiving
that environment is, which makes some of the scenes
in The Revenant all the more spectacular after knowing
just how hard on people, animals and equipment that
type of snow and bitter cold can be for the up to
12/14 hours a day they did film for weeks on end!

In terms of lighting, really only a high end Alexa-65
or an Arri-65 Film camera could have captured those
types of scenes with that little amount of light and STILL
make it look so good!

ONLY the Sony A7s Mk1/2 cameras can even come
CLOSE to that sort of detail at such low light levels!

The other trick of the Cinematography trade is actually
the time and money to WAIT for the perfect natural light
to come along. I can relate to this because I remember
coming out SAIT CTSR Television/Film school in Calgary
hiking with HEAVY 45 pound Betacam SP cameras and
another 100 pounds of batteries, heaters, tripods and
Sony BVM CRT monitors up to the top of Nose Hill
for an hour at -40 Degrees Celcius at 4 am so I could get
the absolute perfect winter sunrise shot in the bitter cold!
It was an almost 4 hour wait for 20 minutes of sunrise
footage which we sped up for a final 30 second intro.

If you're WILLING to wait, you ABSOLUTELY CAN
get the "Perfect Shot" which gets talked about for ages!
(even almost 25 years later!)

You just have put your foot down with your producer
and just spend some of that production money and
TIME to get what you want! So I say spill your guts
and take the time and mooney to get that shot!
(I suggest some peach schnapps and a
steak dinner bribe to cajole your producers into
spending the time and money on your "Perfect Shot"!)

April 6, 2016 at 12:08PM, Edited April 6, 12:11PM

Henry A. Eckstein
Director, Research and Development

You forgot (& sadly a lot of people too) that there is a lot of postproduction work in this movie. Every shot has many compositing passes. It's not the art of Lubezki, but also VFX team & grader. Not to take anything from Lubezki, but we can't forget about stunning postproduction work. I think VFX team & grader should get more attention.

April 6, 2016 at 5:15PM

Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist

I hear you on loud and clear about how Colour Grade was
quite amazing especially the fire-at-night scene which
I thought was so evocative of just how cold and desolate
that Canadian Winter environment can be.

Still, I do must say as an A-cam and B-cam shooter,
I am definitely impressed with framing, the moves
and simple compositions that bring out the DOP
in me which makes me want to sit by a frozen
waterfall at 5:00 am waiting for a sunrise to give
me that sparkly glint you just can't get using
post-production VFX!

For you budding DOP's if you want a similar look
and can spend $3400.00, get yourself a Canon 5D
Mark3 camera body off of Ebay ($1100) and then
spend $950 on a Sigma Art f/1.4 50mm and an
Art Sigma f/1.4 85mm lens ($950) (they are the
SHARPEST lenses out there for the money!)
and load Magic Lantern RAW into the camera.

Get yourself a GOOD One-Quarter and One-Half
Neutral Density filter to reduce bright sunlit days
without stopping down too much ($25 each).
Then get a high quality Sunrise/sunset grad filter
($100) to deepen the orange and reds in sunrise
and sunset shots, and if you can find a good but
cheaper Polarizer filter ($50 - to reduce reflections)
get it! With those items you are definitely set for
your initial Director of Photography (DOP) work!

For those of you who LOVE shooting at night
under street lights, moonlight and car lights,
add four $20 bright white LED light wands
from Home Depot and put some colour
correction gel (CTO-Colour Temperature Orange,
CTB-Colour Temperature Blue or CTG-Colour
Temperature Green) on them and then literally
duct-taped the lights to a broom handle, held by
a grip to match those light conditions which will
give yourself one stop or more of localized
lighting boost at night --- The technique is
called "Light The Night"! If the light seems
too harsh, put some heat-resistant translucent
"spun" -- fireproof vellum will work too! on the
lights underneath the colour correction gels to
soften the sometimes harsh light from the
LED wands!

It will give you enormous reduction of noise level
to allow your colour grader some much needed
leeway in setting your night-shot colours and
getting even more noise reduction from the
colour grading software.

April 6, 2016 at 7:44PM, Edited April 6, 8:06PM

Henry A. Eckstein
Director, Research and Development

Only 4000 man hours at technicolor to make the "natural" lighting useable

April 8, 2016 at 10:30PM


The Revenant was a great film, I'm currently studying to be a cinematographer and I hope to create something similar sometime in my career. My curator asked me to record a video essay of nature footage without the use of artificial lighting. I learned a lot of information on the resource Studyhippo But now I have not yet submitted my work. Every time I see a video essay from professionals on the Internet, I want to shoot a new video, the quality of which will be higher. Studying is very difficult, but I am sure I will become a great cameraman.

April 24, 2022 at 12:43AM