Tag Archives: composition

What’s so special about Mr. Robot (2015)?

What’s so special about Mr. Robot (2015)?

Director of Photography: Tod Cambell

Mr. Robot is a show about a young, anti-social computer programmer, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), who works as a cybersecurity engineer during the day, but at night he is a vigilante hacker. It’s all about hiding, about feeling trapped and finding a new escape.

Elliot is recruited by the mysterious leader of an underground group of hackers to join their organisation, and help bring down corporate America, including the company whom he works for. Although he works for a corporation, his personal beliefs make it hard to resist the urge to take down the heads of multinational companies that he believes are running, and ruining, the world. His moral dilemma shines through his first person narration, his physical characterisation, but also cinematography. How he is always framed speaks the truth about the persecution he feels inside his head and how oppressed he believes the world is. But also that others are framed as well is this weird way means we are always inside Elliot’s head. The whole show is a Point of View exercise.

How? Have a look. This would be a standard, perfectly composed frame for a two person shot, either a master or an OTS (over the shoulder) shot.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Inglorious Bastards (2009)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Inglorious Bastards (2009)

And this is what Tod Campbell does with Mr. Robot:

Mr. Robot (2015)
Mr. Robot (2015)

This is how he deliberately violates the Rule of Thirds, but also the Lead Room rule, the Rule of Headroom, etc. to create a chronic agony inherent to Elliot.


Characters are often placed at the very bottom of the frame. This leaves massive amounts of headroom that suggests a great weight hanging over their heads, and echoes their isolation.


Lead Room and Negative Space

The lead room is the space at each side of the frame towards which the character is looking, or moving into. Usually, balanced framing would suggest to have more room in front of the character than behind to help convey the physical space that characters occupy.

See how boring this is??
See how boring this is??

So in Mr. Robot they’re going with no Lead Room. Campbell decides to “shortsight” the characters, positioning their faces at the edge of the frame closest toward the person to whom they’re speaking, emphasizing, once again, isolation. Even when they’re talking right to each other, they seem alone. They don’t know where they stand in relation to one another.

“Shortsighting is unnerving,” Campbell explains. “It further accentuates how fucked-up Elliot’s world is. The idea was to convey the loneliness. That’s the internal dialogue I had with myself: How do we tell that story? How do you get Elliot across?”


Rule of Thirds

The Rule of thirds is not necessarily broken, although used in a different manner. Instead of having the characters use up two thirds of the frame, leaving one for lead room, Tod decides to go with one third for the characters only. Wide shots also have a Rule of thirds approach, but it is the lines in the frame that determine the different areas, not the character’s size in it.


Leading Lines

As for leading lines, these are widely used in consonance with the story. They are present in almost every shot, but specially in those that have to do with corporate America. Framings from the office and Elliot’s bosses show up these amazing diagonals that create overall unease and tension, but also describe the underlying feeling of imprisonment and corseted reality that Elliot faces in his day to day life.


And it’s not all there is to Mr. Robot’s cinematography. Talk about wide, round lenses (Cooke S5s), color, open apertures and shallow depth of field for an “in his head” feeling, etc. These are the reasons why I love this show. Oh, and the hacker stuff ;).

From B&W to Color

From B&W to Color

Portrait of James Clerk Maxwell
Portrait of James Clerk Maxwell

.The first color photograph was made in 1861 by James Clark Maxwell (the handsome dude you see to the right). Maxwell studied the human eye to find that our eyes were sensitive only to red, green, and blue light.

Before long, Maxwell had developed a method (now called the Harris Shutter effect) to mimic our eyesight and make color photographs by making three black & white pictures: One with a red filter over his lens, one with a green filter, and one with a blue filter.

When he combined them together, photo magic happened and the color photograph was born!

Let’s play with this!

So now T_Paul at RetouchPRO is proposing a fun challenge: to re-construct a color image from a film roll with 3 different black & white shots that clearly belong to each one of the three RGB channels.

Here’s the process I followed to obtain the following result:

From B&W to color
From B&W to color

If you would like to have your go, surf over to RetouchPRO’s site.

First, aligning

Aligning the three layers was a bit tricky, because as they are shot in turn they’re not exactly the same. Specially the guy in the middle couldn’t hold it and moved significantly. So I first attempted an automatic alignment (in Photoshop Edit>>Auto-Align Layers) cutting each one of them from the strip and placing them as 3 different layers in a new image.

To adjust minor alignment issues your can play around with opacity to visualise a layer and the one right below. At this point it is sufficient just to be sure the logs, that obviously didn’t move, are pretty straight. We’ll deal with the guys later on.

Rough color correction

I later saved each layer as a different image that would become my red, blue and green filters and loaded them as channels on a new RGB multichannel image (remember: in PS Mode>>RGB).


How to know which is which is merely intuitive. The higher the amount of white, the more of that color you will obtain in the final mix. Therefore faces should be pretty dark in the blue filter, and skies darker for the red filter… and so on. According to this theory, you can instantly recognise what’s going to happen. The red filter is so light that there is going to be far too much red component in the composition.

To roughly compensate the filters let’s apply a level correction to each one of them first:


Further color correct

Several adjustment tone and color calibration layers later, the image looks like this:


[one_half]For a more detailed, zone specific color correction, you can treat each channel separately. By following simple color rules you can manage to change a wrong color only altering 33% of the information in the area. This is a simple RGB color wheel where you can see the three primary colors, together with their secondary colors. If you want to remove a red blemish, you’ll need to go darker on the red, but also perhaps it is a good idea to go lighter on the green layer as it is magenta’s complementary color.[/one_half][one_half_last]



In this particular photograph I dealt with yellow spots due to small aberrations, which I solved by simply painting on the blue filter with white on “lighten” multiplicity mode.


Aberration adjustment

In optics, chromatic aberration is a type of distortion in which there is a failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same convergence point. It manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image. In our example it is due to movement. Not all three filters overlap exactly the same so you can get fringes of yellow, magenta or cian here and there. In this occasion I corrected it locally by manually adapting the alignment of only the channel that is off. See the results:


A mixture of both techniques, color correction by channel and chromatic aberration adjustment, were used in this guy’s face:


Artifacts correction

As for image restoration, I had to get rid of all artifacts on the image. Most of them would be due to weathering on either one of the filters, so instead of flattening out and working on a composite image, I preferred to go on and heal each one of them per filter.

As seen above:

  • CYAN imperfections are corrected in the RED filter
  • YELLOW imperfections are corrected in the BLUE filter, and
  • MAGENTA imperfections are corrected in the GREEN filter

General Retouching

And finally, general retouching. And by this I mean to flatten the image and apply levels, toning and, like I did in this case, frequency separation technique to increase definition on the main subject and obscure disturbing details.

Here’s the difference:

Closeup of the boys
Closeup of the boys’ faces

Have a go at it yourself and post it to RetouchPRO! Here’s the link: http://www.retouchpro.com/forums/contests/37935-aug-sep-2014-merge-channels-contest.html