Ultimately, however, the actual mix of camera supports in the Chocolate Room included not only the Cablecam, but traditional dollies and Technocranes positioned along the sides of the set. “It’s interesting to talk about failures,” muses Rousselot. “I use the term loosely, because it wasn’t a disaster. There are often techniques that only work halfway on a film, and then, two or three films later, they all of a sudden work perfectly. Sometimes it takes several films to bring an idea to fruition. In the end, we used the Cablecam for 20 percent of what I had planned. There is a normal resistance from the crew that doesn’t want to be far from the actors, and naturally, the director needs to be near them, too. But when you add the video monitors, all of a sudden you have an army going across the set. You destroy the set for every shot, and then you rebuild it afterwards.” The cinematographer says he hopes to use the Cablecam in the future, but with more “circumspection.”
Rousselot had a similar respect for the fragile set when designing the lighting for the Chocolate Room with his “marvelous” gaffer, John “Biggles” Higgins. Rousselot decided early on to keep all the lighting off the set, and to suspend the fixtures from a ceiling grid above the Cablecam installation. According to Higgins, the massive scale of tungsten lighting fixtures included 600 space lights, 100 Pars, 56 Maxi-Brutes and 12 20K Mole Beams, all suspended from the ceiling. The total potential power consumption provided by three generators off-stage was 4 megawatts, enough for a small city, although Higgins is quick to point out that “we never used all the lights at once.”
Each space light contained five 800-watt bulbs, and the crew wired each light with two cables, allowing for three intensities: two bulbs, three bulbs or five bulbs. This enabled Rousselot to change the overall intensity without dimming, which changes color temperature. Half of the space lights provided an overall level for the huge stage and were fitted with black skirts to limit spill. The remaining units could be quickly lowered by cable to provide sources for a scene staged below. To provide maximum coverage, skirted and skirtless lights were alternated on the ceiling grid.
Directional Mole Beams created big spots of sunlight to dapple the landscape below. They were placed on either side of the river, so that portions of the left side of the river could represent a continuation of the right side while maintaining the sunlight’s direction. 1K Par spotlights were disseminated through the grid to pinpoint details in the colorful landscape, providing backlight to set a candy tree or giant candy cane apart from the background. Pars from the side of the stage were also used to skim the Chocolate River and create ripple effects on actors.
The Maxi-Brutes, which held six 1K Pars each, were outfitted with custom eggcrates to limit spill and were grouped in clusters of four, creating a total strength of 24K. These powerful soft sources were typically used to highlight features of the landscape, such as hillocks. “If I turned on all the lights, I’d get a T8,” says Rousselot. “But of course, I never used them all, because we didn’t want a mood of blinding light! This lighting setup allowed me to have fairly powerful soft light without putting any light stands on the set and without having to build a platform above the river. From time to time, we placed a Chinese lantern on a stand, which didn’t do too much damage to the set.
“We had a lot of lights, not because we needed all of them, but because I wanted to avoid moving them so we could shoot quickly,” Rousselot continues. “There are many shots I lit with three Pars, two Mole Beams and six space lights. I tell cinematography students not to be intimidated by big sets because the problems are the same as in small sets a big set is just a small set multiplied. I tell students to set up for 10 square meters and then multiply that as many times as they need to.”
Naturally, the wide Chocolate River reflected many of the lights hanging above it. “The other reason for having so many space lights was that we wanted to be able to darken the lights to avoid reflections when we did camera movements,” explains the cinematographer. “Sometimes we put up black flags, but that was a lot of work; it was much simpler to just turn off a light. Sometimes I’d turn a light off during a camera movement and replace it with a less bothersome one. Because they’re fairly soft sources, you don’t see the lighting change.” This flexible lighting scheme allowed Burton considerable freedom in staging shots, which suited the director’s freehand style. Rousselot recalls, “Almost every day, Tim would start by saying, ‘We’re going to shoot over there, but we’ll do it as an experiment and see what happens. If it’s no good, we’ll start over.’ In fact, we almost never started over, but we started every day with the feeling that we didn’t really know where the day would take us. Every day we shot tests that transformed into scenes.”
Rousselot and Higgins credit the Light by Numbers system for simplifying the complex job of keeping track of the settings of 700-odd lights. According to Chris Gilbertson, the system’s creator, Light by Numbers integrates existing dimmer technology with custom software and hardware designed for film shoots. Features include the memorization of the light settings for each take, accompanied by frame grabs from the video assist. Light by Numbers also documents each lighting setup using CAD documents from the art department or manual input. On Charlie, Gilbertson generated 2-D and 3-D lighting plots of each major setup, which proved useful on set and in post, where it helped visual-effects artists match Rousselot’s lighting on virtual elements.
A key feature of Light by Numbers was Gilbertson’s ability to remotely control the dimming console on the set by means of a small remote unit. Rousselot explains, “Everything light changes, fade-ins, fade-outs was in Chris’ little remote box, so I was free to really improvise. I could say, ‘Try lighting that row there,’ and see immediately whether it worked. Chris saw the same thing I did, so instead of saying, ‘It might be the 18th light in the third row from the back,’ I could isolate the light with a laser pointer, and because he had the reference grid in his head, he could quickly change it.”