‘Mulan’: Disney Film Finds a Visual Language of Female Empowerment
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Cinematographer Mandy Walker and costume designer Bina Daigeler have created a new vision to convey Mulan's inner power and strength.

Under the direction of the New Zealand director Niki Caro, the Australian cameraman Mandy Walker and the German costume designer Bina Daigeler, Disney's lavish live-action reinterpretation of "Mulan" offered the opportunity to emphasize the female ability both in front of and behind the camera.

"We were aware of the fact that the animation (from & # 39; 98) was very successful, but Niki had a new take," said Walker. "It was important for Mulan to discover that she has this inner power and strength and that she has to let go of it and be proud of the moment in which she reveals herself as a woman."

The team built the visual design around Mulan's journey, always in focus, inspired by the symmetry in Chinese history, in cinema (“Raise the Red Lantern” and “The Last Emperor”), in art and in architecture. Daigeler also coordinated her work around this palette, focusing on the Tang Dynasty (618-907) for the use of primary colors, fabrics (cotton, silk, and leather), and symbols (clouds and animals). "We wanted to make an epic action film that emphasized Mulan's emotional strength, and I tried to have that in my costumes too," she said.

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Mulan

"Mulan"

Disney

Filmed in 20 locations in China, "Mulan" was shot on the large format Alexa 65 with a set of vintage lenses redesigned by Panavision, including the Sphero 65 (made from real "Lawrence of Arabia" glass ) to increase the softness of the edges for a vignette quality.

"We used a portrait lens (Petzval) where we put Mulan in the center of the frame and the rest fell off so the audience is centered on her face," Walker said. "And we used a Gaussian for moments of her chi to distinguish her from everyone else, allowing for a radial drop and those little rainbows on the edges of the frame for a hyper-reality without making her a superhero."

For Walker, who had never filmed fight scenes before, the balletic fights were choreographed to emphasize Mulan's control. "We didn't want this to be hand-to-hand combat," she said. “We wanted to make their skills elegant. We also used smoke and steam to create a magical, dangerous environment. "

Mulan

"Mulan"

Disney

Daigeler (who had previously worked with Caro on "The Zookeeper’s Wife") was immediately drawn to a Hanfu wrap dress that she had found during her research. "When I suggested it to Niki, I brought three prototypes and it became the matchmaking dress," she said. “I developed the perfect shape with 12 meters of fabric and made it purple in honor of the animated film. It was filled with embroidered symbols: the butterflies, the magnolia, which means "Mulan", and the phoenix. "It presented the entire Mulan package in one dress.

Mulan's red tunic and battle armor, also from the Tang Dynasty, were form-fitting to match the lyricism of the battle sequences. "It took a long process to make it easy and find the right shape for the skirt," Daigeler said. “I wanted the armor to move with your body and expand in its leaps and flips. It's all leather and cotton thread and sprayed to look like metal. There is cloud embroidery around the neck and a dragon ribbon, both of which are research-inspired. "

Mulan

"Mulan"

Disney

In contrast, the development of Gong Li's mysterious witch costume consisted of a long process of prototyping as they delved into her dark and powerful character. "We knew her feelings that she could turn into a hawk and that she couldn't be who she wanted to be, which says something about our time," said Daigeler. "But we wanted to show that she is somehow locked in her costume. That's why she wears such strong armor. Everything is made of leather. And there is a color development. It is first in silver and then in gold. The costumes strengthen our actors and that's why Mulan wears red. It's a very powerful color: joy, fire and energy that have to do with the phoenix. "

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