Cinematographer Denis Crossan recently relied on lenses from Cooke Optics to capture a sweeping vision of the Middle Ages for World Without End, a new eight-hour epic television drama airing on ReelzChannel in the U.S.
Based on a Ken Follett novel, the drama unfolds in the fictitious English town of Kingsbridge as the King leads the nation into the Hundred Years’ War with France while Europe deals with the outbreak of the Black Death.
Director Michael Caton-Jones worked closely with Crossan to create a version of the Middle Ages, taking pre-Raphaelite paintings as a starting point, using their idealized Victorian vision of the period for the look of the production. The drama was shot on ARRI ALEXA cameras with Cooke S4 lenses, varying from 18mm to 180mm.
“Cooke lenses seemed ideal for this project,” said Crossan. “Keeping it filmic and painterly on a digital medium really helped. I like the qualities you get from Cooke lenses – sharpness and resolution without being harsh, and their depth and tonal warmth helped create that look. Light hitting a sensor has a different image quality that can often appear harsh and in your face, so trusting a lens to get the image in the way you see it means having one less thing to worry about.”
In keeping with the period setting, Crossan kept the lighting as naturalistic as possible, staying true to light sources such as candles and torches, with some additional bounce light to enhance the fall-off effect. The anti-flare quality of the Cooke lenses proved particularly useful when shooting with flames.
“With candles and torches everywhere, Cooke lenses never have a problem in terms of flare. In fact, occasionally with larger torches they would sometimes produce an elongated ellipse when moving through the frame, which I really liked,” said Crossan.
Shooting over six months, from summer to winter, and going from daylight to interior to night-time shots, Crossan had to be well prepared for every lighting eventuality. “We planned the exteriors so we could shoot as much backlit as possible, and we had the Kingsbridge set built so it was oriented to give the best options,” He explained. “I would light day interiors through the windows and let the backgrounds fall off to darkness. Going from daylight to interior could be harsh as some of the smaller medieval houses had tiny windows and it was hard to balance exposure with the outside. Occasionally, I would do an aperture pull going from one to the other, which worked really well, as you can see the results immediately. It meant I didn’t have to light the interior to a ridiculously high stop, and it also saved time.”
World Without End is produced by Tandem Communications and Take 5 Productions in co-production with Galafilm and in association with Scott Free Films.