‘Nope’: How They Shot Those Spectacular Night Scenes

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 IndieWire The Craft Top of the Line
IndieWire The Craft Top of the Line

Nope,” the latest horror film from director Jordan Peele, is the ultimate spectacle about our addictive, thrill-seeking gaze. It’s been roundly praised for its visual ingenuity, with early reactions encouraging moviegoers to see the film on “the biggest screen you can find.” That’s an easily manageable task, considering that “Nope” cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema shot much of the extraterrestrial mayhem in IMAX.

Yet the most innovative aspect of the film’s cinematography is the unique way van Hoytema shot night scenes in bright sunlight, resulting in onscreen skies that IndieWire’s David Ehrlich describes as “an eerily magical stretch of air that Crayola might call ‘Day-for-Night Periwinkle.'” “I literally don’t know how he did it. Well, I’m not gonna tell you,” Peele coyly told IndieWire. “In a lot of ways, we stood on the backs of some of the work that he’s done in the past to develop a new technique for night,” he added.

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Van Hoytema, who also declined to divulge the secret sauce for his proprietary method, as it’s still in development, explained that they wanted the viewer to experience a night where there’s no available light out in nature. “The way Jordan needed to see the nights, called for unconventional solutions,” he told IndieWire. “We hadn’t seen good examples or films of the way we wanted the darkness to feel.”

Since the cinematographer enjoys partaking in engineering projects on each of his films, he set out to stretch the tech to conquer night scenes to get the clarity and distance that Peele required of his story. “Look, I brought him a script that has these night scenes that exist in the expanse of two miles at a time,” Peele said, “which any cinematographer will tell you is impossible to light, impossible to shoot.”

“Nope” - Credit: Universal Pictures
“Nope” - Credit: Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

So van Hoytema built an elaborate rig for combining 65mm digital infrared information with Panavision System 65mm film information, which was then layered together to create the special look. It was actually an offshoot of what he innovated for the lunar rover chase in “Ad Astra,” in which he paired a 35mm camera with a customized Alexa infrared camera on a decommissioned 3D rig. The result: the infrared dramatically darkened the daylight sky.

A perfect example of what’s achieved in “Nope” is the scene where OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) sees strange lights in the distance. “And when he’s out there alone, there’s nothing around but nature and winds,” van Hoytema said.

Unfortunately, the process was a non-starter for IMAX. “The technology is still more difficult for IMAX because you need an equivalent digital infrared sensor that is the same size as the gate,” he added. “So some of these images are shot on System 65 and then extended on the top and the bottom [of the frame].”

“What Hoyte was able to pull off here is illusion that is truly remarkable and complete,” Peele said. “It was hard but we did it and we’re the first ones. And there’s a reason that when you are in the night scenes, in my film, it feels different than any other film you’ve ever seen.”

Additional reporting by Chris O’Falt.

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