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Photographing The Dark Crystal

I recently read an interesting article in the December 1982 edition of ‘American Cinematographer’, so I thought I would share some highlights.

Oswald Morris, B.S.C did the cinematography for The Dark Crystal and John Harman supervised the lighting. Oswald described The Dark Crystal as one of the biggest and most difficult movies he had ever been asked to do, he nearly didn’t take the job at all! To prep him for the mammoth task, he was also assigned The Great Muppet Caper, which was shot just before The Dark Crystal. In fact there was a 6-week cross over! You can only imagine how busy that 6-week period must have been for those working on both films.

Before reading this article, I don’t think I had truly appreciated just how much work goes into preparing to shoot a film.

Oswald recalls the process ‘The designers of the various puppets would produce any that were near enough to be tested and the production design team of Brian Froud and Harry Lange would also build a small part of the set into which that particular character would be placed, I would then add my part by way of lighting and cinematographic effects to complete the effect. We would

look at this on screen, discuss in great detail, and then accept it or agree to do further tests’.

Lighting The Dark Crystal

Have you ever watched the Dark Crystal and thought, this lighting is amazing? Well we have Josh Harman and his team to thank for that, and boy was this film well-lit! From space lights, Maxi Brutes, Dino lights you name it they had it and loads of added colour effects. But all of those weren’t enough for ‘Ossie’. He wanted a single bright light source coming down from the center, so John used an old army searchlight and shined it onto a mirror to reflect down into the center of the stage. Oswald also had control of all of the lights so he could change them as and when he needed.

Too hot to handle

Electrical Supervisor Josh Harman recalls one particular set ‘On the Swamp set, Ossie wanted a lot of depth of field so the lighting was vastly increased in quite a small area. The DC amperage was about 18000 and, because it was confined to half the stage, the temperature on the stage floor was over 100 degrees F. Up in the roof it was 130 degrees'.

This meant that the electricians up there had to take turns, working for just an hour at a time. They even took salt tablets to prevent dehydration.

They really did pull out all the stops to make this incredible movie and their hard work paid off!

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