For this shoot of Alice (from the American McGee game) with Kotani (who had dropped in from interstate), I knew from the outset that given the conditions, I would be unable to replicate the feeling of the original Mysterious East (Oriental Grove) level, which is a really soft, wispy kind of look reminiscent of Chinese ink landscape paintings.
That said, I still wanted to evoke the dreamy qualities at the core of the game, as most of the levels of Alice: Madness Returns are actually Alice navigating parts of her own mind as she comes to terms with her own psychological afflictions and struggles to come to terms with the fate of her family. So the entire approach from planning to shooting to post-processing was centred around getting an “unreal” result.
The location chosen for this shoot, with its Oriental themes, was of course Fagan Park. As it so happened, white cherry blossoms were blooming at the park during the shoot, and it was a fairly clear spring day with blue skies.
To attain the unreal look I was aiming for, I deployed my vari-ND filter at its maximum effect. I use vari-ND on a lot of shoots just to keep the aperture under control, but rarely do I use it to such an obvious degree: that is, adjusting it to not just underexpose the ambient, but to also darken sections of the sky (due to the functionality of the two polarisers in the filter), while opening the aperture to allow extremely shallow depth of field – even during extremely bright days and with strong flash lighting to counter the sun.
The combination of darkened skies and shallow DoF in conditions of clear daylight provides not just the soft qualities of a dream, but is also unusual enough to detach both viewers and the photographically literate from the normal “documentary” mode.
The final piece is put in place by a shifting of the white balance towards the cooler colours, accomplished in camera by using the incandescent setting, then finished in post-processing.