DRAMA | MULAN
things for me was something Niki said to me very early on, which was that the film was centred on Mulan – she is the centre of this movie. I always kept that in the back of my mind. We did look at Chinese cinema – like those films from Zhang Yimou – just to see how other people had shot Chinese films with battle sequences and martial arts. We also looked towards the art of China for composition and to use as references.” However, another source of inspiration for Walker was found when she was out scouting. “I noticed the way the architecture was set up in the Imperial City. It was very symmetrical, so helped me indirectly keep Mulan in the centre of things when we started shooting. To that end, I had some lenses designed. One was a special portrait lens based on a Petzval design from the 1800s, which focuses on the centre of the frame and then the edges drop off. So, when Mulan is in the frame, she’s all you look at. We used it for pretty much all her close-ups and moments in the battle sequences. You want the audience to focus on her and not what is going on around her.” These special lenses currently come in three variants, and they are special custom-made Prime DNAs from Arri Rental. These lenses are called ‘T types’ and they are based on very early turn-of-the- century optical design and performance, similar to the early Voigtländer-Petzval objective lens of the late 1800s. This creates a strong centre punch area of focus and more extreme focus fall-off and focus aberration towards the edge of frame that is exaggerated on an Alexa 65 sensor, due to sensor size and lens image circle.
CAMERAS & LIGHTING When it came to shooting stunts with these lenses, one factor that really helped Walker was that Liu Yifei, who plays Mulan, did many of the stunts for the film herself. “So when we were shooting, it wasn’t like when you have a stunt person and you have to
avoid their face. Because Yifei was doing it, we could focus on her and have those lenses on her doing these amazing moves. “So, the aim was to centre on Yifei, but also bring an epic quality to the film with the use of the Arri Alexa 65 camera. We had these epic battle sequences and landscapes, so one of the films we looked at for reference was Lawrence of Arabia , because I think that was a film which managed that really well. They had these beautiful wide landscape shots, but intimate close-ups – I think the big sensor lends itself to that; we got those two shots out of the one camera.” The Arri Alexa LF was also used, but only for high-speed shots as it offers 150fps where the Alexa 65 is restricted to 60fps. Walker also used the Alexa LF for a couple of drone shots over landscapes for top shots. As for lighting, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast used roughly 700 Arri Skypanels in huge softboxes above massive sets in Shepperton, just outside of London. But for Mulan and those highly choreographed battle scenes, which way did Walker see the lighting design going? She explains: “When Mulan is in her village – which is a huge set, a three-storey high round village – the lighting has a certain style to it to create that family mood and atmosphere. We covered the set to balance the effect of the sunlight going in and out, but those scenes in the village are very intimate and lit accordingly.”
TOP Mandy Walker with the Alexa 65 camera and, left, Donnie Yen as Commander Tung of the Imperial Army
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