“AJIN: Demi-Human” BTS Technical Notes-02

- Interview: Director of Photography Akira SAKO -

The Director of Photography was Akira SAKO, who worked on the “Umizaru” series and, more recently, on other major hits like “Tatara Samurai.” What are some of the issues that arise when shooting a movie having lots of CG scenes such as IBM(※)with CinemaScope?

ARRI Master Anamorphic Lens

In order to emphasize the scale, I wanted to shoot in CinemaScope. I also wanted to use an anamorphic lens. The reason for this is that CinemaScope images that are cropped after shooting in a standard size are completely different from the CinemaScope images shot with an anamorphic lens.

Actually, at first I was going to use an old lens, which has a more distinct look to it. I conducted our first camera test with it. I then showed it to the CG team. One of the highlights of “AJIN: Demi-Human” is to show IBM(※), a CG material – it’s almost like another main character in the movie. In this situation, when you use a lens where the bokeh is really good and that has a distinct look to it, it doesn’t work well with CG. In that sense, the ARRI Master Anamorphic lens has minimal distortion and very little aberration; it’s a very easy to use. So it works really well with CG. We ordered the newly launched 28mm lens and had it sent over directly from Germany to shoot “AJIN: Demi-Human.”
The ARRI Master Anamorphic lens is very weighty. Because “AJIN: Demi-Human” is an action movie, I had to keep up with the actors’ movements, and that meant shooting while racing around with the camera. But that didn’t mean using a lighter lens just because it was an action movie either. I used the MAXIMA MX30 as a stabilizer, for example, and was able to run around and shoot scenes even with a heavy lens. When it came loose, that seemed natural as well, and I figured we would have the editing and CG departments work their magic afterwards (laughs).

The ALEXA XT, popular among colorists

This time we shot with the ALEXA XT and the ALEXA mini from ARRI and we recorded using ARRIRAW. These days, when you go to shoot a large-scale production in digital format, most people end up choosing ARRI products. The appeal of the ALEXA has got to be the number of colors available in the highlights. Where it differs most compared to other cameras is in the facial tones. There are so many colors in the human face, and that’s where you will see the biggest difference among cameras. The ALEXA in particular is rated extremely highly among colorists when it comes to handling post-processing.
What was significant about shooting “AJIN: Demi-Human” was that the colorist at Tokyo Laboratory, Mr. Hoshiko, took on the dual role of colorist and DIT (Digital Image Technician) for this production. Mr. Hoshiko himself is a fan of the original “AJIN” series, and he worked really hard on the look of the movie. With regard to the color orientation, he managed to improve the color while keeping in mind how it would work with the CG. The animation team on “AJIN: Demi-Human” were working with the live-action production in mind, and so we considered what the live-action version could bring to the table, too. One of the standouts of this production was that we were given permission to use the IBM 3DCG data that was used for the animation and we applied it to the live-action version; we were really conscious of whether the live-action and CG would blend seamlessly with one another during shooting.

HDRI shooting

This time, not only were there scenes with the IBM, but there were also a lot of VFX composite scenes, so for most of the scenes, we shot HDRI for CG compositing immediately afterwards. HDRI shooting had nothing to do with the main story, and the departments complained that they wanted to move on and do a set change right away, so it was really tedious. On this set, too, we didn’t have a lot of time, so we asked the crew for their patience, as we had to do this after each scene.
On past productions, because we didn’t have time, we didn’t do HDRI shooting, and so we couldn’t recreate the environmental lighting properly for CG in those scenes. Looking back, I would say that we failed as a result. So this time, we made sure to devote our energy to this, and it was worth it; during the previews, the director Mamoru Oshii was really impressed with the CG aspect of the production, and that made it worthwhile.

※IBM=Invisible Black Matter: a creature, called “Black Ghost,” emerging from Ajins.