Universal Studios’ “The Invisible Man” is the first feature film made in Australia with ALEXA LF, ALEXA Mini LF, and ARRI Signature Prime lenses. Cinematographer Stefan Duscio ACS talks about shooting a character that can’t be seen.
“The Invisible Man” by director Leigh Whannell is a terrifying modern remake of Universal’s classic monster story. What was the visual idea behind your version of the tale?
Leigh and I had worked together on a movie before called “Upgrade” and we both enjoyed creating a visual language unique for that film. There we employed a lot of in-camera motion tracking for our lead actor during action sequences and Leigh was interested in evolving that in “The Invisible Man” which features a character you can’t see. He wrote an absolutely thrilling script and he pushed me and the crew to come up with innovative ways to shoot the film.
“The Invisible Man” is about a woman named Cecilia (played by Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss) escaping an abusive partner. We were very interested in her highly paranoid point of view and, therefore, suggestively filmed empty spaces, letting the camera linger hauntingly on the mundane corners of a room. We also framed characters in an unusual way that would suggest someone else could be inhabiting the negative space in the frame. Focus might push past a foreground character into an unlikely area of the frame.
relentless tension. We also hoped it would engage the audience and encourage them to search the edges of the frame for any movement or hint of our lurking predator. It was very challenging to design coverage for these scenes and required a lot of imagination on behalf of our cast and crew to trust that these sequences would be suspenseful.
As the film title “The Invisible Man” already suggests, one of the protagonists is often not to be seen at all. How could you capture what you can’t see?
We used a variety of approaches to capture our “Invisible Man.” When actor interactions and camera movements were complex, we generally used an Argo motion control system to create repeatable camera moves. This was to ensure we achieved perfect plates of our cast, green suit performer, and backgrounds. One side effect though was that Leigh and I really loved how artificial and austere the motion control camera moves were. We leaned into this and tried to replicate it in our traditional dolly work so the two camera styles would have a synergy. It was very important to me that these visual effects or stunt heavy sequences felt like they were part of the broader visual language we were establishing on the rest of the film.
“The Invisible Man” is the first feature film made in Australia with ALEXA LF, ALEXA Mini LF, and ARRI Signature Prime lenses. Had you worked with this equipment before?
I was very excited to use the ALEXA LF and Signature Primes on this film. I used the package on a few commercials and, after reading the script, I felt it really suited a modern thriller. I’m a huge fan of what Roger Deakins and Denis Villeneuve achieved on “Prisoners” and “Sicario” and felt this film needed a similar approach in clarity and naturalism.
Why did you decide to work with this camera and lens set-up?
We tested some other lenses on ALEXA XTs, however, after screening the results in a theater, Leigh and I fell in love with the Signature Primes.
When did you use the ALEXA LF, when the ALEXA Mini LF?
Much of the shoot was on a dolly, so I generally employed the ALEXA LF. However, during Steadicam, handheld, or motion control work we used the ALEXA Mini LF.
We were fortunate enough to receive one of the first ALEXA Mini LFs in Australia just in time for our shoot. I was very happy about that; without it, I would have had to run a standard ALEXA Mini on our motion control robot due to weight restrictions.
One shot that was spectacular to achieve on the ALEXA Mini LF was during a car chase in the film. It was a complex maneuver involving many stunt drivers, rain rigs, and three camera operators. The camera was handed through from one vehicle to myself on a tracking vehicle which I then passed to another operator in a third vehicle. This shot could not have been achieved on a larger camera as our clearances through windows were very tight.
How did the cameras perform?
The cameras performed flawlessly and we had no technical issues whatsoever. The ALEXA camera system is incredibly reliable and I’m very used to what I can achieve on the sensor now, having shot on it for so many years. I’m also very comfortable lighting by eye and trusting that ALEXA faithfully replicates what I am seeing. Nothing is lost in translation.
After working with other cameras before, how was it to shoot with ARRI’s large-format camera system?
I love the new ALEXA large format. I feel like the sensor has struck a real sweet spot in depth and clarity and I adore how the ARRI Signature Primes render faces. Having shot a lot of stills on full frame 35 mm and medium format cameras over the years, I felt an immediate kinship with the way this sensor portrays the world with more dimension.
How is your work influenced when you use the large-format system compared to 35 mm cameras?
When using this system, I essentially see more of the world around the cast. I’m more likely to shoot on wider lenses, closer to the cast, to imbue the image with a feeling of intimacy. I believe an audience can “feel” when the point of view is closer to the action rather than further away on a telephoto lens. I generally relied on the 40 mm, 47 mm, and 58 mm lenses whenever I could.
What is your overall impression of the ARRI Signature Primes after working with them?
I adore the Signature Primes. I feel that they transmit an incredibly faithful, natural portrayal of reality. I also believe ARRI has listened to the concerns of cinematographers and directors by creating new glass that is expressive and beautiful—but not too clinical.
My first experiences with ARRI were shooting student films on an ARRI SR2. I loved these cameras and was lucky enough to continue shooting on SR3s and eventually ARRI 235s and 435s. One of the last film jobs I shot was on the beautiful ARRI 416. I wish I had the opportunity to shoot on these beautiful film cameras again!
Feature films, music videos, commercials: In which genre do you like to work the most and why?
I love mixing it up between all three and believe they all feed into and help each other respectively. I find filmmaking is an endless learning curve; I believe working on such a wide variety of projects with a wide variety of people keeps me creatively healthy and makes me a better cinematographer.
Main picture: © 2020 Universal Studios