#1: From interview [2012]

 

   


JOST VACANO   BVK/ASC

 

Born: 15 March 1934, Osnabrück, Germany.

Education: Technische Universität München [Electronics]; Deutsche Institut für Film und Fernsehen, München.

Career: Worked primarily in the USA since 1986.

Taught at various film schools [e.g. Filmhochschulen in Babelsberg & Ludwigsburg, Universität Hamburg & the DFFB.].

Has been a juror for the 'Da Vinci' Award and an advisor to the development of 'Cinematographer's Day' at the Palm Springs IFF.

Honorary member of the BVK, member of the ASC [since 1991], the ICG600 and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

'Special Thanks' on the credits of the doc 'Imagining Total Recall' [2001, Jeffrey Schwarz; ph: Jim Newport, a.o.]. Books: 'Licht- und Schattengestaltung im Film' [1997, Achim Dunker] & 'Jost Vacano - Die Kamera als Auge des Zuschauers' [2005, Marko Kregel].

Appeared in the doc's 'Fleshing Out the Hollow Man' [2000, Jeffrey Schwarz; ph: Adam Cindric, Steve Wynn, a.o.], 'Flesh + Steel: The Making of 'Robocop'' [2001], 'Know Your Foe' [2001; doc about 'Starship Troopers'] and 'Death from Above: The Making of 'Starship Troopers'" [2001, Jeffrey Schwarz; ph: Robert Elfstrom, a.o.].

Awards: Prague Festival Award [1968] for 'Mord in Frankfurt'; Bundesfilmpreis 'Film Band in Gold' [1976] for 'Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum' & 'Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein'; Bayerischer Filmpreis [1981] & 'Oscar' AA nom [1983] for 'Das Boot'; DKP Ehrenkameramann [2001]; Imago Honorary Award [2002]; BVK-Ehrenpreis [2005]; Marburger Kamerapreis [2010].


The Role of the DP in Times of CGI and increased Postproduction

By Jost Vacano, ASC/BVK  [August 1999]

 

'In the last decade motion pictures were increasingly depending on digital postproduction. In the digital world most of the photochemical limitations became obsolete, a new world of images showed up, sometimes unseen before. Most of them were just manipulations, combinations, or additions to existing images, but some of them were created completely in postproduction by a separate crew. So new creative people became involved in the visual process, and the more they work at the end of the creative chain, the more they claim to be co-creators of this final product. That's normal human feeling of any creative person, but nevertheless it's mostly wrong. It's decisive, who sets the creative standards, who creates the 'look' of a film. This discussion started long ago, when some tv/video transfers were done by the colorists alone, without the Director of Photography [DP] being part of it. These colorists then tried to claim shared creative photographic credits. But nowadays, since films depend more and more on extensive postproduction and computer generated images [CGI], this controversial matter got into discussion again: Who are the creators, or the authors of these new computer images? How does this change the influence and responsibility of the DP's? Are they still in charge of Photography in a general sense or are they on a way to be degraded to a supplier of raw material only? Let me look into these problems based on my own experience on some of my recent films: 'Total Recall' [1989], 'Starship Troopers' [1996] and 'Hollow Man' [1999].

There are generally three different groups of additional visual work done in postproduction:

> The first group is of a technical nature like digital wire removal, manipulation or combination of existing images. In 'Hollow Man', a film about an invisible scientist going berserk, the computer is used in a very elaborate way to remove the invisible elements. But this is not a creative, just a technical process. In this group the DP still has complete creative control.

> The second group, at the other extreme, consists of complete sequences, originating from miniature or CGI work, like the landscapes on Mars in 'Total Recall' or the flights through armadas of spaceships in 'Starship Troopers'. These scenes are normally 'filmed' by a independent miniature or CGI crew, often with a high degree of own creativity. But in most cases these scenes don't exist by themselves, they are combined with elements shot before.

In 'Total Recall' many shots are showing the actors in small exterior surroundings built on stage, which then are inserted in a big miniature landscape on planet Mars. This landscape had to be lit and shot by the model unit according to the stage elements. The red soft lighting was established by the DP already and thus the general 'look' of the planet.

In 'Starship Troopers' are many scenes showing armadas of spaceships shot in postproduction. Although many of these scenes were seen through the windscreens of spaceships cockpits [with the actors], and many of the explosions and effects were established by interactive lighting of the foreground already beforehand, my creative input as the DP was very limited for these shots. So these credits should belong to the Miniature- and CGI-Teams in majority. But mostly these scenes are just small parts of a film, like independent second unit work, and therefore this cannot change the DP's responsibility for the entire film's photography.

> The third group: Adding miniature shots and/or computer generated images to existing shots, partial or general image enhancement like changing contrast or colors even beyond normal values, creating sunsets which didn't happen during shooting, or the 'repair' of mistakes is of major importance in today's motion pictures. 'We fix it in post' is the word.

'Starship Troopers' was a film about the fight of humans against thousands of killer insects, the 'bugs', on foreign planets. Some of these bugs were huge animatronic props, but most of them were added in postproduction by CGI. These bugs were the real 'stars' of the film, but this movie was shot mainly without them. They came in later, they were created, animated, lit and shot in the computer by Phil Tippett [creature visual effects supervisor] in a unbelievable realistic way. You could say, Phil Tippett directed the bugs and Paul Verhoeven directed the rest of the film. But who was in charge of Photography? Was it still the DP? Many people asked this question.

Cinematography in general is about lighting, composition, and movement of each shot. But how do you compose for soldiers shooting at, or running away from objects, which are not there at all? How do you follow these invisible bugs in motion? By imagination only. It works, if you develop a precise view of these shots in your fantasy. You see in your viewfinder some people in one corner of the frame, nothing else. But you have to visualize the rest as well, the huge bug threatening the soldiers; you have to see this together in your mind, to find a well-balanced composition. The computer will fill in the bug later, in exact that space you have imagined. So the DP already at the beginning establishes the composition.

What about the lighting of these bugs? The computer knows size, form, structure, surface and motion of the bugs, all this was created beforehand. But the computer can also create light and shadow, reflections and even shadows on the ground, if someone tells him what the lighting should be, or, better, what exactly the light situation had been on the set. And there is a very clever solution for that: After each set-up a lighting reference is taken by photographing three globular spheres, like basketballs, in exactly the position of the bug or other object to be inserted. All three spheres are lit by the existing light and show how this light falls on a three-dimensional object, similar to a human head. One sphere is painted 18% gray and shows the light distribution, the different exposures on all its sides, the highlights, the shadows, the contrasts. The second sphere is white and shows the color of the light, coming from different directions. The third sphere is mirror reflective and shows directly the position of all light sources like through a fisheye lens. With this reference the computer has all necessary information, to recreate exactly not only the light situation at the object itself, but also its interaction with its surroundings like reflections or shadows on the ground. But to get this system working, these invisible objects have to be lit in a realistic way, with key and fill and edges and colors, even if they do not exist at all. The DP establishes the lighting, even if he lights only the air, and the computer will understand, what he has done.

So in this third group of additional CGI or miniature effects photography, the DP is still 'directing' the photography, he is setting the creative photographic standards. That's why he is the DP, and not only a cameraman.

Obviously, this article is written by a DP, from his point of view, and many creative people, working in the miniature and CGI field, may see this matter controversially. I'm not denying their creativity, sometimes on high standards. I'm not denying their artistic influence, and a high degree of responsibility for the scenes they have created. But I think, the photographic creation of an entire film, in its totality, is a unique piece of art. This cannot be divided, it has only one author: the Director of Photography.' [August 1999.]


 

 FILMS

1957

Moskau 1957 [Peter Schamoni] b&w; doc/12m

1957

Jazz im Kreml [Peter Schamoni] 16mm/b&w; doc/44m

1957

Moskau ruft! - Ein Filmbericht über die VI. Weltjugendfestspiele [Peter Schamoni] b&w; doc/13m

1961

Bodega Bohemia [Peter Schamoni] b&w; doc/12m

1962

Die Teutonen kommen [Peter Schamoni] b&w; doc/12m

1963

Glattes Parkett [Klaus Kirschner] 16mm/b&w; doc/312mtr

1964

Jugendweihe 1964/65 - Vorbereitungsstunde im Dresdener Zwinger [Peter Schamoni] b&w; doc/13m

1964

Dresden 1964 [- Im Zwinger] [Peter Schamoni] b&w; doc/13m

1964

Hollywood in Deblatschka Pescara [Ulrich Schamoni] c; doc/12m

1965

Schonzeit für Füchse/No Shooting Time for Foxes [Peter Schamoni] b&w; cph: Nikola Majdak

1970

Schmetterlinge weinen nicht [Klaus Überall] c

1973

Supermarkt [Roland Klick] c

1975

Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum [Volker Schlöndorff & Margarethe von Trotta] c; uncred cph (first 4 days): Dietrich Lohmann

1975

Potato Fritz/Zwei gegen Tod und Teufel/Montana Trap [Peter Schamoni] c; cph: Wolf Wirth

1975

Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein [Roland Klick] c

1976

Die Brüder [Wolf Gremm] c

1976

Soldaat van Oranje/Soldier of Orange/Survival Run [Paul Verhoeven] c; ph reshoots: Paul van den Bos; also 4-part tv-miniseries (film + newsreels) titled 'Voor Koningin en Vaderland' (1979; 207m)

1977

Tod oder Freiheit [Wolf Gremm] c

1977

Das fünfte Gebot/Verdammt bis in den Tod/L'alba dei falsi dei [Duccio Tessari] c

1978

Bolinghero [Bert Nosslar] 16mm/c; cph: Andreas Denker, Volker Rodde & ? Baum

1979

Spetters [Paul Verhoeven] c; 2uc: Fred Brinkman

1980

Das Boot/The Boat [Wolfgang Petersen] c; 149m & 210m; 2uc: Franz Rath; addph: Wolfgang Treu, Peter Maiwald, Gerhard Fromm, a.o.; uwph: Egil Woxholt; miniature ph: Ernst Wild; also six-hour tv-miniseries

1982

Die wilden Fünfziger [Peter Zadek] c

1983

Die unendliche Geschichte/The NeverEnding Story [Wolfgang Petersen] tvi/c; 2uc: Franz Rath; matte ph: Craig Barron

1986

52 Pick-Up [John Frankenheimer] c; aph: Frank Holgate

 

[Left] with dir Paul Verhoeven - "RoboCop"

 

1986

RoboCop [Paul Verhoeven] c; 2uc: Rick Anderson & Paul Elliott; + add shooting in January 1987

1987

Rocket Gibraltar [Daniel Petrie] c

1988

Tequila Sunrise [Robert Towne] was fired 10 days into filming and replaced by Conrad L. Hall

1989

Total Recall [Paul Verhoeven] c; 2uc: Alex Phillips; vfx ph: Rexford Metz; efx ph: Robert Primes; miniature ph: Alex Funke

1992

Untamed Heart/Real Love [Tony Bill] c

1994

Crusade/The Crusades [Paul Verhoeven] prod halted due to financial problems of the prod company

1994

Showgirls [Paul Verhoeven] s35/c; 2uc: Anette Haellmigk

1996

Starship Troopers [Paul Verhoeven] c; 2uc: Anette Haellmigk; vfx ph: Alex Funke; miniature ph: Scott Campbell & Martin Rosenberg

1999

Hollow Man [Paul Verhoeven] c; 2uc: Anette Haellmigk; vfx ph: David Stump

 

 TELEVISION

1962

Ein Mann ist ein Mann [Hansgünther Heyme] tvm/45m

1963

Monsieur Quinot [Hansgünther Heyme] tvm

1963

Freunde wie Wölfe [Heinz Schimmelpfennig] tvm/b&w/60m

1963

Drei Einakter [Hansgünther Heyme] tvm/b&w/120m

1963

Vorsätzlich [Dieter Lemmel] tvm/b&w/60m 

1963

Mit zwei Füßen in Grab [Hansgünther Heyme] tvm/b&w (1964)

1964

Die Stühle [Peter Zadek] tvm

1964

Bis ans Ende [Wilm ten Haaf] tvm

1964

Der Nebbich [Peter Zadek] tvm (1965)

1964

Mariana Pineda [Wilm ten Haaf] tvm/b&w (1965)

1965

Ein Deutsches Requiem [Truck Branss] ?

1965

Kandidat Kormoran [Wolfgang Liebeneiner] tvm

1965

Das Leben meines Bruders [Wilm ten Haaf] tvm/b&w (1966)

1965

Ein Tag ohne Morgen [Wilm ten Haaf] tvm (1966)

1966

Das Kriminalmuseum [ep #23 'Der Narockengel' dir by Dieter Lemmel] 41-part series/b&w, 1963-70; 4th season, 1965-66

1966

Spielplatz [Wilm ten Haaf] tvm/b&w

1966

Freitag muß es sein [Korbinian Köberle] tvm/b&w (1967)

1967

Tragödie in einer Wohnwagenstadt [Günter Gräwert] tvm

1967

König Ödipus [Oswald Döpke] tvm

1967

Mord in Frankfurt [Rolf Hädrich] tvm/b&w (1968)

1967

Das imaginäre Leben des Straßenkehrers Auguste G. [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm/b&w/70m (1968)

1968

Ostern [Wilm ten Haaf] tvm/b&w/62m

1968

Der Unfall [Peter Beauvais] tvm/b&w/73m

1968

Prüfung eines Lehrers [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm/b&w

1968

Ramon Yendias Flucht [Oswald Döpke] tvm/b&w

1969

Die Geschichte der 1002. Nacht [Peter Beauvais] 2-part (102m & 117m) tvm

1969

Nur der Freiheit gehört unser Leben [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm/b&w

1969

Rumpelstilz -Ein Familienbild [Peter Beauvais] tvm; cph: Peter Arnold

1969

Alma Mater [Rolf Hädrich] tvm/b&w

1969

Eine große Familie [Peter Beauvais] 2-part (67m & 52m) tvm

1969

Der Nagel [Oswald Döpke] tvm (1970)

1970

Tatort [ep #3 'Kressin und der tote Mann im Fleet' dir by Peter Beauvais] tvm-ep series

1970

Ich, ein entlassener Lehrer [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm

1970

Die Deutschstunde [Peter Beauvais] 2-part tvm

1971

Der Pedell [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm/b&w

1971

Kennen Sie Georg Linke? [Rolf Hädrich] tvm

1971

Mandala [Rainer Wolffhardt] tvm

1972

Ein Leben [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm

1972

Auf Befehl erschossen - Die Brüder Sass, einst Berlins große Ganoven [Rainer Wolffhardt] tvm/b&w; cph: Peter Arnold

1972

Plaza Fortuna [Wolfgang Liebeneiner] tvm

1972

Entziehung - Ein Tagebuch [Ludwig Cremer] tvm/75m

1972

Federlesen - Bilder aus dem Leben eines Einfallsreichen [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm

1973

Die Kriminalerzählung [ep #1 'Der furchtsame Ehemann', #2 'Die rote Queen', #3 'Mann vermißt' & #4 'Geheimakte SF2' dir by Wilm ten Haaf] 21-part series, 1973-76

1973

Der Tod der Schneevögel [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm (1974)

1974

Der Abituriententag [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm

1974

Sechs Wochen im Leben der Brüder G. [Peter Beauvais] tvm

1974

Frau von Bebenburg [Eberhard Itzenplitz] tvm

1974

Am Wege [Peter Beauvais] 2-part (91m & 87m) tvm

1976

21 Hours at Munich [William A. Graham] tvm; 2uc: Atze Glanert; released theatrically outside USA

1990

[HBO's] Tales from the Crypt [ep #8 'The Switch' dir by Arnold Schwarzenegger] 93-part series, 1989-96; 2nd season, 1990