Join the award-winning DOP for the inside swoop on shoot stunts, angles, and creative decisions.
You’ve probably seen Top Gun Maverick—audiences flocked to the highest-grossing global film in 2022 for a good reason. The film is a cinematic achievement and deserves all of the attention and accolades it’s received, in large part due to the inventive cinematography by Claudio Miranda.
Miranda recently discussed shooting the Top Gun sequel with the American Society of Cinematographers, and we’re here to bring you the best tidbits from the conversation! Last year’s most awarded DOP has wisdom for every aspiring cinematographer.
How it all began
As a gaffer breaking into film, Chilean-born Claudio Miranda worked on projects like Fight Club and The Game. He even gaffed for the original Top Gun director Tony Scott, making the story even more special to him. He eventually met Top Gun Maverick’s director Joseph Kosinski through these gaffing and camera crew opportunities.
As his career advanced, Miranda experimented with new technologies and methods on commercial jobs, using the best in feature films. It’s easy to forget that cinematographers and directors often work side jobs to pay for passion projects, but this approach and experience paid off in a big way with Miranda’s latest masterpiece, Top Gun: Maverick.
Cameras and Lenses In the Cockpit
Kosinski and Miranda love in-camera effects, and the team wanted to capture as much as possible inside the fighter jet cockpits. As space was limited, the actors were about 2 feet away from the camera. Because of this, a 10mm was the go-to lens for most in-air shots, meaning they had to go wide with their focal length.
Miranda tested several cameras and setups to specify the rig he needed to be supplied by the Navy. The body of the Sony Venice camera was too big for the jet, so Sony developed the Rialto extension system, which allowed Miranda to mount the Rialto with wide lenses for straight-on wides of the actors. Another big reason for using a Venice camera is built-in ND filters. Due to the proximity of actors to the cameras and how wide the lenses had to be, external NDs would not have worked.
Regarding lenses, Miranda states they pretty much used anything and everything. While choosing to use the Arri Master Primes for a good chunk, the aerial scenes required many varied lenses, most of which were wide. Then there was the element of power to consider. They couldn’t use energy from the jet, so the camera system needed to be economical – and therefore smaller.
By the way, Miranda casually said he was instrumental in helping Sony design the Venice camera. Pretty cool! And while we’re on the subject, have you read the An Ode to Top Gun PremiumBeat article written by Darin Bradley? It’s worth the read.
The rig would mount the camera behind the Navy pilot, towards the actors sitting behind said pilot. Pilots and actors wore identical helmets to give the effect that the actors were flying the jet. This way, the back of the pilot looked like the actor when filmed from behind, looking out towards the front of the jet. Cameras were also mounted on the wing, below the plane, on the back of the jet facing forward, and on the front exterior facing towards the back. Miranda says he tried to have more mounts, but they wouldn’t let him. Ha!
They Had It Covered
Capturing the dog fights presented some challenges. One of the trickiest parts was filming someone else’s jet while in another cockpit, so Miranda relied on zoom lenses, whether wide or long, to suggest a sense of compression and make the background plane or landscape seem closer.
Aside from the onboard cameras, the production team mounted cameras on the ground and in helicopters for establishing shots of the jets performing their actions. This specific type of coverage was essential to giving the viewer a bigger, grounded context. All the footage couldn’t be from inside the jet and in the air.
Honoring the Original Aesthetic
Miranda wanted to honor the cinematography from the first film, specifically the deep shadows and high contrast from original cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball.
The original movie was shot on film, making it impossible to match the exact look. Still, Miranda chose to light the interiors similarly to achieve that “Top Gun” aesthetic for the bar and training facility scenes. By letting characters fall into shadow and using lots of negative fill for one side of the frame, the film almost took up a noir look at times.
Another aspect of this was letting the windows be overblown, similar to how a film shot in the 80s would look. Miranda and Kosinski used longer lenses than usual because framing and composition are telltale characteristics of the time.
Additionally, they added grain to match the original, which Miranda calls an “artifact hammer,” hitting the footage graded in DaVinci Resolve. They also used a grad filter for some scenes, and a few shots look straight out of the first movie, specifically the image above!
Miranda reveals the look and feel of a Top Gun movie is that of heavy backlighting. He knew he needed plenty of backlit shots, but he had to be patient when dealing with aircraft carriers and outside elements in lighting conditions beyond his control. After filming, the team had to exercise patience again when combing through about 500 hours of footage.
We look forward to what Miranda will do next. His next project with Kosinski? A Formula One film…and we can’t wait.