Focus On Film

War Horse Takes Kaminski to the English Countryside

Since Janusz Kaminski burst on the scene 20 years ago with Schindler’s List, he has crafted a sterling career that includes brilliant smaller films like The Diving Bell & the Butterfly and How to Make an American Quilt, as well as more than a dozen big-budget films with Steven Spielberg (Minority Report, AI, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). Lately he has rounded out his resume with studio comedies like James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know and Judd Apatow’s Funny People.

Kaminski’s latest collaboration with Spielberg is War Horse, based on the children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo. The film was an opportunity for Kaminski to recreate World War I, but the filmmakers also set many scenes in stunningly beautiful exteriors in the English countryside. In terms of the look, the composition and the color, they envisioned a movie that felt old-fashioned.

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Director Steven Spielberg on the set of DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse" ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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Director Steven Spielberg on the set of DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse" ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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Andrew Cooper in a scene from War Horse" ©DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“Steven was very much inspired by John Ford and his movies,” says Kaminski. “And of course, the land was so inspirational. It was really fantastic to work in England. I love the inspiration that foreign countries give me as a cinematographer. Much of the movie was shot on tremendously beautiful locations an hour or two outside London during the summer of 2010. The landscape is very picturesque and visual, almost like Ryan’s Daughter. It’s very visual.” The story follows a friendship between a boy and his horse. The horse is enlisted by an officer, and through his experiences, the audience sees the war unfold.

The extensive exteriors meant that weather was an important factor in the day-to-day operations of the production. Cover sets were important. And Kaminski says Spielberg was willing to wait for the right light to a greater extent than ever before. But the exteriors didn’t mean that Kaminski wasn’t lighting.

“I was lighting a tremendous amount, simply because I didn’t want the landscape, that sky, and those clouds, to disappear,” he says. “Of course, these days, with DI, you can bring them in so quickly. But there is such a different quality of light when you actually put the light on people. We were blasting people with light in order to balance them with the natural light in the background, because I wanted an almost John Ford feel. I wanted the people to be part of the landscape. I lit so that when the clouds came in and out, the main light value of the scene didn’t change. If a cloud passes and the sun shines down, the talent stays unintensified. The result is beautiful imagery that is slightly out-of-this-world. The light is changing around the outside, yet they stay lit by my movie lights. The movie has an idyllic feel.”

Kaminski framed in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and shot with KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219, often rated at 200. In daylight situations, he often used KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207.

Kaminski made a photochemical print at Deluxe with a subtle amount of ENR processing, and once he was satisfied with the print, a 4K digital intermediate was done at EFilm to match the print.

“I just love ENR,” he says of the silver retention process. “The grain looks really beautiful. There are some new emulsions in which the grain is not interesting to me. It becomes almost electronic. I would rather go in the other direction. That’s why I would pull one stop. Then it becomes beautiful, a great emulsion. You are overexposing the film by one stop, which makes the contrast better, and saturates the color. Then, with ENR, you are bringing a bit of the grain back – but this grain has a different quality. The ENR desaturates the color, but I tell the timer to introduce a little more color in the timing process. The color and contrast changes with ENR are so beautiful. And the highlights are unique.”

Kaminski, a four-time Oscar® nominee with two wins, is a firm believer in making movies on film. “There’s no reason to give up on film emulsion and the conventional photochemical post path,” he says. “It’s actually far superior.”