Ironically, for a show about the multiplication of time, Loki cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw found the lack of it the biggest challenge. The DP had been chosen by director Kate Herron (Daybreak) and co-executive producer Kevin Wright on the strength of her work including the indie features Palo Alto and The Sun is Also A Star. She is currently shooting Black Panther II for director Ryan Coogler.
“I had previously interviewed for major episodic TV but I have a young son and have been very particular about not taking projects that would take time away from my family so I’d already passed on a few that were interesting.”
There was something about Loki, which stars Tom Hiddleston and takes place in the parallel universe (multiverse?) of the Time Variant Authority, that persuaded her to say “yes” this time. “I was being asked to shoot the whole thing whereas some shows you are one of a number of DPs or you’re just doing the pilot. With Loki we could have a vision that could be carried throughout,” she says.
“With six hours of content to deliver you certainly have to work a bit faster than on a feature but when Covid hit (production halted from March to September 2020) it allowed me to take a break, go back home and continue doing prep from there.”
Time was also a factor in Durald Arkapaw’s camera movement and look for the Marvel show. It’s an aesthetic devised in concert with Herron and production designer Kasra Farahani (Captain Marvel).
“When I interviewed for Kate she was also talking with Kasra and that he was already delving into that mid-twentieth century modernity in terms of an architectural look for the TVA. I remember being in his office looking at his pitch book and realized that his point of view aligned with Kate’s and mine.”
Herron’s references included Blade Runner, Zodiac and Seven, as well as Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian classic Brazil.
“The bureaucratic feeling of the TVA and its ‘50s brutalist architecture are Gilliam references. I riffed off those. I enjoy a composed image. I’m a big fan of symmetry and color contrast and sometimes monochromatic worlds so I tried to keep everything very organized. That is kind of what the TVA is — it keeps track of everyone.”
The production leant heavily on physical sets rather than using a stage volume which suited Durald Arkapaw. “Kate drove the idea of doing as much in camera as we could to maintain the feeling of the TVA as an analogue world. Since the TVA is based on time you can feel the ceiling press down on the characters, you feel it because of the way the light falls in a particular way that you only feel because the ceilings are real.”
She adds. “I am very tactile and want to do as much as I can on set, to create texture to the image — meaning I like to shape light on-set. If I do filtration I am doing it there, not waiting to do it in the DI.”
A graduate of the American Film Institute, where Durald Arkapaw got involved in skills including camera operation, gaffer, grip and 1st AC, she believes lighting is “as essential as another character in a film. I’m very much interested in lighting that drives the story forward.”
Her camera movement in Loki mirrors the very organized TVA world. “Things move a little bit slower there,” she says. “You never have a sense of time in terms of being day or night, the framing is a little softer and more eerie. When we go to the void and our characters meet Alioth (the giant smoke monster in later episodes) we use crane work to make more sweeping moves because they are not sure what is going to happen. There’s a lot of bigger sequences where Alioth is above them so you want the perspective of highs and lows with tracking shots to generate more energy. When we’re in the Roxxcart (shopping mall) we use a lot of handheld to emphasize the mystery and suspense.”
She’d shot mostly with Alexa prior to this but went with Sony Venice after being introduced to it by a commercials director on a Samsung spot. Marvel execs were also on board with the Venice, having just greenlit it for use on Black Widow.
“I think of camera as film stock essentially, so while I love the depth of color and contrast and density that the cameras give me I’m always trying to make the digital image more filmic.”
This led to a selection of Panavision anamorphic T series lenses that Dan Sasaki had had expanded and de-tuned to her liking for flare quality, fall off, and focal length.
She also worked with Tom Poole at Company 3 to devise the LUT. “I like to do a lot of grading on-set so that the director is editing with an image that’s as close to final as possible,” she says. “When I am in my final DI it is about trying to make things consistent and fixing things I’m not able to do on set, but I would say our dailies looked very close to the final on Loki.
“Even though each episode introduces a new character or some episodes bring them into different worlds, I still wanted there to be a through line in the way the images are composed — that it looks like one vision. That is the opportunity we get when have the same creative team. We’re sharing it with a second block of people, we’re not handing over the ideas for someone else to continue. So, that’s a great responsibility but also an amazing opportunity because you get a chance to showcase something from start to finish.”
The DI was finished with Matt Watson at Technicolor after Durald Arkapaw had moved on to Black Panther II.
“At the weekend we’d arrange color sessions online just to catch up and see where the images were at and make some final tweaks. I like to be on a project start to finish.”
Having replaced Rachel Morrison (busy with her own directorial work) on Black Panther II, Durald Arkapaw appears unphased by the spotlight suddenly trained on her.
“The challenges on an indie film are similar to those on a big budget production. That’s something I know other DPs have found too. It’s the way you deal with them that matters. Having really supportive collaborative colleagues that trust you goes such a long way. Everyone on Loki really believed in us to help drive Kate’s vision forward and in turn we supported her. Kate cares so much for every detail and Tom’s attitude was tremendous, a true actor’s leader,” she says.