Lost in Space Finds Contrast in the Darkness with Cooke 5/i Lenses

DP Sam McCurdy, BSC chose Cooke 5/i lenses to shoot the second season of Lost In Space, the popular Netflix sci-fi TV show which follows the adventures of a family of space-colonists whose spaceship veers off-course.

More than sci-fi wizardry, the focus of the show has always been firmly on the Robinson family; a focus which led to key production decisions.

“We chose a 2.20:1 aspect ratio so we could hold more of the family in group shots within the same frame, without having to cut between them,” said McCurdy. “This also gave us a much greater landscape to view, so it immediately provided a more cinematic language and a broader scope to play with.”

McCurdy shot the first season with RED HELIUM cameras and Leica Summilux C lenses, but changed to a combination of RED MONSTRO cameras with Cooke 5/i lenses for Season 2.

“I’ve always been a fan of RED. I have stood by them since the first incarnation of the RED ONE and for me sensors are like film stocks – you just want to find the right stock (sensor) for the right project. So, we tested the MONSTRO sensor and, as I expected, it was perfect for Lost in Space. It gave us a lot more flexibility than many other sensors would have afforded us,” he explained. “As for lenses, in Season 1 I found that in the final colour correction, the blacks were a little too severe for me – it was purely a personal aesthetic, but I couldn’t maintain the shadow lift that I’d seen on set when it came to the final HDR grade.”

To solve this, McCurdy tested the Season 1 lenses against several others, including Cooke 5/i lenses. While he had used and liked Cooke lenses many times before, before testing, he had initially discounted them for this TV project.

“I have used S4/i lenses on many a movie, from The Hills Have Eyes II to The Devil’s Double. There was always that Cooke gentleness that was amazing on film, but I felt that too many people paired them on television with the Alexa and I started to notice them, so I found myself drifting away from them for television. That was until I tested the 5/is for Lost in Space!” he explained.” I knew I wanted a more cinematic look; I wanted to hold more information in my shadows, especially in the final grade. There is a tendency, for some, to want more contrast because it looks glossy, but Lost in Space was never about gloss – it was about reality and believing in the places you’re in, and the 5/is gave me exactly that. That Cooke warmth was there, of course, but what I really noticed was the retention of the subtle colours.

“I wanted to push the under-lit feel on Season 2 and the Cookes really held onto the gentleness of under-lighting, especially in the HDR grade. The other thing I found out while testing was that the 5/i rear element seems to cover more sensor than any other non-large format lens. There was minimal vignetting on all lenses other than the 18mm.”

With cameras and lenses supplied by Keslow Camera in Vancouver, BC, McCurdy had the full range of focal lengths available, from 18mm to 135mm. “We primarily used the 18mm, the 25mm and the 32mm – going to a 40mm was deemed a long lens for us. I carried no zooms at all on the show,” he recalled.

The 5/i handled strong light sources and darkness equally well. “I like the dark, especially in space! So, we were always dealing with very dark areas of the screen that I wanted to protect and not end up with just black – I wanted tones in there, which the Cookes gave me,” McCurdy said. “We also shot directly into a lot of light sources, so flare was another creative choice for the 5/is. We also built our own flaring system that revolved around the camera so I could enhance and add flare wherever we were. The Cooke 5/is should take a lot of credit for the look of the second season, they gave me exactly the look I wanted – every scene held up like the movie that I wanted it to feel like.”

McCurdy also made sure to record /i Technology lens metadata to aid post-production. “Lost in Space is obviously a very heavy VFX show, and the VFX producer and supervisor insist on all the information they can get,” McCurdy said.” We pride ourselves on the blend of real and VFX on the show, and being able to realistically recreate the data of a lens and the aberrations of a lens sometimes make all the difference. We are meticulous in gathering information for the VFX team. Both the 5/i and the /i Technology sensor proved their worth every day.”

Season 2 of Lost in Space is available to view on Netflix.

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