How Zack Snyder Captured Those ‘Dreamlike,’ Out-Of-Focus Images For Army Of The Dead

Zack Snyder is one of those filmmakers whose visual style and optical flair has become one of the components that lure new audiences to his features. You can recognize when something is shot by Snyder because of its unusual aspect-ratio choice, or the fact that the director relies heavily on slow-motion in his action (though he’d argue that he thinks he uses it far less than critics give him credit for). A new visual trick that Snyder employs in his zombie thriller Army of the Dead involves deliberate focus and intentional blur in his backgrounds and foregrounds, and his explanation as to how he achieves that is a minor film-studies class of its own, so watch our conversation in the video above.

Army of the Dead started screening in select movie theaters last week, and will be available to stream on Netflix beginning on Friday, May 21. That’s when audience members will be able to burrow deep into Zack Snyder’s cinematography and deduce how he created this engaging new visual technique. Essentially, the lens and cameras that Snyder employed on his Army of the Dead shoot allowed him to manipulate the audience’s eye by blurring or sharpening the focal points where he wanted them to pay attention. So he could transition from this shot:

Army of the Dead 1

To this shot, simply by using the tools that were at his disposal.

Army of the Dead 2

Personally, I thought this effect (which was a relatively new trick in Snyder’s bag) helped add a shimmery look to the sequences that were set in the desert, as if the heat of Las Vegas was radiating off of the skins of the zombies that wanted to tear Dave Bautista and his crew limb from limb. Also, as I mentioned above, this system allows Snyder to pull an audience’s focus to certain objects WITH his focus. He achieved this through the following methods:

The lenses were these Canon Dream lenses that were built in the 1960s. Consumer lenses. They open to a .95, so a really thin depth of field. That creates that thin, dreamlike, out-of-focus (imagery). And the cameras were Red Monstros. … They’re from Red camera. Incredible cameras. I’m going to use them again, whenever I can. They’re just really amazing. So yeah, sophisticated, and this weird combination of super-high tech and super-low tech, and that feels like my wheelhouse. Taking the most high-tech thing and getting it dirty.

That’s certainly what Zack Snyder does in Army of the Dead, a zombie horror movie mashed together with a casino heist thriller and a ticking-clock nuclear-bomb threat that’s targeting Las Vegas. If you think that sounds insane… well, you’re right. But you can see how it works when it streams on Netflix beginning on May 21. And peruse our complete list of the 2021 Netflix schedule to keep track of all of the things reaching your home the rest of this year.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.