Stumping for (or against) Mauro Fiore

Posted by · 8:32 am · March 2nd, 2010

AvatarThis year, one of the biggest trip hazards for those filling out their office Oscar pool sheets is the Best Cinematography awards. A race with four potential victors (sorry, “Harry Potter” fans) and wildly mixed signals from the precursors, there’s less consensus over this one than any of the feature categories.

We’ll put the debate to you when we cover the category in our Oscar Guide series on Thursday. Vanity Fair’s Claire Walla, however, seems to think she has it sussed out, declaring Mauro Fiore’s work on “Avatar” without peer in the race, given that it “completely redefined what it means to make an image.” To this end, she discusses with Fiore the challenges of lighting a film produced mostly by technologies with which the DP was uninvolved:

“The most difficult part is marrying those two images,” Fiore said of working with a physical set that exists in a virtual world. For a scene that takes place outside a research laboratory on one of Pandora’s floating mountains, for example, the physical set consisted of two structures and scattered Pandoran shrubbery. The entire backdrop—including the light source—was represented on set only by a green screen. Fiore thus had to light the characters and structures on set according to where the sun would be had the characters actually been on Pandora and not on a soundstage in New Zealand … “It was tricky because every scene involved some sort of interactive light,” he added.

What bearing such innovation has on the race, however, is another question. Whether or not you find Walla’s “redefinition” claims hyperbolic, it’s clear that not everyone in the industry is on board with the new. Reporting from Saturday’s ASC Awards (where Fiore lost to “The White Ribbon” lenser Christian Berger), Steve Pond detected a note of antipathy in the crowd:

Throughout the nearly three-hour ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel, participants talked about how cinematography is at a crucial point in its existence, with the digital world epitomized by “Avatar” threatening to supplant the old methods of shooting films … When he accepted the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel got a big ovation for making it clear which type of technology he preferrs: “I love the uncertainty of shooting on film and not knowing what you’re going to get,” he said. “When film goes through the camera, it’s a promise, it’s an idea … It’s a dream.”

Pond’s account suggests that Fiore might be in trouble if it was only fellow cinematographers voting for the Oscar. Of course, that’s not the case. I would wager that the casual Academy member casts their vote based upon the on-screen result, as opposed to the off-screen process.

Not that that makes predicting the outcome any easier, mind: there’s a widespread (if not wholly reliable) theory that voters favor the “prettiest” film in the race, but who’s to say they’ll find “Avatar”‘s day-glo palette more aesthetically pleasing than Berger’s meticulous monochrome compositions, or Robert Richardson’s more classical work on “Inglourious Basterds?” And if “The Hurt Locker” has built enough momentum for a sweep, voters might be inclined to ignore their usual reservations about 16mm in the category.

That cleared things up, didn’t it?

→ 11 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

11 responses so far

  • 1 3-02-2010 at 9:47 am

    Blake said...

    I think Mauro Fiore is getting a lot of credit thanks to the production designers and visual effects artists.

    Mauro Fiore didn’t even meet James Cameron until they were practically done with the motion capture process. If academy members think the lighting in the military base interiors is the best work of the year, then by all means he should get their votes.

    It is true that James Cameron and Mauro Fiore sat down and planned where all the lights would go in a virtual environment, but the overall beauty of the film is really the work of the visual effects artists.

    And people keep crediting Fiore for the Fusion 3-D system…don’t know why.

  • 2 3-02-2010 at 9:54 am

    Blake said...

    The article you linked to I think properly describes Fiore’s role in the process. He had a very difficult job, no doubt. But studios have been lighting with green screen for years, so I don’t know exactly what makes this an exception to the rule. They make it sound like this has never been done before.

  • 3 3-02-2010 at 10:42 am

    N8 said...

    I think Inglourious Basterds is a threat here. Traditional but terrific work from a well-respected veteran lender.

  • 4 3-02-2010 at 11:01 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    The merits of Avatar’s cinematography go way beyond the aesthetic into the wold of prototype technology and nuts and bolts, which I understand isn’t sexy enough for many to think it deserves an Oscar. But if you thought Children of Men deserved to win, when all it really offered was a few long takes (and innovations in camera rigs), then you should have NO problem thinking Avatar deserves it.

    All of that having been said, this is the most difficult category for me to predict, along with original screenplay, which is why I saved the two of them for last in the Oscar Guide.

  • 5 3-02-2010 at 11:18 am

    red_wine said...

    I just find this is a pig-headed defense of Avatar’s cinematography “OMGZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ it’ll looked so awesome, visually Immersive woo hoo”, so give it cinematography.

    That is such a petty defense, like Blake said its the most common thing to do in most blockbuster movies these days where green screen is used extensively.

    Take something like Watchmen where Dr. Manhattan glows with a blue light but was a digital character. They had Billy Crudup wear a suit that emitted blue light to create the effect. Whats more he was also mo-capped just like the prawns in District were.

    Morever in the scenes where Manhattan was hundred foot tall, the cinematographer had to hang this huge blue lights in the air to create the glowing effect, yet no-one says that it was a revolution in cinematography.

    Infact as far back as 2002 (or maybe 2 years earlier when it was actually shot), attack of the clones had many scenes which were completely made with a green screen. I saw a making of video, and there was Natalie Portman flailing her arms and jumping in her weird Star Wars queen costume in front of a massive green screen, and everything else was added later.

    In Avatar, even those scenes inside the military base, take for example that scene where there are hundreds of those giant human controlled robots (the one that Lang uses), they created just 2, that entire room was green screen too! The rest of the robots and the ceiling and stuff were all added later.

    Add about virtual lighting, CG animated movies have been doing it for ages! Lighting Pandora is just like lighting Paradise Falls, ZERO difference.

  • 6 3-02-2010 at 11:52 am

    The InSneider said...

    I was WONDERING why Best Original Screenplay was coming at the tail-end of this thing… I bet $50 on Boal yesterday. Did I blow it, Kris?

  • 7 3-02-2010 at 11:57 am

    aspect ratio said...

    “Though nearly 70 percent of what you see onscreen is produced by motion-capture and C.G.I. technologies (neither of which Fiore was directly involved with), the entire production bears the mark of the D.P.’s lighting designs.”

    Wow, I was against it being nominated/winning before, but that really seals it for me. If Fiore wasn’t even in charge of those 70% of the film’s visuals, why the fuck is he nominated, or at least why isn’t there another person nominated alongside him?

  • 8 3-02-2010 at 3:03 pm

    Ali E. said...

    The race in this category is still open ended. Avatar is technologically groundbreaking and pretty, but not the Pan’s Labyrinth or Brave Heart kinda pretty and many members could see it as plain animation. The Hurt Locker’s camera and lighting mostly contributes to the meaning and effect the director’s after as no other nominee did, but it’s not eyecandy. Inglourious Basterds has the kinda work the Academy usually goes for, but Richardson has already won twice and this is not his prime work. The White Ribbon has beautiful b&w cinematography, but is it really seen wide enough?

    Still, any of those could win.

  • 9 3-02-2010 at 4:58 pm

    Fei said...

    The InSneider: You didn’t blow it, since that race is still pretty neck-and-neck, but you shouldn’t have bet $50.

  • 10 3-02-2010 at 5:07 pm

    Lars said...

    All this discussion about how cinematographers hate Avatar – This always seems to miss the point that it was the cinematographers who nominated it as one of the top five films of you year in the first place.

    Oh yeah, they really hate it. ;-)

  • 11 3-02-2010 at 5:08 pm

    Fei said...

    red_wine: There is a difference. Fiore talks about matching the physical lighting that he had to do with the virtual lighting, on a scale larger than anything that had been attempted. If you think that that’s so easy, then why don’t you go do it? The other thing that’s different is that he was working with a new camera system.

    I’m not saying that Fiore deserves to win or even to have been nominated, but keep in mind that his fellow cinematographers did find plenty of reason to deem his work deserving of recognition. Unless you’re a professional cinematographer, then I just don’t see how you could dismiss the ASC and AMPAS’s opinions with so much authority.