Master Anamorphics on "John Wick II"

DP Dan Laustsen DFF combines ARRI/ZEISS Master Anamorphic lenses with ALEXA XT on the successful "John Wick" sequel.

May 7, 2017

"John Wick: Chapter 2" is that rare thing: a sequel to a hit movie that is even better received than the original. Re-teaming star Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski, this second outing brings in cinematographer Dan Laustsen DFF, who chose Master Anamorphic lenses for the film. Needing a degree of lens flaring, Laustsen worked with ARRI Rental on a bespoke solution, although ARRI also offers the Master Anamorphic Flare Sets for varied creative flare effects. Laustsen speaks here about his choices on the project.


To what degree did you want a fresh look for this second film?

On the first film they worked with different anamorphic lenses, but found it hard to control the flare, so they basically had to shoot the night exteriors with spherical lenses. I wanted to approach it another way and I talked to Chad about shooting everything anamorphic, rather than jumping back and forth between the two. 

Is that what led you to the Master Anamorphics?

Well, all the films I’ve done for the last few years have been with the Master Primes, which for my money are the best lenses on the planet. I like their very clean and sharp look, so I wanted to try the Master Anamorphics, although we tested a lot of other anamorphic lenses as well. I thought the Master Anamorphics were fantastic, but Chad wanted to retain some flare, which of course they don’t really do because the lens quality is so high. Luckily ARRI Rental US worked out a great solution that gave us the flare we needed.

What was the solution?

We were talking with them about the film days, when you would put nylon stockings behind lenses, and whether we could do something similar. They came up with the idea of specially adapted internal filters for the ALEXA XT, with varying numbers of horizontal lines, or baffles. These could be thin wires for night scenes or thicker nylon for day scenes, and they could be combined with NDs. I was very happy with the effect, and Chad loved it too, because you got nice flares off the highlights but the image was still extremely sharp. 

The whole movie was shot with these flare filters. For me they were preferable to using uncoated lenses because I had total control. Sometimes with flaring you get the blacks milking out, but we were able to keep them black and keep the incredible sharpness of the Master Anamorphics, while creating exactly the right amount of flare for different situations.

Was the speed of the Master Anamorphics helpful on this shoot?

In general I’m not a wide-open DP, I prefer to shoot between T2.8 and T4. Of course now and then you have to shoot wide open and in those situations it is very useful to have faster lenses. We shot wide open with the Master Anamorphics for some high-speed stuff in Rome, where we had a lot of action, and their performance at T1.9 is amazing. 

What was your overall impression of the optical performance?

One of the reasons I chose the Master Anamorphics was because they are so sharp from corner to corner, and from bottom to top as well. I’m not a big fan of anamorphic fall-off, especially not for this film. We wanted a slick, high-contrast look for the movie, and that old-style anamorphic softness would not have worked. As I said, we shot a lot of tests to find the right lenses, and I have no doubt that we made the right choice.

Were the lenses easy to work with on set?

I shot the movie exactly as if I were shooting with Master Primes, with no worries about limitations or needing more light. We were able to move fast, shooting handheld when it was required, or on a Steadicam or crane. It helps that the lenses are all the same size. Of course with anamorphics and the high-quality ALEXA sensor you have to get the focus right, but we had the best focus pullers in the world and everything came off very well – it was great.

Photos: Niko Tavernise © Lionsgate