The Rings Of Power Cinematographer On ‘Creating Hell On Earth’ And Making Night Scenes Watchable [Exclusive Interview]

To kick us off, I wanted to start talking about the beginning of 107 when we open on what is soon to be officially called Mordor. The red, the haziness — it was really impactful. How did you approach creating the look and feel of that sequence?

We first needed to collect references and understand as a collective unit what effects we were after. So I ended up finding a bunch of wildfire references from the California wildfires in 2018, and also my own experience in Portland, Oregon, where I was very close to a wildfire and had my own photography from it. What struck me in those instances was the color of the sky and the color of the atmosphere — this and researching volcanic events and what or could happen in such an event, we decided that it should look like hell on Earth, like the middle of a wildfire.

That was our jumping off point, and from there it was all about how do we accomplish that. We knew we needed to have control of the atmosphere and control of the color of the light as much as possible for the bulk of our scenes. So we rebuilt the now-ruined village on stage, and we tested for weeks with different color lights and figured out what combination look good.

What you see in the finished product is a huge amount of it is practical — the color itself is straight out of camera. There’s very little color correction because frankly, it was so specific of a color you couldn’t really push it one way or the other later. And the visual effects team added the chaotic ashes flowing through and sparks, because for health and safety reasons on the day, we couldn’t do that.

But a lot of what you see is actually in camera. We also surrounded the set with muslin instead of green screen, and with the atmosphere that we had, the very heavy atmosphere, it had a natural fall-off into this hazy depth, which the visual effects team could then augment using shapes of burned out buildings in the far background. There was no blue or green screen for any of those sequences.

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