The photography of ‘Dune’ and other blockbusters are now works of art. One man is to blame: Greig Fraser

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Last morning, the oscars 2022. This year’s edition will go down in history for Will Smith’s awkward encounter with Chris Rock, but we should remember them for other things. This time we are going to talk about Greig Fraser, which has won the award for Best Photography for ‘Dune’. Science fiction needs the best image possible.

The photograph of ‘dunes‘ confirms the importance of photography in the world of cinema. And especially in the world of movies destined to become big box office hits, the famous blockbusters or block buster. The viewer wants to see, on the big screen, the greatest show in the world. And many directors and producers are willing to grant it. It is increasingly common for these films to stand out for their photography. If television is an enemy to beat, the cinema wants to make it worth getting into the dark room.

The cinematographer of blockbusters

A movie block buster It is the one with a budget greater than 100 million dollars. We all know what they are right now. Surely superhero movies, old James Cameron blockbusters and, of course, Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’, which cost $165 million, come to mind.

If you look at the list of films that have won this award in recent years, many exceed that investment. As I have been consulting we find ‘1917’, ‘blade runner 2049‘, ‘the reborn‘, ‘The life of Pi’, ‘Origin’, ‘Avatar’, ‘The Aviator’… It is not easy to get the prize, but the secret is to hire to the best and give them a big budget.

It can be said, after seeing the list of winners, that everything went off with ‘titanica‘, the great James Cameron movie in which we all knew the ending. Only with a good photograph the viewer could get fully into the story.

The success was stratospheric. And since then there hasn’t been a film of this caliber that doesn’t seek attention with a spectacular photograph, almost always supported by special effects that leave us speechless. They have realized that great actors and best actresses are no longer enough. They know that the script can limp in favor of the show (a real shame) and they have to show what they have as good looking as possible.

And cinematographers are the answer.

The problem is that the biggest blockbuster movies of the last few years, the superhero movies, have never really excelled at this point. They have forgotten the light at all times to fall into the nets of the show. Can you imagine the last of the Avengers photographed by Roger Deakins (the photographer of ‘blade runner 2049‘) or by Greig Fraser himself before launching into ‘rogue one‘ or ‘Dune’?


film frame

The Oscar for Best Photography It’s never been in the big five, you know: movie, director, screenplay, and lead actor and actress. And it is something incomprehensible because we always remember the scenes of these great films… There are no good films with bad photography, ever. One day the importance of good image in movies will be recognized. Of the last 25 award-winning films, 11 had a budget above the famous 100 million.

And this is where ‘Dune’ comes in, the wonder photographed by Greig Frasier.

Greig Fraser’s work on ‘Dune’

The film tells the story of Paul Atreides (Timoth√©e Chalamet), a young man propelled by destiny into an intergalactic power struggle on the planet Arrakis, where he has to battle a scorching sun, sand hurricanes and sand monsters. An epic that has already passed through the hands of David Lynch and that was about to be shot by a wonderful madman named Alexander Jodorowsky… It was 12 hours of film that never got made.

Greig Fraser Dune

The cinematographer on film

Right now he is the fashion director of photography. He knows how to bring to the film the necessary atmosphere to dazzle the audience with his images loaded with special effects but with a unique sense of light. His biggest challenge in ‘Dune’ was shooting the desert without ever remembering the ‘Star Wars’ saga with which he has had so much to do since he photographed ‘Rogue One’ and the series ‘The Mandalorian’.

Fraser is a photographer recognized for his pictorial ability when it comes to representing the light on stage. Personally, his work in ‘Foxcatcher‘. A low budget film where the image is essential to understand the environment in which the actors move.

He came to ‘Dune’ because he met the director, Denis Villeneuve, at the home of one of the great directors of photography in history, Roger Deakins, the photographer of ‘Blade runner 2049’ (among many other gems). Denis Villeneuve hired the entire Blade Runner sequel team and contacted them to create the desert light without reminiscent of the galactic desert. As Villeneuve said:

This desert is not the desert we all know. We want it to look like a terrible place, but at the same time, we’re making a movie, and we don’t want the audience to be disappointed. It has to be a good photograph, it has to be in line with the quality of the script.

As he had been part of that universe, surely they hired him for his experience, trusting that he would do something different, as it has been. It is what marks a film, offering something old in a new light.


The desert without saturated colors

And how has he done it? The most innovative thing, what gives it that singular aspect that is noticeable above all in the cinema and on the good and big television screens, is that it is shot in a somewhat special way.

First of all, it is recorded in digital format with a Arri Alexa LF in RAW format. All this material, with its corresponding LUTs, was converted to 35mm film to give it a more classic look, closer to the feeling the director had when he read the novel as a teenager. And then it was transferred again, with that extra, to digital format. A perfect move that has marked the aesthetics of the film and that it has been possible to do because of the large budget they had. This is the advantage of working on a blockbuster photography.

Photography makes blockbusters respectable

And so the entry of photography into this type of film is confirmed. The great masters juggled to get a light or an atmosphere. Nestor Almendrosthe great Spanish director of photography, winner of an Oscar, had to overcome difficulties with ingenuity.

If you have a budget, you can do thousands of tests with the best teams to later decide how to shoot. But it is true that without preparation, vision or ingenuity it would be impossible to shoot visual wonders like ‘Avatar’, ‘The Life of Pi’ or ‘The Revenant’. Within the world of superheroes, the reference of this type of movies, it seems that they have forgotten the need to get out of the established canons. In this sense, it seems that they are much more advanced in DC Comics.

Do you know who the director of photography is? ‘The Batman’? Well, precisely Greig Fraser. He went from the light of the desert to the closed night of Gotham. And again he offered the viewer not his way of seeing things, but something that I think is much more difficult: seeing the world through the eyes of the protagonists.

And I think that is one of the keys that the next blockbusters will have to take into account in the future. It’s no longer a matter of showing saturated color on top of everything while everything blows up like it’s a Michael Bay movie. No. It is true that it is science fiction, but viewers need some reality. And proper use of light can achieve this. So I’m sure that in the future the direction of photography is going to take on capital importance.

Last morning, the oscars 2022. This year’s edition will go down in history for Will Smith’s awkward encounter with Chris…

Last morning, the oscars 2022. This year’s edition will go down in history for Will Smith’s awkward encounter with Chris…

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