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One Piece: Nicole Hirsch Whitaker Brings Color & Light to the Netflix Adaptation


August 28, 2023

Eiichiro Oda's globally beloved manga series One Piece is being adapted into an ambitious live-action television series on Netflix. Among the talented members of the crew to breathe new life into the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy and the Straw Hat Pirates is prolific cinematographer Nicole Hirsch Whitaker, who works as the director of photography on the first two episodes of its inaugural season. From capturing Luffy and his friends sailing the high seas in search of treasure or tangling with fearsome foes like Buggy the Clown, there are plenty of fan-favorite moments from One Piece gorgeously reimagined by Whitaker and the team in live-action.

In an exclusive interview with CBR, One Piece cinematographer Nicole Hirsch Whitaker revealed her personal connection to One Piece and explained how the production approached the challenging task of creating the visuals for the show while respecting Oda's original work.

CBR: One Piece is the biggest Netflix original series premiere of the year. How did you want to approach bringing this manga/anime property into live-action?

Nicole Hirsch Whitaker: Marc Jobst, the director, and I had worked on Jupiter's Legacy together. When he got approached to do the project, he came to me and asked me what I would do and how I would approach the project. It was during COVID, so we had a lot of time to talk. We put together a bunch of look books and came up with a bunch of different inspirations, anything from photographers, filmmakers, manga, and things we were inspired by. We basically came up with a look that we wanted for the show that was really grounded and also something that was representative and respectful of what we felt Eiichiro Oda would've wanted the show to look like if he made it in live-action.

CBR: This is a pirate show on the high seas, so there's a lot of sunshine and water. How did you want to factor that in as you were capturing these pirate ships and characters?

Nicole Hirsch Whitaker: That was one of the things I thought about a lot because I knew there was going to be a lot of open, available light where we'd be shooting. The boats in South Africa, where we worked, a lot of them can't spin, so we were in one direction and had to deal with tricky lighting situations. I did a lot of research into that. I don't want to say it's easier to light something than take light away, but shooting exteriors and keeping them consistent because some of our scenes would take anywhere from five to eight days and would have to keep consistency over those days with sun, clouds, and rain.

It was really challenging, but it was fun, and I think we did a really good job of maintaining the naturalism that I think [Oda] would've wanted with the show. I know he's happy with what we did in terms of keeping it grounded in the way that they presented their manga version of it.

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