According to One Piece cinematographer Nicole Hirsch Walker, one of the series' directors was heavily against a certain type of filming.
Netflix's live-action take on the beloved anime and manga franchise is a certified hit.
The show has already been greenlit for a second season, after killer viewership numbers and glowing reviews.
One of the biggest points of praise that keeps getting brought up for the live-action One Piece is its use of practicality giving it the look of a living and breathing world.
One Piece Director Avoided This Type of Filming
Speaking as a part of an exclusive interview with The Direct, One Piece director of photography Nicole Hirsch Whitaker broke down the one type of filming her director on the series was adamantly against.
When asked about the series' lack of shooting on a green screen/on the Volume, Hirsch Whitaker (who worked on the series' first two episodes) revealed her director, Marc Jobst, "comes from the theater" so he was "very much against that type of filmmaking:"
The Direct: "I was surprised when I was looking at the credits at the end of this, I didn't see the word Volume anywhere because that seems to be the way the industry is going put put people in a room with a big screen around them, and they can kind of get a sense of where they are."
Hirsch Whitaker: "Yeah, and my director comes from the theater. So I think he was very much against that type of filmmaking for a show like this."
She added, that Jobst felt "it was important for the actors to be in a real environment," going as far as shooting on a real-life castle for one particular sequence:
Hirsch Whitaker: "He really felt like it was important for the actors to be in a real environment. Even when we shot [the] Gold Roger [sequence], even though that was a lot of blue screen, he took us to a real location and we shot in a castle so that they were surrounded by the walls and that they felt like they were in a space."
While "everybody else wanted us to shoot in a parking lot" for the Gold Roger castle scene, her director said, "No, we're not going to do that. We need them to feel there:"
Hirsch Whitaker: "Everybody else wanted us to shoot in a parking lot. He was like, ‘No, we're not going to do that. We need them to feel there. And know where they are.’ And I really respect him for that."
Hirsh Whitaker called the recent innovation of the Volume (a soundstage technology that uses large format screens to digitally render a background as opposed to a green screen) "incredible," but thinks working with practical sets was "the right way to go" for One Piece:
Hirsch Whitaker: "Some people might say that that's not something that will happen in the future, but I do think if actors fight for that, as opposed to being in a room. And listen, the Volume is incredible, it's amazing and it's a wonderful tool. And it's it's really important because we have to embrace it for so many reasons. But I think for this show, a story about family and being out in the world with a lot of exteriors and a lot of daylight, I think this was the right way to go."
The One Piece cinematographer then pulled the curtain back on a few moments in the series that may have looked like they were computer-generated (CG) but were actually practical.
She noted, "Almost all of the work during the day on the water was practical" and the massive "Windmill Village was completely practical:"
Hirsch Whitaker: "Almost all of the work during the day on the water was practical. Windmill Village was completely practical. That set was built and was huge. We did have a blue screen wall around the outside of the tank, because on the other side of the wall is a freeway. So they extended the water. But everything in the sloop, everything in the dinghy, that was all in real water, and then they would just do extensions."
Because of working outdoors on actual water, the team got to "use natural light and natural settings" and the actors got to "kind of feel like they're in the ocean:"
Hirsch Whitaker: "We really got to use natural light and natural settings and real water. And I think that is helpful to the actors as well, that they're not on a stage or in a tank inside somewhere. The fact that they are outside. And, even though they're not in the ocean, they kind of feel like they're in the ocean because the boats are still moving around. And they're still in the middle of a tank."
Given the industry's growing reliance on CG elements, Hirsch Whitaker called her experience on One Piece "fun" and "a different way of working:"
Hirsch Whitaker: "Yeah, like even the scene with Lord of the Coast was Shanks and Luffy and the one with Higuma, that was all open outside in a real tank, none of that was on blue screen. They decided that they wanted to roto that and just create it and keep it in a real environment.
To be able to shoot that practically even though the monster was CG, was fun. It's kind of a different way of working. And it's a little backward these days, with so many people working on Volumes and things like that. We were able to do something much more organic than most shows."
Was The Practical Nature of One Piece a Good Thing?
In an industry that has become more and more reliant on green screen, CG elements, and 'fixing it in post,' it is refreshing to hear that a project as big as Netflix's One Piece made a concerted effort to keep things grounded with practical elements.
All of these quotes from Nicole Hirsch Walker are in line with past comments about the series. This creative team really wanted to go as practical as they could.
Production designer Richard Bridgland recently described this "old school" approach to Collider, saying they only "used visual effects really just to extend the world beyond the sets:"
“We only used visual effects really just to extend the world beyond the sets, but it was pretty old-school filmmaking. We built big sets, and it was like one after another. It really was important for ‘One Piece’ to feel credible and not feel sort of somewhere between a live-action thing and the anime."
He said they did this so that "[One Piece] felt like a real place:"
"If too much had been visual effects, like, say, a lot of ‘Star Wars’ stuff is shot that way, it wouldn't have felt like a real world, and it was really important that by doing a live-action version, it felt like a real place, but just a kind of parallel world."
This building of massive sets and trying to keep everything as grounded in the real world as possible probably beefed up the production budget on One Piece (Season 1 was the most expensive series in Netflix history after all).
But it paid off given all the praise the show has garnered because of this practical feel.
One Piece Season 1 is streaming on Netflix now.