The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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ASC Close-Up

Generally desiring full control of the environment, Emmerich prefers to shoot nearly everything on stage. “Roland loves magic hour — that ‘last kiss of sunlight’ is his favorite,” Förderer says with a laugh. “We’ve got, like, 10 different variations of it. Obviously, you have to do that on stage or you’d only have 20 minutes, tops, to shoot every scene, and then the light would be gone.”

In order to achieve even greater control, the cinematographer made the unorthodox decision to forgo traditional lighting sources and light the feature nearly entirely with LED units. “With only a few minor exceptions, we lit the entire movie with RGBW LED fixtures,” he explains. “Working with RGBW LEDs is basically like grading on set, except you’re adjusting color timing with the lighting instead of manipulating a video file. We had everything hooked up to a dimmer board, and we could change the color of any fixture at any time. Our dimmer-board operator, Kevin Hogan, had an iPad to do simple corrections of brightness and color, [though] complex effect sequences timed to certain cues would only be possible from the big dimmer board.”

In prep, Förderer set several base looks for the mix of RGBW colors, which he would call “tungsten” and “daylight,” along with several other preset looks. “The out-of-the-box presets for daylight and tungsten didn’t really hit what I wanted, especially with the combination of our show LUT,” he explains. “We created a few presets for each light so we could have a place to start, and then say, ‘Dial in 10 percent more red,’ ‘5 percent less blue,’ ‘Make this one a little cooler, that one a little warmer, and pull some green out of that one.’ There were no gels at all; color was created in the fixtures themselves. It became like printer lights, and after a while it was just intuitive. Roland is so ambitious and there was so much coverage, there’s simply no downtime — you have to be efficient, and this system allowed us to move incredibly fast.”

To maintain color consistency, Förderer primarily limited his choices of LED fixtures to two brands: LiteGear LiteRibbon LED strips and Digital Sputnik DS 6 LED fixtures. “One of the problems with LED technology is that the color and spectrum of the lights vary so much from manufacturer to manufacturer,” he notes. “Mixing and matching can be a nightmare, so I stuck with limited choices. Sometimes even various batches of LEDs from the same manufacturer can have a different spectrum, so we had to be careful.”

Also during prep, gaffer Jay Kemp collaborated with LiteRibbon to create custom 4'x4' and 6'x6' soft sources that were lined with RGBW LEDs. “These fixtures were basically a self-lit diffusion frame,” Förderer explains. “I essentially used them for every setup. I don’t like stands; I believe filmmaking and stands are enemies. Wherever you put a stand, you can’t point a camera. With traditional soft lights you have a stand for the light and a stand for the diffusion and stands for the flags — it gets crazy. With these fixtures there was only one stand, and it was all self-contained.” To control the soft light, the cinematographer employed custom 30- and 40-degree DOPChoice Snapgrids — soft egg-crate accessories that attach quickly to fixture frames — which eliminated the need for flags.

LiteRibbon LED strips were also integrated into the production design. Practical fixtures were fitted with LED clusters instead of traditional tungsten bulbs, thus allowing the cinema-tographer to easily dial-in intensity and color on a shot-by-shot basis. A wide shot might have had a practical at 30-percent intensity, for example, but when the camera moved in for a close-up, the cinematographer would increase the intensity to accentuate the modeling on the actors without introducing new fixtures into the setup.

“We built the LiteRibbon into the set wherever it made sense,” the cinematographer explains. “When I needed something harder [and] punchier, I went with the Digital Sputnik fixtures, which are very powerful LED lights with narrow beams. You can group them in clusters, and they work as a great hard light.”

The cinematographer also takes an unorthodox approach to his lighting of bluescreen, which surrounded many of the project’s soundstages. Instead of reaching for the traditional Kino Flo or cyc lights — or even space lights — Förderer elected to line the entire ceiling of the stages with day-blue colored muslin. He would then bounce light into the muslin, to both serve as toplight and to gently light the bluescreen with soft fill from above. When he needed some “punch” on the bluescreen, he placed a BBS Lighting Area 48 remote-phosphor LED fixture on the floor — literally, with no stands or base — and pointed it as necessary. “We had 20 of those Area 48 fixtures to fill in holes where needed,” the cinematographer says. “They fit in tight spaces behind cars, rocks or even people.”

To light the muslin-bounce setup, Förderer employed combinations of Digital Sputnik LED fixtures, 4K and 9K HMI Pars, and Area 48 units. “We had seven stages, including a huge ice-hockey stadium, in Albuquerque that were all lined with 360-degree bluescreen,” the cinematographer recalls. “I didn’t rig any lights on the ceiling. It would have been so expensive to have all these stages pre-rigged with lights that just sat there as we moved from one stage to another. Muslin is lightweight and easy to hang, and then you only have a couple units on the ground to bounce into it. It’s much better than a perm lined with space lights, and much more efficient and less ‘source-y.’ I think it’s a common mistake when shooting on stage — it doesn’t represent natural daylight realistically. The sky is a large, soft [source], and that’s what I try to replicate with a perm full of fabric.” He adds that the muslin bounce “reflects a much cooler color onto skin.”

The muslin also served the production well in terms of Emmerich’s preference for using practical cars on stage. “With cars there are glass and reflections,” Förderer says. “I really prefer to use the muslin ceilings in these situations, as it provides a much more realistic reflection in the glass.” Taking this concern further, Förderer experimented with gobo projections of clouds on the overhead muslin to provide some texture in the reflections. “It wasn’t exactly perfect,” he says, “but I think it helped to add a little extra element to make it more realistic.”

The production additionally employed Outsight’s Creamsource Sky full-spectrum LED soft source “for interactive lighting effects,” Förderer notes. “Due to [its] high output and wide spread, we could program it to switch between explosion light and green alien laser-fire effects.”

From his time working with Emmerich, Förderer reports that he’s learned important lessons in “visual sleight of hand.” He explains, “It’s understanding the psychology of the eye, and misdirection from where the trick is happening. The eye is [attracted] first to the brightest portion of the frame, and then to the movement in the frame, and then it looks for eyes.”

 

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