Blackmagic Design 4K Production Camera was one of only two camera packages to be used in the production of War And Peace, the popular BBC adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel. The six-part drama was lensed by director of photography George Steel, and graded on DaVinci Resolve Studio by colorist Simone Grattarola.
Director Tom Harper reunited with Steel (The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death and Black Mirror) and colorist Grattarola (Peaky Blinders and War Book) to bring to life Andrew Davies’s adaptation of the epic story, which follows the fortunes of three Russian aristocratic families during the Napoleonic Wars.
Second unit production was directed and shot by Stephen Hall and included Blackmagic’s Production Camera 4K, shot spherically. A second Production Camera 4K was employed as a ‘grab bag’ set-up for the director.
“It was worth its weight in gold,” explained Steel. “In episode one there is a shot of Andrei Bolkonsky outdoors with the fog swirling around him, before it cuts to a close-up. That is something we got using the grab-bag. Having a small, handheld camera that matches your primary package (ARRI Alexa), was perfect. It allowed us to react to unexpected moments.”
In fact, Steel shot one of his favorite scenes using this set-up. “We shot a very intimate moment when Jessie Buckley’s character deals with the passing of a loved one,” explains Steel. “We didn’t have time in the schedule to shoot it so while everyone stopped for lunch we spent 45 minutes shooting.”
The DP was also a little more creative when it came to using aerial shots. A Production Camera 4K was fitted to an optocopter and used to capture elements of dialogue scenes for example. “In one particular scene we see a top-down view of a father and son walking through the snow, which starts with an aerial view through the tree line,” according to Steel.
The biggest challenge in delivering the grade was the sheer vastness of it all, according to Time Based Arts colorist Simone Grattarola. “I’ve not previously worked on anything quite as dense or layered as War And Peace, “ he revealed. “There is an arc to the narrative and cinematography that we had to understand and evolve over the six episodes.
“To do that we worked on two episodes at a time, and then once work had finished on episodes three and four, we’d revisit one and two, and then tweak the grade to ensure that arc unfolded as we intended. And that was repeated once episodes five and six were finished. It’s a rare thing in television that you have the opportunity to go back and do this. But it was something we all pushed for with the producers.”
For the battle scenes Grattarola developed a process of crafting a hand-tinted feel. “I began by desaturating everything and then made use of parallel layers in DaVinci Resolve to bring back a specific key channel for specific colors and then washed color back in. Resolve allowed me to recreate something from the past using modern techniques to ensure it is timeless.”
Steel concluded, “It’s a testament to Tom, who’s done an exceptional job of modernising the story and making it relevant again. Simone delivered a sophisticated, yet subtle grade that was in keeping with Tom’s desire for a natural-looking aesthetic. I hope audiences will appreciate the arc of the story, cinematography and grade after watching all six episodes.”