Director Kenneth Branagh and Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, BSC, GSC are a steam-engine team, rolling out success-after-success hit films, including Thor (2011), Cinderella (2015), and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). Their latest film, Murder on the Orient Express, took on the ambitious challenge of transforming a piece of literature and classic film, and making it relevant to a new generation of family audiences.
One of the biggest challenges had to do with scheduling a mega-star cast. Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, and other cast members had extremely busy schedules, making it impossible to shoot the film in the New Zealand location. Haris and Kenneth decided it would be best to shoot the entire film at Longcross Studios, in London- keeping the talent local. However, shooting the film on a green screen would not work. There was too much-beveled glass and reflective surfaces on the train set, which would turn into a post-production chrome key nightmare.
Haris turned to the VER Enhanced Environments team to see how he could create a real world around the set, using video playout on LED screens. The result was a massive 40’ High X 90’ Long Hi-Res LED wall built, by the VER team, around the train set.
“Once we realized it was possible, we sent a small crew, including myself, to shoot plates in New Zealand,” mentioned Haris. The content recorded was later played out on the LED walls surrounding the set. “When you were on the set surrounded by LED, it really felt like you were on a moving train, in the middle of the Alps. Not only could you see the motion of the light reflect perfectly off the surfaces of the train, but the talent themselves felt like they were transported onto a moving train. It really made the actors feel like they were in a location shoot.”
Murder on the Orient Express was captured on a 65mm film camera. “65mm is one of, if not the finest form of capture that exists. It is also one of the most unforgiving, in all aspects- from framing, to camera movement, to costume and makeup- it is absolutely unforgiving,” emphasized Haris, “we calculated distances between the camera and the LED-enhanced environments, making sure that the moving background looked real, and not like a monitor.”
Haris explained that “The little things like a reflection on the glass, talent, and the set environment added up, creating a sense of realism captured in every frame. It worked out really well, the outcome was astonishing!”
VER provided Enhanced Environment services for Murder on the Orient Express. This marks the first use of an LED backdrop for a motion picture using 65mm celluloid.