With three previous collaborations with the director to his credit, Dariusz Wolski, ASC, has enjoyed considerable success working alongside Ridley Scott. Fresh from three consecutive Scott films, including 2012’s Prometheus, The Counselor in 2013 and biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings in 2014, Wolski’s own production history boasts all four extant films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, plus the visual treats Alice in Wonderland and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Born in Poland in 1956, Wolski’s earliest credits are on music video in the late 1980s, moving swiftly on to features including The Crow, Crimson Tide and Dark City during the 1990s.
Wolski’s involvement in The Martian began in October 2014, at the beginning of a six or seven week preparatory period for a production which would involve shooting both on location at Wadi Rum in Jordan and in one of the world’s largest sound stages at Korda Studio in Budapest, Hungary.
“We had a lot of NASA photographs. We were using a lot of reference,” Wolski remembered of the film’s concerted effort to retain a firmer grip on reality than most science fiction even attempts. “We were also trying to match the exterior location in Jordan… we basically tried to match the color of the earth on the stage, so it matched Wadi Rum.” While the famous redness of Mars necessarily determined the look of the film’s exteriors, Wolski collaborated closely with the production design department to create a contrast in the film’s interiors, particularly the technical environment of the Mars habitat.
“It’s a juxtaposition,” he reckoned. “The interiors, we made very cool, except maybe some LED warm light at night. We pretended that the sun is not that warm, the light coming through the skylight in the hab is very neutral… we wanted to have a release from this red. Red is a hostile environment, you go inside it’s more comforting; it’s a contrast.” The habitat, Wolski said, is lit extensively with practicals. “You spend time with the production designer… they were just built fixtures – two colors, warm and cold so I had a choice. Everything was on dimmers. You can go warm, you can go cold.”
The production’s requirement for stereoscopic photography made for potentially slow lens changes, especially with up to four Red Epic Dragon camera rigs (requiring eight individual cameras) simultaneously covering interior scenes. The filmmakers shot with multiple cameras “pretty much all the time. On small sets, three cameras. On bigger sets, four cameras.” Such an extensive multi-camera first unit, especially with the doubling of equipment required to shoot stereoscopy, threatened to become cumbersome, so Wolski made maximum use of the available time – and complexity-saving techniques. “In order to move fast and efficiently with 3D rigs you try to avoid changing lenses,” said Wolski. “I developed this approach when we’re doing Prometheus… short, light Angenieux zooms, two rigs with wide zooms and two with tight zooms.” Wolski used the Optimo 15-40mm and 28-76mm lenses, “and then in the end we found there was a Fujinon lens which was very handy, the 19-90.”
The Martian was graded at Company 3‘s facilities in both Los Angeles and London, depending on Wolski’s availability, under the eye of colorist Stephen Nakamura. Wolski and Nakamura’s previous collaborations include two installments of the Pirates series, as well as Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Counselor and Prometheus. Wolski’s most recent work, on the well-received The Walk, cements the cinematographer’s reputation for his stereoscopic photography. Scott, he emphasized is “extremely visual – a great collaborator,” and the results speak for themselves.