The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents October 2010 Return to Table of Contents
The Social Network
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Presidents Desk
DVD Playback
Post Focus
ASC Close-Up
Because the production couldn’t shoot on Harvard property, the university facilities were re-created onstage in Los Angeles. Great care was taken to ensure that all of the set lighting was motivated practically, according to Cronenweth. There was a heavy reliance on fluorescents and small tungsten lights hidden in ceilings, a general favoring of small units to create little pockets of light and shadow throughout the old buildings depicted in the movie. “Much of it was practicals and simple lights, basic Fresnel and Kino Flo fixtures,” says gaffer Harold Skinner. “We also used Lightcraft 4-foot 2Ks and soft-light rigs I call ‘covered wagons,’ which are basically lamps in a 4-foot cylinder with protective grids approximately 12 inches in diameter. Inside each are common globes, 75-watt PH211s, 250-watt ECAs, 500-watt ECTs, and so on. We also used little clip-on lights that we called ‘budget busters.’”

The inclination to keep things simple pervaded the shoot. As an example, Skinner points to a scene that takes place in a Bay Area club in low light. In the scene, Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) tries to educate Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) about business strategies in the online world. Cronenweth says he started with a complex Technocrane shot that looked 180 degrees from the bottom floor of the club to a second-floor VIP area. Fincher wanted to enhance the chaos of the club around the two men while making Parker’s lecture sound sinister.

The notion of lighting the two actors from their tabletop was proposed, and it was expanded to cue light and color changes to the beat of the ambient music. Skinner’s team devised a solution by using LED media panels to splash colorful QuickTime movies onto the actors’ faces. “A dance-floor lighting rig and a few other moving lights were interacting in the background, but the table was the only keylight in the scene,” says Skinner. “We had LED media panels built into the tables, and the light emanating from them was a series of QuickTime movies as fractals animated on the LED screen, coming through the screen below a diffused surface. We used 11mm LED tiles from PRG and controlled everything from a Virtuoso DX2 console and an Mbox Extreme Media Server.”

The Social Network’s first shot, a night exterior that plays during the opening titles, was perhaps the most complicated piece of the movie to capture. The sequence depicts Zuckerberg racing through Harvard Square and the university gates. Capturing the sweeping panoramic night exterior required all three Red Ones; images from the cameras were later tiled together into a single image to create an establishing view of Harvard Square, with the university in the background. The obstacle was the fact that most of the property pictured in the sequence was owned by Harvard, and therefore off-limits. “Fortunately, we had the support of the city of Cambridge, and their workers replaced all streetlight globes that wouldn’t give us our desired mercury-vapor feel for the entire two-block area,” says Cronenweth. “Then, we hid our own globes [on dimmers] on the back side of the same streetlights to create bigger pools of light under them. We also used various parking spots to create as many edges as possible with tungsten 10Ks and 5Ks to separate Jesse out from the dark bricks of the campus.”

Cronenweth’s crew also set up some moving lights to play as Eisenberg passed certain locations on the street. But the team still faced the problem of how to properly backlight edges of the iconic brick arches at Harvard Square that serve as a campus entrance. The shot, as designed, needed the backlight, but the filmmakers weren’t allowed on campus. Fincher’s solution was to hire a street performer to set up his performance cart inside the gate, and to have Cronenweth’s crew place in that cart a portable, battery-powered light source — two 500-watt ECT Photo Floods hooked up to an 1,800-watt inverter/battery pack — designed to fire up only when the filmmakers were shooting.

The most specialized lighting, however, was required for the movie’s most complicated visual effect: about 15 face replacement-shots used to make two different actors appear as identical twins, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. The brothers were champion rowers who crewed at Harvard and later sued Zuckerberg over Facebook’s creation. Fincher couldn’t find a set of identical twins who satisfied his requirements, so instead, he hired one actor, Armie Hammer, to play Cameron, and another, Josh Pence, to supply the body and body movements for Tyler. The filmmakers used a combination of split-screen shots and digital face replacements whenever the brothers interacted, especially during rowing sequences. For those shots, the production turned to Lola Digital. “Armie looked the most like the real brothers, so I wanted to use his face,” says Fincher. “I realized we could use a lot of split screen, even moving split screens. As long as we had a plate I liked and enough data around the second take, we could just rack the background of the second take. As long as the actor didn’t go out of frame, we could split-screen it back in. We did that a lot; the actor would go out the A side and back in the B side, and then we would track the plate on the B side to an A plate, and rotoscope it all back in and track it to the plate. But when they were rowing, we had to do facial replacement.”

Lola’s visual-effects supervisor, Edson Williams, says the idea was not to build an all-CG head of the actor, as in Benjamin Button, but to shoot multiple cameras on Hammer and project that imagery onto Pence’s face. “We put tracking dots on Josh’s face, and then he and Armie would interact as if they were two different people in the scene,” says Williams. “After principal photography was done, we’d capture that photography and analyze it to find the body double’s lighting patterns. We would then re-create that lighting on a stage and project it onto Armie as he sat stationary in a chair.”

The approach is based on science pioneered by Paul Debevic, but instead of using Debevic’s movable light stage, Lola simplified things. “Paul has a clever technique to mimic real-world lighting on a stage, but we had two problems: the immense amount of data processing required, and the Red One’s rolling shutter,” Williams explains. “We used Reds, but Debevic’s system works with pulse-width modulation, which is an energy-efficient way to control LED brightness using a fixed frequency [up to 3,000 hertz], with only the duration of each pulse changing. But with the Red’s rolling shutter, pulse-width modulation can cause flickers because the scanlines don’t sync with the pulses. So instead we went with 12 [Litepanels] Bi-Color LED panels, which don’t use pulse-width modulation, and change brightness without flicker. We controlled the panels with programmable DMX lighting controls, and we’d visually match our set lighting to the lighting on Armie’s face that was recorded on location.”

As Hammer delivered his lines in the DMX-controlled environment, Lola would capture his facial movements with four Reds, and then the team would project that footage to a CG model of his face, tracked to Pence’s movements with Boujou and PF Track software. CG tweaks to the face were done in Maya, and everything was composited using Autodesk’s Flame, which was important, according to Williams. “What we learned on Benjamin Button was that projecting faces is really about shadows and light,” he says. “This way, we had a lot of control over shadows and light before the projection, and could adjust lighting on the footage we shot of Armie before we projected it to the geometry tracked onto Josh. It’s sort of a 2-D process with 3-D assistance. You’re not creating a CG face, you’re projecting real skin onto geometry.”


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