Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC is known for his preference for 35mm anamorphic cinematography. In fact, he knows the serial numbers of his favorite Panavision anamorphic lenses by heart, and knows exactly how each lens will affect a given photographic subject.
“When I look through an anamorphic lens, it just feels very natural and human to me because the field of view is so wide,” he says. “The glass in these lenses that we’ve been using for the last 30 or 40 years was cut by hand, so there are imperfections. The light does unimaginable things when it hits those aberrations. An unquantifiable magic happens, and I love that. It’s one of the tools we use to sell the illusion.”
Dan Mindel on the set of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (Photo: Jaimie Trueblood)
Mindel’s most recent assignment was the eagerly awaited Star Trek Into Darkness, which he photographed for director J.J. Abrams, his collaborator on 2009’s Star Trek andon Mission: Impossible 3. Mindel’s other credits include Pixar’s first foray into live action, John Carter, and Oliver Stone’s Savages, which employed a wide range of film formats.
For Mindel, fantastical stories like Star Trek Into Darkness must be rooted in the film medium. “We try very hard to maintain the integrity of the cinematographic process, so there’s some sort of continuity to the storytelling, and the CG that these movies live by contains some elements that are organic. If I give ILM a piece of their frame, I’d love to do it on film. It ties them into creating something that has the look and feel of film, even if it originated in CG. The people I work with are empathetic to what I’m trying to do.”
When he was offered Star Trek Into Darkness, Mindel told Abrams he wanted to shoot in the highest quality format possible.
(Front,left to right)Dan Mindel and J.J. Abrams on the set of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (Photo: Jaimie Trueblood)
“Our digital tests looked good, but there’s really no comparison when you put the film up on the screen,” says Mindel. “Even hard and fast converts recognize that there is a texture and feeling when you look at film that is irreplaceable. We’re at the point of having really mastered this technology.”
Mindel upped the ante further by shooting about 40% of Star Trek Into Darkness in the huge 15-perf IMAX format, which captures a negative image nearly 10 times the area of a standard 35mm frame. Almost the entire story that unfolds outside the Enterprise spaceship was shot with IMAX cameras, usually mounted on Technocranes to facilitate movement. Some scenes were also shot 65mm 8-perf. In using the IMAX format on a narrative feature, Mindel and Abrams were following a trail blazed by Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister, ASC, BSC on The Dark Knight. In fact, Mindel and Abrams consulted with Nolan and Pfister, who encouraged them to go for it.
“Shooting IMAX was awesome,” says Mindel. “The footage is phenomenal. We saw printed dailies projected in a theater on a daily basis.”
In the finished film, the middle part of the more-square IMAX frame will be extracted and intercut with the widescreen, 2.35:1 anamorphic images. “Those scenes go supersaturated, because the color space is so good,” says Mindel. “The film sort of inhales the image. When you see it projected, it’s so soft and the colors are so deep. It’s stunning, and really moving. It’s a great way to work.”
The production shot at a range of interesting locations. The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., served as Starfleet headquarters, and was the setting for the funeral of Captain Pike. For some scenes, the Getty Museum on the west side of Los Angeles worked in tandem with the Crystal Cathedral. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., was a challenge because Mindel’s lights could not be allowed to change the temperature inside.
(Left to right) Zachary Quinto is Spock, Benedict Cumberbatch is John Harrison and Chris Pine is Kirk in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions. (Photo: Zade Rosenthal)
“We had to use very limited lighting, obviously,” says Mindel. “I have gotten to the point where I can shoot (KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film) 5219 by eye. I don’t need to meter – you start to realize that if the eye can see it, that stock will photograph it. That made working at Livermore so simple. It’s mind blowing how good that stock is.”
In situations where light was more plentiful, like day exteriors, the film stock was KODAK VISION3 200T Color Negative Film 5213.
The interiors of the Enterprise look crisp and clean, like “an Apple store,” according to Mindel. The flares that were characteristic of the look in the previous Star Trek film are less evident this time around.
On stage at Sony in Culver City, an abandoned planet world was constructed. The set featured a massive light array that consisted of 1,500 computer-controlled, pulsating Par cans. “The designer showed us some pictures of an art installation at the Tate Gallery in London,” says Mindel. “We built the bottom half of this pipe-like structure, and ILM finished off the top half.”
Mindel introduced further authenticity to the images by shooting with a light degree of Black Pro-Mist filters throughout. “I’m using filters to give the lenses halation, even if they are not flaring,” he explains. “I like to allow halation in, much the way your eye does when you walk into a different lighting environment.”
The IMAX cameras used Hasselblad lenses in a relatively limited range of focal lengths. The 35mm anamorphic scenes were shot with Mindel’s familiar Panavision C and E series lenses, as well as Primo anamorphic lenses. ATZ and AWZ-2 anamorphic zooms were also part of the package.
The digital intermediate was done at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld. “Stefan has been my partner for many years, and I love what he brings to it,” says Mindel. “I met him when I was working with Tony Scott. We did one of the earliest DIs there, on Spy Game. We used to do something very similar on commercials. Now it’s become de rigueur in moviemaking, and there is no other way of working, to me. It allows the most amazing amount of latitude, but I use it very judiciously. We literally timed the movie in about a week.”
Mindel is currently in New York City, where he is shooting The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with director Marc Webb.
“On The Amazing Spider-Man 2, they hired me because they wanted to go back to shooting film,” says Mindel. “Marc Webb had seen Star Trek and liked the way it looked. We’re halfway through the movie and it’s looking really good.”
Star Trek Into Darkness hits theaters in mid-May 2013.