The American Society of Cinematographers

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Die Hard 4
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Live Free or Die Hard features action sequences involving a multitude of cars, trucks and helicopters, and even a jet fighter. As is the norm with action movies, much of the stunt and special-effects work that didn’t involve the actors was shot by the second unit, led by director Brian Smrz and cinematographers Jonathan Taylor, ASC and Brian Capo. “The main-unit cinematographers always say the second unit gets to do all the fun stuff,” Duggan says with a laugh. “However, those guys really knew their stuff, so I was more than happy to leave it to them. Working with special-effects coordinator Michael Meinardus, they created some fantastic sequences with cars being catapulted through the air, sometimes into helicopters, sometimes into other cars and sometimes several at a time. It’s some of the most amazing stunt work I’ve ever seen, and, of course, the explosions look great, too.”  

While the second unit wreaked havoc, Duggan and his crew shot process-vehicle work with Willis and Long. “We also mounted their police vehicle, with them inside, directly on a high-performance truck for realistic pursuit sequences through city streets, and for dynamic coverage using the MotoArm, a remote-operated crane on top of the vehicle used for high-speed maneuvers.” (For other chase sequences, an Ultimate Arm was employed.) The close-up dialogue coverage in the vehicles relied on simulated travel lighting effects against greenscreen. “I’ve always used extensive interactive lighting with greenscreen work,” he notes. “I’m convinced that’s what ultimately sells it. A film like Live Free or Die Hard was made for interactive lighting, and we used a great variety of lighting rigs to achieve different effects.”  

For sequences that show McClane driving a semi truck at breakneck speed through freeway interchanges, Duggan had the truck cab placed on a computerized hydraulic motion base, enabling the cab to be rocked about violently. “Bruce’s close-up work was done against bluescreen using interactive lighting. We see Bruce with the appropriate movement as well as moving shadows, light, flying debris and smoke as his rig is fired upon. We always had three-camera coverage, including a Technocrane sweeping around the cabin. All these cues sell it to the audience as real.”  

Another sequence shows McClane and Farrell commandeering a helicopter and flying over D.C., which has gone dark because of a power outage. To light the actors, Duggan bounced Mini-Brutes gelled with Rosco CalColor 30 Cyan into a 12'x20' frame of Ultrabounce, creating a shadow-less soft source. To suggest ambient moonlight, as well as reflections of moonlight off the helicopter rotors, the crew used what they dubbed “The Commutator” (a wooden mockup of the rotor blades) and old-fashioned whirly-barrels. Above The Commutator, Duggan mounted a 5K gelled with CalColor 30 Cyan. The whirly-barrels — vertical, cylindrical versions of the rotor blades — were placed in front of or behind 8'x8' or 4'x4' frames of Opal diffusion, depending on the setup. Red and green flashing navigation strobes placed on the starboard and port sides of the helicopter completed the lighting.  

Duggan used a combination of HMIs and fluorescents for most of the night scenes. HMIs gelled with Full Plus Green and Lumapanels, ParaBeam and VistaBeam fluorescent fixtures fitted with Cool White tubes created a blue-green look for industrial exteriors and interiors. When using tungsten units, the crew added CalColor 30 Cyan to achieve a similar look. Although the extensive use of fluorescent lighting is normal for Duggan, he decided to test them again against tungsten soft lights. “I still think the fluoros provide a smoother, slightly more reflective feel.  

“To enhance the industrial-lighting theme of many of our locations and sets, we fit Lumapanels, VistaBeams and Kino Flos with Cool White tubes, which have almost twice the output of normal color-corrected tubes. We even had enough punch to use some of these lamps for backlighting in large areas.” The production filmed existing underground structures of a working power plant and water-treatment facility, such as long, narrow tunnels and access stairwells. “They were difficult locations to work in because there was minimal space to hide our lighting,” says Duggan. “But logistical limitations can often lead you to lighting decisions that work out better, and that was often the case on this film. We used a lot of Source Fours as directional backlight and for skimming walls; we didn’t have to worry about the source being in shot as long as it wasn’t focused straight down the barrel of the lens. I also played dozens of fluorescent and LED fixtures as both practicals or as sources hidden amongst the structures within the plant. D.J.’s crew ran miles of cable throughout the power plant and swapped out hundreds of existing bulbs.”  

Chief lighting technician Jeff Murrell had brought LED lighting units to Duggan’s attention during preproduction, and they quickly became the cinematographer’s favorite tools. “The 1-by-1 Litepanels LED was great for tight situations when close proximity to the actors was required,” says the cinematographer. “They provide a soft yet directional and dimmable light source with little spill and heat output. They can also be joined together and easily hidden behind tables or under chairs. I used them for a variety of purposes.”  

Duggan found LEDs well suited to the terrorists’ mobile command center. “Gabriel has a command center in the trailer of a semi, and it’s basically a series of booths with a computer in each one. For reasons of practicality, I used the LEDs almost exclusively on this set, with some Kinos in the ceiling to create ambience. We were able to hide the LED panels in all sorts of places on this set, because the directional quality of the light is quite amazing. Once they are off-axis to the lens, there’s no spill at all.“  

The LEDs also proved to be very useful as eyelights. “I always make sure the actor has detail in his eyes, because that’s where a lot of the performance is,” notes Duggan. “It’s one of the main reasons I tend not to use a lot of toplight on actors. There’s a scene in the power station where Bruce is leaning over a computer console, and we had three moving cameras on him: a Technocrane circling the action, a Steadicam on a longer lens following in the shadow of the crane, and another camera hidden behind a box. The only way I could light Bruce was by using the LEDs from a low angle. He had some initial concerns, but when he realized the angle of the lighting provided a strong eyelight, he was more than happy. I rarely use eyelights mounted on cameras, but given these types of shots, I had a 2-by-6-inch LED Mini Litepanel mounted on the Steadicam, just to give that reflection to Bruce’s eyes.”

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