Thursday, November 26 presents
Peter Pau, Acadamy Award Winning Cinematographer

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
March 24, 2001

Read our chat with Peter Pau ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), this year's winner of the Best Cinematography Academy Award. Film students, movie buffs, and photo hobbyists will find the insights provided fascinating. View photos from this film as the chat unfolds and learn how to "paint with light."

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Kodak: Hello from Hollywood! We are pleased to bring you Peter Pau ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") one of this year's nominees for the Best Cinematography Academy Award live via this state of the art chat application. It is our pleasure to welcome Peter Pau, HKSC, the Cinematographer for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." This is Peter's first Oscar nomination. Peter was raised in Hong Kong through his early teens, and completed his secondary education in Canton, in Mainland China. He received his photography and filmmaking education at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Peter Pau: Hi, I'm very glad to be here. It's my second time to do an online chat, and it's the greatest honor for me to be nominated for the Oscar. I'm very new to the town, and I'm welcoming all the questions you have about me, and my work. Please feel free to ask.

Rayanne: Mr. Pau, I heard that you used Chinese watercolors as an inspiration to get the feel for the film, can you elaborate?

Peter Pau: The Chinese watercolor painting is in pastel color tones. They never have a pure black or a pure white. So what we are trying to accomplish here is make the middle tone as subtle as possible, to create the Ching Dynasty look. Usually the Ching Dynasty uses bright colors, i.e. the Imperial Wall would be red and the pillars would be red, but the rooftops would be golden and green. There is a vibrant blue as the columns. We are trying to tone down all these colors to a mild color tone. I was working with a production designer Tim Yip, and I asked him to stay out of vibrant colors to get the warm red and yellow and green colors for the middle values, like the watercolor. Also, the film has been divided into three sections of colors. The first toned with a normal color, with a slightly yellow bias. The middle section, when she is going to her memory of the Gobi desert, I toned with a golden color so it's a strong color for her memory. The third part of the film, when they go back to the south, everything appears to be green--trees, bamboo forests, and the green mountains and also the tragic ending of the film. So it is the framing, also of the watercolor, leaving more headroom than usual, for composition, just to see the architecture on top of the actors' heads, or the hair makeup on top of that. So everything has to be a little more based on the Chinese watercolor. They are basically vertical, but unfortunately we're dealing with an amorphic format, so we can't see everything together. But we try to leave more room than usual.

Sigmagirl: How did you approach this project to convey the feel of the period?

Peter Pau: For me, this is not the first time I was shooting a period film. The first look of the picture, I wanted to do something different from what I had before. I always do films differently each time. Also, I wanted to do something that has a strong human touch. I realized he didn't want to do a fantasy type film. Even though the action is somewhat like "Peter Pan," flying all over, I was really concentrating on the drama side, and wanted people to believe this was a real story. So I was trying to use unconventional ways to shoot it, as in Hong Kong style we use a lot of smoke to create a period look, but I didn't use any smoke this time. In the old period of time, the city would get less polluted than now, so we don't have the same atmosphere! Also, it's a bit of a cliché that we have been using smoke for a long while. We've abandoned the multi color image of the films we did before. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is very controlled, not going very blue or very golden. Everything is in middle tone value to maintain the harmony of a Chinese watercolor painting.

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