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The cinematographer notes that glass is frequently employed as either set dressing or as part of a rooms design because of the specular qualities it gives off. "A single light source behind glass can create a kind of multitiered, multicolored image which is really very interesting," he observes. "Due to the facets of the crystals, one light will produce itself in a lot of different shapes and forms, so it looks like a number of different lights behind the glass." The look varies depending on the type of glass employed. The Situation Room, where the National Security Council meets, relies on only two light sources: 500-watt nook lights placed directly above the conference table, and a couple of fluorescents that can be glimpsed behind a glass wall separating the main room from a small antechamber. The overhead nooks are bounced into white cards that reflect the light back down through a grating built beneath the fixture itself. Sometimes the lights are colored, sometimes they have a deep blue quality and sometimes they are pure white and overexposed.
Television traditionally has been known as the "bright" medium; the set is bombarded with light on the theory that the audience has to be able to see everything on the screen. Many of todays producers, however, prefer to leave something to the viewers imagination. According to Del Ruth, shadows not only serve to heighten the tension within a scene, but they also add to the composition within an individual frame. By accenting the black spaces with small shafts or splashes of light, a cameraman can subtly but effectively pull the viewers eye to different areas of the frame.
Del Ruth doesnt hesitate to use gels to further enhance the look of The West Wing. The fluorescent fixtures behind the columns in the Roosevelt Room are wrapped in 1/2 to full CTO. Apricot-, rose- and russet-colored Rosco gels are used for sunsets and sunrises. Rosco chromes are placed on brass fixtures in the Mural Room, whose walls are covered by scenes from the Revolutionary War. Painted in cold, recessive greens, blues and blacks, the room has a somber, dignified quality that never changes, no matter which lights are added.
Two main sources illuminate the Mural Room: rows of 212s encased in Chinese lanterns and hidden in the ceiling, and four windows that line one side of the room. "There are about 35 Chinese lanterns, one foot in diameter, with 212s in them, all slaved individually to dimmers," says Del Ruth. "They are hung in the ceiling in an area that measures about 10 feet by 10 feet. The light from these lanterns is controlled by Duvetyn teasers. When theyre turned on, the light goes in every direction.
"The Mural Room tends to be used when large groups of people, anywhere from a dozen to 30 or 40 individuals, gather," he continues. "When you have that many people, you essentially have to light from above. I dont use hard instruments on peoples faces; instead, I use Chinese lanterns, which produce a nice, soft frontlight thats very pleasing to the women yet strong enough to give men a masculine quality. It creates a little bit of panda bear [shadow under the eyes], so we help the women out with some eyelight and just let the men go."
When shooting White House interiors, Del Ruth prefers to use soft lights on faces. However, once the show leaves the Camelot environs of the mansion and the reality of the world sets in, he switches to harder instruments. "Instead of employing 5-by-5 or 6-by-6 grid frames in front of the lighting instruments, I drop to Opal or 250 mounted on 2-by-2 frames or on the barn doors of the lights themselves. On occasion, I also use the Mole-Richardson T5s. At that point, you arent concerned with the presentation of an idea or a theme; you are actually accessing and dramatizing scenes that have a certain harshness and reality."
The cinematographer uses Panavision Ultra Speed lenses to achieve the romanticized quality he wants inside the White House, and he also uses black netting behind the lens on every shot. Del Ruth says he discovered the nets by accident while perusing a fabric house in New York on a completely unrelated errand. "I saw this bulk netting made by the fashion industry that was wholesaled to the trade," he recalls. "It was a Dacron/Orlon combination not silk yet it had a very fine texture and an open weave without any burrs. It seemed that the diameter of the individual holes was large enough that it would have a minimal diffusion effect that was just enough to take the curse off the edges and get the practicals to sparkle, especially those units that had point sources.
"They wouldnt sell the material to me as an individual, but I have a photographic corporation and they were able to sell it to me based on that," he recalls. "So I bought 500 pairs of what they ultimately make into pantyhose. If anyone wears a size 16 and needs pantyhose, talk to me!"
A loyal user of Panavision equipment for 30 years, Del Ruth uses a Platinum as his A-camera and a Lightweight Millennium on the Steadicam rig; both are operated by Don Thorin, Jr. "The sensibilities required to operate an A-camera do not always translate to Steadicam operating," Del Ruth opines. "In terms of how the camera is utilized and manipulated, they are essentially two different mindsets: A-camera work involves fixed, beautiful compositions with fluid pans and dolly moves, while Steadicam shooting involves kinetic movement. It requires two different psychologies to operate successfully in each mode, and you dont often find one person who is excellent in both categories. Weve been very fortunate with Don, who joined us midway through last season, and with a few other operators weve used."
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