Michael Ballhaus, ‘Goodfellas’ Cinematographer, Dies at 81

Known for his famous tracking shot in Scorsese’s classic, Ballhaus also worked with directors like Robert Redford and Wolfgang Petersen

Michael Ballhaus, Oscar-nominated cinematographer, died Wednesday at age 81, TheWrap has learned.

Ballhaus was most well-known for his longtime partnership with famed director Martin Scorsese, working as director of photography on some of his most famous works like “The Last Temptation of Christ,” “The Departed,” and “Goodfellas,” the last for which he received critical acclaim for a three-minute tracking shot in which Ray Liotta’s character, Henry, enters the Copacabana nightclub and meets his fellow mobsters. You can watch that famous tracking shot in the clip above.

Ballhaus received three Academy Award nominations over the course of his career: “Broadcast News” in 1987, “The Fabulous Baker Boys” in 1989, and “Gangs of New York,” another Scorsese collaboration, in 2002.

Born in Eichseldorf, Germany in 1935, Ballhaus got his start behind the camera at a German TV station in the late 1950s. Starting in 1971 and continuing for ten years, he made a name for himself in European cinema as the cinematographer for famed German director Rainer Werner Fassbender, working on films like “Whity,” “The Marriage of Maria Braun” and “Martha.” It was during this period that he developed his tracking shot style, including a signature technique in which he moves the camera 360 degrees around an actor.

In 1981, he moved to Hollywood and began a 25-year career in America. Along with his work with Scorsese, he worked with people like Robert Redford on “The Legend of Bagger Vance” and “Quiz Show,” Frank Oz in “Dirty Little Scoundrels,” and Wolfgang Petersen in “Air Force One.” He ended his Hollywood career with “The Departed.”

TheWrap confirmed Ballhaus’ passing through his publicist.