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Cooke S4/i lenses capture The Last of Us

Cinematographer Ksenia Sereda explains why she chose to use the lenses on the hit HBO series

Cinematographer Ksenia Sereda used Cooke S4/i spherical lenses to film HBO drama, The Last of Us.

The show, which has been a huge hit for the broadcaster, is based on the video game of the same name and stars Pedro Pascall and Bella Ramsey.

It is set after modern civilization has been destroyed, and follows Joel, a hardened survivor, who is hired to smuggle Ellie, a 14-year-old girl, out of an oppressive quarantine zone.

Serena worked alongside three other cinematographers on the nine-episode series, Eben Bolter, Nadim Carlsen and Christine A Maier.

After testing different options, Sereda decided to pair Cooke S4/i spherical lenses with the ARRI ALEXA Mini camera.

“I am obsessed with spherical lenses,” she said. “I wanted to keep close-ups on the normal side and not go to long or wide lenses because, working from the characters’ perspective on the story, we needed to be able to stay close but at the same time preserve the depth of background.

“I also wanted to work within the range of 25mm-50mm lenses, so the challenge was: which lens won’t distort faces at 25mm; where can I come with wide lens on the close-up without being too poppy? Cooke S4/i was an excellent choice for this.”

Sereda describes the lenses as her favourite to work with, adding: “You have this focus plane which is very distinctive, but after that the falloff between the focus plane and the defocused area is very smooth. I love to work without filters too, and on the close-ups I just could not take my eye off the portraits we could create with the light. The system of light, lens and camera gave a very specific, textured and warm image.

“Some of the scenes went into areas where people did not have electricity, so the scenes were literally built only with flashlights,” she adds. “With the Cooke S4/i’s, you know that when you’re working with flaring, it’s sympathetic – it’s never too overwhelming or over-tinted.

“Shooting low light with the S4/I and ARRI ALEXA Mini produces beautiful work with very high intensity areas and low exposed areas. In general, I really love to work on the bottom of the exposure curve, I really love to pack the image from 60 per cent and down, having the whites always in very low range to give us the opportunity of more shades and textures in the blacks.”

The Last of Us features a lot of visual effects, many of which were achieved practically. “Alex Wang, the VFX supervisor, was wonderful to work with. John Paino, the production designer, created some fantastic sets and Barrie Gower did incredible work with prosthetics, so it was amazing to work with real elements on set,” said Sereda. “We used blue screen for very specific scenes like night scenes or more controlled environments. The key thing was, even though we used completely different VFX techniques over the show, the lenses and the camera provided complete flexibility in creating every type of visual effect.”