Known around the world for much-loved films such as DELICATESSEN, AMÉLIE and A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest movie -- an IMAX 3D cinema release -- is titled THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET. It tells the story of an eccentric 12-year-old boy who slips away from his family's Montana ranch and travels alone cross-country to collect an award from the Smithsonian Institute. Jeunet was adamant that the film should be captured in true, native 3D, deciding with cinematographer Thomas Hardmeier, AFC, to use ALEXA Plus and ALEXA M cameras with Master Prime lenses on 3D rigs from CAMERON | PACE Group (CPG). Hardmeier here discusses his work on the movie.


Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's latest film, THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T.S. SPIVET, tells the story of an eccentric 12-year-old boy who travels alone cross-country to collect an award from the Smithsonian Institute. Cinematographer Thomas Hardmeier, AFC, captured in true, native 3D with ALEXA Plus and ALEXA M cameras, and Master Prime lenses.

Did you and Jean-Pierre have any references to help you develop a 3D visual style?


Of course a key reference for the 3D was HUGO, and that was one of the reasons why [stereographer] Demetri Portelli was on the film with us, because he worked on HUGO and the 3D was very good in that film. Other than that, Jean-Pierre talked to me about visual references such as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and the Canadian photographer Fred Herzog. But I think that Jean-Pierre's  style was already very well suited to 3D, because he always uses wide-angle lenses and he always works with foreground, middle-ground and background elements.


To make 3D work best it's good to have a small camera, as you want to keep the camera moving in order to feel the 3D more. Those little camera movements were also something that Jean-Pierre likes to do anyway. We worked hard to create as much depth of field as possible, because in my opinion out-of-focus foreground elements do not look good in 3D.

Were you therefore working at quite high T-stops?

Yes, and I had never done that before because I generally like very shallow depth of field. Jean-Pierre had told me right from the start that he wanted a lot of depth of field; of course for exteriors that wasn't a problem and we could shoot at T16, and we were able to shoot most interiors at around T8. The hardest scenes were those inside the studio, where it wasn't easy to get a high stop; for these we were at around T4. 

What lenses were you using?

Master Primes, because we wanted to have the sharpest images possible. We were able to use these rather than the smaller Ultra Primes because we had ALEXA M cameras, which are so compact that they fit on the smaller Pace [CPG] 3D rig even with Master Prime lenses. Jean-Pierre wanted to keep the rigs as small as he could. On the bigger 3D rig for our second unit we had ALEXA Plus cameras. 

I have shot a lot of 35 mm films with the Master Primes before -- and now on digital with ALEXA -- and I think that even at T16 the images are wonderful. Of course it's probably true that they are at their best at perhaps T2.8 or T4, but at T16 they also perform very well.

Were you making decisions about the level of 3D as you shot each scene?

Yes, we were making 3D decisions at the monitor on set. It can be quite a subjective thing, deciding what looks best, so it was good that we could stand at the monitor and discuss it. A word we used a lot was elegance; of course we wanted the 3D effect, but we didn't want to use it too much and make it too obvious. I think what we have achieved is very elegant and beautiful 3D. The film is about a little boy and it's quite poetic; it's not an action movie blockbuster, so it was right to take a gentle approach to the 3D.

It was great to have such immediate access to the ARRIRAW images on set.

Did Jean-Pierre shoot to a storyboard?


At the very beginning Jean-Pierre didn't give me a script -- he gave me a storyboard to read and to decide whether or not I liked the movie. Everything was already set up in his head and when we were shooting he spent his weekends at the following week's sets, working with stand-ins and taking pictures inspired by the storyboard that allowed him to make final decisions about how he was going to shoot it. He really got very precise about what shots we had to do each week. There was also someone on set editing the movie as we went along, enabling us to see any issues with the way shots cut together straight away.

You shot quite a lot on location -- was that more complicated because you were shooting real 3D?

It wasn't a problem working with this equipment on location, and most of the locations we used were not space restrictive. The only difficulty was dust, which can make it hard to keep the fiber optic cable clean. In the studio Jean-Pierre likes to have small sets because he shoots with wide-angle lenses, but we didn't have any trouble with the size of the camera rigs there either. The most cramped set was the inside of a mobile home, travelling on a train, so we built that in a studio with wild walls and we could get any angle we wanted. When you have such a detailed storyboard it's easy to sit down with the production designer and decide which walls have to be able to move.

Why did you record ARRIRAW and were you able to set up an efficient workflow for your images?

I wanted to work with ALEXA and it was clear right away that we should go for the best possible recording option, which is ARRIRAW. The dynamic range is very good and it gave us more possibilities in the timing, with more latitude than other formats. 

It was great to have such immediate access to the ARRIRAW images on set, and to be able to edit and grade them, because both of those things have an impact on the 3D effect. If you have more color then you increase the feeling of 3D because there is more separation, so it was very important to know what we were doing with color in order to make the right 3D decisions. For that reason we had an on-set grading system, which helped us understand what we did and didn't like. We actually got quite close to the final grade on set; it was a real base for what we created in the DI afterwards.