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The Cinematography of ‘Unbroken’ Relies on Real Beauty and Practical Sets

Director Angelina Jolie sings the praises of cinematographer Roger Deakins.

Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s second outing as a director, tells the true story of Louis Zamperini and his extraordinary life as an Olympic athlete, WWII soldier, and Japanese prisoner of war. To lens it, Jolie chose veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins.

“Like everyone, I’ve been a giant fan of Roger Deakins for many years,” Jolie tells ICG Magazine. “When I thought about who Louie was, about the generation he came from, I realized this story had to be classically shot. It had to be beautiful, epic, and command the kind of respect a cinematographer like Roger Deakins can provide. Not all films require Roger’s…presence. But this one did. And I was lucky he felt the same way and had a connection to Louie’s story.”

To impactfully visualize the different parts of Zamperini’s story, Jolie and Deakins paid particular attention to color. “Color is one example where we worked up a careful plan with [production designer] Jon Hutman and [costume designer] Louise [Frogley],” Jolie explains. “For example, there are only certain warm pinks that belong to Louie’s mother, and we used reds very sparingly – only with the Nazi symbols at the Olympics and the Japanese in the air battles. When they are adrift at sea, it’s only the deep blue of the ocean that dominates, and when they are picked up by the Japanese and brought to Kwajalein, it’s just the green of the jungle that takes over. So by the time Louie is brought to Omori, in Tokyo, where he meets “the Bird” [the sadistic Japanese prison camp commander], all of the color is drained; it’s sepia-toned, almost black and white.”

The war movie is also remarkable for its reliance on practical sets over CGI or visual effects. “As I was constructing this movie, VFX wasn’t something I wanted to lean on,” Jolie declares. “My nature is to put the actors into practical situations, have a practical [Olympic running track], and on our first day of shooting, put us in the middle of a ‘practical’ ocean, rather than a water tank, with actors bobbing up and down in waves, and floating away. Roger’s like me in that way, in that we felt the real beauty in the world could not be replaced.”

Read the full story here.