Shogun Cinematographer Dissects Filming Season Opening Sea Disaster

At the beginning of Hulu’s Shogun, set in 1600s Japan, English sailor John Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis) is taken prisoner by local samurai.

While being shipped to Osaka, a storm sends Spanish sailor Vasco Rodrigues overboard, and Blackthorne rescues him. The sequence was filmed to look almost entirely as if it were captured in a single shot, but in reality, “The shot was divided into four executable elements while still retaining that visceral first-person perspective,” explains cinematographer Christopher Ross. The D.P. chose to highlight the sequence because of all the moving parts and departments that came together to re-create the violent sea storm. The result is a combination of practical and visual effects. A crew actually constructed the rear upper deck of the galley, which features the pilot’s quarters and a staircase to the rowers on the lower deck.

“The camera could go down and look out of the windows to see real actors that were doing the rowing,” Ross explains. That entire third of the real ship was placed on a gimbal so the whole set could move. Around the ship, 60-foot-tall containers with inflatable bluescreens allowed the open ocean to be added in post, though rigged tanks dumped “1,000 gallons of water over us every 20 seconds,” says Ross, noting: “That’s the sort of filmmaking, when you’re 11 years old and you dream of working in cinema, that you fantasize about doing.”

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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