On Food Photography and Ratatouille
with Pixar's Director of Photography, Sharon Calahan
Whether you have seen the movie, or not, by now (you really should), you must have spotted some of the images from Pixar's charming movie about the Rat that becomes a Chef, Ratatouille. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask the movie's Director of Photography, Sharon Calahan, some questions about her job, food, working on the movie and what inspirations and methods she drew upon to create the beautiful imagery in the film. This is a post in two parts. Today we find out about Sharon's career, her creative influences for Ratatouille and what she thinks about people who photograph their food...
Tell me your career path - how did you get to be DP (Director of Photography) on Ratatouille.
"I feel like I'm a bit of a fossil in the CG (Computer Graphics) industry. Ratatouille is my fourth film as a DP at Pixar (A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille). I have an art school background in design, illustration, painting and photography from which I draw heavily. CG didn't exist yet when I was in school!"
If female chefs are rare, female DPs are like gold dust. Do you see any similarities between what you do and the job of a chef?
"I think that all artists see similarities in other creative disciplines, many of the thought processes are the same. Having a passion for creating and pushing boundaries is something that inspires me, no matter the art form. I'm not a musician, but I love opera music because I feel the passion the artist is imparting to the material. Besides being a fossil, I do feel like a bit of a pioneer of sorts in the industry as well, since I was the first person to have a DP credit on a CG film, and being female at that. There were very few women in CG when I was lucky enough to get into it. The business has changed and grown dramatically since then. There are also many more female live-action DPs than even a few years ago. It is probably easier to become a female DP now than it is to become a top female chef."
Before you started working on Ratatouille - did you ever feel the temptation to take pictures of your food?
"I do love to cook and occasionally my husband would take photos of some of my
more memorable creations, but usually when I get to that point, I want to eat it instead of studying it. I do feel that I take mental pictures of nearly everything all of the time. It is a bit exhausting when I have trouble turning it off."
And what do you think about people who do take pictures of food - not a a job - but for a hobby?
"Food evokes such strong associations, emotions and memories, and it is beautiful as well. It is no wonder that food is subject matter of so many forms of visual arts. And it is easily accessible which makes it fun experiment with and do something unexpected."
Where did you go, what did you look at for reference when you found out that you would be lighting food for this movie?
"The production designer, Harley Jessup, and I spent a week in Paris studying everything we could. We also spent a lot of time pouring through every cookbook we could find looking at photographs. The internet is also a wonderful resource for looking at stock and amateur photography, there is so much available."
What and who were your main influences in preparing for lighting this movie?
"I wanted a lush, rich, seductive look to the film as a whole, not just for the food. There were many films that were inspirational to me. Anything shot by Caleb Deschanel, Conrad Hall, Dariusz Wolski were of particular interest to me, but there were many more films and DPs who inspired me.
In the next post, Sharon will share her thoughts on lighting, composition and food photography as it relates to the Ratatouille with added tips for enthusiasts at home who want to take great food pictures. We'll also find out whether Sharon met Thomas Keller and what she most likes to eat? Come back tomorrow, there might be some surprises...
[READ PART TWO HERE]