Director Guillermo del Toro creates magical fantasy in each of his films, Pan’s Labyrinth being his fourth feature film collaboration with cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, ASC. This film is a fairy tale collision of reality and fantasy worlds brought to life with a strong use of color, unique camera coverage and stunning production design. Del Toro shows instead of tells as he takes the audience alongside Ofelia on her coming of age journey.
Cinematographer - Guillermo Navarro, ASC
Camera & Lenses - Arriflex / Moviecam Compact & Ultra Primes / Variable Primes
Acquisition - 35mm Spherical: Kodak 200T 5217, 500T 5218, 250D 5246
Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1
Color palette plays a huge role in this film, separating two different worlds. Real world scenes, which follow the fascist Capitán Vidal, are golden amber & green (day scenes), and golden amber & cyan (night scenes). The fantasy world follows Ofelia’s interactions with the faun and the three tasks she carries out. The color of this fantasy world is vibrant, full of deep crimson, steel blue, and green. As the story progresses, the worlds and their color schemes overlap and eventually flop to the opposite world’s storyline. The color saturation grows as the story progresses, ending in vibrant saturation.
The plotline juxtaposes the two worlds, flipping from one world to the next, thus having contrasting colors from scene to scene. This highlights the colors so the eyes of the audience don’t adjust to one specific color. When we view an image with a blue color grade, the brain slowly auto corrects the blue to white, making the blue skin tones go ‘natural’ (just like auto correction in a camera). This makes the color and its effects less noticeable. But if the next scene has a golden color grade the brain is thrown off and sees the color difference. The color contrast between scenes in this film causes the color to subconsciously be noticed, thus influencing the audience.
Wardrobe is a vital element in creating a color palette and portraying character. Just before the scene with the giant toad (the first task) while Ofelia is outside, we see her remove her outer dress, revealing a green dress underneath. Green is used throughout Pan’s Labyrinth to hint at the maturing process Ofelia undergoes. Shedding her white dress of innocence, she reveals a green dress of growth, foreshadows her transformation.
When Ofelia first encounters the faun, her wardrobe is an important element in the cinematography. She wears a white dress, which helps her stand out against the dark background. Imagine if she wore a darker color– she would blend into the scene instead of popping out as she does with the white (see opening image at top of page).
This film is the opposite of the modern milky look. The shadows are true black and often a majority of the frame is underexposed. A contrasty look with rich shadows is created with using higher light levels. Instead of lighting to a T1.4, Guillermo Navarro typically lit to a T3.5, which raises the shadow threshold. By intensifying the light levels of the key, more light is needed for fill. If no fill is used it will fall off to black.
I was surprised by the use of overexposure and how some of the highlights were completely blown out. This could be due to the lower budget, but it adds to the look and was only noticeable when looking at a waveform.
When I think of Pan’s Labyrinth, my mind immediately goes to the scene in which Ofelia meets the faun. The scene is mysterious– thus dark and full of contrast, the two shot having nothing over 55 IRE. The scene was lit through the opening in the top of the set with lights lining the rim, shooting into a large silver bounce rigged over the top of the hole (American Cinematographer, January 2007). Lamps at specific angles create highlights on the stairs and the backlight for the characters. The other key element to this scene is the use of reflections. The floor has been wet down, which adds highlights and reflective elements.
Skin tones range from about 35-65 IRE throughout the film. The broad range is due to the variety of day and night scenes, the skin tones being higher during the day and lower at night, averaging out to around 40 IRE.
Navarro uses the camera to bring the audience along Ofelia’s journey as she carries out the tasks. A few shots in the film are a objective POV in which the audience sees what Ofelia sees (almost from her POV), but she walks into the frame. This objective POV reveals information to the audience and Ofelia simultaneously, but reminds the audience this is Ofelia’s journey.
When editing, a cut from one shot to the next reminds the audience they are watching a film. Therefore, the less cuts used in a scene, the more real it feels. Del Toro uses clever blocking of both the actors and camera to create long takes, thus embedding the audience in the experience of the story. So much can be conveyed in one well-choreographed shot instead of multiple shots from different angles. To examine this method look at the storyboards to the right. The camera starts on the record player in a CU; pans left to the straight edge razor, then tilting up as Vital raises it to his face. This brings us to a CU on Vital. He turns left and walks away from the camera as the it pulls back, reveling a WS. The camera then pans left into the blackness of a beam, transitioning invisibly into the next shot.
This camera choreography calls for camera movement tools. Navarro extensively uses the SteadiCam, jib, Technocrane, and dolly throughout the film. Almost every scene has at least one moving shot, if not multiple. The movement is not arbitrary, rather motivated by the movement of people or objects in frame. One tactic used often is masking cuts through wipes. This is also seen in the same scene when Capitán Vidal shaves (see storyboards to the left). The scene begins in a wide as the camera moves left past a vertical beam on the set. An invisible cut is made by the editor to a tighter shot of the same scene with the same camera movement. Two shots later the same invisible transition is made, cutting from a CU to WS. Throughout the film, motivated wipes are used to go from wide to tight shots, but also to transition from one location to another.
Guillermo del Toro is known for portraying magical elements a part of the every day life of his characters. Ofelia does not need an explanation of why or how an insect turns into a fairy because she accepts the magic as real and normal. Therefore, the audience doesn’t need an explanation of the magic either. This alleviates the need for exposition.
Pan’s Labyrinth is full of characters at crossroads. Ofelia must decide to carry out the tasks and in the end sacrifice herself. Vidal faces the choice of remaining passive in dealing with the rebels or to tighten his grasp on his subjects. The rebels choose between passivity or rebellion. The choice of each individual or group impacts the others and creates the conflict of the film. The characters transform throughout the film, as seen chiefly in Ofelia. She begins as an innocent, curious girl and transforms through her journey. She trusts her instinct and remains true to her self, but matures along the way. At first she despised her baby brother, but in the end she sacrifices herself for the boy.
Story is often conveyed though repetition. Guillermo del Toro uses the same elements in two different worlds tell one cohesive story. Both worlds contain a key, a knife, and dinning room among other reputed elements. Del Toro goes so far as to have similar shots in each world mirroring each other (see below images).
Repetition is used powerfully in the two interrogation scenes that take place in the food shed. In each scene, the character and camera blocking is the same. The man interrogated in the first scene dies, so when the repetition is used in the second interrogation scene, the audience fears Mercedes will die. Del Toro uses this to manipulate the audience’s anticipation, putting the audience on the edge of their seat in anticipation and sympathy for the character, who doesn't die.
A clock motif is used to enhance Capitán Vidal as a character. His prized possession is a pocket watch, the only heirloom he has from his father. This shows the importance of his father and hints at Vidal’s goal of living up to his father. The clock element is shown in multiple CU’s of the watch, and scattered throughout the production design of his office (see above image). The office includes giant gears and other clock elements, which subtly shows the audience Vidal's mind.
The two worlds repeat each other with Capitán Vidal mirroring the pale man. Each sits powerfully at the head of a dinning table in mirroring shots. Many viewers have interpreted this as the two characters are actually the same character and the fantasy world is Ofelia’s imagination created as a coping mechanism. Only a well made film will stir up different interpretations and opposing opinions. The last thing filmmakers want is for the audience to leave the theater and soon forget about the film. Guillermo del Toro creates an unforgettable story that audiences talk about long after the viewing experience.
I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback on these film study breakdowns. Feel free to comment or get in touch with me directly.