“Nope” is a film about many other things besides a giant alien life form hunting horses and/or humans in the arid ranch lands outside of Los Angeles. But for Jordan Peele’s engagement with spectacle and exploitation, with the violence, emptiness and raw instinct so often required to construct and consume cinema, the monster stuff has to work too.
The alien antagonist of “Nope” is monstrous in a way that defies the human instinct to infuse him with empathy, a personality (despite the fact that he’s called “Jean Jacket”) or motivation, and the film works to elevate him just as colossal, mysterious and menacing as the shark in “Jaws” – but airborne and capable of devouring much more than a boat in a single swipe. In the following videos, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, sound designer Johnnie Burn, and visual effects supervisor Guillaume Rocheron explain how they each helped create a sense of hidden danger in the film’s iconic western setting by teaching audiences to jean jacket see us hear and create an alien rooted in the evolutionary efficiency of real-world animals.
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The cinematography of “Nope”
When cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema came on board Nope, he knew writer-director Jordan Peele wanted to explore the idea of spectacle and its role in our lives. He also knew that Peele wanted no will a spectacle that, as van Hoytema said, is “a very tall order for a cinematographer”. This idea permeated every large format image in Nope, even the intimate close-ups that comprise the film’s more character-oriented scenes. “Traditionally, IMAX or 65mm has always been seen as a format that’s there to show landscapes and space,” said van Hoytema, “but I think there’s space and space and landscape in the intimate, too. I loved the challenge of using a format designed to accommodate so much space and inviting that gear into a very welcoming ambiance small Space and explore a little bit how that can be instinctive.” The cinematographer found that the large format photography gave the faces additional depth and presence. “Large format portraits are incredible,” he said. “I think a format worth photographing mountain peaks or horizons should also be worth photographing the human face.”
The challenge was made even greater by the fact that so much of “Nope” takes place in desert landscapes at night, where there are no obvious sources of light. Although one of van Hoytema and Peele’s visual references, Lawrence of Arabia, made extensive use of day-to-night photography, van Hoytema wasn’t sure the process would work for Nope. “To an extent [day-for-night] is less believable, you always feel the day. The relationships between the light parts and the dark parts are not entirely correct.” To solve the problem, van Hoytema extended techniques he first developed for Ad Astra by including Nope’s nighttime exterior shots in daylight two cameras: one infrared and one IMAX color film. As can be seen in the before and after images in the video above, combining the footage from the two cameras gave the filmmakers a level of control well beyond traditional day-to-night, allowing them to do more than just correct light balance and dark in a frame, but also color, grain, and those all-important faces.
The sound design of “Nope”
The monster in “Nope” has two distinct modes of operation – stealth and show-off – and the sound is critical to the audience’s understanding of both. It’s the sound that suggests the presence of something in the sky long before we understand exactly what it is, and that suggestion is where the film sheds much of its creeping terror. Sound evokes ideas, but they are indistinct. We have a feeling something powerful is lurking around Haywood Ranch, but we don’t yet know what it is. Sound designer and lead sound editor Johnnie Burn masked Jean Jacket in the elementary noises that would otherwise be background noise, but twisted them to increase audience discomfort. “In a way, how we present Jean Jacket’s sound in the film was to have the wrong sound, so we wouldn’t hear an extraterrestrial specifically, but the world we’re used to – but in a slightly distorted way into the wrong one direction,” Burn said.
Burn also helps the film create the clear sense of predator and prey through its precise use of directional sound – crucial to the ultimate nature of its monster. Set up with Dolby Atmos, Burn said that by being able to track audio in the same kind of 360-degree dome in space that the characters themselves work with, “you can position any audio in any specific location. It really pays off because you can get a lot more subtle and nuanced and visceral and bombastic with your storytelling.” Burn’s work in film is often about creating important, actionable details that unsettle entire sequences, just as much as the point to create soundscapes for the violence and power of the extraterrestrial. As you’ll hear in the video above, the pinpoint positioning helps make the sounds in “Nope” an important lifeline for audiences to understand what’s happening, as well as the death knell telling us characters are doomed before you know it yourself.
The visual effects of “Nope”
“Nope” is packed with stunning visual effects, but its most impressive creation is the film’s villain, the alien creature dubbed “Jean Jacket.” Jean Jacket, a creature that looks like an archetypal flying saucer but transforms into a living, breathing organism that consumes people like moviegoers munching popcorn, was the earliest problem visual effects supervisor Guillaume Rocheron had to solve . Given the monster’s importance to the story, Peele and Rocheron began discussing its design well before the film’s pre-production, when Peele was still writing the screenplay. “He wanted to explore the visual language of Jean Jacket, [to learn if] There was everything that went into informing the story and staging of the various encounters,” Rocheron said of his initial conversations with Peele. Ultimately, the filmmakers focused on an alien that came from multiple sources and influences: classic sci-fi renderings of UFOs, sea creatures, and even origami paper.
“It’s hard to invent something new in terms of creature design,” Rocheron said, but in the case of Jean Jacket, he pulled it off with stunning results. An additional challenge was designing an effect that would remain completely invisible: a sky with almost every cloud digitally painted into it in every shot. Peele wanted the sky in “Nope” to function as a seemingly peaceful environment that hides unspeakable terrors, similar to the water in “Jaws”. As a result, Rocheron and his team had to create virtual sets in which the clouds could be blocked and moved around like actors to obscure or reveal the menace lurking in the sky. “For visual effects, we generally do the sky for cosmetic reasons,” Rocheron said. “You substitute the sky because you want continuity between two scenes to match, or because you want the sky to look nicer. It’s rare that there’s a narrative reason to actually build a set out of clouds.” Watch the video above to learn more about the creation of these clouds, jean jacket and other spectacular effects – like the blood rain and Gordy the raging Chimpanzees – to be found in “Nope”.
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