Wally Pfister

Director of photography, The Dark Knight

DoP Wally Pfister calls The Dark Knight the 'artistic and technical' highlight of his career. He started discussing the look for the film with longtime collaborators director Christopher Nolan and production designer Nathan Crowley when it was still at script stage.

'With Batman Begins, the streets had a sort of warm orange sodium vapour, and that gave the film a lot of rust colours,' Pfister explains. 'But when I read The Dark Knight, I wanted a different approach to power and lighting. I could tell Chris and Nathan were drifting into a colder environment with more modern architecture, so I wanted the lighting to be more varied and not as monochromatic as Batman Begins. There's also a lot of brighter fluorescent lighting.'

Also, the increased use of locations in The Dark Knight was a bonus, not a hindrance, he says. 'I like what location brings to it. There's a certain amount of inspiration from practical locations that you can't get from a stage.'

The film made history before smashing box-office records - as the first traditional feature to shoot partially in the Imax format.

'It was Chris' idea (to shoot in Imax), but when he told me, I said, 'Oh my God, when can we start'' I got very excited and started to do research. The Imax people thought we should have an Imax DoP but Chris and I were convinced we could do it ourselves.'

It's just overcoming that initial technical learning curve and then getting on with it,' he says of the groundbreaking work. 'The only thing I'd say Imax wouldn't work well for is dialogue - it's a noisy camera - but it was great for action scenes.' Responding to a dare by Nolan, Pfister even did a brief handheld shot with the mammoth 75lb camera.

As more and more film-makers are turning to cheaper digital cameras, he is especially proud of the Imax milestone. 'Those (small digital) cameras are great for the democracy of film-making, but with studio films at this level, it's our duty to the audience to present it at the best visual level.'

Wendy Mitchell

Mandy Walker

Director of photography, Australia

Baz Luhrmann's epic love story Australia was a big jump for cinematographer Mandy Walker: its budget was 20 or 30 times more than her previous film, Billy Ray's $6m Shattered Glass. She has filmed nine Australian films in 20 years, including Lantana and Love Serenade.

'Even though I hadn't done a big film, I'd done big jobs,' she says. 'I'm used to running a big crew on big international commercials. (Australia) was like a long version of doing a big commercial, technically.'

Walker worked with Luhrmann and lead actress Nicole Kidman on a short film for Chanel No5 perfume in 2004: 'I had the most amazing experience and said I would sincerely love to work with him on anything else. You don't often get a chance to work with such a visual director.'

Location and studio work both play an important part in Australia's visual style. The homestead at the story's heart, for example, was built in the isolated East Kimberley region and replicated on the other side of the country in Stage 7 at Sydney's Fox Studios Australia, in what the team called the 'Lucas and Lean approach', a reference to David Lean and George Lucas.

'We could have big, wide, expansive shots with 1,200 stampeding cattle and 30 horses galloping along... then come and do the pick-ups and the close-ups on stage. That had not been done in those (classic) movies and it gave (Luhrmann) control.'

Walker says it was thrilling to capture Australia's landscape, which was often used to reflect the Kidman character's changing emotions: her jubilant moments would be set against the backdrop of lush waterholes, for example, not in the unforgiving saltpans.

Luhrmann also required flexibility, such as the day he decided the dolly grip should learn to dance so the camera moves would be in sync with the characters. Having ample equipment helped.

Earlier this year, before Australia had wrapped, Walker won the Kodak Vision Award for cinematography at the Women in Film awards in Los Angeles, and the Hollywood Film Award for her body of work.

Sandy George


Roger Deakins

Director of photography, Doubt and Revolutionary Road

Cinematographer Roger Deakins is in the running with two films this year: the 1955-set Revolutionary Road and 1964-set Doubt, and he sees similarities in his work on both. 'They are very character-driven, performance-driven films. They aren't showy in terms of cinematography,' the regular Oscar nominee says with some modesty.

One special challenge of Doubt was the harsh black-and-white nuns' habits and priests' collars against skin tones. 'The contrast can be a problem if you're not careful but we just wanted to be very naturalistic,' he says.

The confines of a Catholic school could also have felt stagnant but John Patrick Shanley, who directed the film based on his own play, had ideas to liven up the look, including the vibrant colours of painted walls and striking shots down staircases.

'There are very extended scenes within a single room,' Deakins says of Doubt's pivotal scenes in Sister Aloysius' office. 'There is a danger of that becoming samey, but once you see these actors, that isn't a problem,' he says of the cast, led by Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.

And he did not want to let the cinematography get in the way of the emotional impact of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's exploration of a strained marriage in the 1950s suburbia of Revolutionary Road. 'You don't want to distract from great actors,' he says.

Shot on location at a house in Connecticut, Deakins says that because of the changing seasons, 'we didn't rely on natural light, you couldn't get consistency.'

With Revolutionary Road, he was able to build on past work with director Sam Mendes. 'He's got a very instinctual way of working,' says Deakins. 'On Jarhead, we didn't do storyboards and we did more off the cuff.'

Deakins has seven Oscar nominations under his belt including two last year for No Country For Old Men and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. He recently finished the next Coen brothers film, A Serious Man.

Wendy Mitchell

Anthony Dod Mantle

Director of photography, Slumdog Millionaire

Shooting Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire in the chaotic slums of Mumbai presented a real challenge to director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle. 'Danny knew exactly what he wanted to do with the slums - capture the energy, the vibrancy, explore that place like nobody had ever done before,' explains Dod Mantle, who worked with the director on Millions and 28 Days Later. 'He wanted the audience to be running with the kids, exploring those nooks and crannies. I had to find a camera that could do that.'

Rather than take bulky 35mm cameras into the slums, Dod Mantle used advanced digital SI-2K cameras, enabling him to move with agility and capture fine detail for sequences central to the story of a poor child who wins India's version of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' game show. 'I would gladly have shot this on film if it was possible but I'm pretty damn sure we wouldn't have been able to get the same amount of stuff from the slums,' Dod Mantle says. 'There are passages in the slums where there's a Steadicam... but there are some areas we literally could not move with a film camera.'

Lighting was also a challenge in the slums, given the lack of space and power: Dod Mantle used small, strategically placed lights or available light.

A groundbreaking DoP who has worked on such challenging projects as Thomas Vinterberg's Festen, Lars von Trier's Dogville and Kevin Macdonald's The Last King Of Scotland, Dod Mantle employed a mixture of techniques and formats on Slumdog. SI-2K cameras were again used for the sequences in the Millionaire studio and Dod Mantle also used celluloid and shot blasts of 35mm digital stills with a Canon Mark 3 that can capture 11 frames per second. 'It gives a kind of hyper-real, slightly staccato montage moment to the film,' he says.

Leon Forde

Other Leading Contenders: cinematography
10,000 BC Ueli Steiger
Appaloosa Dean Semler
Blindness Cesar Charlone
Body Of Lies Alexander Witt
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas Benoit Delhomme
Changeling Tom Stern
Che Peter Andrews (aka Steven Soderbergh)
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Claudio Miranda
The Duchess Gyula Pados
Frost/Nixon Salvatore Totino
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull Janusz Kaminski
Milk Harris Savides
The Reader Chris Menges
Speed Racer David Tattersall
Valkyrie Newton Thomas Sigel

Production design

Nathan Crowley

Production designer, The Dark Knight

The fact Batman Begins ended with a fire at Wayne Manor - and damage to the Bat Cave - was a creative opportunity for the sequel's production designer, Nathan Crowley. 'We had a big opportunity to do something different rather than just continue where we left off,' he says. 'We knew we could redefine Gotham City a little bit, focusing on downtown Gotham with Bruce Wayne living in his penthouse, and the Bat Bunker.

'We thought if we could stay away from always using soundstages and sets, we could push the boundaries to use more real locations and that would push the realism of the city and the characters. It was a different look (to Batman Begins), one step further into realism.'

Crowley, who has worked on several films with Nolan including Batman Begins and The Prestige, adds: 'We did the bulk of work on location, so that presented the challenge of having a man in a rubber suit in the middle of a real city. You couldn't have something out of place.

'It was a joy to go back to Chicago and embrace modern architecture, those clean lines and buildings by architects like Mies Van Der Rohe. That helped define the look of the whole film as hard, cold and clean.'

With the Batmobile designed for Batman Begins, Crowley and Nolan were able to focus on the caped crusader's next vehicle, the two-wheeled Batpod. 'Design-wise, it was great for the bike to come out of the car and have those mechanisms,' he says. 'We had to move past the motorbike concept.'

Crowley and Nolan built a full-size mock-up in Nolan's garage - 'using plastic pipes and things from Home Depot' - before special-effects guru Chris Corbould and his team brought it to life.

Another challenge, and success, of The Dark Knight's production design was shooting 30%-40% of footage for the Imax format. 'With Imax you see every crack in the floor, and so the paint finish was especially important. You can't throw a black blanket on the background or hide grips' cables.' But the extra work was worth it: 'Imax is great for design; you get that verticality, which is also good for Batman.'

Wendy Mitchell

OTHER LEADing CONTENDERS: production design
Australia Catherine Martin
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas Martin Childs
Changeling James J Murakami
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian Roger Ford
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Donald Graham Burt
Doubt David Gropman
The Duchess Michael Carlin
Frost/Nixon Michael Corenblith
Hellboy II: The Golden Army Stephen Scott
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull Guy Hendrix Dyas
The Other Boleyn Girl John-Paul Kelly
The Reader Brigitte Broch
Revolutionary Road Kristi Zea
Speed Racer Owen Paterson
Valkyrie Lilly Kilvert and Patrick Lumb
Wanted John Myhre

Costume design

Michael O'Connor

Costume designer, The Duchess

Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, was a fashion icon of the Georgian era, designing her own clothes and making newspaper headlines with her latest styles. So her big-screen look was a critically important part of The Duchess and a challenge for costume designer Michael O'Connor, whose recent credits include The Last King Of Scotland.

He started with meticulous research. 'It was useful to be as accurate as possible to the period,' he says of the 18th-century fashions. He consulted Amanda Foreman's biography, books such as Barbara Johnson's A Lady Of Fashion, portraits by the likes of Joshua Reynolds, and newspapers of the day, such as one cartoon that inspired the fox-trimmed ensemble the duchess wears to a political rally.

'We made a long wall chart of all the chapters of her life,' O'Connor says. He and his team created 27 costumes for the lead character alone, played by Keira Knightley. 'She had quite a lot of costumes to wear and she was a treat to work with,' he says.

The attention to detail can be seen even underneath the fine silks, with the elaborate unseen framework, corsets and undergarments. He notes the wedding-night scene is particularly realistic, showing off those underthings.

'Normally on film you see a corset next to skin, but in reality there would be a layer between the corset and skin, so we had that chemise,' O'Connor says. This accuracy also extends to the duke, played by Ralph Fiennes. 'What Ralph was wearing was really important in relation to what Keira was wearing,' O'Connor says.

Above all, he tried to balance the duchess' outlandish looks with the emotional needs of the story. 'We had to keep in mind what the audience's reaction would be. We couldn't have a tough scene about this unfortunate marriage and have her clothes look too distracting. Sometimes it was about the clothes, and there were times when it was about what she was saying.'

The costumes are now on exhibit in the US and UK and may travel to other countries.

Wendy Mitchell

Albert Wolsky

Costume designer, Revolutionary Road

How period is too period' That was one issue facing Albert Wolsky as he designed the costumes for Sam Mendes' 1950s-set Revolutionary Road.

'The 1950s is very well documented, so we know our period,' says Wolsky, the costume veteran who bagged Oscars for All That Jazz and Bugsy. 'But we're not doing a documentary. You want it to look real, not like a costume, but you also don't want to lose the period. Hopefully they don't look like they walked out of a pattern book.'

Wolsky also worked with Mendes on Road To Perdition and Jarhead. 'The main discussion with Sam (for Revolutionary Road) was colour. With the New York office world, he didn't want to have that dark grey feeling, he wanted to go mid-tone. And the Connecticut scenes had rosier colours and more patterns.'

Working with a comparatively recent period has its bonuses. 'What helps with the 1950s is that you can still find some vintage clothes,' he notes. 'For background that's important because you never have time or finance to build hundreds of costumes.'

For the clothes made specifically for the film, Wolsky says the biggest challenge was 'trying to replicate fabrics (because) today's fabrics don't hang and move in the same way'.

Working with leads Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio was a bonus. 'With Kate, there's something about her that looks period, and she has a great knowledge of proportion. She's very savvy about those things.'

He continues: 'Before I met him, I was more worried about Leo, wondering if he could look period. But he totally fell into it, wearing his pants high on his waist - he was very good about that, he understood.'

Having seen the finished film, Wolsky is proud the costumes keep to the period without overshadowing the story. 'The costume design is almost invisible - it's there, it tells the story, but it doesn't get in the way.'

Wendy Mitchell

Other Leading Contenders: costume design
Australia Catherine Martin
Changeling Deborah Hopper
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian Isis Mussenden
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Jacqueline West
The Dark Knight Lindy Hemming
Doubt Ann Roth
Hellboy II: The Golden Army Sammy Sheldon
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull Mary Zophres
Leatherheads Louise Frogley
Milk Danny Glicker
The Other Boleyn Girl Sandy Powell
The Reader Donna Maloney and Ann Roth
Sex And The City: The Movie Patricia Field
Speed Racer Kym Barrett
Valkyrie Joanna Johnston