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Emmanuel Lubezki

…because if you needed to film an outdoor tracking shot in one long take, you would feel a hell of a lot better with him behind the camera. The winner of three consecutive Oscars for collaborations with Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, Emmanuel Lubezki’s work conveys the dynamic uses of light and motion in cinematic storytelling. His cinematography often takes advantage of natural lighting as a source of beauty and emotional resonance for the characters. Lubezki is also the master of complicated tracking shots, which build both dramatic and comedic tension through seemingly uncut movement in a scene.



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As a cinematographer, Lubezki is a big proponent of using natural light when filming on location. His work with Terence Malick on films like "The New World" and "The Tree of Life" provides a great example of this. Through Lubezki’s lens, sunlight becomes not just a way to layer authentic beauty in a scene, but also a means to explore the inner lives of the characters involved. While the so-called “magic hour” also comes to mind whenever filming in an outdoor location, Lubezki actually tailors his approach to the director’s vision and the story. For instance, on a production such as "The Revenant," Lubezki tested different times of day at each spot before setting up his shots. The goal for Lubezki isn’t simply to capture the most beautiful image possible, but an image that balances the natural wonder of something like sunlight filtering through the trees with the emotional purpose of the scene. This speaks to the cinematographer’s dual role as both a technical artist and a storyteller.

Another trademark of Lubezki’s cinematography is the use of extended tracking shots – think about films such as "Children of Men," "Gravity" and "Birdman." Sure, a lot of the credit here lies in the creative vision of directors Cuarón and Iñárritu, but there’s a reason they collaborate with Lubezki to execute these shots. The uncut movement of the camera within these shots achieves multiple effects, ranging from comedy to extreme tension; sometimes, this even occurs within the same scene, such as the single shot inside the car during "Children of Men" which builds from a ping pong ball joke between Clive Owen and Julianne Moore’s characters to a suspenseful chase with the vehicle running in reverse as they find themselves under attack. Lubezki uses these moving shots as a way to convey a sense of intimacy with the characters, while at the same emphasizing the dramatic role of the surrounding environment. The opening sequence of "Gravity" provides another great example of this effect, as the camera’s continuous movement is able to express the sense of fear in real time through both the characters’ reactions to the unfolding disaster and the pure awesomeness of the outer space setting. These types of shots require careful planning, rehearsal and coordination with the cast and crew, yet Lubezki’s mastery of them shows why it’s worth the effort.

While few can capture natural light with Lubezki’s ability, he is also adept at using artificial lighting to create depth and contrast, particularly for character’s faces. Lubezki often positions his lighting to create a noticeable shadow; depending on the emotional tenor of the scene, Lubezki will obscure half the character’s face right down the middle, or cast a quarter of the face in shadow. Lubezki also tends to darken the background behind the actor’s face, creating a dramatic chiaroscuro and providing a serious atmosphere to the shot. When using artificial lighting, Lubezki carefully considers what practical sources would be involved. Given his love for natural light, this makes sense as these sources are “natural” to the environment of the scene. Lubezki has also used artificial light to mimic a natural effect; in "Gravity," which he could not film on location for obvious reasons, he specifically designed the lighting of every shot to provide the most authentic sense of the outer space setting. He also worked with Cuarón and the special effects designers to create a unique filming contraption known as the Light Box, which they used to film the actors’ faces in a way that could seamlessly blend with the CGI environment of the film. The simple lesson for lighting (and perhaps life itself): even when faking it, try to be natural.

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