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June 16 2012

"All Together Now" - American Cinematographer profiles 'The Avengers'. It's a very good, indepth feature. Previous American Cinematographer issues have covered Dollhouse and Firefly.

OMG, this tecnical jargon makes my head explode. I am ever so amazed that Joss knows how to deal with all this AND make such a character driven movie.
(disclaimer: haven't read the article yet)

I was able to see a 3D screening of Avengers at the DGA with Seamus McGarvey Q&A afterwards. It was my 5th time seeing the movie, first time in 3D. I was very impressed with the conversion.

I was more than a bit underwhelmed by the discussion. Understandably so, it seems like Seamus just kept his head low and did as he was told. He had almost nothing to say about the aesthetic of the movie, and kept only to very technical talk. This isn't normal for a Cinematographer. While most of the big ones are very technical savvy, they almost always are more interested in visual storytelling.

Seamus was very generous with his time and answers, and seems like the nicest guy in the world. I hear he's great to work with. And I get why he would keep his head low on something like this, as this was a big move up for him. He admitted he was intimidated and constantly worried he'd be let go, especially early on when there was some studio notes to change the work. But even if the aesthetic was all about Joss, you'd think Seamus would have been involved enough in discussion to know the answers to some questions.

I was the only one who asked a question about the aesthetics rather than the technical. The audience and the MC were very interested in it as well. I asked about all the reflections, especially the first one with Black Widow in the interrogation, and the last one with Cap in the rear view mirror. Seamus' answer was essentially "I don't know why." He said he thought Joss just thought they were cool shots. Undoubtedly that's partially true, but there's so much intent behind them, that I feel there must be more to it (knowing Joss). Unlike the goldfish bowl shot at the end of Serenity which was literally because they didn't have actual doors for Mal to walk out of. These were definitely not shots that existed just to solve a lack of something.

I think Seamus McGarvey did a great job on Avengers. I really hope this gets him more clout to be more involved with the visual storytelling and amp it up a little. I'm of the opinion Joss chose Seamus to maintain as much control as possible. Joss was already in the same position of needing to keep his head low, and if he'd had someone like Dan Mindel (Iron Man) he would have lost a lot of decisions to his DP. Seamus was a solid DP whom he knew he could keep reigned in. A smart choice, and a good result.

Did get an answer on why they did not shoot 2.35 (like every other Marvel movie) Seamus lost the argument to Joss, who wanted a more vertical frame to accommodate the skyscrapers of Manhattan. That last 30 minutes of the movie (less actually, I timed it) was indeed a battle fought in vertical space. Though i would argue there was very little in the way of shots that took advantage of the 1.85 frame for that purpose. I still think it should have been 2.35, but oh well.

I hope I didn't repeat too much of, or contradict, what the article says, and apologize if I did.
I have to say that I was underwhelmed by the 3D conversion in both Avengers and MiB3. I don't think it is particularly dramatic or beautiful, and not worth the extra money. I can really tell the difference between post conversion and filming in 3D, it is what makes Hugo, and Prometheus so much prettier (of course Avatar and How To Train Your Dragon also have gorgeous 3D but they are animated).
@embers, I don't think it's accurate to classify Avatar as "animated", certainly not in the same sense as How To Train Your Dragon.

Avatar was filmed with cameras on sets, just as Hugo and Prometheus were. Many sets in Avatar were either created or enhanced digitally, but so were many of the settings in The Avengers, Prometheus and Hugo.

In Avatar's case, the filmed scenes were digitally altered to change the actors into alien creatures, but the characters' movements and facial expressions remained the actors' movements and expressions as they acted them. The same technique, I believe, was used for The Hulk in The Avengers.

Animation like HTTYD, as I understand it, doesn't involve filming actors on sets, and the characters' expressions and movements are created by animators.
Did get an answer on why they did not shoot 2.35

Fascinating titibit there bobw10 Now that decision makes a little more sense to me, although personally I would have preferred it all in 2.35 like you say.
Hi, bob. In the article the reason for using that particular aspect ratio was to avoid beheading The Hulk at times.
Yes, I read it. And the Dollhouse and Firefly articles linked as well.
I need to get treatment, I think.
Second on compliments on bobw10's comments.

Early on, there was a debate on what some people meant by saying the movie felt like television (but never with any clear reasons beyond "it felt that way"). I wonder if the reason was as simple as shooting in 1.85.
I don't get why 1.85 feels like TV (not directed at you specifically, OneTeV, just at people I've heard making that claim in general).

It's a movie ratio and has been for years, and has only been used for TV in the very recent past (as more people have switched to widescreen HDTVs). Jurassic Park was shot in 1.85, as was Saving Private Ryan, Spider-Man, and 90 percent of Coen Brothers movies, all of which are hugely cinematic.

I think the "TV look" complaints had FAR more to do with shooting on digital (and a few other issues) than with aspect ratio.
Thanks FloralBonnet. That probably figured into it too, and now that you mention it I think Seamus mentioned that too. Though that's the wrong way to think of it. In reality it would just mean everyone would be smaller in the frame to get the Hulk in. Fine for theatrical, not so bad for home viewing these days, but still a concern for smaller screens.

I think the "looks like TV" debate was more about the shot design. Indeed I heard that argument thrown around early on. I've never heard anyone refer to digital as looking like TV. All TV used to shoot on film, much still does, most does not. All movies used to shoot on film, much still does, most does not. They've taken the ride together. As someone who looks for these things and is very particular about them, I would not have guessed Avengers was shot digitally had I seen it before knowing. I've never actually cared, so long as the final product looks good. Plenty of things shot on film look terrible.

I think people brought expectations to the table. I also heard nothing about it being too much like TV once it actually came out. I think those people were having too much fun enjoying the movie.

I'm not terribly impressed with the shot design myself, save for a few specific exceptions. But I do not believe shooting in 2.35 would have made it any better. Whatever frame you use, you still have to compose for it. I think the movie looks good if not spectacular. But the movie is enough of a spectacle otherwise that I'm glad the cinematography wasn't overbearing.

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