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Not all that Glitters is Gold: ARRI Alexa and The Shape of Water

the shape of water

Not all that Glitters is Gold: ARRI Alexa and The Shape of Water

In our continuing blog series exploring the 90th Academy Award’s and the digital filmmaking systems used, we’re diving under the surface and taking a closer look at the Guillermo del Toro and cinematography in The Shape of Water.

Having previously been nominated for 2007 Pan’s Labyrinth in the categories of Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film. Guillermo del Toro marks his first Academy Award win with 13 nominations and 4 wins for the whimsical romance-fantasy, The Shape of Water. Which has been a critical success in its story of mute janitor Eliza (Sally Hawkins) and her romance of the mysterious aquatic creature, the Asset (Doug Jones)

  • Best Actress – Sally Hawkins: Nominated
  • Best Supporting Actor – Richard Jenkins: Nominated
  • Best Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer: Nominated
  • Best Original Screenplay – Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor: Nominated
  • Best Cinematography – Dan Laustsen: Nominated
  • Best Costume Design – Luis Sequeira: Nominated
  • Best Film Editing – Sidney Wolinsky: Nominated
  • Best Sound Editing – Nathan Robitaille & Nelson Ferreira: Nominated
  • Best Sound Mixing – Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern & Glen Gauthier: Nominated
  • Best Original Score – Alexandre Desplat: Nominated & Won
  • Best Production Design – Paul D. Austerberry, Jeff Melvin & Shane Vieau: Nominated & Won
  • Best Director – Guillermo del Toro: Nominated & Won
  • Best Picture – Guillermo del Toro & J. Miles Dale: Nominated & Won


Reuniting with veteran cinematographer Dan Laustsen, whom he had previously collaborated with on del Toro’s early 1997’s Mimic & much more recent 2015’s Crimson Peak. Guillermo del Toro knew that achieving the visuals he wanted required both great ingenuity and precision, for which he recruited Laustsen during the filming of Crimson Peak.


“When Guillermo del Toro and I commenced our process on ‘Shape of Water’ and talked about how to film his amazing script, it was important for us to tell the 1962 story in a modern yet classical style. It was paramount to us that the light should be a great part of the dramatic storytelling, with deep shadows and soft highlights; and that all the actors would be lit as pleasing and classically as possible.”

In order to achieve this, we needed to use a camera with the best colour reproduction and best exposure latitude. We chose the Alexa ST and ARRI Alexa Mini, and since we love sharp and contrasted images, we chose the Master Prime Lenses. This equipment really helped us in achieving the visual expression we strived for.”

– Dan Laustsen


By mounting the ARRI Alexa ST on a Steadicam rig or a Technocrane, Laustsen achieves a constant sense of motion and fluidity throughout Shape of Water. In conjunction with the ARRI & Zeiss Master Prime lenses, the diffusion of colour grants a dreamlike, soft palate.

Lighting too makes a key ingredient to the visuals at play here. With ARRI SkyPanel systems utilized to manipulate and stream soft LED focus through the boards and windows of Eliza’s dreamlike world.


“We had a gag that the light was coming through the floor, and that was all SkyPanels,” says Laustsen. “We used them as much as we could. With LED lights, you can make all the colours, all the changes in the world.”

– Dan Laustsen


Given the Shape of Water’s constraint budget and independent DNA, it’s success owes as much to its technical achievement as the skill and talent of the men behind the camera. In selecting the Master Prime series, Laustsen wanted a tight control in his shots as there was little room for error or correction.


“I just think Master Primes are the best lenses you can buy in the world right now. Guillermo and I want to have 100 percent control over the image and Master Primes are really good for that.”

– Dan Lausten


Having already proved one of the surprise hits of 2017, we both congratulate and applaud Toro, Laustsen and the crew’s achievement here. The Shape of Water proves again that given the right tools for the right job, you can achieve beautiful and stunning cinematography.

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