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John Toll, ASC


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#1 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 01:07 PM

One of my favorite cinematographers working today.

I have been wondering how he achieves that milky soft look which is especially evident in "Vanilla Sky" and "Almost Famous." It looks like there is definitely more involved than filtration. Besides picking up the AC article (which I will most likely do) can anyone tell me how he achieves that signature look?

Thanks.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 01:49 PM

I don't believe Toll does anything technically "tricky" there -- on "Vanilla Sky" I think he used the lower-contrast Kodak 320T stock, but otherwise, his style is really based around very soft sources with almost no fill, so things roll-off to black on one edge, creating some contrast. This is why his movies have such an clean, elegent, polished look, sort of like Roger Deakins' work, which is in that similar soft single-source / no-fill style much of the time.

Of course, I'm making it all sound easier than it really is...

I'm heading out the door but maybe someone can look up the old AC articles on those films.
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#3 Bill DiPietra

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 01:57 PM

I don't believe Toll does anything technically "tricky" there -- on "Vanilla Sky" I think he used the lower-contrast Kodak 320T stock, but otherwise, his style is really based around very soft sources with almost no fill, so things roll-off to black on one edge, creating some contrast. This is why his movies have such an clean, elegent, polished look, sort of like Roger Deakins' work, which is in that similar soft single-source / no-fill style much of the time.

Of course, I'm making it all sound easier than it really is...

I'm heading out the door but maybe someone can look up the old AC articles on those films.


Had a feeling it was all in the lighting. Amazing stuff. Thanks, David.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 06:38 PM

Had a feeling it was all in the lighting. Amazing stuff. Thanks, David.


Funny thing is that I found the old AC article on "Vanilla Sky" (March '02) and it says standard 5279 500T and 5293 200T were used (though mostly the 200T). However, I recall a conversation with a film loader who worked on those two films who said low-con 5277 was used as well, but maybe it was limited or maybe that was for "Almost Famous".
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#5 Tom Banks

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 06:48 PM

Mr Mullen,
I would really be interested in hearing a little more detail as to achieving that clean and polished look. Specifically with the lighting (types or size of diffusion, gels, placement)

There's a scene during the beggining of Almost Famous with the boy on his front lawn as his sister is packing her car up to leave. His CU has such a glossy, almost surreal look. I'm not sure if this is just the film stock or time of day the scene was shot or something completely different.

Thanks,
Tom
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 12 May 2007 - 10:27 AM

I don't recall that shot in "Almost Famous"...

My impression from set photos, articles, and speaking to John Toll is that there are no special tricks here -- he's just very good at what he does. He resists the temptation to overlight or over-fill and relies on the latitude of the stock to carry detail; otherwise, he seems to find a perfect spot for a source light, often soft, and exposes for it in such a way that he gets the right balance of highlights and shadows. Often the light is coming from a somewhat reflective angle, when not a side or top light, then slightly from the back to get that reflective sheen.

He's also very good at manipulating day exterior light to maintain a certain contrast and mood. I suspect a lot of negative fill on overcast days.
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#7 Adrian Correia

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Posted 09 June 2007 - 07:56 PM

you should also look for the AC article on The Thin Red Line where Toll talks quite a bit on his use of negative fill...good stuff!
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