Exposure and Lighting

Because of reciprocity failure, Kodak 5248 should be exposed at about 50 ASA at 1/2-second exposure to print in the 30s. We got back dailies only once a week and had to shoot and break down set-ups before seeing dailies. For lighting we had to trust our light meters, eyes, previous notes and the Nikon D-100.

Davey, Goliath and friends were mostly outside in the snow. To make the lighting look like natural sunlight outside, we used one "sun" key light whenever possible with one hard shadow. With deep multiple layers of sets separate "suns" lit each different layer. It was usually not possible to get a good sidelight on the sets and decent light the puppets with the same light. A single sidelight on the set would be 3/4 back light on the puppets in front, which is not a good light on the puppets.

My basic lighting philosophy is to establish the FEEL of a shot with the set design and lighting and then light the actors/puppets however necessary to look their best and still approptiate for the desired FEEL of the shot. Puppets with paste-on features should not be lit from the side. 3/4 front or back light with soft fill is OK.

We had discussions about key light direction consistency during exterior sequences. I feel that consistancy should be maintained as much as possible, but when forced into a bad lighting situation, that maintaining the right feel of the scene is more important than the direction of the key light. Continuity in editing should be condsidered so that no two shots side-by-side have a flipped key. In live production there are often compromises made such as shooting establishing shots at the exact right time, but the rest of the shots of a scene are compromised as best as time and the budget will allow. It is the job of the DP to keep a consistent look. I believe that the audience, other that gaffers and DPs, won't notice a flipped key. Notice that in films the closeups are usually lit to express the character of the actor best and the lighting often changes with every different camera angle.

There were also discussions as to where people would be on a real mountain and where the sun would be at what time of day. While I was gone for a couple of weeks to my son's wedding, the map of the mountain changed and the sun position flipped around. Some sets were already designed for the key coming from the opposite side. People who observe where the sun is and what a certain place that they are acquainted with looks like at different times of the day will be more critical than an audience watching fiction. The right feel of a shot is more important than where the sun should be on a real mountain, especially when dealing with a talking dog.

We had many different exposure and lighting situations; snow day, snow night and at magic hour, house interiors day and night, a cave lit by a flash light and puppets inside vehicles for blue screen. It is helpful to keep good records of each shot for any retakes or additional shooting that has to match. When the key is close to camera (3/4 front), read incident exposure facing the key. When the key is at right angles to the camera, (not good for puppet close-ups) face the light meter 1/2 way between the camera and the light. If the key/sun is behind the puppet and the key is only a kicker, face the meter toward the camera and let the subject be a little under exposed, as they would be out of direct sunlight. The key on the set is now a kicker on the puppet and will be over exposed on the shoulders and head of the puppet, but this will look good. The rest of the set should look back lit too. Shadows help keep interest in the background. Your spot meter is a double check on exposure.

It is very helpful if production can plan it so that animators can finish a shot during a day whenever possible to avoid problems that can happen when sets are left over night or over a weekend. Sets expand or shrink, line voltages can change, bulbs blow often when turned on and some of the crew can forget what they were doing on last Friday.

To get realism for our snow scenes, we studied a lot of ski and snowboarding magazines and tapes and decided that cross lighting, edge lighting, blue shadows and a warm sun just above the horizon looked the best. In mid-day situations where we had little choice for terrific lighting we added trees and tree shadows to build contrast. Large spaces of snow with no detail were either framed out or detail added, sometimes in post.

For soft skylight fill we used daylight flourescents some of the time, bounce light off blue foam core, and often a blueish source close to the puppets that did not reach the background to kept background contrast high. 2 foot square soft boxes made out of foam core worked a lot. They had hardware store work lights inside with various amounts of blue gel to get the right amount of blueness. The fronts were covered with heavy diffusion, Rolux. There is no problem with fluorescent flicker at 1/2 FPS.

For night snow scenes we added blue to the keylight. For a star field we drilled holes in a blue painted sky with white Christmas tree lights through the holes for stars. We rotated the sky and used different parts of it to avoid the same star pattern that would result in a jump cut if used as stars in a supposed different part of the sky. Lots of hard shadows helped create a night effect on the snow. It was a problem getting enough light on a darker dog Goliath and the Bear and not on the rest of the set. Carefully flagged additional light from the sides gave them enough expsoure without destroying the night feel of the whole shot.

We tried to keep the printing lights in the high 20s so there was room for correction in the transfer of the negative to tape. It can be a mistake underexposing the negative to look just like what you want with one lite dailies. A thin negative leaves no room for corrections. Ask the lab negative timer for a night look on your negative report. If you are getting one lite dailies make sure that your night footage is on a seperate roll and not mixed with daytime footage. Many timers will give you a free correction or two for a one lite daily. If you do get only one light and your night scenes look too bright, you will have some explaining to do to the non-camera crew about negative timing. If you are printing in the mid to high 20s you will be OK.

For magic hour we raked the key light at low angles to the snow, added orange gels to the key and more blue to the fill. We used long shadows from the puppets when possible. For wide shots the puppets can be lit from any angle.

For long dolly shots into the house interiors with wide lenses it was quite a challege to keep the lights out of the lens, the look dramatic, a maximun depth of field and set coverage with the cameras dollying in so far. I made a mistake in one set of using a Christmas tree decorates with LEDs for lights. It required an almost open lens on the pop bottle zoom we used. These lenses were quite OK at f-8.0 to 22, but were pretty soft wide open. Art had been using the lenses for years and our tests shot stopped down were fine. We found that true with most of the zooms that we used. (Note that Mitchell ground glasses shows you MORE depth of field than you actually get on film. The opposite is true for Arri ground glasses. Also the film will resolve much finer images than you can see on a ground glass. Trust your depth of field tables.)

After long discussions we decided that the cave was lit by a flashlight one of the kids had. When the flash light was first turned on Jasmine shines it around the cave. The flashlight beam was animated to match her hand and flashlight movements. The practical flashlight had a 12-volt grain of wheat globe lighting the plastic red tip. The similated flashlight beam was a 10 watt 12 volt with a built in reflector (MR-11). Once the flashlight was placed on a rock cloaser to camera, a different 10 watt bare globe behind the rock became the source. The prop flashlight still glowed red on top of the rock.

The the color of the cave set was very important because it had to photograph right in relationship to the light on the puppets. Neutral grey was a good average tone for the back rock walls. We did D-100 tests before painting the walls. The puppets were placed half way between the key / flashlight under the rock and the back rock wall. That exposed the back wall two stops below our key on the puppets. We cheated the size of the beam from when it was first pointed around the cave and then placed on the rock. The light pattern was then much larger to light all three puppets. The puppet's shadows moving on the back wall were dramatic.

We gave a blue base fill for the whole set with a blue compact flourescent from above. (There was an opening in the top of the set for icicles, lighting and rigging.) It was important to keep the relationship of the puppets from the similated flash light key to the back wall consistant. We added cutters just for the puppets heads if too much blue fill from above was appearant. Careful design of the cave considering lighting was helpful. It could have been it easier with more break-a-way panels, but it would have been much harder yet for Ross to build. Making sets strong enough to not move during animation and still break-a-way is no easy chore.

Ross made icicles out of Lucite rods that we lit through their bases. These icicles had to be animated later in the story.

When the rescuers broke through the snow, light from the snow cat outside filled the opening. The puppets squinted with about one stop light over key exposure on them.

Judging blue sky brightness and color was difficult. Incident readings had to take into consideration the angle of the light on the sky backing. The color of light was a problem. Tests with the D-100 and notes helped. We were constantly fighting for room for the lights. Skys needed distance to get even coverage and maintaining the same stop all over a large sky was a problem. Real skys are brighter near the horizon and darker higher up.

We found that we could judge color temperature of different lights on slightly different colors of snow best by eye. We changed lamp voltage and / or gels to get a better match.

If you are setting up exterior sets on a stage make sure you have lots of room for lights.

We lit a 16-foot long mountain range with one light. The set was coved so that the further range faced camera more and appeared brighter to camera. The closer set was more edge lit. Consider the angle of a light to a flat surface. At 90 degrees the maximum light is reflected. At 180 degrees no light is reflected, From 150 degrees to 180 degrees the amount of light reflected drops off very fast. Use your reflected meter or digital camera. An incident meter with a ball would measure much more light than is actually reflected. A flat disk on the incident meter would give a more accurate reading.

© Copyright 2004 Ron Dexter. All Rights Reserved.