The American Society of Cinematographers

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Return to Table of Contents July 2014 Return to Table of Contents
Maleficent
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Presidents Desk
ASC Close-Up

“Rob insisted on the use of a light smoke throughout all the sets, interior and exterior, which surprised me a bit,” continues Semler. “Usually the visual-effects people don’t want smoke because it contaminates the bluescreens, which we used instead of green due to the amount of green foliage in the sets. I was happy because the smoke gave me the opportunity to create beautiful beams of light!”

Eddie Knight was the initial gaffer on Maleficent, putting the show’s lighting plans and systems into action. “Eddie is very thorough and creative, with invaluable experience working the Pinewood stages,” says Semler. “He and his loyal team of electrics and riggers, including his four sons, made my job relatively easy. Sadly, Eddie had to leave the show for personal reasons. My longtime U.S. gaffer, Jim ‘Jiminy Cricket’ Gilson, then joined us, fitting in well with the London lads.”

Knight and his crew rigged Mole-Richardson space lights in the ceilings of each stage that housed a castle interior. Half the space lights were left clean to provide ambience for the daylight scenes, while the second half had a combination of 1/2 CTB and White Flame Green gels for night or dusk ambience. Lighting-desk operator Graham Driscoll used ChamSys’ iPhone application MagicQ Remote to quickly change from day to night looks.

Tungsten 20Ks, 10Ks and Nine-light Maxi-Brutes positioned in the overhead grids served as either sun or moonlight, depending on the scene. “All the castle sets had huge windows, which I used as single sources, deliberately letting the shadow areas go,” Semler explains. “For soft fill light the boys would fly several 20-by-20 Ultrabounce rags and light them with a diffused 20K.” 5K Mole-Richardson Pars created beams through the smoke when required. Additionally, to replicate light coming from a huge skylight in the Great Hall, Semler used several 18K Alpha HMIs made by K 5600; the lamps’ ability to run while pointed straight down at 90 degrees meant they could be rigged and simply left in place.

Fire and candlelight also feature prominently in the castle. To supplement the effect, Knight designed 2'-square panels that each contained 36 GU10 halogen lamps, six lamps per channel, all controlled through a dimmer. “These ‘Mini-Maxi’ fixtures were used a lot, positioned just out of frame, for firelight, candlelight and other purposes,” Semler recalls. “It’s the best fire-effect rig I’ve ever used.”

One of Semler’s favorite sets was the Pixie Cottage, where the infant Aurora is taken for protection. “I just loved the hilarious scenes [in that set], with the three pixies played by wonderful English actresses [Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville],” says Semler. “The space was around 12-by-12 feet, and it had quite a low removable ceiling with immovable beams that were challenging to work around.” The working conditions were further complicated by the need to have rain and lightning effects inside the cottage as the pixies come under attack from Maleficent. With rain bars creating the downpour, a 40K Lightning Strikes unit played through double ND.9 gels for a lightning effect that registered properly with the Alexa’s sensor.

For day interiors in the cottage, Semler’s crew aimed 10Ks and 20Ks with 1/4 CTO through the set’s windows and doorways, and bounced Source Fours within the set. Any wall that was not in the frame would be pulled out, and soft sources created with 1K Pars and 5Ks would push additional light into the set. Gilson also added paper lanterns to provide flicker effects from candles.

In some instances, the use of interactive light became a source of on-set humor. “One of the funniest moments on set was when Elle, as Princess Aurora, is brought to the fairy forest and sees the happy, sparkly, glowing little creatures for the first time,” recalls Semler. “Rob wanted to use some interactive lighting on Elle because the digital pixies he’d be creating later would be glowing. So three big blokes from the electrics department enthusiastically waved 200-watt bulbs on the end of blue painters’ poles inches from Elle’s face. Like a true professional, she ignored the hairy men and enjoyed the little lights.”

When it came to exterior shooting on Pinewood’s Paddock Lot, Semler was understandably loath to place himself at the mercy of England’s fickle and often overcast weather. To provide control over the exterior conditions, chief rigger Bill Beenham and his team erected a 200'x80' sheet of tough black trampoline material supported by four 50' steel towers. “The Moors set underneath the tarp was huge and very impressive-looking,” says Semler. “It had a waterfall, little pools, a small lake, pathways, beautiful big trees covered in moss. It was lovingly prepared by the wonderful greens department, trampled by the crew during the day, and then thousands of blades of grass and flowers were patiently redressed in time for the next day’s shooting. The Moors is where the fairies live, so it had to look dazzling and alive. That fantastic set would have looked horrible if left to the mercy of high summer sun, and an overcast sky would have flattened the image, sucking all the life from it.”

Beneath the cover, a range of HMIs, including 12K Par spots and 18Ks, were used as backlight, creating beams through the light smoke. 12K Pars with the lenses removed to create “a very narrow beam of light that’s uncontrollable because it’s so hot,” says Semler, added visual punch to certain areas of the set. Fill light was provided by 4K, 6K or 18K HMIs behind a 4'x4' frame of 1/4 Grid Cloth that spread the light evenly onto a 12'x12' frame of Full or Light Grid Cloth. “It’s a very soft fill light that is kind to the actors,” the cinematographer notes. A modified Wendy Light was also used on the Moors exterior set; the tungsten fixture was rewired to take 196 full spot globes, and was used during day scenes to create a hot, warm backlight on Maleficent.

In general, Semler steered clear of dark, moody lighting for Maleficent, instead opting for a simple, direct and flattering look. Backlight brought out the famous horns and provided highlights to Jolie’s glossy black costume and flowing cape, while her key light was often, but not exclusively, a Source Four from over the camera. “Maleficent was lit as a beautiful lady,” says Semler. “I did some early tests using side light, but neither Angelina nor I liked that as much as the front light, which brought out the color of her eyes, and beautifully delineated her features and the fantastic prosthetic cheekbones made by Rick Baker.” 1/4 to 1/2 CTB was added to Jolie’s key light to keep her skin tones on the cool side.

Semler credits Maleficent’s second-unit crew, led by director Simon Crane and cinematographer Fraser Taggart, with undertaking large portions of both the interior and exterior work. “They had difficult circumstances to work in and I really have to thank those guys. Fraser’s work matched the main unit’s seamlessly.”

The second unit carried a kit of four Alexa Pluses, and an additional two or three were brought in when shooting larger sequences. The need for extra cameras was often determined more by logistics than coverage considerations, as Taggart explains: “There was such a variety of camera rigs on second unit that a camera and grip pre-rigging crew was needed to prepare equipment for the next setup. For example, we might be moving from a handheld sequence to a Technocrane sequence to a dolly setup. We always leapfrogged equipment ahead to get as much as possible out of each day.”

 

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