Art of Darkness – Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Rising, which opened on 9th February in the UK and US, is a prequel to Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon. Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Rhys Ifans and Gong Li, the film was directed by Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring), and produced by Tarak Ben Ammar, Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis, with a screenplay by Thomas Harris from his own novel. Director of Photography Ben Davis’s striking cinematography was complemented by a Digital Intermediate created at Framestore CFC.

The film tells the story of the early life of notorious psychopath and cannibal, Hannibal Lecter. His idyllic childhood in Lithuania is destroyed by an atrocity that takes place during World War II, scarring his mind and starting the madness that propels him through life. We see the origin of his murderousness, its genesis in a desperate yearning for revenge.

Ben Davis, BSC had already worked with Framestore CFC’s Digital Lab on an earlier project ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® the gangster thriller Layer Cake. For Hannibal Rising he once more teamed up with Layer Cake Colourist, Asa Shoul. Of the three week project, Shoul says, “It was great to be working with Ben again. Layer Cake had been his first DI, and he was keen to make the best use of what we could offer.”

Indeed, Davis made use of both the digital and chemical processes available to him. Explains Shoul, “The film takes place in two main time periods: some ten years after World War II, when Lecter embarks on his first murders, and ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® seen in a series of flashbacks ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® the period during the war when he was a boy caught up by horrific events. The first quarter of an hour or so and all the flashbacks were processed bleach bypass in the lab. This is a chemical process that produces a desaturated image with strong blacks. It isn’t often done these days ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® partly because it makes a lot of technical demands on both the DoP and the lab. But Ben had the confidence to use it, because he wanted the specific look it offered.”

From Shoul’s point of view, this meant that the initial image was very bright and magenta to start with, so that matching from shot to shot could be tricky, as it varied from day to day and bath to bath through the lab. Davis went for a very high contrast, bleached, slightly green look for these flashbacks. The earliest flashbacks were given a little warmth, as they showed Lecter in relatively happier times, with his family. As we return to these flashbacks throughout the film, they become more and more high contrast.

“All of this contrasted very effectively with the rich, film noir look of the rest of the film,” says Shoul, “Which takes place after the World War II. There are a lot of deep browns and golds, and a lot of really dark shadows. We had to do a fair amount of work lifting faces and eye detail, because it’s such a dark look. We added a lot of grads and vignettes to darken the edges down and really focus attention on the lead character.”

Another digital touch added by Shoul was included, he says, as an homage to the ‘stocking’ look of Film Noir close-ups. “We applied this effect to leading lady Gong Li. Using a special Baselight plug-in, I was able to slightly soften her skin, without affecting her eyes, mouth, hair, or the background. This isn’t a blur or defocus, it is more akin to a 1/4 or 1/2 pro-mist, and unlike adding the effect in camera, we were able to adjust it on a shot by shot basis. With the plug-in you can perform a range of effects, from sharpening eyes if the focus is soft to perfectly mimicking camera filters.”

In addition to the usual task of securely bedding in numerous VFX shots, there were two other elements which Shoul and the digital grading process brought to the table. The first were the specific colour schemes that Davis and director Peter Webber wanted to introduce to accompany each of Lecter’s murders. The first ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® which takes place in a forest setting ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® is imbued with rich, golden autumnal tones; the second occurs in a hospital laboratory, and has a green and yellow look; and so forth.

The other final touch took place after the grade was complete. Explains Shoul, “We gave a four point lift to our render, to make the images half a stop brighter, and then got the lab to print it half a stop darker. The effect of this is to produce inkier blacks, which can be useful when the film features a lot of night scenes, as the blacks can look a little milky.”

Hannibal Rising

An MGM and the Weinstein Co. release of a Dino De Laurentiis presentation in association with Quinta Communications and Ingenious Film partners

Directed by Peter Webber
Cinematography by Ben Davis BSC
Produced by Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis, Tarak Ben Ammar
Executive producers, James Clayton, Duncan Reid
Co-Producers, Chris Curling, Philip Robertson and Petr Moravec
Dino De Laurentiis Company website

Colourist Asa Shoul
Additional Colourist Brian Krijgsman
Producer Sarah Micallef
Executive Producer Jan Hogevold
Head of Digital Lab Ben Baker
Digital Grading Assistant Annabel Wright
Scanning and Recording Manager Andy Burrow
Scanning and Recording Dan Perry, Jason Burnett, Paul Doogan, Joe Godfrey
Data Operators Vishal Songara, Dan Victoire, Simon Wessely
Retouch and Restoration Louie Alexander, Adam Hawkes, Aaron Lear, Savneet Nagi, Stuart Nippard, Nick Stanley, O’Dean Thompson
Film Mastering Engineers Kevin Lowery, Yan Jennings
Digital Lab Engineers Jerome Dewhurst, Ian Redmond, Eric D’Souza
Editorial Donna Smith

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