Cooke Optics Anamorphic/i Lenses Help Bring Big Blockbuster Look to Legacy of Lies

September 30, 2020

Cinematographer Simon Rowling tested a number of anamorphic lenses for Writer/Director Adrian Bol’s Legacy of Lies to get the perfect anamorphic look without distracting the audience from the on-screen story. The Cooke Optics Anamorphic/i range of prime lenses and a 4:1 Anamorphic/i zoom gave Rowling and Bol the exact look they were hoping to get.

Legacy of Lies, starring Scott Adkins, is a spy action/thriller/drama about an ex-MI6 agent who is thrown back into the world of espionage and high stakes uncovering the shocking truth about operations conducted by unknown secret services. With a budget of US$4.5 million, the goal was for Legacy of Lies to have a big blockbuster look and feel.

“Anamorphic was a must to give Legacy of Lies that blockbuster look,” said Rowling, who was British Cinematographer magazine’s New Wave Rising Star for its January 2020 issue. “The Cooke Anamorphic/i lenses were perfect. They didn’t create the anamorphic distortions on the edges of the image that can distract an audience from the story, and there were no crazy flares that you can get with older lenses.”

Rowling tested a number of anamorphic lenses based on what would be available from Patriot Rental in the Ukraine for shooting in both Ukraine and the UK.

“I knew what the Cooke lenses were capable of and that they would give us a nice anamorphic feel, as I used them on my first anamorphic shoot, Cognition, five years ago,” said Rowling. “After testing, I knew we would get the same oval bokeh from the Anamorphic/i zoom lens throughout zoom and focus that we would get from the prime lenses, plus all the other coveted characteristics you want when shooting anamorphic. Plus, the zoom perfectly matched the color and depth of field characteristics of the Anamorphic/i primes.”

Shot with two ARRI Alexa Minis, Rowling’s Cooke Anamorphic/i kit consisted of the 25mm, 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm, 75mm, 100mm and 135mm primes, plus the 35-140mm Anamorphic/i zoom.

“Adrian takes his vision from the script, giving strong references and talking about how the lighting should look, so I created what he wrote, complete with neon London lights streaming through window shutters,” explained Rowling. “During our initial conversations, I sent Adrian my mood boards and three of the five boards were the same as his. That helps a lot when director and cinematographer have similar visions — an artsy feel at points but keeping that dirtier eastern European Mission: Impossible sort of vibe.”

For half of the 26-day shoot, two ARRI Alexa Mini cameras were used to cover the big action/gunfight scenes. They also had a Steadicam on standby throughout the production, which would be utilized for 8-10 days by A camera focus puller Rupert Peddle, with a local replacement hired to cover for Peddle when necessary.

“There’s lots of running with a time element in the film, so we used Steadicam to aid this. In terms of other grip equipment, we used a 2-meter slider, dollies and small jibs for the up/down movements that could place the camera in a position quickly. However, we did use a Technocrane on the first day. On some locations we used a Panther foxy crane, to gain some great establishers. I just sat on the end of the 20-foot crane to get those high establishing shots,” added Rowling. “The anamorphics really shine when playing with the space around the actors and utilizing that negative space. It’s a great visual feeling.”

As with all cinematographers, Rowling had his ‘go to’ lenses for this project: the 25mm and 32mm — the two widest lenses, which were perfect for showing off the architecture of Kiev during the first day of production and featured in the first minute of the film. “I had this tingling sensation with the 25mm, a ‘wow, this is wide’ realization and it was great. There’s a lot of cat and mouse in the beginning with people hunting each other. For that, I used the 100mm and 135mm for over-the-shoulder shots and certain perspectives I wanted to give. The 35-140mm 4:1 Anamorphic/i zoom was a great lens for shots of snipers in towers.”


The opening scene of Legacy of Lies takes place 20 years in the past, and Rowling took full advantage of the Cooke lenses for the look. “The Anamorphic’s characteristics on the edge of frame on the Super 35mm sensor were really nice. Capturing this effect in camera was nicer than adding it in digitally — The 25mm produces a 12.5mm spherical super-wide horizontal field of view — without seemingly adding any exaggerated curvature to the image for an Anamorphic lens.

Rowling also found Cooke’s /i Technology to be very helpful. “If we had to go back and do pickups, we didn’t have to write anything down. We had it. And in post, it’s very useful for having to match certain shots based on the lens used and its settings.”

One of the things that Rowling appreciated about the Cooke Anamorphic/i primes and zoom was that it made filmmaking easier. “The lenses all matched very well. The Cookes were absolutely perfect for the drama of this ‘father saving daughter’ action story. And since the lenses didn’t bloom with backlights, I didn’t have to flag any, which I always prefer.”

Sequences from the film and production and technical information can be viewed on the “Shot On Cooke” web site — Cooke’s Motion Gallery designed to inform and enlighten cinematographers, directors, students and all camera professional.

Legacy of Lies was released on 28 July 2020 on DVD and streaming in the US and is being released in the UK on 12 October 2020. A behind-the-scenes video can be viewed at


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Denise Williams
Broadcast Beat - Production Industry Resource