This week I went on a tour of Panavision, an equipment rental agency that specializes in anamorphic projection lenses. Their products have revolutionized filmmaking and Hollywood since the 1950s. They have locations across the world but they are headquartered in Woodland Hills, CA. We were able to get a tour of their manufacturing facilities and listen to a lecture on the science behind their lenses.
In the lobby was a line up of their famous cameras and a showcase of academy awards they've won. This company is no joke -- their lenses were used in the making of La La Land, Dunkirk, Pirates of the Caribbean, Orange is the New Black, Rogue One, Wonder Woman and so much more. They've also been the force behind classics like Jaws. We were told that the newest trend is for cinematographers to pair old lenses with new technologies to create interesting effects with texture and astigmatism. Furthermore, the pairing helps create a more natural look that is often more viewer friendly than ultra sharp images.
Their manufacturing center is full of CNC machines and raw materials. They have a special license given to military and medical to use glass that contain lead and doped elements. Their special glass allows blue hues and other bright colors to come through in film. This, along with the fact that they rent and don't sell, allows them to control the market.
We also found out that cinematographers make crazy requests for cameras and lenses. Some of them get attached to lenses down to the serial number and need to rent the same on every time. They also request special cameras -- cameras that have certain aspect ratios, perform under extreme conditions -- last minute. A commercial can reserve hours in advance, while a blockbuster film can request a week up to two years in advance. Some of these rush orders require complete customization and the cameras and lens systems must be built from scratch!
A lot of my friends who went on the tour were optics majors so they completely geeked out during the experience. I thought it was super cool and informative. It definitely makes me appreciate the cinematography behind the newest blockbusters a lot more.