Focus On Film

Lighting the Secret Life of Shadowhunters in City of Bones

Clary (Lily Collin) races home in Screen Gems' fantasy-action THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. PHOTO: Rafy © 2013 Constantin Film International GmbH and Unique Features (TMI) Inc. All rights reserved
Director Harald Zwart, DP Geir Andreassen and Lily Collins with crew on the set of Screen Gems fantasy-action THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. PHOTO: Rafy © 2013 Constantin Film International GmbH and Unique Features (TMI) Inc. All rights reserved
Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and Clary (Lilly Collins) watch through a bookcase as Pangborn and Blackwell ask Luke where Jocelyn hid the Mortal Cupin Screen Gems fantasy-action THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. PHOTO: Rafy © 2013 Constantin Film International GmbH and Unique Features (TMI) Inc. All rights reserved
Isabelle Lightwood (Jemima West), Simon (Robert Sheehan) and Clary (Lily Collins) prepare to hold off the demons in Screen Gems THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES. PHOTO: Rafy © 2013 Constantin Film International GmbH and Unique Features (TMI) Inc. All rights reserved

Director Harald Zwart tapped cinematographer Geir Hartly Andreassen, FSF to help bring City of Bones, the first book in author Cassandra Clare’s bestselling series “The Mortal Instruments,” to the big screen.

Aimed at young adults, this urban-fantasy series centers around a teenage girl named Clary Fray who discovers that she is a Shadowhunter, which is a human-angel hybrid. Set in contemporary New York, City of Bones follows Clary (played by Lily Collins) as she joins forces with a group of Shadowhunters in search of her missing mother (Lena Headey). Clary is introduced to a dangerous and different New York called Downworld, filled with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly creatures.

Andreassen said both the story and director drew him to the project. “The fact that Harald was on the movie and asked me to join him was enough to make the movie attractive, but this is also a great story. I knew that the shoot would contain a lot of interesting and extreme environments where I could really challenge myself professionally.”

Andreassen has known Zwart for about 20 years and says his directing style is everything a cinematographer could wish for. “He is an extremely multi-talented director with a hands-on approach. He has an amazing personality and an energy that charges the whole crew. Harald’s positivity and good vibes inspire everyone on set to try to achieve the best possible quality for the movie.”

The filmmakers decided early on that film would be the right medium to put some realism into this fantasy world.

“We shot this movie on 35mm Panavision ‘Scope which makes it look absolutely gorgeous,” says the director. “I know I’m one of the few still holding back on doing digital. I’m not going to argue for or against either, but I think for this movie, where there’s a lot of romance and skin tones and beautiful colors, shooting it in a traditional fashion on film gives it a very special look.”

“Film is still the best image capture and the best reality buffer,” adds Andreassen. “The rich skin tones and overall texture are unbeatable. I think it will take a long time until digital will achieve the soft and organic look of film stocks.

“And because this story does contain a lot of otherworldly sequences, we needed to achieve a natural and realistic look so that the audience could explore and experience this new fantastical world alongside our main character Clary. We created a science of sorts for all these supernatural things in the movie. For example, how the Shadowhunters used the frequencies and multiple dimensions to do their ‘job.’ This helped us to construct the look of the different environments.”

Andreassen’s camera package included the Panaflex Millennium XL2 Camera and a set of Panavision G-series Anamorphic Prime Lenses. He chose KODAK VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 for all of the exteriors and some of the daylight interiors, and he used KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 for all other scenes.

“One of my goals was to achieve as many of the looks as possible in the camera,” notes Andreassen. “The final grading was not a lot different from the dailies. There are a lot of dark environments in this story, so I also decided to take advantage of the low-light capacity and fine grain of the 500T stock. Combined with the Panavision G-Series lenses, we got just the look we wanted.”

The 12-week shoot for City of Bones took place at a number of practical locations in Toronto, Canada, including the University of Toronto’s stately Knox College and Casa Loma, a historic medieval castle. Specially-built sets at Cinespace Film Studio stood in for the settings in New York City.

“One nighttime shoot took place in an old, destroyed, kind of burnt out hotel, and Harald wanted it to have the look and mood of complete darkness,” cites Andreassen. “I pushed the lighting to the limit of exposure, and let the actors handhold LED props to illuminate their faces. It worked out great.”

Over 24 million copies of Clare’s books have been sold, and the series has been translated into 36 languages. The filmmakers knew they had the added pressure of a large built-in fan base to please.

“When you adapt a very popular book, you have to make some difficult choices,” Zwart says. “You have to give up certain things for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps something doesn’t work for the logic of the movie, or it’s a stumbling block to moving the story forward, or simply for budgetary reasons. We did our best to preserve what’s really important. …”

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones begins rolling out in theaters August 21.