The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Super 8
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Keeping the LRX and Bebee lights out of frame while lighting to a high-enough stop for some of the lenses was a challenge. “Anamorphics can be tricky to work with at night,” says Fong. “For this scene and other night exteriors, I usually pushed 5219 by one stop because the longer lenses were so much slower. I always tried to light to a
T41⁄3. That’s a lot of light, but in the end the focus pullers didn’t mind the deeper stop!” 

There was only one chance to get the train wreck, and although the sequence features a lot of CGI, the special-effects team had to build a track and pull a rig through the depot like a battering ram. The stunt was covered by nine cameras, with Fong remotely operating one on a crane arm. The A camera, operated by Phil Carr-Forster, was on a 50' Technocrane. B-camera operator Colin Anderson was on a speeding dolly, as was C-camera operator John Skotchdopole. Some Arri 435s were strategically placed around the action, and two locked-off Eyemos in crash boxes were positioned near the platform. 

After two days of scouting, prep and rehearsal, the destruction itself only took about five seconds. “Most of the pressure was on the special-effects artists because they had to trigger the ram that destroyed the building,” notes Fong. “They also rigged fireballs and air cannons loaded with safe debris. The only thing we had to keep clear of was the ram as it was pulled through the building, which was pre-scored for the destruction. They cut halfway through all the lumber, so we knew what pieces were going to break and where they would land. We had stunt doubles for the kids running away from the depot and used a long lens on one of the cameras to make it look like they were closer to the explosions than they really were.” 

Soon after the crash, strange things start happening around town — dogs disappear, motors go missing from cars, and there are mysterious radio transmissions and electrical disturbances. The kids begin to suspect that these events are related to the train crash, specifically to the grainy impression of something moving in the footage they captured. (See sidebar on page 28.) The military soon reaches the same conclusion, and soldiers arrive to take the children captive in a military-prison bus. 

Night driving scenes on the bus were accomplished with poor man’s process, with a real bus placed on a blacked-out stage. Fong approached the lighting practically, working with Grce to make the vehicle essentially light itself. The bus’s existing light fixtures were swapped out for LiteGear LiteCard 8s, flexible, adhesive-backed LED arrays measuring about 21⁄2" x 41⁄2" and about as thin as a credit card. The LiteCards were installed in two parallel rows running the length of the bus’s roof and wired through the chassis to a power source in the floor. The fixtures could also be stuck to magnets and quickly applied to the vehicle’s metal interior.  

“The LiteCards made moving around in the bus really easy,” says Fong. “They gave us a lot of light for their size. We were able to shoot at around a T4, and all we had to do to for an additional keylight or eyelight was come in with more LiteCards or a small Kino Flo.”  

When the creature attacks the bus and knocks it off the road — a night-exterior stunt staged in Simi Valley, Calif. — the creature itself is mostly unseen, its presence teased with interactive lighting effects. A chase sequence was programmed into wireless DMX dimmers to control the LiteCards’ output in order to suggest an electrical disturbance caused by the creature. With their captors temporarily distracted by the accident, the children escape and flee back to their neighborhood. 

Back in town, the kids find that military tanks have taken control of the streets in order to confront the creature. The attack was shot on location in Weirton, W. Va., and the crew spent several nights lighting wide swaths of the neighborhood with the LRX and Bebee lights. The production even bought a couple of vacant houses in the neighborhood for the express purpose of blowing them up. “We drove tanks up and down their streets and fired off rounds in the middle of the night, and instead of complaining, the residents would bring out the lawn chairs and blankets and quietly enjoy the show,” says Fong. “They even clapped when J.J. said ‘Cut!’ Everyone was so cooperative and generous. We couldn’t have done it without them.” 

Because of the tight schedule, every scene, from big action sequences to intimate dialogue scenes, was meticulously planned and pre-rigged — a tall order for a film in which action often transitions from interiors to exteriors within a single scene, night and day, in different cities, weeks apart. “We were in multiple locations every day, and our rigging gaffer, Roger Meilink, was a master at the logistics of rigging and wrapping multiple locations at once,” says Grce. “Having wireless DMX control over all of our dimming was a huge time saver, because we used a lot of interactive lighting throughout the shoot to [suggest] explosions, burning houses, electrical disturbances and so forth.” 

One of the scenes that worried Fong the most called for a seemingly simple lighting effect: after the kids discover a network of tunnels beneath the town cemetery, they explore it using only Fourth of July sparklers to light their way. “When I first read that in the script, I panicked, because the tunnel scene is meant to be pitch black except when a sparkler is lit, and I knew a real sparkler was not going to put out any light,” says Fong. “But Jim and his guys came up with a way to simulate the effect.” 

The actors carried real sparklers, which burned out within minutes, and to simulate their effect, Grce’s crew created LED ribbons that could be handheld, as well as clusters of DMX-controlled LiteGear LEDs that could be waved around off screen. Key light and fill were created with 1x1 LiteGear LEDs following a similar color and chase sequence. 

The labyrinthian tunnel set was built onstage at Raleigh Studios in Playa Vista, Calif., with the top left open to facilitate the placement of backlights and 60 6K spacelights for general ambience — “Movie darkness,” quips Fong. On occasion, the camera was dropped into the set from above with the Technocrane. 

Tracking the source of a powerful energy field, the military is eventually led to the town’s water tower. There, they discover that the creature has hoarded machinery and electronics to build a spacecraft. As the craft hovers over the town’s main drag, it emits a spectacular array of light — the result of a 22' square interactive-lighting rig designed by Grce, Meilink and key grip Gary Dodd.  

Suspended from a 200' Champion crane, the rig housed 60 separate DMX-controlled lamp heads mapped to light specific areas of the location: the actors, the mill, the car lot, the street and the background. Eight vertical six-Par MaxiCoops lined each side of the rig, and inside the frame they formed were 10 horizontal MaxiCoops. All MaxiCoops were lamped with alternating medium-flood and narrow-spot Par64 bulbs and gelled with Cyan 30. Eight 1,200-watt daylight-balanced PRG Bad Boy spots were positioned beneath the rig and programmed to suggest searchlights on the bottom of the ship. Finally, eight Atomic 3000 Xenon strobes were laced throughout the rig to send flares into the lens.

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