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Hidden Figures, the true story of three African-American women who contributed their math expertise to the NASA space program, is set during the 1960s, but cinematographer Mandy Walker decided with director Ted Melfi that they “wanted it to feel period, but a modern version of that.” They researched documentaries (such as Eyes on the Prize, a series about the civil rights movement), period news footage, and the work of photographers Danny Lyon, Gordon Parks and Saul Leiter. “Our look came from a combination of those, but more than anything, we decided it should have a Kodachrome look,” she explains.
Working closely with the film’s production and costume designers, Walker, whose credits include Baz Luhrmann’s Australia and the recent Jane Got a Gun, settled on three main visual approaches for the $25 million Fox film, which was shot in Atlanta on 35mm film with anamorphic lenses. “The women’s houses are warmer, for a more homey feel,” she says. “The computing room where they worked had to feel dark, like a cave. They were working in the bottom of a building with no windows. Then, when Katherine Johnson [Taraji P. Henson] goes to work in the Space Task Force, it’s big, airy and bright but with less color. In that room, with all the guys and white shirts, we wanted Katherine to stand out like a jewel in a beautiful green dress.”
The Space Task Force was a key location and the only set built for the film. “We had a huge light on the top, so we had an overall light source that looked kind of space age, and that meant we could shoot 360 degrees in that location,” says Walker, adding that this was important for the tight 43-day shoot. “We shot with two cameras all the time to get as many shots as possible. I didn’t want the film to look flat, so I worked with the art department to put lamps on desks to create depth of color in the frame.”
This story first appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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