The American Society of Cinematographers

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The Avengers
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The Space Power Facility “was one of our most spectacular locations,” says McGarvey, “but it was tricky to light because we wanted to look all around.” The solution was to utilize a shallow trough that circled the base of the chamber. After gaffer Chris Napolitano and his crew rigged the trough with about 1,500 MR16 globes, “the light bounced everywhere and lit the entire dome,” says McGarvey.  

“Over the center of the area, we built a 12-by-12 rig with daylight Kino Flos and a few [Philips Vari-Lite] VL3000 moving lights that we could focus down to highlight pieces of the set,” adds Napolitano. The rig was suspended on chain motors so it could be adjusted for the frame line. 

“CG swirls of energy were to be added to the chamber, but Janek wanted us to provide an interactive, blue glow at the top of the space as the facility is about to collapse,” says McGarvey. “We used 6K Pars and an 18K ArriMax to light the top of the dome, and the grips used flags to create a pulsating effect.” 

“I’m a big proponent of shooting some real-world reference as a guide for digital work,” Sirrs notes in an e-mail interview with AC. “And Seamus was always keen to light shots for [virtual] characters; he’d use props such as a partial Iron Man suit or silicone Hulk bust. We always rolled on the stand-in props so we could see how they truly read in-camera.” 

On set in Cleveland, crewmembers demonstrate this point by stepping into the alley holding gray and silver reference balls, a color chart, and what they refer to as “sushi,” a jiggling mass that’s meant to represent the color and texture of the aliens’ skin. They take their places in front of the cameras that have just rolled on Captain America throwing his famous shield at one such alien. After the cameras roll a few seconds of reference, it’s on to the next setup.  

As the main unit works in the alley, the second unit, led by director John Mahaffie and cinematographer Brad Shield, polishes off a few shots toward the north end of the 42nd Street set. Shield says his unit’s biggest challenge on the show was a chase sequence shot on location along a 1,600' stretch of subterranean road near Pittsburgh, Pa. In the sequence, Loki has possessed Hawkeye and Selvig, and they race through a tunnel with SHIELD agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) in hot pursuit.  

After scouting the location, McGarvey and Napolitano worked with Shield to devise a lighting plan, and the second unit then had two weeks to rig the location and six days to shoot the action. The team relied mainly on B&M Lighting Mac Tech LED tubes, which were placed along the ceiling and on vertical posts that divided parts of the road into two lanes. The strategy “really enhanced the feeling of speed as the lights flashed through the frame,” says Shield. “The LED tubes give you more punch [than a fluorescent], and we could turn [the ceiling units] on or off to adjust the distance between sections of light and dark.  

“To give the last few hundred feet of the tunnel a different look, we put nook lights on the ceiling that were wrapped in black,” he continues. “We also placed nook lights shooting up the tunnel walls to give some detail where the overhead lights weren’t playing.” 

To capture the action, Shield and Mahaffie mounted Arri Alexas and Canon DSLRs to the picture cars, and they also worked extensively with Performance Filmworks’ Edge System. “We had two cameras on the Edge vehicle, which was driven by Dean Bailey,” says Shield. “The A camera on the main arm was operated by Greg Baldi, with Tony Rivetti pulling focus, and [operator] Peter Gulla and [1st AC] Chip Byrd handled the B camera on a secondary remote head with a long lens.”  

Following Loki’s arrival, Fury assembles the Avengers aboard SHIELD’s Helicarrier, a futuristic aircraft carrier capable of operating both on water and in air. The Helicarrier’s bridge, a set built at Albuquerque Studios, serves as a primary site where the main characters gather. “We built many opportunities for accent lighting into the bridge,” says Chinlund. “I think we probably broke records for the amount of [LiteGear] LED LiteRibbon we used!” 

“We used hybrid LEDs that [dimmer-board operator] Bryan Booth could adjust to anywhere between 3,200°K and 5,500°K, and we also installed a lot of red LEDs for ‘emergency’ mode,” adds Napolitano. 

The lighting inside the bridge also included MR16s for accents in various soffits and cavities, and nine diffused 4'x4' bay lights gelled with 1⁄8 CTB for general toplight ambience. “We also used VL3000s, focusing them into a bounce card on the floor if we needed to accent different areas of the set,” says Napolitano. “They had the ability to go red for emergency mode.” The bay lights and VL3000s were rigged on truss motors so their height could be adjusted as needed. 

The bridge has a circular shape, about 60 degrees of which is taken up by a large viewing window. A total of 22 space lights were hung between the window and a bluescreen for general ambience, while nine soft boxes pushed tungsten-generated “daylight” into the set with more directionality. The center five soft boxes contained three Arri T12s gelled with ¼ CTB, while the outer four boxes each contained three 5Ks gelled with ¼ CTB. Each box was fronted with a 5'x8' frame of Light Grid and fitted with two 2Ks gelled with ¼ CTB and ¼ Plus Green (for scenes that required nighttime ambience). To give a sense of daylight bouncing off clouds and filtering into the bridge from below, 22 10-light cyc units gelled with ¼ CTB and 216 diffusion were positioned beneath the window.  

All of this lighting was run back to Booth’s dimmer board. “I use the High End Systems Hog 3PC as my main board and server, and I used a Lenovo 10-inch touch-screen tablet as a remote so I could stand on set with Seamus and Chris,” says Booth. “When they said, ‘Turn that off,’ I knew exactly what ‘that’ was, and I only needed to hit a couple buttons on my tablet to do it.” 

Rivaling the scope of the bridge was the set for the penthouse apartment of Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man), situated atop Stark Tower in Manhattan. Surrounded by bluescreen, the penthouse set was constructed approximately 10' above the stage floor and comprised an “exterior” platform (where Iron Man takes off and lands) that led via walkway into the glassed-in apartment. “It was a beautiful set with a lot of modernist elements,” says McGarvey. “It had very low ceilings, and I knew it would have to be seen in wide angles to get the most out of it. I worked quite closely with James to incorporate practicals and make sure there was enough ambience for both day and night scenes.” 

As a direct-sun source outside the glass wall, McGarvey used a 100K SoftSun on a blue-wrapped scissor lift. For additional ambience, “[rigging gaffer] Kevin Lang put in about 80 space lights gelled with ¼ CTB, and we flew a silk underneath them,” adds Napolitano.

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