Hawking: Can you hear me? offers an intimate look at the life of famous physicist Stephen Hawking, as told by those close to him. Through a combination of interviews – including with his ex-wife, siblings and children – and archival footage, audiences get never-before-seen glimpses into Hawking’s life, trials and tribulations.
The project, produced by Atlantic Productions, began in 2017 in an attempt to tell a larger story about Hawking’s life, with production continuing after Hawking’s death in 2018.
Anthony Geffen produced the documentary and hired Oliver Twinch to direct it. âOur goal was really to tell Stephen’s story without narration,â Twinch said. “So the portrait that we see of him is constructed from first-hand experiences.”
When capturing these accounts, the goal was to create a 4K project that would have a cinematic feel. The team used Zeiss and Sigma lenses on Red Dragons, a C500 MkII and a Sony Venice, as well as footage from DJI Mavic Pro drones; and went so far as to shoot a few interviews in 6K to get the right look.
The team also wanted to reflect a first-hand perspective from Hawking. Using a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K on a gimbal, the team recreated Hawking’s journeys through the streets of Cambridge and its private spaces at the precise height of his wheelchair.
Meticulous new footage has also been mixed in with the heavy use of the family archives.
âA lot of the archival material was also actually material that you generally wouldn’t use in double exposure, slightly out of focus, or with unusual framing,â Twinch said. “But we found it reminded us of our own parents’ photo collections and showed a very human side to Hawking and his family.”
To complete the upload, grading and delivery, Twinch turned to Ben Lee from The Finish Line. With the bulk of the work being done under pandemic conditions, Twinch and Lee had to get creative.
The post-production process was done remotely, using an iPad Pro with the Moxion app which was calibrated directly by The Finish Line founder Zeb Chadfield. âThe app is not only color accurate, but also automatically adjusts the brightness of the viewer’s iPad, so it always reflects the true quality,â Lee said.
Starting with the photos and archival footage, he used DaVinci Resolve to remove scratches and dirt, then applied noise reduction and sharpening tools to get the most out of the range of images of all. periods in Hawking’s life.
For the new footage, Lee began by balancing the material to establish a look that tied the interviews and the on-site material together. He then performed another pass, applying details and intensifying the looks to match the content of the story as it unfolds.
âThere are darker parts of his life that we discover through opening up the family, where we decided to push the shadows and midtone details in order to bring out those emotional moments in the film,â a Lee explained.
The end result takes audiences through a life they know in a way they’ve never seen before. âIt’s an iconic documentary,â Lee said. “It’s a real, raw and in-depth glimpse into the life of one of the most fascinating people who have ever lived.”
You can look Hawking: Can you hear me? on Sky Documentaries October 25 at 9 p.m.