Dark Crystal revives on Netflix with Cooke Optics lenses

Shooting of the new Dark Crystal series. Photo credit: Kevin Baker

The reimagination of the Dark Crystal movie for Netflix’s TV series has been completed with Cooke anamorphic lenses.

The original Dark Crystal is one of the most iconic movies of the 1980s; a dark-themed fantasy that took the puppetry skills that the Jim Henson Company had honed in over a decade of producing Sesame Street and writ them large on the big screen for big audiences. Netflix’s new series “Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance”, originally pitched by the Jim Henson Company, is a 10-part prequel series.  

Shooting started in November 2017 in a converted warehouse at Langley Studios in Slough to the west of London, with Louis Leterrier directing and Erik Wilson shooting. Leterrier had made a successful proof of concept using a RED DRAGON and asked RED Digital Cinema to design a 1:1 ratio square extraction mode (4320 x 4320) from which to extract (de-squeeze) the anamorphic image created by Cooke Anamorphic/i prime lenses. Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance was shot using five of the specially modified RED DRAGON 4K at 2.2:1 with a Kipper Tie Gold Diffusion OLPF. “Everything becomes a bit sharp with 4K and the filter helped with that,” said Wilson.  

Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses were chosen for the production for a number of reasons, according to the press release. First, the set was an unusual one. The warehouse ceiling was already fairly low, and with a 4ft rostrum in place to allow the puppeteers to move around the different scenes (all exteriors were also shot inside), the shooting space became even narrower.

 “Lenses where you blur the image so you can shoot off the set or puppeteers’ heads without actually registering what they are, are ideal – hence, anamorphic is your friend,” explained Wilson. “A lot of lenses wouldn’t fit the part because they’re designed for a slightly smaller sensor, but going through all the different lenses that I liked I realised the Cooke lenses would actually fill this square we need to record on. We did some tests and they were great. I really like the Cooke Anamorphic/i’s; they have personality, they have charm, and they also are technically very, very good.”

Plus, of course, there was the original 1982 movie to consider: “All the methodology of the look was based on the film, but we just need to take this further because we were expanding on the scope of the movie and we were doing it with much more than equipment. We also needed to do it on a TV schedule rather than a film schedule which was slightly harrowing,” he added.

It was a long shoot, all in all lasting 180 days, which made it a demanding period for Wilson and the team he namechecks as doing “amazing work” throughout: Gaffer, Andy Lowe; Key Grip, Ronan Murphy; and Focus Pullers Iwan Prys Reynolds and Jon Garwes. In fact, the shoot was long enough that the go-to lenses that the team used changed as they went along, starting with the 40mm and 75mm and ending up on the 50mm and 100mm.

Photo Credit: Kevin Baker, Netflix.

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