In Broadcast - March 2018 - 62
www.inbroadcast.com | Vol: 8 - Issue 3 | March 2018
The Expanse Relies
On Cooke Look
SyFy's Space Opera The Expanse Relies on Cooke 5/i Primes for its beautiful visuals...
n 2014, when Syfy announced
a commitment to 10 one-hour
episodes of The Expanse, it was (and
still is) the most expensive show the
channel has ever produced. Based on
the bestselling book series collectively
known as The Expanse, written by
Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (under
the pen name James S. A. Corey),
critics highlighted the series' beautiful
visuals, lensed by Jeremy Benning, CSC.
The series was so well received that in
the same month it began airing on Syfy
(December 2015), the network ordered
13 episodes for season 2 (premiering 1
February 2017), and quickly followed
with a renewal for a 13-episode third
season to air in 2018, which wrapped
production on 5 December 2017.
"I love Cooke lenses," says Jeremy
Benning, CSC, the DoP for all three
seasons of The Expanse. "I've been
a long-time user of Cooke's S4/i,
miniS4/i and 5/i lenses, and for The
Expanse, I wanted a gritty, hard, but
human look - Cooke 5/i primes were
the natural choice from day one."
The Expanse is primarily shot on two
cameras, using ARRI ALEXA Minis at
23.98fps, ProRes 4444 UHD 16:9 with
a third ALEXA Mini brought in when
needed. "With digital cameras, the
Cooke 5/i lenses deliver something
gentler that takes the edge off the
crispness - it's still super sharp, but I
get rounder and more gentle faces,
great defocus, and wonderful fall off
between foreground and background.
DPs always talk about 'The Cooke Look'
and for me that means a creamier,
softer, three-dimensionality with great
Benning prefers not to use any
filtering for The Expanse, having
done some tests during season one,
although he will make use of the
occasional 1/16th, Classic Soft. A major
percentage of the show's visuals are
in-camera, with VFX being used for set
extensions and exterior space shots.
For example, in seasons two and three,
there are very dark, almost cave-like
environments that needed to show
bioluminescent particles and walls.
Using ultraviolet pigment built into
the sets and UV light to fluoresce and
almost totally light the set, Benning
was able to capture an ethereal
look that would just need some VFX
augmenting in post. This UV effect
meant extremely low light levels on
set: the T1.4 Cookes and 800 ISO Minis
handled that very well.
"The Expanse is visually different
from a lot of typical television science
fiction," says Benning. "The series
has a hard-edge look without being
SyFy space opera The Expanse (Pictures courtesy of NBC SyFy)
clinical. The sets are often techie
and harsh, and the lenses help take
some of that edge off and add more
character, sort of a graphic novel look
to the images."
Benning had the full nine-lens set of
5/i primes, consisting of 18mm, 25mm,
32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm, 75mm,
100mm, and 135mm with T1.4 speed,
shared between the cameras, with
all lenses being used. Benning also
makes use of Cooke's /i Technology
lens metadata protocol, which enables
ARRI's Lens Data System (LDS) in the
ALEXA Mini to automatically record
key lens data for every frame shot
and provide it to the show's multiple
visual effects vendors digitally. This
includes focus, iris, and zoom data, so
that visual effects used to extend the
sets or add in a new background can
be seamlessly tracked to match the
in-camera element. This saves a couple
of hours per shot that would normally
have to be done manually.
"My goal is to keep the audience in
the world of the show, making them
believe that what they see is real," says
Benning. "I often shot the Cookes wide
open, to take the edge off the "set"
aspect of the environments, keeping
the focal point on the actors' eyes.
That takes the emphasis away from the
DoP Jeremy Benning CSC on the set
of The Expanse (Picture: David Grossman)
artificiality of a space craft set. With
a defocused background, everything
blends so it helps sell the idea of being
in a real place - that's our main goal.
Cookes make the background look
more like a painting than a set.
"If you are looking for a modern
look with less of a clinical feel, that's
what Cooke excels at - with a modern
performance factor, plus the slight
softness of how they handle defocused
backgrounds and faces differently
from any other lens."
Produced by Alcon Television Group
(a division of Alcon Entertainment)
and The Sean Daniel Company, The
Expanse is broadcast by SyFy and
streams on Amazon Prime in the
United States. In Canada, the series
airs on Space and the first season
streams on CraveTV. In New Zealand,
the series airs on Sky. In all other
countries where Netflix is available,
seasons 1 and 2 can be streamed.
"I wanted a gritty, hard,
but human look - Cooke 5/i
primes were the natural
choice from day one"
Jeremy Benning, DoP