The Inverse Interview

“The Trick is People.” The Secret Behind Dune 2’s Massive Scale

Dune: Part Two cinematographer Greig Fraser reveals how the movie achieves its immersive spectacle.

Warner Bros.
Dune: Part Two

One of the most incredible things about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movies is how immense everything looks. Each brutalist building feels like an eighth wonder of the world looming over the minuscule masses of people. The desert of Arrakis stretches on endlessly, making our hero Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) seem like a speck of sand. And then there are the sandworms, whose gaping mouths seem gigantic enough to swallow a small city (or at least a very large spice harvester).

That scale is what makes Dune: Part Two such a feat of immersive blockbuster filmmaking, and it couldn’t be achieved without the talents of cinematographer Greig Fraser, who also worked on Part One. Fraser, whose resume includes blockbuster spectacles like Rogue One, The Creator, and The Batman, knows something about scale. His secret to making everything feel so massive? “The trick is people,” Fraser tells Inverse.

“Ultimately, as humans, we cannot comprehend scale without some other point of reference,” he says. “We have no concept of how high a mountain is unless we see something in relation to it. We might know how high it is based on how many meters high it is, but we can’t visualize it.”

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) rallies his army in Dune: Part Two.

Warner Bros.

So for Dune: Part Two, Fraser’s quick shortcut to making something look enormous was to put a human next to it. Preferably a big human. “We know Dave Bautista is a big guy,” Fraser says, “but you put him in an ornithopter and then make the ornithopter move by comparison to the scale of the mountains they’re blowing up, you then start to understand the scale of the explosions.”

“It’s all about creating comparisons to the people or things around it. Visually, we need to make sure we always have those things in a frame together because if you don’t have something like that in a frame, you don’t really get that idea of scale. That’s the way I see scale, and hopefully that’s the way the audience sees it through my lens.”

Inverse chatted with Fraser about shooting Dune: Part Two and what the sequel learned from the first film.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Greig Fraser won an Oscar for Best Cinematography for Dune: Part One.

Myung Chun/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

You shot Dune in IMAX. What was the biggest challenge of shooting with that technology in locations like the Wadi Rum Desert?

The IMAX digital cameras we used, they’re sturdy cameras. They’ve been around for a while, but they’re still pieces of equipment that all need to be cared for very carefully. So it wasn’t just the cameras we had to be careful of. We also had an amazing set of lights that were actually waterproof, windproof, [and] dustproof that we had to take to avoid falling into the problem of equipment breaking down, which would’ve been the worst thing that could have happened. So we had to be very careful about how we looked after that gear.

Director Denis Villeneuve said you shot exclusively with natural light in the desert. Was that a challenge?

It was a funny time of year to shoot. We were there in October and November. That was the winter time, which meant the days were shorter. So we had to really be very careful about when we shot and scheduled. I thought about bringing lights to augment that sun, but the reality is the sun, it’s impossible to match.

We can attempt to do it with lights, but what we actually ended up doing was using lighting for certain effects, like the nuclear explosion. Occasionally, when we were dealing with high contrasts, we needed to add some light to the eyes, but for the most part we couldn’t really light that much in the desert, and we weren’t also doing any night stuff either. The first big scene in the film, with the eclipse, we discussed doing that as a night scene. And we soon came to realize, like we did on Part One, that if we attempted to light the desert at night, we’d be lighting literally a post stamp in the middle of miles of desert. It’d be impossible to light anything above it, so we decided against that idea.

A night scene in Dune: Part One.

Warner Bros.

Am I wrong to say that in Dune: Part One, the night scenes that take place in the desert, they were shot day-for-night?

They were shot dusk-and-dawn-for-night. So there is a slight difference. I think day-for-night is shot literally during the middle of the day. Lawrence of Arabia shot day-for-night for their night scenes. We found that we actually wanted to do dusk-for-night rather than day-for-night. So we did a few scenes here on Dune: Part Two in the same way, and I think you can kind of justify it because it’s a bright night. It’s when you’re in the middle of a desert with a full moon. That’s kind of how it feels at dusk.

What are the stakes for a sequel like Dune 2, after the first one established itself as a visually forward blockbuster and the stakes have since been raised?

[I didn’t] allow myself to be consciously aware of that fact, and I think the same would apply for Denis or any of the collaborators that worked on this movie. [Nobody] tried to go, “Oh my God, we have to better it,” because that wasn’t really what we were trying to achieve. We were just trying to tell the extra part of the story, but we were trying to take what we had learned on Part One and we were trying to apply it to Part Two.

We weren’t consciously going, “We’ve got to improve upon it. We’ve got to make it bigger and better and this and that.” We went, “Okay, so we’ve solved a lot of the visual storytelling problems technically, like what cameras to use and what lens package and how to grade it. Instead of figuring that out, let’s figure out different sequences, like the worm riding sequence.” We spent months figuring that out, months shooting that, months making sure that that sat in a place we’re all really happy with.

Dune: Part Two is playing in theaters now.

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