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How does cinematography affect atmosphere in the 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth?

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Cinematography encompasses a number of design and production elements, in addition to camera movement. The use of light and color is a major component of the "look" of a film, and an atmospheric film like Pan's Labyrinth relies heavily upon establishing a strong color structure that depicts a sense of place, mood, and story movement. Often a filmmaker will have a distinctive visual style that one sees portrayed in most, if not all, of their films.

Guillermo del Toro is known for having a somewhat "dark" or subterranean look to his films. This can be seen in the more recent film The Shape of Water, as well as in earlier films such as The Devil's Backbone. The idea of a film's sense of place, particularly a place that is connected to a fantastical or supernatural version of reality, as del Toro's films often are, can be related to actual locations or to ideas such as the natural elements. For example, The Shape of Water has a very "watery" look, using many shades of blues and greens in interiors and costumes, and a blurred, misty look in many shots; this reflects the prominence of one of the story's main locations, the holding tank where the captured aquatic creature is kept. The Devil's Backbone has a grey, shadowy look, and one of its most prominent locations is a cemetery. There is also a sense of mist and fog, which seems related to the depiction of ghostly presences.

Along these lines, Pan's Labyrinth has an "earthy" look, and its most significant location is the forest, the home of Pan. This earth-toned look is seen in the color palette of the film, which contains many shades of green and brown in the lighting, interiors and exteriors, and costumes. The character of Pan has a greenish tinge to his skin, underscoring his connection to the wild landscape he inhabits.

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Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro used advanced computer-generated graphics to change the look and feel of the real world in Pan's Labyrinth. Extreme closeups, mood-setting wide shots, and switching between harsher desaturated light for the real world and warm light for the labyrinth all contribute to the atmosphere of the film.

One of Navarro's most useful techniques was the motion of the camera; in the real world, shots are composed and stable, cutting between fixed positions and often holding for longer periods. In the labyrinth, the camera is almost always moving, panning, and tilting, showcasing the strange fantasy world and the curiosity of the main character. With this definition of the boundaries between the real and fantasy worlds, Navarro gives the audience a visual cue as to the state of reality on screen, instead of using an obvious special-effects screen wipe or other overt technique.

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