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Inspiration

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In conversation with Anthony Dod Mantle (ASC, BSC, DFF)Academy Award-winning cinematographer


ANTHONY DOD MANTLE TALKS TO CPN

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CHAPTERS

  • Discovering photography
  • UK education
  • Moving into film-making
  • Early film career
  • Outlook and beliefs
  • Shooting ‘28 Days Later’
  • Danny Boyle and digital
  • Working with Canon
  • Ron Howard and ‘Rush’
  • Creative collaborations
  • Canon workflow
  • Using Canon Log
  • The Canon EOS System
  • Cinematography’s future

BIOGRAPHY

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Anthony Dod Mantle (ASC, BSC, DFF)

Anthony Dod Mantle is an award-winning British cinematographer who is most noted for his work in digital cinematography. He was born in 1955 and grew up in Oxford, England, but is half-Scottish and visited Denmark for the first time in 1979. He qualified from the London College of Printing (LCP) as a photographer in 1983 and took up permanent residence in Denmark in 1985 where, in the same year, he enrolled at the Danish National Film School in a four-year course in cinematography, from which he graduated in 1989.

After working in commercials and documentaries his first feature film behind the camera was the German movie ‘Die Terroristen!’ (‘The Terrorists’, 1992), which was directed by Philip Gröning – the film was banned by (the then German Chancellor) Helmut Kohl in Germany but achieved cult status.

Dod Mantle became heavily involved in the Dogme 95 film-making movement in Denmark and directed photography on three Dogme films, working with directors such as Philip Vinterberg and Lars von Trier. He was DoP on the first two episodes of the BBC TV detective series ‘Wallander’, starring Kenneth Branagh, for which he used the Red One digital camera, the first British television production to do so. He won the British Academy Television Craft Award for Photography & Lighting (Fiction/Entertainment) for his work on the series.

In 2009 he won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography for his work on the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Dod Mantle is also known for his work with renowned movie directors Ron Howard, Danny Boyle and Kevin Macdonald on films such as ‘The Last King of Scotland’, ‘Rush’, ‘127 Hours’, ‘Trance’, ‘The Eagle (of the Ninth)’ and, during 2014, was DoP on the films ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ and ‘Our Kind of Traitor’.

Like many filmmakers he uses a variety of cameras, depending on the scenes to be shot, but his use of Canon cameras dates back to 1979 when he bought a Canon FTb SLR to shoot stills. His first feature shot with Canon was director Danny Boyle’s film ‘28 Days Later’, which was filmed entirely with Canon XL1s camcorders, and his constant search for creative film-making tools has led to the inclusion of the Canon Cinema EOS system within his digital kitbag on some of his recent projects. He currently lives with his family in Copenhagen, Denmark.


TECHNICAL ARTICLE

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In an in-depth interview with CPN Oscar-winning cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle took time out of the post-production of his latest film with director Ron Howard, ‘In the Heart of the Sea’, to explain how he came to the moving image and how Canon's cameras have played a recurring role in his creative development throughout his illustrious career…

"I first used a Canon camera – it was a Canon FTb – when I was travelling in India, in 1979," reveals Anthony Dod Mantle. "This Canon camera was bought with my girlfriend at the time. We were meant to be out buying pots and pans for our kitchen, because we'd just moved into a house in Denmark, to make food for the following evening for my in-laws. But I fell in love with this aluminium box instead. We didn't buy the pans, we bought a Chinese takeaway, we put it on paper plates, and they had a great evening anyway and I had a camera sitting on the floor. I started taking photographs and doing darkroom processing."

After finishing his ‘A’ level exams Dod Mantle worked and travelled for six years, in particular spending time in Asia and Europe, but felt he had been hanging around waiting for the right thing to do. Purchasing the Canon FTb SLR and taking pictures across India gave Dod Mantle the inspiration he needed, leading him to enrol in a course at the London School of Printing (LCP) at the comparatively late age of 26. He explains: "In India I discovered that I loved making images, so when I got into the degree course at LCP, I was highly motivated. I did something short-lived and experimental, [a course] called ‘Centre Stream’, which incorporated photography, film, and the slowly appearing video."

The blend of activities on this course was perfect for Dod Mantle, but by the end of it he realised that the relatively solitary life of the photographer didn't suit his temperament. He felt that a group activity such as video or film would be more appropriate. This led him on the path to film school and he chose to go to Denmark, due to his previous experiences with, and personal ties to, the country: "I applied to a course at the National Film School in Copenhagen. This was a four-year training in pure cinematography, from the age of 29 to 33. I came out of film school, finally, in Denmark in 1989."

Dogme 95 and Danny Boyle

After graduating he worked on documentaries and a few commercials, then his first feature, ‘Die Terroristen!’ (‘The Terrorists’), with director Philip Gröning in Germany in 1992. Within a few years he had teamed up with Danish director Thomas Vinterberg to do cinematography for ‘Celebration’ (Festen), in 1998, followed by other seminal works in the Danish Dogme 95 film-making style, including ‘Julien Donkey-Boy’. However, it was his work on ‘Celebration’ that truly put him on the map and got him noticed by English director Danny Boyle, who had just finished making the hugely successful movie ‘The Beach’. Boyle contacted Dod Mantle, and after working on a couple of TV films together, they began work on the groundbreaking movie ‘28 Days Later’.

"It was my debut English feature film," says Dod Mantle. "It was supposedly mainstream, but it became a radical, vanguard sort of ‘culty’ thing. That was shot entirely on a Canon XL1s [camcorders]; it was a wonderful, small pro-sumer camera. I put adapters on them. That was my first marital commitment, with Danny Boyle, to a full Canon palette. We had older lenses and adapters to make the image look different from the hard consumer digital image. I used the Canon bodies, and I used multiple cameras. We shot the whole film on them.”

He adds: “‘28 Days Later’ became a success and it looked ridiculously radical on a massive projection in Leicester Square [in London]. We were loved and hated for it. It was a shock for other people, but I was just tinkering away at what I'd always done. I'd chosen the Canon camera not because of the technical specification, but I did my testing, put cameras up against each other, and I liked the look of the Canon's picture. Even at that time, it's about what Canon was doing with the colour matrixes, their signalling, their workflow."

DSLRs and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

After the success of ‘28 Days Later’, Dod Mantle worked on further movies with the Danish Dogme 95 school of directors whom he had encountered at the beginning of his career, including Lars von Trier on his seminal picture ‘Dogville’. He also worked with Danny Boyle again on ‘Millions’ and director Kevin Macdonald on ‘The Last King of Scotland’. But it was ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ that was the next big encounter with Canon's developing technology, in particular the EOS-1D Mark III DSLR…

"I was in a hotel room in London after a day of testing cameras with [camera operator] Stefan Ciupek," explains Dod Mantle. “I was working with Canon that weekend and I had this camera in my hand in my hotel room, lying there on my bed exhausted… I'm pressing this burst button and I get Stefan to get up and walk around the suite. I was following him with the burst button, doing these different bursts.”

He adds: "I loaded this into my computer and thought it looked interesting; the way it broke down our perception of reality from 24 frames per second to eight frames or, at a squeeze, nine or 10 frames a second. I was fascinated. Danny [Boyle] also clicked very quickly. He didn't know what it was or how we did it, but it then became a fundamental element [for the memory scenes] to our shooting palette for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, which ended up having a massive audience. It all came from me sitting in a hotel, twiddling around with buttons and experimenting with new technological ideas."

After ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, Dod Mantle worked on two further films with Danny Boyle – ‘127 Hours’ and ‘Trance’ – as well as being the first cinematographer to shoot a BBC TV drama using a Red One camera, on two episodes of ‘Wallander’. He used Canon digital cameras when shooting ‘The Eagle (of the Ninth)’ with Kevin Macdonald. "This was predominately shot on celluloid," he explains. "But Kevin and I used the Canons and embedded them in action scenes and battle scenes and I loved it. I learned how to treat them in the grade so I could match them. Kevin has gone on to continue to do that in his way as a director, too."

Collaborations with Ron Howard

When Danny Boyle shifted his attention to being the artistic director for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games, Dod Mantle found himself in fresh territory again. This time it was with a true Hollywood heavyweight – director Ron Howard – who was looking for a cinematographer for his movie ‘Rush’, that documented the fierce 1970s rivalry between F1 racing drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt.

"I got to talk to Ron about Formula 1 and very quickly found that, even though I've come from a comparatively eccentric artistic European cinema background, we bonded on wheels going round really fast and ‘70s textures," explains Dod Mantle. "‘Rush’ was a very complicated technical film, shot predominately on multiple digital formats. I worked across from Alexa, to Phantom for the high-speed stuff, to Indiecams, which are from this extraordinary small company in Rio de Janeiro, and again Canon, in particular the EOS C300 cameras."

"‘Rush’ had six or seven shooting formats," reveals Dod Mantle. "I used Canon [C300s] as a body-cam, for a more intimate, direct, organic and inquisitive camera, trying to catch little moments. Not always, but very often, handheld. This is a lot easier when you don't have a large thing. You can do it with a camera on the shoulder, but I tend to do it with a camera lower down, below eye level. So I'm always looking for the smaller bodies. The C300, and now the C500, work very beautifully for me in that respect. In ‘Rush’ we also used the C300 body attached to the racing car, when I needed maximum latitude, so I could hold a lot of definition in the highlights and the shadows. When weight was too much, because there's a lot of inertia when a racing car is travelling at 150 miles per hour, I had to put the Indiecams on, which were smaller. But the price you pay is you lose latitude."

Using the EOS-1D C

After ‘Rush’, Dod Mantle has continued to work with Ron Howard, and was in the middle of grading ‘In the Heart Of the Sea’ at the time of our interview. "It's an extraordinarily manly film about life at sea in the late 19th century; the whalers, again with [actor] Chris Hemsworth [who played James Hunt in ‘Rush’]," explains Dod Mantle. "I was going to have to commit to shooting in very difficult environments. I was going to be shooting in and around boats for five months. So, thinking ahead, I moved into C500 territory. I had a load of underwater work, which I shot mostly on Alexa or the EOS-1D C. This was obvious because it was the smaller housing, more mobile, quicker and easier to use, closer. I was able to place it in difficult places in the underwater housing – in the boats, in small areas, in small rowing boats, in difficult situations. The Alexa underwater housing is massive, in comparison."

But the EOS-1D C proved its worth elsewhere as well. "During ‘In the Heart of the Sea’, I was on one of the heavier shooting days, with an exterior tank and night shooting," continues Dod Mantle. "There were dump tanks pouring gallons of water on us, on the actors, on me. We're all wearing dry suits, the boat is on a massive machine that's gyrating and moving backwards and forwards in the storm. It's some of the toughest shooting I've ever done. I had a breakdown on one of the cameras. I had to grab something quickly because there were guys hanging up in the rigging, and the only thing I had in my hands was the EOS in a waterproof housing. I pulled the EOS out and I shot a short file on it. Then I thought that at least I've got the picture, because the guys are up there, they're suffering, they're wet, they're made up, they're in danger. So at least I've got the shot. And that shot was incredibly strong in latitude. I had lightning effects, so I was worried about digital artefacts on the signal, but it stood up as an image… and that's the EOS-1D C."

Development of Canon cameras

Over the years, Anthony Dod Mantle has seen the ability of Canon's cameras develop and flourish. He explains: "We've moved a long way from ‘28 Days Later’. When I was grading that [movie] we very quickly hit the wall with artefacts, detail faults and aberrations. But so much has happened over the last 10 years. Just in my last two films in which Canon has figured – ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ and my newer film ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ – I've moved from 8-bit colour to 12-bit 2K. Just from that move I can already see in the ‘dailies’ the robust element to the colour management. When I start to turn the dials in grading, you can see how much stronger and more solid the signals are, which makes it even easier for me to mix and amalgamate these images together with other formats."

He adds: "As far as 2K and 4K are concerned, I always hover around 2K. For me it's more important that I get the latitude, the tolerance, the highlights and the shadows, and the detail that I need. I do shoot Canon Log. I think I've shot Canon Log on everything. It's to do with what I believe brings most of the material home, and into a safe zone. I haven't shot through the Codex Vault system, and then onto RAW, because I'm always using the smaller, most compatible thing. I've got a rucksack on my back or my assistant's back and I’ve got a coil with all the information going; I’ve got gyros, all sorts of things but I've never got higher than 2K 12-bit and always Canon Log."

It's the image quality in particular that has seen Anthony Dod Mantle return to shooting with Canon cameras time and time again. He adds: "With ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ I'm looking at some indisputably beautiful footage shot on the EOS [1D C]. That's what it's got, in a very small underwater housing. The EOS system, with the officially still format but shooting moving images, does nothing but surprise me each time I've shot with it. The first time was probably on ‘The Eagle (of the Ninth)’ and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, and even though we're talking burst mode and JPEGs, aesthetically it was extraordinary."


Equipment

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  • Canon FTb

    Canon FTb

    The Canon FTb is a manual 35mm format film SLR camera that was launched in 1971. It featured a Canon FD lens mount and offered a choice of shutter speeds from 1/1000th of a second to 1 second, plus bulb.

  • Canon XL1s

    Canon XL1s

    The versatile XL1s camcorder arrived in the late 1990s and was a 3 CCD model. It offered 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios and came with a detachable 16x zoom lens - it found favour with many independent filmmakers.

  • Canon EOS-1D Mark III

    Canon EOS-1D Mark III

    The EOS-1D Mark III is an action and social documentary photographer’s dream. It features 10fps shooting speed, ISO rating up to 6,400, and Live View Mode to help critical focus checking or for wireless studio shoots. Find out more...

Since 1979 Anthony Dod Mantle has used Canon cameras to shoot stills and movies, spanning the film and digital ages. Here you can find out more about some of the key Canon cameras he has shot with during his career.


  • Canon EOS C300

    Canon EOS C300

    The EOS C300 and C300 PL were the first ever Digital Cinema Cameras in Canon's Cinema EOS System. Sophisticated Canon camera technologies and an MPEG-2 MXF 4:2:2 codec deliver top quality imaging performance. Find out more...

  • Canon EOS C500

    Canon EOS C500

    The EOS C500 and C500 PL were the first 4K Digital Cinema Cameras in the Canon Cinema EOS System. 4K, 2K and MPEG-2 MXF 4:2:2 recording formats deliver the best possible imaging performance to filmmakers. Find out more...

  • Canon EOS-1D C

    Canon EOS-1D C

    The EOS-1D C was the first ever DSLR to join Canon’s Cinema EOS System. It offers both 4K digital cinema imaging performance and high resolution stills, so will appeal to professional filmmakers and multimedia producers. Find out more...



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