Cinematographer Taro Kawazu
GANTZ, a popular manga series illustrated by Hiroya Oku, revolves around characters who, after death, somehow find themselves directed by a mysterious black sphere (GANTZ) to complete missions against aliens. Although the series' unique story dynamic seemed to defy live-action adaptation, two GANTZ movies have been made. Here, cinematographer Taro Kawazu and DI grader Seiji Saito share their thoughts on a larger-than-life live-action movie brimming with digital artistry and craftsmanship.
Working with a neutral yet uncompromising director, true to his vision
Kawazu: I was very apprehensive during initial talks about adapting GANTZ for the big screen. As a fan myself, I wondered how we could approach the series' unique story dynamic. I must admit, I even told the director, Shinsuke Sato it was impossible, but my negativity never fazed him. He was determined to face the project head-on, and his constant commitment to finding the best solutions for the material motivated me and everyone else involved. The director maintained a neutral attitude and was willing to incorporate as many good ideas as we could suggest. Yet at the same time, his creative vision was unshakable. He never simply deferred to a camera operator's judgment about scenes, and he insisted on deciding the positioning and cuts himself.
Saito: I had worked with Taro four years ago on Nihon Chinbotsu: Japan Sinks. This time, my colleagues in post-production and I at Imagica felt some pressure to show our advances in digital intermediate work (both creatively and technically) since then. We also took on the project hoping our creative work would satisfy the director.
Rich, lush imagery supporting realism
Kawazu: We shot on film for a realism not found in typical science fiction movies. In my initial talks with Seiji, we were eager to take a cue from cinematographer Roger Deakins' work in the 2007 film No Country for Old Men, directed by the Coen Brothers. His work is very stylish, both in the intensity of blacks, relative to what else is on screen, and how he uses mixed lighting. This look takes effort, but it seems effortless. There's no decolorization or bleach bypass, but the image quality is impressive and the results are powerful. Scenes are dark, with low-key lighting, yet what they want to show you is clearly visible. For me, the value of shooting on film is this "richness." It has always been an advantage of film. Choosing film for GANTZ, with all of its digital compositing and computer-generated imagery, was an excellent decision.
Difficult decisions in recreating the "GANTZ Room"
The GANTZ room © Hiroya Oku/Shueisha © 2011 “GANTZ” FILM PARTNERS
Kawazu: Seiji and I determined the tone we sought before shooting began. To do it, we collaborated both on a technical level (discussing chemical processing for the desired negative density during shooting) and an artistic level (discussing digital processing after scanning), which was enjoyable. He was truly helpful, in contact with me on the set as we confirmed our approach and then later during the grading that would ultimately determine the tone.
Saito: After Taro described the visual style of the film and key concepts, we both considered the techniques needed to achieve these goals. From the standpoint of grading, I suggested that it was critical to ensure polished results early on, at the stage of shooting. Discussing these things in depth with Taro during shooting was ideal. Especially now that so much is possible in post-production, camera operators must demonstrate more originality.
Kawazu: Deciding the right tone for the GANTZ room was nerve-racking. In the story, this room always appears before and after missions. What would be the ideal appearance for this eerie space, detached from other scenes? In the end, we settled on the idea of keeping the room neutral, no matter how radically things changed before or after the scene. The set consisted of a wooden floor and white walls. Although the plan called for lighting from above, once we actually tried it, darker image areas took on a stronger reddish tinge from the floor than we had expected. This caused a range of issues, with other colors mixed in across shades we wanted to be neutral, inconsistent whites on the walls after facial skin tone adjustment, and so on. It also proved to be the hardest part of post-production with Seiji.
Saito: If we had wanted to portray the GANTZ room in an extreme tone, many options would have been available. But giving the room an extraordinary appearance would have upset the overall balance of the film, because the alien fight scenes had to be even more extreme. Looking back, I realize that our intuition required objectivity and was quite a delicate matter.
Exceeding expectations: KODAK VISION3 Color Digital Intermediate Film
Kawazu: Using new KODAK VISION3 Color Digital Intermediate Film 2254 was great. It impressed me with the advances made in preserving detail. Judging from my own experience, with 2242, some detail in highlights is lost, or at least, highlights have never looked as sharp. This quality in 2254 is very helpful when we want to preserve detail in highlights under low-key lighting.
DI grader Seiji Saito
Saito: At Imagica, we use a color management system developed in-house, called Galette™. Whenever new recording negatives are released, we usually create the standards for ensuring support for the film. We took the opportunity this time to make thorough refinements to Galette™, in order to expand our creative palette. We could say that 2254 film helped us take Imagica-based film recording to the next level. What's more, 2254 has better negative density than 2242, which translates into powerful images.
Kawazu: As to the release print stock, we used Kodak VISION 2383. It supports high-contrast grading and offers good stability. There's minimal change even if we create several test pieces. The movie was shot using Panavision Primo Classic lenses. This maintained sharpness while making images softer than with normal Prime lenses, which is perfect in the final stages of DI.
Expert use of KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219
Kawazu: The movie was shot on KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 film. I used the push process during mission scenes and basically developed normally for regular scenes, including GANTZ room scenes. We wanted ordinary scenes— on a rooftop at sunset, for example —to be reassuringly realistic, yet visually rich. After all, this scene, the longest moment of normal reality, gives the audience their only reprieve from the somewhat gruesome missions.
Although the alien fight scenes are mostly shot under low-key lighting, we gradually change the level of darkness in each of the three missions. In this respect as well, film was a good choice for the rich gradation and expression possible. Rather than simply being filled with vague shadows, these scenes retained details that were clearly visible, and those that weren't stimulate the viewer's imagination. Digital compositing played a large role, under the circumstances, and we're grateful for the valuable work of special effects shooting by VFX team. In miniature shooting and other production, their work was almost a perfect match for what we had envisioned.
Saito: It occurred to me that if the movie had been shot in HD, post-production would have required lots of extra care. We never could have created this mood. I'm afraid to imagine what the GANTZ room would have looked like in HD. And I think the special development—push and pull processing to create just the right effect—truly enhances the performance in each scene.
A highly original sequel
Kawazu: Although the first movie stayed fairly close to the original manga, the sequel was highly original. It seems like a totally different movie. In how the movie was shot, as well, we tried a different approach this time. But I believe that by adding some of the "spice" that makes GANTZ special, we succeeded in telling an engaging story. The director said he sought to make a totally different movie, although one following in the same tradition.