How do you light 360... underground... at night?
Recently I was presented with that interesting challenge on the set of Landfill, to light the inside of an underground tunnel of trash. The first challenge is just what do you imagine when you read in the script about a tunnel built completely of trash? How can you start to conceptualize a lighting style when you can't even imagine all the textures and limitations of a tunnel made out of garbage?
The tunnel in the script was written a very dark, with light beams. The way to get light into beams is to have a very powerful and focused source, along with something in the air to make it volumetric. That is to say, something for the light to grab onto. For these small beams I would need holes in the tunnel, and I couldn't fill in the space too much without loosing the beams.
Designing the tunnel
This is where the help an amazing production designer and art department really show their talents. Within the first week of pre-production we had some easy to follow diagrams for the tunnel, something to get the conversation started. We knew our goals, we had three children who had to fall into this tunnel and find a dead body. Sounds simple enough, right? It had to be large enough for all of the children along with the camera and crew to fit inside. I worked along side our production designer Burns to make sure his plans would work for the lighting I was going after.
Fill to taste
To start with I added in a fill layer of ambient lighting. I used five kinoflo image 80s, which are eight 4' kino tubes in a studio style fixture. We went with tungsten to match the rest of our lighting kit. The really unique thing about this setup is that the garbage material we used was translucent. By making an array of these large kinoflo sources we were able to introduce our ambient fill and let the light bleed through the ceiling garbage.
Light beams and bounce
For the light beams I used eight source-4 lights with 19° lenses. While we could leave the fill lights covered and let them light through the ceiling garbage, only making them softer, the little spot lights needed gaps created in the ceiling and sides. Lighting and Grip teams worked with art to find the right areas to open, we would point the light through, then cover as needed to make it look good for camera and hide any holes.
Source-4's and lekos are some of the most versatile tools in lighting. I always include a few of them in any lighting order. Think of them like little spot lights. We filled in the gaps between the image 80's with these lekos. Sometimes the lekos would move around depending on the shot and talent. Light beams are at their most pronounced when aiming towards the camera. We tried not to move them as much as we could get away with it as this is like threading a needle, trying to get a beam of light through a small gap in the garbage.
I used a DF-50 hazer to create the haze that the light was able to catch. These are sometimes referred to as god rays, but that's more in the context of when beams of light break through clouds.
Once the lights were up I would have my Key Grip Sean McQueen bring in a small pizza box bounce card to fill in any remaining spots or to act as an eye light.
We shot Landfill on the Red Dragon with Zeiss cp.2 lenses. The CP.2 line of lenses tends to lean a bit on the cooler side. That cooler bias was used to our advantage and we shot with a lower color temperature of 2000k. This was a very moon lighting style approach to the color temperature and tone of the scene. I also desaturated the image in camera slightly.
We shot in R3D format and the intention is to refine this look in the final color grade, because these settings are recorded nondestructively in the camera. All of the images in this blog post are straight from the camera with no additional grading or processing.
Shooting with a look in camera or a LUT on the monitor gives everyone working on the project a very strong idea of what the final will look relatively like. You're better able to make creative decisions on the fly and as you see things happening.
Behind the scenes walk through of the set.
Bonus for Audio
Going into this setup I thought that audio would have a really hard time. Turns out they were able to use the scissor lift to easily boom over the set.
I recently returned from a documentary trip to Haiti. This is an account of just one of my days there...
We started in Port-Au-Prince and worked our way north for seven hours, through towns, and villages, mountains, fields and plains, and along some coastlines. We had myself as the cinematographer, the director, Chris on audio, and two local Haitian guides. One of who spoke English and our driver who didn't.
The trip began driving through the twists and turns of Port-Au-Prince. I was setup to shoot out a window, capturing shots of people and the life there. Houses were stacked on top of each other and more people then I have ever seen in my life in one place. Each person sitting on the sidewalk selling something unique, sunglasses, bananas, tires, oil. UN trucks and compounds became a familiar sight. People walking everywhere, always walking everywhere you go in the country.
After getting out of the city we saw our first view of the countryside. Fields and huts. As the road conditions quickly grew much worse our driver would zig and zag around potholes and pedestrians.
One of the villages we came across really blew my mind. Thousands of people all down in a small ditch to our left, all selling various goods. What I assume was rice in some large bags. I honestly thought I was in Africa for a moment.
In a small town in a valley our driver pulled over to get some gas. Then our guide wandered away to go buy himself some food. So there the three Americans sat waiting. The director decided to buy a Soda from one of the local children. He gave him $5 as the locals carry no change. This caused quite the panic as each child who was near by insisted they had also helped with the sale and that the $5 was theirs, this bill was passed around for all to examine. The largest child ended up with it till an older lady came around to break up the fuss. Some of the grown men came over to ask for a handout from my director. All the while our two guides were happily using the bathroom for too long or eating across the street. Mind you they couldn't communicate to us what they were doing, and made no attempt to. After several minutes they returned and we tracked on again.
We made our way into the mountains, and found hundreds of school children all walking home from school. All in their perfect informs, each with their own school colors. Some would wave, but most would stare. I don't think many kids in this part of Haiti had seen a white person before.
Upon reaching the summit we were greeted with the view of our destination, the Citadel. Far in the distance this massive fortification stood waiting. Our guide pointed to it and said in a very broken English "3 hour". So down the mountain we drove, through more small villages. Each with the same barbershop and stall sized bank.
We came into Haiti's second largest city, Cap-Haitian. This is a city along the northern coast of Haiti. Ive never in my life seen such an abuse upon Mother Nature. Trash and sewage all along the beach. What could have been a beautiful resort town was now doomed by a city of industry that had surrounded her. It's hard to describe the smell, but it lies somewhere between burning rubber and sewage but it's not either of those directly.
After leaving the Cap we drove through more fields. Finally coming to a small town at the base of a mountain. This town was immediately different. The streets were paved with cobblestone. I knew we had arrived, well almost. Our driver spoke with the locals who introduced us to a guide. The guide hopped on the back of a motorcycle and we followed him up the hill. Twist and turn in a 4x4 on hundreds of year old streets that see very little tire tread.
We reached the top, it was a parking lot of sorts, and out of every direction appear people with trinkets, and horses. I'm greeted with "hallo my name is Marcie and I will wait to sell you this mask when you return", "hello my name is George and your horse is named kiki". They were all very friendly and as it turns out the only way to get to the citadel is to walk or ride a horse up. I threw my camera pack on and hopped on a horse. I've shot enough westerns, I should be fine. Up the hill we went. Three Haitians to every horse, and each horse to someone in our group. On the ride up through the jungle on horseback was something very unexpected and quite amazing. Riding on a hidden path to a castle 3000' above sea level.
When we reached the top and at the base of the castle I dismounted the horse. Now I've ridden horses before, I've gotten on and off. I've filmed around plenty of them. What I've not ever done is use a pile of giant cannons as a step stool, and which is exactly what we did. This fort was complete with cannons and massive piles of canon balls.
I quickly set up my camera, and we explored the Citadel with our guide for an hour till just before it got dark out. It was only us and our guides. No other people at this historic location. From the top of the rotunda we could see the bay in which Christopher Columbus first landed upon.
After capturing all the footage we needed, and getting an amazing history lesson we left the castle walls. Now it was time to pay the guides. One thing about the Haitians is that you can never give them enough, they always ask for more. It becomes a constant conversation where they ask for tip upon tip. We paid them, some content, other not, and left back down the hill.
Our driver and guide decided that a better way back, rather then through Cap-Haitian was a back country road. The sun had set and it was spark when we finally reached the village at the base of the mountain. The road they chose took us four hours to traverses. Thousands of potholes to avoid, and three rivers to cross. But we made it. If you've ever been 4x4 driving for four hours you'll know how your back feels after that. Very sore.
After a bit of a slowdown we finally got back onto a paved road. We began to make great timing "screeeeeech". Our driver didn't see that speed bump. Sent everyone into the roof of the car, I think my head is still a little bruised. He took every speed bump at a snails pace after that.
About 30 minutes after, while driving back our car came to a sudden but slow stop. The car stopped working, it stopped working in the middle of the night in the middle of Haiti. This isn't good. Our driver got out, looked at the engine and assessed the situation. He tested the battery, still working. Tested the power connection to the engine, still working. Tested the fuel pump, not working, there was a clog. Our driver disconnected the fuel line from the pump and started to suck the diesel out of the line, and spit it out all over the engine. He did this several times to dislodge the clog. Chris brought him a water. Our driver reconnected the fuel line and manually pumped the fuel in with a button on the pump. He pumped for a couple of minutes, tested out the car and it worked again. We were off. This was a 3 for 3 with cars having issues for Chris and I in Haiti. The other being a fender bender and a flat tire.
After that we drove back to our hotel. Tired after a 16 hour road trip across back country and face dirty with dust and smog. All of the restaurants were closed, our snacks eaten. We went to bed hungry, and after everything I saw and experienced today, that's ok. It's just another way to help me understand what these people are going through.
Indiegogo video we shot in Haiti just came out. So far the campaign seems to be doing fairly well. www.1804movie.com.
Ok so Lomos may not exactly be cold lenses but they are Russian, well soviet to be exact. They were built by the Soviets back in the days of the USSR and were derrived from Zeiss glass after the Russian invasion of Germany in world war two. They come in several different mounts and two types of virieties.
I own a set of the Sphericals and have a lot of experience with them, and have grown to know their quality and strenghts.
Lomos are a great transition into the vintage lens world, without breaking the bank in cost and without being to extreme in look.
These lenses have a look similar to what you would expect from the Zeiss super speeds and standard speed series. They've got good contrast and pretty decent resolving power. Like the older Zeiss glass, the image they render tends to blend together very organicly, nothing really "pops" out of the image, like on a cooke lens. They don't have much of a color shift in general, and give a fairly nurtral color cast. Lomos have a bit of a desaturated and muted look, but not overly so.
I like to say these lenses love to grab onto texture. The more texture and the more grungy the better.
Anamorphic and spherical
Lomos come in two virities; Anamorphic 2:1 and Spherical. The Anamorphics have quite a large ammount of distortion. They're great for music videos and more artistic proojects, but may not be the best choice for contemporary looking stories.
The anamorphics should be avoided for anything needing a lot of visual effects, as the high distortion will be hard on any post house. If they match the look perfectly make sure to shoot a lens distortion chart for the VFX supervisior, as these can have quite unique qualities.
The anamorphics are also known to have less resolving power. They're quite soft lenses and should be downsampled as often as possiable. Shooting HD for HD delivery won't yeld the best results, and I personally think they should only be shot in 4K or higher resolution to bring some sharpness back into the image after downsampleing to HD. Trust me you won't think it's too sharp after the downsample.
Their are various types of mounts that were created durring the russian era of manufacturing lomos. OCT-18, OCT-19 and BNCR. OCT-18 lenses were more typical of 16mm cameras and it's common to find lenses where the front element rotates as the focus shifts. These are not as common in the field today due to the high amount of rotational distortion when focusing.
OCT-19 lenses are very similar to the early Zeiss lenses, with the Iris in the front of the lenses. OCT-19 is almost identical to PL mounts except that they're a little larger and the key is shifted to the top and center. BNCR is similar to OCT-19 and some lenses are able to fit both type of mounts.
Today the modern Lomos which are not related to the origionals other then in name use the Arri style PL mount.
Many of the vintage sets in use today go through a modification process to convert the mount to PL. Some are rehoused, but few lens techs will touch them. The lenses can be hard to service depending on what types of servicing they received in soviet days. The joke is that they were lubed with vodka.
Lomos have some of the most interesting history as far as lenses are concerned. They were made by the soviet union in the days of the USSR, which most people know. Their origional birthplace is in germany however. In world war two when the russians pressed into Germany. The Zeiss factory was invaded and the origional plans and even some of the origional raw glass was taken back to russia.
The mount was modified after the war to it's various types to keep them from being used if the Allies were to capture any sets.
Durring the time of the USSR and due to comunism, Lomos were free to anyone with the aurthorzation to use them and own a set. If you had an issue with the build quality of a particluar lens that would be no issue to replace one out for a new one. However, the old lens would have to be destroyed in order for a new lens to be issued. The same is true if the license to own a set expired. So many of the sets we find today and many of those in the US were hidden away from distruction for many years until the fall of the USSR.
My personal set of lenses were hidden in a storage facility for 20 years in kyrgyzstan, and many other sets share similar stories.