Two worlds in Limitless

When I read articles related to movies, it happens quite often, that I’ll read something like this:

“We used camera to tell a story…  Sound played a really important role, it helped to tell the story…”

And I always get frustrated, because usually (99% of time) it is not clear what they meant by that. The sentences above leave me asking: It’s nice, but what exactly did you do?

Well, the interview by Debra Kaufman with cinematographer Jo Willems at is one of those rare exceptions, where you’ll learn not only what they did to help telling the story, but most importantly – why.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a wrecked writer whose life is falling apart. Well, one day he is visited by old friend Vernon (Johnny Whitworth) and he offers him a pill: “You know how they say we can only access 20% of our brain? This lets you access all of it.”  So what this pill does is that it fully unlocks the potential of human brain, in other words, you get access to super human abilities.

Limitless (2011)
Limitless (2011)

When I saw the movie for the first time, I noticed the change in color grading, when he takes the pill – everything is graded towards warm sunny tones (especially yellow and orange),

Limitless (2011)
Limitless (2011)

while when he is not on the pill, there is a lot of cool tones (especially blue), the colors are desaturated, everything seems darker and more contrasty.

Watch the trailer and try to focus only on the tones. I’m sure, that just by looking at the tones/colors you’ll be able to tell, whether he is on the drug or not. But there is more to that, so let’s take a look what else did they do, to differentiate the two worlds:

World 1 – Down and broke (off pill) World 2 – Powerful and charismatic (on pill)
Camera moves hand held dollies, cranes, steadicam
Film stock Fuji Kodak
Lighting uncontrolled (hard and fractured) controlled (softer and diffused)
Lenses longer focal length (tele) shorter focal length (wide)

Ok, the table above sums up, what they (Neil Burger, Jo Willems and others) did, to differentiate the two worlds when he is on/off the pill. But far more interesting is to read why! 🙂


Behind the Lens: DP Jo Willems & Limitless

Watch the trailer and notice the dolly-zoom move at 0:45. You can read more about this technique by clicking here.

Color Contrast Enhancement in Se7en

Se7en (1995)
Se7en (1995)

I love when certain technique gets used on purpose – when it is used not only because you can, but because it helps to tell the story, and color contrast enhancement (CCE) in Seven is exactly that case.

Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is at the end of his career, but he gets one last case to solve, together with young detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), he is searching for serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who kills his victims on the basis of seven deadly sins.

The overall atmosphere of the movie is literally dark. First, the serial killer John Doe is brutal and fanatic, but at the same time, he is very clever, intelligent and accurate – I can hardly imagine worse villain than him (Joker from Batman gets honorable mention here). Second, most of the scenes happen in dark interiors, in certain scenes, you’ll see only flashlights of the detectives.

Se7en (1995)
Se7en (1995)

But outside it doesn’t look any better. Dirty, violent and depressive city, where it constantly rains.

Se7en (1995)
Se7en (1995)

To further support this dark mood and atmosphere, some theatrical prints were created using silver retention process. This technique increases the contrast – it makes dark areas darker and light areas lighter (similar to blending mode overlay). In other words, the blacks are more black. Further, this technique adds more grain to the film print. Maybe you haven’t noticed this effect at first (I haven’t), but you can certainly feel it on emotional level. So long story short – CCE increases the contrast (drama) and grain (roughness).

P.S. I’m almost 100% sure, that the director David Fincher and cinematographer Darius Khondji discussed the CCE technique before they shot the movie. This only proves, that David Fincher knows how to tell a story in a cinematic way.