Interviews from "Expanded Cinematography":
"Converging Cinematography and VFX"
Interview with Robert Legato, ASC (DP & Visual Effects Supervisor)
Q) What training/education did you receive to become a cinematographer and visual effects expert?
Robert Legato, ASC: I received a Bachelor of Arts and a Honorary Master's Degree in Cinematography from Brooks Institute of Photography. I have had no formal training or schooling in VFX but learned out of necessity on the job. My innate interest and knowledge of cinematography served me well as a valuable anchor for learning the principals of how photography and visual effects interact.
Q) Do you expect in the future some kind of convergence between the "traditional" DP and visual effect/virtual cinematography expert into some kind of new profession or activity?
Robert Legato, ASC: Virtual cinematography will become a standard tool in the traditional cinematographer's arsenal. Their underlying photographic ability and ultimate impact and contribution to the film will remain intact only the tools will appear differently cosmetically. I don't believe it will become a new profession but simply an extension of the cinematographer. At the end of the day the image that appears on screen will have been composed, lit with camera moves and blocking chosen specifically for it's cinematic storytelling impact. The end result will be the same only the "camera" will have been on a computer instead of a live action stage.
Q) For a project with teh size and scope of The Jungle Book, there must have been extensive pre-production discussions and planning. How did you come on-board the project?
Robert Legato, ASC: I was brought on at the very beginning to help plan the entire project in terms of work process and methodology and create a test for the director and the Disney executives. I was hired in the pre-planning stages and worked extensively with executive producer Pete Toby in creating the pipeline.
Q) To what extent were you involved with the pre-production planning and “look” / visual strategy meetings with Director Jon Favreau and Cinematographer Bill Pope, ASC?
Robert Legato, ASC: I helped establish the virtual camera procedure based on my past experiences with virtual production dating back to Avatar to firmly emulate the photo-real quest of the project. Adam Valdez of MPC, Bill Pope and myself helped establish the look of the film based on the simplicity of the Alexa curve. Adam Valdez with Technicolor established the “Show Lut” which was used in both dailies and the final DI.
Q) In “production” what was your collaboration with Cinematographer Bill Pope on The Jungle Book?
Robert Legato, ASC: I was the 2nd unit director and director of photography and also additionally operated the virtual camera which created the template for the film in close collaboration with Bill. He set many of the lighting directions and tone of the scenes, both on set and virtually. I also managed the methodology of how certain scenes were to be realized including camera platforms, partial sets and stunt capture. By the end we had two stages going everyday and leap frogging setups to keep to the schedule. I usually was shooting 2nd unit and additional 1st unit shots as the needs of the sets dictated. We worked together to maintain the same look regardless of who was shooting it at the time.
Q) The film tackles some of the historically most difficult items to recreate in CG - fire, water and fur / hair. How was you and your team able to master the look of these elements in The Jungle Book?
Robert Legato, ASC: Adam Valdez and MPC created the CGI pipeline early on and produced remarkable results. We never shied away from lighting conditions or shots that featured these traditionally difficult CG recreations. Besides the state of the art hair and grooming tools they created in house the use of a fully featured “Ray Tracing” renderer created the exact simulations of “real light.”
Q) The Jungle Book also featured many shots created using Virtual Cinematography (motion capture for the camera). How were you able to integrate technology into your creative process as the 2nd Unit Director / DP?
Robert Legato, ASC: There was no separation between the sensibility and discipline of translating what was to be done live on stage or virtually captured. It was a straightforward integration both creatively and as a planning tool for live action or as the photographic basis for a full CG shot.
Q) For young DPs just starting out, who would want to shoot The Jungle Book 2 (or 3, 4, 5…) eventually, what advice would you have for them at this point in their careers?
Robert Legato, ASC: The tenets of photography are exactly the same, the more practice you have in any format will bode well for the future of more CG rendered films. Having a firm foundation in composition, blocking and lighting and the understanding and appreciation that CG is just another form of camera will prepare you for a smooth transition. Fear of the notion that they are totally different disciplines or require a specialized form of training will inhibit you from embracing the future. Not all films will be created this way but many will have some sequences in one form or another included in the process.
Q) What technical invention(s) most affected the profession? How did it affect you creatively?
Robert Legato, ASC: Probably the single most influential invention besides the computer itself was the ability to digitize film and then edit these images non linearly. Once these inventions became commonly available the steep learning curve of shooting, understanding color timing, and manipulating images has became infinitely shorter to acquire. What once took years of practical experience to obtain a certain level of craft and ability is now shortened to a fraction of that time. These inexpensive tools can now be mastered in a matter of days enabling the freedom of unparalleled risk taking and experimentation that are no longer inhibited by fear of failure or lack of knowledge and experience.
Q) What advice would you give to anyone wishing to get into cinematography and or VFX?
Robert Legato, ASC: Do whatever you can to learn the art of storytelling. The appreciation and deep understanding of the combined art forms of directing, writing, acting, editing, color, composition, lighting and post production manipulation makes you a much stronger and more powerful filmmaker. Regardless of what you may wish to specialize in, the working knowledge and ability to traverse these disparate art forms coalesces into making you the best cinematographer or VFX artist you can be.