The Fast Franchise is a surprising chart not only of our changing tastes but of the way we’ve made movies over the past 20 years.
It’s the most amazing franchise in the last 20 years. Owner of some of the most down-to-earth, over-the-top action in any franchise. Multicultural without feeling like it symbolizes anyone.
There are many things you can say about them Fast & Furious franchise, but also deserves attention that it is a real document on how we have made films over the past 20 years, and guides us through the transition from film to digital in a seamless way.
Let’s look at each movie and how its cinematography has evolved.
THE FAST (2001)
Recorded by Ericson Core, the first Fast & Furious 2001 film was in many ways more of a technical reflection of 1990s cinematography than what was to come.
Recorded on the Moviecam Compact and SL, with a 435 for off-speed recordings, Ultra Primes was used, the top-quality cinema glass from Zeiss at the time.
This was before the Master Primes was released in 2005, so it was state of the art for Zeiss at the time.
The biggest hallmark of the time, however, is the holdings of films they made. Kodak had started with the introduction of the Vision line, which we associate more with films from the 2000s and to this day (5219, Vision3 500T, is the latest release and likely the last major revision of any footage introduced by Kodak), but we are still at Vision 5279, the first of the 500T Vision stocks that likely shot many of the night scenes on.
You can see it in the distinctive look of the night hunting scenes that feel more like the 90s than the 2000s. They also used 5245, the older EXR slow daylight stick, which was soon replaced by 5201, which likely led to the Palette as well.
If you look at the look of the BTS, you can see clear hints of the movie’s’ 90s hallmarks, including the blown highlights in the day outside that turn a bright orange (photochemically, of course, this is pre-TUE) and the gritty high contrast night outside .
Also check out the very period specific CGI that gives you the feel of the engine.
2 FAST 2 ANGRY (2003)
The film, which started the amazing naming convention for seriousness (not “The Fast & The Furious 2” for this franchise) and directed by a new DP, Matthew Leonetti, kept the same camera bodies and film stocks and propped itself up a mixture of EXR and Vision, whereby in addition to the 79, the newer 320T 5277 and 200T 5274T are used for night work.
The biggest shift with 2 Fast 2 Angry is from Zeiss Ultra Primes to Cooke S4s. The Zeiss glasses have always been both sharp and a bit cool, while the Cooke glasses look a bit softer, creamier and warmer.
The decision to choose S4 for this project is an interesting one; the Ultra Primes were known for action films like the Lord of the rings Trilogy, while the S4 were known for romance and drama The cider house rules. The softer “Cooke Look” is undeniable in shots like this one, with flattering skin tones and a little “creaminess” even in the sharp parts of the image, which are clearly different from the sharper feel of Zeiss Glass.
It’s possible the thought was that since we moved to a new location and without Vin Diesel, a new look would have a feel of its own.
THE FAST & FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006)
With the third entry in the franchise, director Justin Lin, arguably the genius behind so many parts of the show’s life, took over cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, who later became the show’s lead actor.
In addition to the new team at the top, there is a completely new camera platform: Panavision.
Panavision cameras and lenses work best together and we are seeing that production shift to Primo lenses, a Panavision Millenium body, and Panavised ARRI 235 and 435 bodies for handheld and special effects work.
Panavision is known for making some of the best, sharpest, clearest glasses in the world, and that look can definitely be seen in the sharp images in the film.
It also moved the franchise to Vision 2 5218, the first Kodak stock to be truly digitally designed.
Another important point to note is that this is the first film in the series to use a digital intermediate for finishing. Given the heavy night work and highly saturated colors, access to a full suite of noise correction and selective color control tools opened up a whole new palette that was not previously available.
FAST & FURIOUS (2009)
In the fourth part we repeat a director (Lin) for the first time, but another fresh DP, Amir Mokri.
Technology has advanced as we see the team stick with the Panavision lenses from the last part, but expand the range of footage choices, including the ultra-fine 5201 50D grit and the Vision3 5219 500T, a fast, razor-sharp material that remains popular to this day.
This is really the movie where you start to see the “look” evolve into something that feels more modern and contemporary. While even Tokyo drift feels a bit like from another time Fast & Furious manages to be the beginning of films that feel “contemporary”.
FAST FIVE (2011)
Arguably the highlight of the series and a great place to start if you haven’t seen any of the previous films, director Lin stayed with the franchise for the third time.
Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon returns, sticks with Panavision lenses and mostly sticks to the stocks that were used on Fast & Furious—5201 and 5219, with the 01 being ideal for ultra-fine daytime work and the 19 being amazing in poor lighting conditions.
These two films are the most consistent film-to-film, which is interesting when you consider that two separate DPs make the decisions between the two productions.
When shooting at 2.35 x 1, you can really see how the combination of a cool color palette and muted skin tones begins, along with greater latitudes that don’t make night scenes look so “crispy”.
ALMOST 6 (2013)
Almost 6, along with Fast five, remains at the top of the list for films in this series.
Lin is directing for the fourth time and continues to outdo himself with amazing action sequences and well-integrated storyline that get the franchise up and running.
Interestingly, after three films on Panavision, Almost 6 returns to Arriflex with the Arricam LT.
This is in some ways a return to form, as the Arricam LT is a descendant of the Moviecam Compact that was originally used to make the first movie.
Additionally, they are returning to Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses (with Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses), the same glass as the original film, although we have been in the Master Prime era for several years at this point.
ANGRY 7 (2015)
Lin resigned and director James Wan took over Angry 7but cinematographer Stephen F. Windon went on to share responsibility with Marc Spicer, a frequent second unit DP at the time.
If you look at the picture above you can see how far the pictures have come. Now the cameras have the leeway to capture details in the sky, they no longer have to be cut out and driven to a color to have a “look”, as was required for the exterior scenes of the first film 14 years ago, which continued to shoot became more contrasting film stocks of the 1990s.
The big change at this point is the switch to digital acquisition with ARRI Alexa as the main platform. This is actually a relatively late step, as digital was a frequent and almost standard recording platform for many high-end productions as early as 2015.
Lenses can be found all over the map, a mix of Panavision Primo, Zeiss Ultra Primes, initially for the Zeiss Master Primes series, and Fujinon Alura and Angenieux Optimo zooms.
There is still some film in there running through a 35-III, probably for slow motion and action work, with two daylight Vision3 stocks, 50D 5203 and 250D 5207, which it most likely only does for daytime stunt work.
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017)
Windon continues his hit streak and is making his fifth film in the series, this time in collaboration with F. Gary Gray.
This is another movie made on Alexa, with a return of the Zeiss Ultra Primes (the really constant factor in the series) combined with Fujinon convertible zooms and of course those lovely Optimos.
The big change here is that apparently no film is being made at all, rather RED and Blackmagic micro cameras are used for stunt, action, and slow motion work.
F9: THE FAST SAGA (2021)
Lin has teamed up with Windon again (he shot his sixth project in the Fast Universe) to bring the dream team back together for F9.
While Lin / Windon Fast Films were shot on different platforms, together they returned to the format of their peak time (films five and six) and brought the platform back to Panavision Primo lenses.
This is especially interesting as Panavision has largely started pushing other lenses and their newer DXL and DXL2 camera bodies with their full frame sensors. But F9 is still shot in Super35mm format on Alexa and Panavision Millennium XL cases.
By covering the transition from pure film to pure digital recording, the Fast Franchise is a great journey through one of the greatest changes in the history of motion pictures.
What did you learn from the cinematography of these films? Leave your thoughts in the comments.