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Disney+ brings Percy Jackson and the Olympians to life with Cooke Anamorphic/i S35 lenses

By: The Cooke Team  |   2 min read

Cooke Optics is proud to reveal that the new Disney+ adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians was shot using Cooke Anamorphic/i S35 lenses with a Sony Venice 2 camera, the choice of cinematographer Pierre Gill csc who shot the pilot episode and the last three episodes of the eight-part series.

Gill worked closely with two of the series directors to create the specific look of the show. “It was the first time I had worked with James Bobin and Jet Wilkinson, and I was lucky to work with such great people,” he said. “Our collaboration was very good, we had great discussions and I felt very supported by the team and producers (Dan Shotz and Jon Steinberg) to trust my judgement on the look, the camera style, colours and so on. I wanted to make it ‘realistic’ with style… meaning not too extravagant, and naturalistic to stay close to the characters. I also wanted to keep the colours; I feel a lot of shows on TV are desaturated and it’s nice to show some colour, especially with the nice camera sensors we have access to now.”

Gill had enjoyed working with anamorphic formats previously and felt that this project lent itself to the format, as he explained: “I don’t have a recipe, I read the script and then I decide. But I am an anamorphic lover; the main reason is not always the ‘artistic flare’ or ‘bokeh’, but the proximity to the actors. Anamorphic lets you be next to the face of the character; you are twice as close to an actor than you would be using spherical for the same size, and the audience feels it. Plus, the dimensionality that anamorphic brings is very important.”

Percy Jackson and the Olympians stills
Percy Jackson and the Olympians stills

The series relied heavily on Virtual Production with a large LED Volume from ILM that was used extensively to provide photoreal 3D background images to shoot the cast against. Gill worked with William F White, Canada’s renowned rental house, to test cameras and lenses on one of its Virtual Production stages to replicate the on-set conditions.

“William F White was a very important part of this process, they gave me so many choices.

I tested at least 100 lenses, and various cameras that were available at the time,” he said. “It became clear that the combination of Cooke 2X Anamorphic/i S35 with the Venice 2 in S35 sensor mode was the best choice, largely because I absolutely wanted to shoot 2X Anamorphic. Not 1.8X or a 1.3X. The Venice was giving me 5.8K of love in 2X Anamorphic, and it was a great mix with the Cooke lenses.”

While LED Volumes offer myriad creative benefits for film-makers, there can be challenges in shooting them – not least managing lens flares.

“The Anamorphic/i’s were a very important part of the puzzle in making the Volume look good and giving the images depth and a ‘real’ feeling. However, lens flares give a sense of distance and that can’t happen with a Volume because it is infinite, in another dimension,” Gill explained. “It was a really big challenge, but the flare level of the Cooke 2x is subtle and by controlling the flare we were able to capture the images we wanted when using the Volume.”

Given the VFX-heavy nature of the production, it was important to have four matching sets including all focal lengths from 25mm to 300mm. For production, having this many sets available to them ensured that they could have a crew prepping with a lens package for the next Virtual Production set while the Main Unit was out on location and a splinter unit could also get pick-up shots.

Volume challenges aside, other lighting challenges were few and Gill’s choice of Cooke lenses once again paid off.

“I am a Cooke lover – I’ve shot a lot with the S4 although up to now the 5/i range has been my favourite. For this project, the Anamorphic/i S35 lenses made everything look filmic. I loved the 65mm Macro but the hero lens became the 75mm because of the weight of the 65mm on the Steadicam. This is also one of the first times that I didn’t use diffusion! Cookes are always very gentle and have a nice fall-off; the velvet quality of them and the beautiful skin tone is wonderful. They are a great tool for digital camera.”

Pierre Gill | Director of Photography

Based on Rick Riordan’s original novels, Percy Jackson and the Olympians sees demigod Percy Jackson leading a quest across America to prevent a war among the Olympian gods. The eight-part series airs on Disney+ from 20 December 2023.