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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

A Golden Ticket

by Benjamin Bergery
Photographs by Peter Mountain
American Cinematographer
July 2005

Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC reteams with director Tim Burton on the whimsical fantasy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In the 1920s, a 13-year-old boy of Norwegian extraction was sent to an elite English boarding school. He was horrified by the tyrannical cruelty of adolescent prefects and adult teachers alike. “I was appalled,” he wrote many years later, “by the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, and sometimes quite severely. I never got over it.” The only bright spot he found in the gloomy world of the British “public school” was the nearby Cadbury factory, which occasionally enrolled the schoolboys to test new chocolate bars.

The schoolboy, Roald Dahl, grew up to become a writer of children’s books, and his teenaged fantasies about working in a Cadbury laboratory, and the possible cruelty of children and adults, inspired Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, first published in 1964. The book’s blend of dark fantasy and quirky humor has enthralled young readers for decades, and it spawned a popular film adaptation in 1971, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This month will see the release of a new adaptation of the book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Tim Burton and shot by Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC. Burton’s work ranges widely from the violent comedy of Mars Attacks! to the fairytale fantasy of Edward Scissorhands, and Rousselot notes that “the encounter between Dahl and Burton is pretty exceptional, a very good marriage. Tim wanted to be very close to the spirit of Dahl; he didn’t want to make a nice film for kids. Dahl is very ironic about childhood and the world of adults, and Tim wanted to preserve that. He wanted to make a film for children that is not childish.”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is Rousselot’s third picture with Burton, after Big Fish and Planet of the Apes (see AC, Aug. ’01). The French cinematographer is renowned for the elegant, sophisticated lighting he has brought to films that include French avant-garde projects and Hollywood fantasies. His credits include Constantine (AC, April ’05), Antwone Fisher, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Merci la vie, Too Beautiful for Youand The Emerald Forest. Rousselot earned Academy Award nominations for Henry & June (AC, May ’91) and Hope and Glory, and he won the Oscar for A River Runs Through It (AC, June ’93). He has garnered three ASC Award nominations, for Dangerous Liaisons (AC, May ’89), The Bear and A River Runs Through It.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory recounts the story of Charlie, a poor, good-hearted boy who lives in the shadow of Willy Wonka’s impressive chocolate factory. Isolated from his own family, Wonka launches a worldwide contest to select an heir to his candy empire. Five lucky children, including Charlie, draw golden tickets from Wonka chocolate bars and win a guided tour of the candy-making facility, which no outsider has seen in 15 years. Each child brings a parent, and the group is guided by Wonka through an amazing series of giant rooms in the mysterious factory. The chocolatier’s workers are short, impish beings called Oompa Loompas, who punctuate the many twists and turns of the tour with music and dance.

The production built a variety of dazzling sets onstage at Pinewood Studios in England. Rousselot spent eight weeks in preproduction at Pinewood and recalls that much of the communication with Burton was indirect. “Tim and I spoke very little. He is not someone who likes to talk a lot — he gives you a few key words. He said, for example, ‘Everything that is candies and sweets has to look very appetizing.’ In a way, that sufficed, because once I understood that, I knew how to proceed, or at least what I needed to discover.

Obviously, Tim is very visual,” he continues. “He and the production designer, Alex McDowell, gave me an enormous amount of visual information in the form of drawings and other images. The walls of my office in Pinewood were covered by colored images of the characters and the sets in different versions and formats. From time to time, we’d look at them with Tim and he’d indicate which looks he preferred, and we spoke very precisely about technical issues. I started to feel a little guilty — I thought, ‘Here I am, preparing a very big film but having very few conversations with the director.’ But then I realized we’d already made two films together, and if I didn’t know what Tim wanted, it meant that I hadn’t understood anything. So, in fact, there was no need to have exhaustive conversations.”

As he worked on the lighting design, Rousselot often felt he was in uncharted territory. “I couldn’t start looking for images to inspire me — nothing else resembled the visuals from the art department and Tim’s indications for this film! I’d look at the art department’s research for, say, the Chocolate Factory, and a lot of that came from German imaginary architecture of the early 19th century, along the lines of Metropolis. But I couldn’t tell myself that I was going to make a German Expressionist film! I started with a blank slate. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory wasn’t a visual reference because it’s incredibly dated. There are films like The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, but they belong to an era when Hollywood films were made very differently.”

The largest of McDowell’s surreal sets was the Chocolate Room, a grassy expanse divided by a chocolate waterfall and river and dotted by candy trees. Rousselot started with a “crazy idea”: to shoot and light the gargantuan set, which was built on Pinewood’s 007 Stage, without actually touching it. “This was one of my fantasies from the start,” he recalls. “The set was very impractical for shooting because it was all curves and extraordinarily fragile — as soon as you stepped onto the grass, you destroyed it. So I started out with the twisted idea of doing most of the shots with a Cablecam to avoid putting down a flat, tracks and a dolly. With the Cablecam — a system with two wires that cover the X and Y axes and an additional capability for a Z axis that can go up and down — you can theoretically put the camera anywhere in the set.”

Ultimately, however, the actual mix of camera supports in the Chocolate Room included not only the Cablecam, but traditional dollies and Technocranes positioned along the sides of the set. “It’s interesting to talk about failures,” muses Rousselot. “I use the term loosely, because it wasn’t a disaster. There are often techniques that only work halfway on a film, and then, two or three films later, they all of a sudden work perfectly. Sometimes it takes several films to bring an idea to fruition. In the end, we used the Cablecam for 20 percent of what I had planned. There is a normal resistance from the crew that doesn’t want to be far from the actors, and naturally, the director needs to be near them, too. But when you add the video monitors, all of a sudden you have an army going across the set. You destroy the set for every shot, and then you rebuild it afterwards.” The cinematographer says he hopes to use the Cablecam in the future, but with more “circumspection.”

Rousselot had a similar respect for the fragile set when designing the lighting for the Chocolate Room with his “marvelous” gaffer, John “Biggles” Higgins. Rousselot decided early on to keep all the lighting off the set, and to suspend the fixtures from a ceiling grid above the Cablecam installation. According to Higgins, the massive scale of tungsten lighting fixtures included 600 space lights, 100 Pars, 56 Maxi-Brutes and 12 20K Mole Beams, all suspended from the ceiling. The total potential power consumption provided by three generators off-stage was 4 megawatts, enough for a small city, although Higgins is quick to point out that “we never used all the lights at once.”

Each space light contained five 800-watt bulbs, and the crew wired each light with two cables, allowing for three intensities: two bulbs, three bulbs or five bulbs. This enabled Rousselot to change the overall intensity without dimming, which changes color temperature. Half of the space lights provided an overall level for the huge stage and were fitted with black skirts to limit spill. The remaining units could be quickly lowered by cable to provide sources for a scene staged below. To provide maximum coverage, skirted and skirtless lights were alternated on the ceiling grid.

Directional Mole Beams created big spots of sunlight to dapple the landscape below. They were placed on either side of the river, so that portions of the left side of the river could represent a continuation of the right side while maintaining the sunlight’s direction. 1K Par spotlights were disseminated through the grid to pinpoint details in the colorful landscape, providing backlight to set a candy tree or giant candy cane apart from the background. Pars from the side of the stage were also used to skim the Chocolate River and create ripple effects on actors.

The Maxi-Brutes, which held six 1K Pars each, were outfitted with custom egg crates to limit spill and were grouped in clusters of four, creating a total strength of 24K. These powerful soft sources were typically used to highlight features of the landscape, such as hillocks. “If I turned on all the lights, I’d get a T8,” says Rousselot. “But of course, I never used them all, because we didn’t want a mood of blinding light! This lighting setup allowed me to have fairly powerful soft light without putting any light stands on the set and without having to build a platform above the river. From time to time, we placed a Chinese lantern on a stand, which didn’t do too much damage to the set.

We had a lot of lights, not because we needed all of them, but because I wanted to avoid moving them so we could shoot quickly,” Rousselot continues. “There are many shots I lit with three Pars, two Mole Beams and six space lights. I tell cinematography students not to be intimidated by big sets because the problems are the same as in small sets — a big set is just a small set multiplied. I tell students to set up for 10 square meters and then multiply that as many times as they need to.”

Naturally, the wide Chocolate River reflected many of the lights hanging above it. “The other reason for having so many space lights was that we wanted to be able to darken the lights to avoid reflections when we did camera movements,” explains the cinematographer. “Sometimes we put up black flags, but that was a lot of work; it was much simpler to just turn off a light. Sometimes I’d turn a light off during a camera movement and replace it with a less bothersome one. Because they’re fairly soft sources, you don’t see the lighting change.” This flexible lighting scheme allowed Burton considerable freedom in staging shots, which suited the director’s freehand style. Rousselot recalls, “Almost every day, Tim would start by saying, ‘We’re going to shoot over there, but we’ll do it as an experiment and see what happens. If it’s no good, we’ll start over.’ In fact, we almost never started over, but we started every day with the feeling that we didn’t really know where the day would take us. Every day we shot tests that transformed into scenes.”

Rousselot and Higgins credit the Light by Numbers system for simplifying the complex job of keeping track of the settings of 700-odd lights. According to Chris Gilbertson, the system’s creator, Light by Numbers integrates existing dimmer technology with custom software and hardware designed for film shoots. Features include the memorization of the light settings for each take, accompanied by frame grabs from the video assist. Light by Numbers also documents each lighting setup using CAD documents from the art department or manual input. On Charlie, Gilbertson generated 2-D and 3-D lighting plots of each major setup, which proved useful on set and in post, where it helped visual-effects artists match Rousselot’s lighting on virtual elements.

A key feature of Light by Numbers was Gilbertson’s ability to remotely control the dimming console on the set by means of a small remote unit. Rousselot explains, “Everything — light changes, fade-ins, fade-outs — was in Chris’ little remote box, so I was free to really improvise. I could say, ‘Try lighting that row there,’ and see immediately whether it worked. Chris saw the same thing I did, so instead of saying, ‘It might be the 18th light in the third row from the back,’ I could isolate the light with a laser pointer, and because he had the reference grid in his head, he could quickly change it.”

Rousselot credits second-unit director of photography Jonathan Taylor for his “wonderful work” on visual-effects and insert shots. A big part of Taylor’s job involved multiplying a single actor, Deep Roy, to create the countless Oompa Loompas in the film; this involved multiple motion-control passes to reproduce the same movements again and again. (See sidebar on page 44.) When matching principal photography, Taylor used Light by Numbers to call up the dimming settings of the initial shot.>

The Light by Numbers system met its greatest challenge in a sequence in which a large, seahorse-shaped galley barrels down a cavernous tube lined with portholes. The galley was shot on a green screen stage, and the illusion of portholes moving past it was created by rapidly cross-fading a series of Mac 2000 fixtures (1,200-watt HMIs) across the boat. Each porthole whizzing by was represented by a series of lights. These fast and complex lighting changes were recorded onto the system and then recalled when Taylor came in to shoot second unit without the principal actors.

The “TV Room” set is a model of lighting simplicity and elegance. In collaboration with the art department, the light sources were incorporated into the set, creating a room that literally lit itself. The room is made of two intersecting domes topped by concentric circles of light. In one half of the room, Higgins’ crew installed rings of 2K Blondes shining through diffusion for two of the ceiling circles, and four Six-light Maxi-Brutes above the central tube, where a child can engage in a Wonkish form of “virtual reality.” Four Nine-light Maxis were dressed by the art department to provide white in-frame practicals. The second half of the room has only two Maxi-Brutes above its elevator center. The white walls of the room reflect the strong, soft, circular sources above. Rousselot used a similar scheme for another set, the “Nut Room,” which features nut cracking squirrels who are lit from above by space lights. “When we did coverage, we brought some units onto the floor, but they were minimal,” recalls Higgins. “I’ve worked with Philippe on three films, and his requirements might be complicated in that he wants as much control of the lighting as possible, but his approach is always very simple.”

Higgins adds that Rousselot sometimes used a Chinese lantern hung on a modified Fisher sound boom to provide a soft source directly above an actor. When the staging required it, the cinematographer would operate the boom himself. “Philippe is a ball of energy,” notes Higgins. Alluding to Rousselot’s recent passion for playing classical music, the gaffer adds with a chuckle, “I think every set should come equipped with a grand piano so Philippe can play some Brahms when he has a free moment.”

The “Inventing Room” set also featured some built-in practical sources: 24 Mac 2000s were built into several of the zany candy-making machines that fill the space. Often used in rock ’n’ roll venues, the Mac 2000 incorporates a rotatable head, built-in color wheels, and a host of programmable gobo patterns. The computer-controlled sources gave the fanciful machines a throbbing, colorful glow. Another two dozen Mac 2000s were positioned above and on the floor to augment the lighting effects reflected on metal ducts.

Rousselot photographed Charlie with a Panavision package: Panaflex Millennium XLs and Platinums and Arri 435s. He used Primo lenses, rarely using a zoom, and used a Frasier lens for macro work. He shot everything but greenscreen material on Kodak Vision2 500T 5218, which he rated at ISO 400; greenscreen material was filmed on Vision2 200T 5217. Working with 5218 allowed the cinematographer to set his stop at a comfortable T3-T3.5. “I find 5218 very versatile,” notes Rousselot. “Of course, I had to take into account that we were going to do a digital intermediate [DI], so I played with it. As is true of other sensitive stocks, 5218’s grain has a slight defect, which is that it sometimes has problems in uniformity. You can get waves of density in the image that you notice in the highlights. In the all-white TV Room, that created a little problem when we went to the DI. We spoke to Kodak, and apparently there’s not much they can do about it. But you have to put the problem in perspective: we did some fine-tuning in the DI, but even if we hadn’t done that, I doubt anyone would have noticed.”

Charlie represents a direction that may be surprising to those familiar with Rousselot’s pioneering work on subtle, dark interiors in films such as Queen Margot, a lighting reference for some European cinematographers to this day. For his part, Rousselot confesses that he went through moments of intense self-doubt as he fashioned Charlie’s bright world. “At one point, I was in a panicked state about the overall treatment because it wasn’t tied to any convention,” says the cinematographer, who viewed high-definition digital dailies during most of the shoot. “It was very scary, and I had never done anything like it: no diffusion, gaudy colors, very bright lighting, and more comedy-style coverage. It was very hard for me, and at one point I said to the editor, ‘Look, you have to tell me what you honestly think of the images. Are they ugly?’ That’s when we asked colorist Peter Doyle [The Lord of the Rings] to come in and grade select scenes; we had an assortment of shots scanned, then we graded them, output them to film, and considered grading options. That reassured me. Also, I had the impression I wasn’t respecting the brief we started with, which was a much darker, more contrasty image, but as a film evolves, its ambience evolves, and you have to follow the film. You can’t always be anchored to your starting point.”

Although working with Doyle assuaged Rousselot’s concern, the cinematographer notes emphatically, “We have to refute the notion that you can do anything you want [during a shoot] and then fix it in a DI, because that’s utterly false. If you don’t make beautiful images to begin with, you won’t have beautiful images at the end, DI or not. I’m not just trying to maintain the dignity of the cinematographer when I say this. The unfortunate truth is, if you do an ugly shot it will always be ugly, whether you saturate it, desaturate it or change its colors. With a DI, you can eliminate constraining elements and improve elements in the image, but the initial image always remains. Ugliness is eternal.” With a laugh, he adds, “And beauty is fleeting.”

Enhancing Wonka's World
By Benjamin Bergery

Building on his experiences with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, colorist Peter Doyle designed a custom color-grading facility for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, along with a network pipeline to shuttle select 2K images to multiple sources in England and the United States.

In the last few weeks of the shoot, Doyle set up a grading station at Pinewood Studios so that he and lead colorist Mel Kangleon could begin refining the look of Charlie with director of photography Philippe Rousselot, ASC, AFC and director Tim Burton. The original 35mm negative was scanned into the digital realm on a Northlight scanner at Cinesite in London, and after the grading was completed, Cinesite recorded the digital files out to 35mm with an Arrilaser Film Recorder.

In the grading, we really needed to work with Philippe on each scene,” recalls Doyle. “Often, we took whatever lighting cues he had put in and just amplified them. Philippe and Tim are both extremely collaborative and very open, so we also came up with some of our own ideas to open up the discussion.”

Throughout the grading, the team viewed images on a 26'-wide screen, which was also used to project film and hi-def preview cuts. “Our goal was to emulate the theatrical experience,” notes Doyle. “That way, everyone knew exactly what the film would look like.

Charlie was a complicated film to grade,” he continues. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” The grading involved a variety of techniques to enhance the lighting by “putting more dynamics into wide shots, heightening shafts and pools of light, burning and contrasting here and there, letting the highlights really bloom, and pushing the center of the light down so that the grass had a real glow.” For group shots in the Chocolate Room, the colorists inserted “inverse grads” to darken the bottom of frame, also adding a little green reflection from the grass below. In general, says Doyle, “we put in more shading and modeling.” Time was also spent keeping the color of the Chocolate River consistent in different camera angles.

To heighten lead actor Johnny Depp’s expressive eyes, the filmmakers borrowed a technique from George Hurrell’s classic Hollywood portraiture. “Johnny’s face is extraordinary, and we sought to make him look incredibly glamorous, to give the image that quality of Forties photography where the guy was shot through silk stockings and punched little holes in them to make the eyes really sharp,” says Doyle. “We used those kind of tricks, but digitally, with moving color images. In group shots, there are a lot of great performances with eyes, so we tried to give [those actors] a glamorous look while keeping the sharpness and the detail.”

The bulk of Charlie is characterized by amazingly vibrant colors. According to Doyle, the filmmakers’ goal was to “see how much color we could get on a film print. And that’s where we are: we have about as much color as a film print can handle. To be precise, we boosted the color to the limit of the film print and then pulled back all the little colors that exploded and became unwatchable. We re-tracked the densities of certain colors so that the image made sense again. I must say, I’m incredibly happy with the result, but it does dazzle. We have some colors you don’t normally see on film prints because they tend to fall away, like deep burgundy.”

Throughout the process, the colorists strove to keep the images “very sharp and clean,” says Doyle. Rousselot shot Charlie in Super 1.85, a format that covers more negative by imprinting the area normally reserved for the sound track. On the final film recording, the image was reduced to fit in standard 1.85:1, which “sharpened it a bit,” notes Doyle.

Building on the existing high-security Sohonet that links postproduction houses in the London area, Doyle and his team implemented a pipeline that shared 2K scans and effects shots among a central storage in London, the production at Pinewood, Cinesite, visual-effects houses in London, and Warner Bros. in Los Angeles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “Each facility can schedule itself; they can send data when they’re ready, and we can take data when we’re ready, though it does get a little tricky at delivery time,” explains Doyle.

Doyle’s team created custom look-up tables (LUTs) to transfer the 2K data to HD. This allowed for the creation of HD preview cuts as the picture evolved. “Obviously, HD is not absolutely identical to film — a film print looks better — but the general feel is definitely there,” says Doyle.

Even at 100 megabits per second, the network could only deliver about 1 frame of 2K footage per second. Thus, the network could only ferry short sequences for grading, effects and previewing. Copies of the entire film were more efficiently delivered in disk or tape form by “sneaker net”: fast-moving humans.

A Tasty River and Tiny Workers
By Ron Magid

When special-effects supervisor Joss Williams lobbied to create Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Chocolate River in camera, director Tim Burton gave just one caveat: “Make sure it looks edible.” Williams recalls, “Early on it was a tossup whether the Chocolate River would be digital or practical, and we felt CGI would be much more limiting on set, and more expensive. Tim wanted to do as much as possible in camera, so we did a number of small-scale tests to see if we could get the look right.”

After several weeks of testing different substances to give the river “that yummy look,” Williams found the perfect thickening agent: Natrusol. But getting the right consistency was less tricky than finding the right color. “We were going in the milk-chocolate direction,” he says. “We played around a lot to get the right color; it looked a bit gray to the eye, but on film, it looked fantastic. We made 1.25 million liters of it and used it all the way through the shoot. We planned on having it last eight to 10 weeks, but then the filmmakers decided to keep it for another four, which resulted in a smelly week or two! The chocolate waterfall was easier to keep good because we were pumping that around continuously.”

By making the Chocolate River practically, the filmmakers were able to expend visual-effects capital on various other aspects of Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. One of these was the Oompa Loompas, the strange tribe of small creatures who run Wonka’s phantasmagoria. Visual-effects supervisor Nick Davis tapped The Moving Picture Company (MPC) in London to create the creatures, which were all played by one actor, Deep Roy. However, Burton actually wanted the Oompa Loompas be considerably smaller than the diminutive Roy. “Deep is 4 feet, 2 inches high, and Tim wanted the Oompa Loompas to be 2 feet, 6 inches, so there was our immediate challenge: our star was more than one and a half feet too big,” says Davis.

The scale issue, as well as the seemingly endless replication of Roy, demanded a variety of approaches, including motion-control shots of Roy in different areas of oversized sets, bluescreen shots for which the actor was composited into conventional-scale or digital environments, and fully CG shots of Oompa Loompas that were created via motion capture and/or hand animation. “We had to figure out whether to shoot plates on set, build overscale sets or create virtual sets,” says Davis. “In the end, we mixed all three.”

Adding to the challenge was the fact that the Oompa Loompas had to sing and dance. “We asked to see Danny Elfman’s songs as soon as possible,” recalls Davis. “Meanwhile, we’d discuss possible blocking for the numbers with Tim and the choreographer. As soon as Tim approved a song, the choreographer would work out a routine with Roy, then we’d bring in a bunch of professional dancers, videotape them [going through the routine], and work with Tim to previsualize the entire sequence until we knew every single cut. That previz became a bible for each song — we didn’t deviate from it.

Once we had the previz, we figured out how to best accomplish each shot,” Davis continues. “Whenever the Oompa Loompas were one fourth the size of the screen or smaller, we made them CG because that enabled us to do more dynamic camera moves. When we used motion control, we had to scale up any camera moves by a factor of 1.73.”

Because Burton was keen to use Roy instead of CGI whenever possible, “we actually spent six months with two units, one shooting plates and the other doing repeat motion-control passes on Roy against bluescreen,” says Davis. “The motion-control work was a huge undertaking — we did about 3,000 takes, often to music! These were often very complicated mo-co moves during complicated dance routines that sometimes required Deep to interact with himself. Deep’s lip sync had to be bang on, plus he had to exactly hit his mark. He put in some serious hours, that’s for sure!”

The results are thrilling, he adds. “MPC got it down to where the CG Oompa Loompas and the real ones look absolutely identical.”

-- donated by DeepinDepp