How ‘Fallout’ Cinematographer Created The Show’s Epic Visual Style

The cinematographer behind the hit TV series Fallout has revealed how he created the epic visual style of the video game adaptation with lighting, color, and leaning into the Western genre.

Based on the blockbuster video game franchise of the same name, Fallout is set 200 years after a nuclear war wiped out most of humanity. Those who survived the war live in underground bunkers including Lucy, played by Ella Purnell, who goes on a quest to rescue her father.

A lone man in a Western-style outfit sits cross-legged on a wooden chair in a dusty, old-fashioned town. He's wearing a wide-brimmed hat, long coat, and a bandolier full of bullets across his chest, exuding a rugged, cowboy demeanor.

Fallout has been among Prime Video’s most-watched series since it was released last month and has been praised as one of the best examples of the video game adaptation genre.

‘It’s Clean and Well-Photographed’

In an interview with Gold Derby, Fallout’s cinematographer Stuart Dryburg says he actually moved away from the original video game and leaned into the Western genre to create the cinematic look of the show.

cinematographer fallout visual style western tv show

fallout cinematography

When Dryburg was first approached by Fallout director Jonathan Nolan to work on the series, the cinematographer naturally looked for inspiration in the original video game.

“I looked at some of the play-throughs of the game and made some assumptions about the [TV show] looking sort of treated and gamey,” Dryburgh tells Gold Derby as part of the publication’s Meet the Experts: Cinematographers panel.

“I even pulled a whole bunch of visuals from Pinterest to support the idea.”

fallout cinematography

A cityscape is engulfed by multiple, massive explosions, creating large mushroom clouds of fire and smoke rising into the sky. Skyscrapers can be seen in the foreground with a dense urban area spreading out below the fiery plumes.

However, when Dryburgh met with Nolan, most of his initial research was rejected for a “clean and well-photographed” aesthetic favored by the Western genre.

“Jonathan said, ‘Yeah, those are all very interesting, but, no, we’re not doing it like that,’” Dryburgh, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his cinematography on the 1993 film The Piano, says.

“His tastes are much more straightforward in terms of screen storytelling. And if you take a look at Westworld [created by Nolan] as an example, it’s a very clean look.

“It leans into the idea of the Western a bit, but visually it’s clean and well-photographed. And that’s ultimately what we did with Fallout

Inventing Lighting

In a further interview with IndieWire, Dryburg says he was impressed by the sheer scope of the original Fallout video game in terms of atmosphere, settings, locations, and characters.

However, he felt that the lighting was not a key part of the visual design and something that he would have to largely invent for the television series.

Four armored robots emerge from a smoky, mist-covered area on a desolate ground. In the background, large futuristic aircraft hover above the ground, contributing to the haze. The scene appears intense and action-packed.

A black-and-white image shows a person standing in the middle of a futuristic hallway lined with industrial decor. Surrounding the person are numbered lounge chairs and a potted plant. The scene is framed as if viewed through a rounded monitor screen.

“It’s a good-looking game, but not cinematic in a lighting sense,” Dryburg tells IndieWire.

As he began conceptualizing the show, Dryburgh’s guiding principle was to give each of the central locations its own look — with each place requiring “a distinct color palette and atmosphere.”

Dryburgh worked with Fallout production designer Howard Cummings to give the vault set a lighting style similar to that of a 1950s supermarket, which was big on fluorescent fixtures built into the set.

“Essentially, we wanted the vault to be lit by the practical sources,” Dryburgh tells the publication, explaining that it gave him great flexibility with his camera.

“We could run all over without worrying about where lights might have to be hidden.”

Locations and Shooting on Film

IndieWire reports that Dryburgh employed totally different textures for the other major locations in the TV series.

The scenes set in the “Brotherhood of Steel” headquarters were filmed largely in Utah and Dryburg “used a lot of cyan tones and picked up off the neutral grays and whites of the salt flats” while shooting there. Meanwhile, the scenes in the Wasteland were partly shot in Namibia where “it’s very orange, very parched, and very brown.”

As well as extensive location work, Dryburg says that key scenes were shot on LED volumes with screens that extended the sets — a situation that was made more challenging for Dryburgh by shooting on film.

“It’s so much easier on digital — what you see is what you get,” Dryburg tells IndieWire.

“With film, you’ve got to make sure you’re exposing it at the right color temperature for the screens to interact with your foreground elements. It’s like, could you find a harder way to do it? But it looked great. The results speak for themselves.”


Image credits: All photos via Amazon Prime.