How “Wonder Woman” brought color to the DC Universe

Still from Wonder Woman.
Photo: Clay Enos / Warner Bros. Pictures

This article was originally published in July 2017. We are publishing it again on the occasion Wonder Woman 1984 Christmas prime minister HBO max.

When cameraman Matthew Jensen first met director Patty Jenkins to discuss the visual impact that was on top of her Wonder Woman, was taken aback. The film was supposed to be set during World War I, but she didn’t show him a photo from the battlefield. He intended to continue the mythology of the so-called DC extended universe, but it did not cite one of his previous entries, such as A man of steel i Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Instead, she began working as a man not usually brought up in high-level conversations about film aesthetics – singer-songwriter James Blunt.

“She showed me this photo of James Blunt,” Jensen recalls, “and in the background was this colored smoke and him walking through this smoke in this dark coat. And she said, ‘I really like that smoky thing.’ He laughs. “And I thought, Huh, I wonder what that means.It quickly became clear to him that this meant looking radically different from recent DC Comics-based films, dominated by saturated, almost luminous tones by director Zack Snyder. As Jensen says, “She was really interested color in this film. “

Jensen was the game for it, and the finished product reflects their shared interest in using a diverse palette to paint their global story of the most famous and most famous superhero fantasy woman. Her native, utopian island of Themyscira is all azure skies, green fields and crystal clear waters. The London he visits is filled with burgundy wood, striking costumes and countless skin tones. It has colors even in No Man’s Land when we see the title character race across the battlefield in her golden-red-blue costume. It’s a great step forward for DCEU.

Much of that leap began with Jenkins ’desire to bring the past into the present. “She was really worried, because it was a periodical, that she didn’t want it to look like what we associate with periodicals, and that’s a lot of unsaturated colors and a soft, vibrant romanticization of the past,” Jensen says. “The period would come from production design, costumes and set design, but we wouldn’t do anything with lenses that would say it’s actually a film from the period.”

Still, they used centuries-old reference points for inspiration – just not black-and-white photographs. Of particular interest was the vivid work of the Edwardian painter John Singer Sargent, especially the portraits he made around 1918, the year in which the film is set. But they also looked back at newer works of art in the form of Wonder Woman comics. Jenkins was delighted with the revolutionary late ’80s led by retiree George Pérez, Inker Bruce Patterson, and colorist Tatiana Wood; Jensen was fascinated by the work of pen Cliff Chiang and colorist Matthew Wilson.

But while the DC comics were an inspiration, Jensen adds that, surprisingly, DC Entertainment and parent company Warner Bros. they didn’t interfere much with his and Jenkins ’vision. Studios today are concerned with building brand consistency for their franchises (e.g. the eye-catching primary colors of almost every Marvel Studios movie and the metallic luster of the film). Fast and Furious saga), but DC used a light touch when it comes to visual elements Wonder Woman. Maybe it was thanks to DC Films boss Geoff Johns ’efforts to inject more“ hope and optimism ”into the films he oversees, or maybe it was simply because he wanted less strict surveillance, in general.

“They really left us alone,” Jensen says. “There has never been a direct conversation about other DC films. I think we were free to make our own film. Wonder Woman is just a different charm from Batman and Superman and we felt that since this is her origin story, we can do our own thing. “

Their thing included perhaps the most visually captivating sequence in any of DCEU’s moves: a massive beach battle between Amazon from Wonder Woman and a landing team of German soldiers. It features a mass of fighters swarming towards each other and getting involved in a fight that involves everything from slo-mo-bullets to horseback tricks. As you might expect, Jensen and Jenkins could have been the hardest part of filming – though not for reasons you might expect.

Most challenging of anything else, Jensen said, was a shot in a series that lasted only a few seconds, one in which the camera moves down from a high vantage point. “We wanted to see it in profile in a big, tall, wide frame, but then let the camera go down near the sand and go in front of the action – and we are also he wanted all this to be slowed down, ”he recalls with a laugh.

Besides, they didn’t want to do it as pure CGI. “So we built this huge platform – almost a slide with pipes and tracks – and hung it in the air with all these cranes, a camera on the remote head, programmed to run high and wide and go down and make an S – turn in front actions. “One problem, though, is, ‘It’s on the sand.’ That way, the equipment would start to sink halfway, so you just hope that all the elements will be perfectly aligned. “Defying the chances and the elements, they set out.

The essential contrast to the halcyon colors of that scene and the others on Themyscira were the shades of London. Although still vivid, Jensen felt it should have more “blue, gray, and black and cyan colors, instead of the lush spectrum of full colors you get at Themyscira.” This was mostly the result of one line in the script. “There’s a line in the script where, after seeing London for the first time, Diana says, ‘That’s disgusting,’ so it really was my guide.”

Thus came the vision of a great English city devoid of nostalgia. “A lot of the reference images we were looking at from London at the time showed that it was polluted, gray, dark,” Jensen says. Still, James Blunt wouldn’t have been happy with them had they become completely unsaturated, so Jensen made a compromise: “We still wanted color, so luckily we filmed in London in the winter, so we had a lot of cloud light that puts a soft patina on everything . “

The key to all of this creative energy throughout the film, Jensen says, was a fundamental fact of the film that the average viewer may not notice. “The film was basically a roadmap,” he says. “So we never settled into one set in a long period of time. We were never comfortable throughout the film – just as you discover which angles work in one set, we headed for the next. “

The end result is a new kind of DCEU film, though Jensen is quick to add that he thinks he shares some DNA with Batsy and Supes ’previous adventures. “I wanted to make sure we fit into the DC universe,” he says. “We certainly used some techniques that [Batman v Superman director] Zack [Snyder] i [Batman v Superman cinematographer] Larry Fong used in other films. ” However, Wonder Woman he is still self-effacing and unique within DCEU, and the fact that he is best rated by his relatives is to a small extent a consequence of Jensen’s instincts and relationship with Jenkins. Perhaps this is the result of one simple maxim that the two of them lived: “We didn’t compare ourselves to other films at all.”

If you subscribe to the service through our links, Vulture can earn an associated commission.