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Greig Fraser ACS ASC on Dune: Part Two

Mar 27, 2024

Alexa 65, Alexa Mini LF, and lenses including exclusive ARRI Rental optics chosen by cinematographer Greig Fraser for the second part of director Denis Villeneuve’s epic sci-fi adaptation.

Following the critical, commercial, and awards success of 2021’s Dune, production company Legendary Pictures swiftly greenlit director Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the second half of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel. Dune: Part Two continues the story of Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) as he seeks to avenge the destruction of his noble family by interstellar conspirators and regain control of the planet Arrakis through an alliance with the indigenous Fremen people.

Villeneuve re-teamed with cinematographer Greig Fraser ACS ASC for this next chapter, which returned to shooting locations such as Wadi Rum in Jordan and Budapest in Hungary, where ARRI Rental provided IMAX-certified cameras as well as lenses and grip equipment. Many others from the original creative team also came back on board, with Villeneuve requesting a cinematic focus across all departments, having insisted that Dune: Part Two will be seen exclusively in IMAX and movie theatres for 45 days before releasing on any other platform. This is a film designed from the outset to be a theatrical experience.

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) develops a stronger bond with Fremen warrior Chani (Zendaya) in “Dune: Part Two.”

A tale of two formats

A critical early decision for Villeneuve and Fraser was whether and how to alter their visual approach to the first film for the second. “Dune” was shot in full-frame large format with Alexa LF and Mini LF cameras. Knowing that the IMAX release would allow for aspect ratio changes at different points in the film, Fraser shot certain parts of the story in 2.39:1 with anamorphic lenses and other parts with spherical lenses so they could be shown in 1.43:1 to fill the IMAX screen. The second film would also be a ‘Filmed for IMAX’ title, but that didn’t mean they had to make exactly the same equipment choices.

Fraser recalls, “We started by asking ourselves some philosophical questions about whether part two needed to look the same as part one. Do we continue with the same format? Do we stay with digital, or do we go to film? Do we shoot 16 mm? It’s a bigger world that we’re building in part two; there are more planets, more set pieces, and more action. We decided to keep the fundamental through-line of large-sensor Alexa cameras, but to combine Alexa 65 with Alexa Mini LF and shoot the whole thing spherical. That kept our options open for the IMAX version and we felt that 65 mm with the Mini LF was a good combo.”

Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem). “It’s a bigger world that we’re building in part two,” says DP Greig Fraser.

Eclectic lenses

Having decided to shoot entirely with spherical optics, Fraser investigated lens options in collaboration with ARRI Rental, eventually opting for a diverse selection. From ARRI Rental’s exclusive offerings, he chose re-housed 1980s Moviecams, combining them with re-housed Soviet-era glass supplied by IronGlass and some of his own lenses. He says, “I worked closely with Christoph Hoffsten at ARRI Rental in Germany to tune and detune optics. The Moviecams were pleasing and had good depth, as well as a really good range to choose from. They helped create the texture I wanted, and the Soviet glass was especially well suited to what we were doing; we used them all in harmony, effectively.

“Texturising the image was the name of the game,” says Fraser. “The larger Alexa sensors are so extraordinary that I felt we needed to dirty the image up a bit.” To help achieve this, ARRI Rental provided the cinematographer with additional lenses from its Heroes collection, designed to deliver extreme looks. Fraser continues, “We had a 57 mm Look lens with Petzval glass where you can dial in your effect with a third lens ring, and a 50 mm T.One lens. They were incredible, although we didn’t end up using them as much as I’d intended because our focal lengths were more in the longer range, but I’m hoping to incorporate them on another movie, especially if ARRI Rental makes more of them.”

Director Denis Villeneuve reviewing a shot on location in Jordan with Timothée Chalamet.

Infrared black and white

Intrigued by infrared cinematography ever since experimenting with it on “Zero Dark Thirty” a decade earlier, Fraser turned to the idea when considering how to shoot scenes set on the planet Giedi Prime. He says, “We’d been on this planet for night interiors in part one, but we’d never been outside, so we were discussing what it would look like. I did a test for Denis where the inhabitants have very pale white skin, based on the notion that there’s no visible light from the sun on Giedi Prime, only infrared light. When the characters go from inside to outside, they effectively go from normal light to infrared light.”

The infrared images worked best in black and white, so that was the aesthetic choice made for Giedi Prime exteriors. ARRI Rental carries a limited number of native black-and-white Alexa Monochrome cameras that can see into the infrared spectrum, but not enough were available for the shoot, so the IR filters were removed from regular Alexas for these scenes, with Fraser adding a filter in front of the lens to block almost all visible light from the sensor. Colours were desaturated to monochrome for on-set monitoring and postproduction.

Fraser says, “On ‘Rogue One,’ ARRI Rental modified some Alexa 65s to do exactly the same thing, and we used them as VFX cameras, lighting parts of the set with IR light that didn’t affect the main image. We just took that a step further and used them as our main cameras for Giedi Prime. They literally only record the infrared that bounces off skin or clothes, so colours are rendered as different tones and something that looks black to the eye might look white to the camera. It meant that we had to have exterior and interior versions of the same costume for some characters.”

Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), whose costume was adapted for monochrome infrared scenes shot with modified ALEXAs.

An expanded colour palette

The second part of the Dune story encompasses a wider range of worlds and environments, providing opportunities to expand the fairly controlled color palette of the first film. The black-and-white Giedi Prime exteriors were a bold step forward from the look of “Dune,” but even before these scenes came a chance to create a visually striking new chapter, with an action sequence right at the start of the second movie.

Recalling the creative process behind this sequence, Fraser says, “Denis and I brainstormed ways to make it interesting. We talked about the possibility of a nighttime setting and the practicalities of lighting the desert at night, but decided against it. Next, we looked into day-for-night, but that wasn’t right either. Also, story-wise, it needed to be literally minutes after we left the characters journeying at the end of part one, and they couldn’t really travel through the night. Then we thought about a solar eclipse. I found a filter that cuts most of the blue and green light from the environment but leaves the visible red light. So, we ended up with a strong red look that is very different from the first film, justified by the eclipse.”

DP Greig Fraser cradling the ALEXA 65 camera on set.

The creative freedom of 65 mm

When ARRI Rental launched the Alexa 65 camera system in 2015, Fraser was an early adopter, immediately seeing the creative potential of reviving the historic 65 mm format in the digital era. He explains, “What I love about 65 mm is that it removes restrictions for me, opening up so many more lens options. You can work with lenses originally designed for smaller formats, where you see parts of the glass that were never intended to be seen. For me, seeing and feeling those hidden parts is an eye-opener, literally and figuratively. It helps me dirty up the image and give it texture in ways you couldn’t do with a smaller format.”

A unique element of this creative freedom is the possibility of cropping into the 6.5K 65 mm frame while still retaining more than enough resolution and image quality for even the most cinematic projects. Fraser says, “Alexa 65 is such a big easel that I don’t have to use the whole thing. I have the flexibility to choose different parts of the frame, taking a 5K or 4.5K crop from the top right corner, or bottom left, so you’re looking through the lens off-center, with the left half of the image falling off to a blur while the right half is clean. You can do whatever you want, because we don’t go through a formulaic photo-chemical process to get a release print any more. It opens up framing possibilities that you would not have had in the past, so I will always support the idea of the 65 mm sensor. Always.”

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