Forever Alone: Day Three

On the left, a real streetlight. On the right, a 650W Arrilite with Urban Sodium gel.
On the left, a real streetlight. On the right, a 650W Arrilite with Urban Sodium gel.

Saturday night saw the third and final day of production on Forever Alone. If you haven’t already, check out my blogs on day one and two of this sci-fi short by Jordan Morris. (I’ve gone back and added some frame grabs into the day two post.)

This time around, our lighting kit had grown just slightly with the addition of a 650W Arrilite. Without this it would have been near impossible to light the nighttime alley scenes that were scheduled. The alley in question was in a suburban area, conveniently adjacent to the producer’s house and thus a power source.

I knew going into this shoot that I would have to embrace the sodium vapour streetlamps. In the past I’ve always avoided or flagged them, because that grungy orange look gives away that you don’t have the budget to swap out the bulbs like they do in Hollywood. American film and TV nights are always steely blue; British film and TV nights are usually seedy orange. With only one flag and one C-stand in our kit, however, I had no choice.

The orange backlight on Faith (Haruka Abe) and the fence, although apparently from the streetlamp in the background, is actually from an Arrilite 650 out of frame right, gelled with Urban Sodium. A daylight-balanced LED panel, also out of frame right but closer to camera, keys Faith. A second panel hidden behind the end of the fence lights the van and the rest of the deep background.
The orange backlight on Faith (Haruka Abe) and the fence, although apparently from the streetlamp in the background, is actually from an Arrilite 650 out of frame right, gelled with Urban Sodium. A daylight-balanced LED panel, also out of frame right but closer to camera, keys Faith. A second panel hidden behind the end of the fence lights the white van and the grass in the background.

Fortunately there were no streetlamps close enough to spill light onto our character, Faith (Haruka Abe) – they were only creating pools of light in the background, which helped add depth. I used one in particular to motivate a strong backlight, in reality generated by the Arrilite, gelled of course with Urban Sodium (Lee no. 652).

For colour contrast, an LED panel set to 5,600K threw in a little “moonlight” from the side. The second panel, also set to daylight, was positioned to light the deep background. It was so handy, as I raced to rig our final set-up before wrap, to be able to slap a V-lock battery on one of these panels and move it across the street in seconds.

When Other Faith appears on the scene, she’s keyed by a Dedo covered with tough-spun diffuser and the characteristic Medium Blue/Green gel. My favourite shot of the night was her close-up:

Haruka Abe as Other Faith. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris
Haruka Abe as Other Faith. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris

Emulating the beautiful contrasty look of the TV show Fringe, I eliminated all fill light to put one side of her face in crisp, black shadow. An LED panel backlights her hair, while the Urban Sodium-gelled Arrilite rakes across the fence in the background.

Eliminating the fill was unexpectedly difficult – a downside of using a sensitive camera. The slightest bit of bounce would contaminate the blacks, as did a faux period streetlamp in the adjacent garden. It’s hard to figure out where unwanted light is coming from when it’s so dim that your naked eye can barely perceive it.

Forever Alone is now wrapped, and Jordan’s beginning the processes of editing and adding extensive visual effects. Personally I’ve learnt a lot about how far a camera be pushed, specifically the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. Many of the wide shots I’ve reviewed are under-exposed (partly due to our widest lens being relatively slow) but the raw data allows the exposure to be bumped up in post without them looking nasty.

What’s the most you’ve ever had to push a camera?

In this splitscreen shot, the two Faiths are backlit by the 650 - this time without a gel, while an LED panel gelled with Urban Sodium lights the background. A second LED panel, daylight balanced, keys the downside of First Faith (left), while a Dedo gelled with Medium Blue/Green keys the downside of Other Faith (right).
In this splitscreen shot, the two Faiths are backlit by the 650 – this time without a gel, while an LED panel gelled with Urban Sodium lights the background. A second LED panel, daylight balanced, keys the downside of First Faith (left), while a Dedo gelled with Medium Blue/Green keys the downside of Other Faith (right).

Forever Alone: Day Three

Forever Alone: Day Two

Stella Taylor as Charlotte in Forever Alone. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris
Stella Taylor as Charlotte in Forever Alone. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris

This is a continuation of my last post, a report from the set of Jordan Morris’s sci-fi short Forever Alone.

Black-wrapped ceiling light
Black-wrapped ceiling light

Day two saw us shooting a big scene in the dining room. Since the location was only available to us during daylight hours, the windows had to be blacked out with bin bags. Ideally for night interiors, I would put an HMI outside to shine “moonlight” in through the windows, and perhaps use halogen floodlights to create depth and interest in the deep background. This can bother some directors, however, because it means leaving the curtains open – hardly realistic. I figured that if I could create an interesting night interior look on Forever Alone without the crux of open curtains and deep background, it would give me a lot of confidence in the future when working with those restrictions.

An LED panel hidden behind the wall that Charlotte (Stella Taylor) is leaning on supplements the ceiling light from a more flattering angle. A CTB-gelled Kinoflo Divalite provides the blue wash in the foreground.
An LED panel hidden behind the wall that Charlotte is leaning on supplements the ceiling light from a more flattering angle. A CTB-gelled Kinoflo Divalite provides the blue wash in the foreground. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris

I began by turning on the ceiling light, something I almost never do. I’m not a big fan of toplight, but it seemed appropriate given the interrogative nature of the scene, and I knew I could add bounced light off the table-top if the look was too harsh. Also, the shadow of the lightshade added some interest to the room’s blank white walls. I used the 60W tungsten bulb, and placed black-wrap across the top of the shade to prevent bounce off the ceiling from raising the ambient light level.

Cardboard barn doors. This kind of DIY solution is so much easier with sources that don't get hot.
Cardboard barn doors. This kind of DIY solution is so much easier with sources that don’t get hot.

I clamped the Dedo to the top of a mirror directly behind Faith, which allowed me to give her a dedicated backlight. I gelled this pink, foreshadowing her eyes glowing this colour at the end of the script.
Other Faith, a visual representation of the heroine’s darker side, was keyed by another dedicated source, this time gelled with Medium Blue/Green again. Ideally this source would have been a Dedo, to achieve fine control, but only an LED panel remained available. So to reduce the panel’s spill onto other characters, I fashioned makeshift barn doors out of a cardboard box.

To light the living room – visible in the background on reverses – I employed the Divalight. This was gelled blue to suggest moonlight and create some depth and separation – a proxy, I suppose, for those deep backgrounds I couldn’t have outside the windows.

Much has been made in recent years of the low-light sensitivity of modern digital cameras, and the attendant reduction in required lighting power. When competing with natural light, larger instruments are still necessary, but Forever Alone really helped me to see what can be achieved with minimal gear. This weekend I get to see how much I can push this in a night exterior scene, as we complete principal photography. Stay tuned.

Working from the foreground back, an LED panel to the right provides the key on Charlotte (centre), with fill supplied by the ceiling light. Faith (right) is keyed by a second panel, gelled with Medium Blue/Green. A Dedo provides backlight, while a blue-gelled Divalite illuminates the background. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris
Working from the foreground back, an LED panel to the right provides the key on Charlotte (centre), with fill supplied by the ceiling light. Other Faith (right) is keyed by a second panel, gelled with Medium Blue/Green. A Dedo provides backlight, while a blue-gelled Divalite illuminates the background. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris

Forever Alone: Day Two

Forever Alone: Day One

Haruka Abe as Faith in Forever Alone. She is side-lit by an LED panel and 3/4 backlit by a Dedo, while a Kinoflo Divalite illuminates the background. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris
Haruka Abe as Faith in Forever Alone. She is side-lit by an LED panel and 3/4 backlit by a Dedo, while a Kinoflo Divalite illuminates the background. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris

When I was offered the role of DP on sci-fi short Forever Alone, I must confess that I had pause for thought. It was a student production, and the lighting package available from the university was much smaller than I’m used to. But I figured it would be a good challenge for me, to see if I could deliver a slick sci-fi look for a script set entirely at night, using only a handful of small instruments.

Creating darkness around the garage door meant making good use of the garage's random contents.
Creating darkness around the garage door meant making good use of the garage’s random contents.

The package consisted of a Dedo kit, a Kinoflo Divalite, two 12×12″ LED panels, a collapsible reflector, a single C-stand (with an arm but no knuckle) and one flag. And we quickly discovered that the Dedo kit contained only one in-tact bubble. On arriving at the house location, I checked out all the ceiling lights and, amongst the energy saver bulbs, found a single 60W tungsten globe. I immediately added that to my modest arsenal, along with my trusty £2 LED camping light which I’d brought along. Additionally, at my request, director Jordan Morris purchased a powerful LED torch for a key sequence. Dynamic practical lighting always looks good, and I thought it might help fill in any areas which our other sources couldn’t reach.

£2 LED camping light
£2 LED camping light

We were shooting on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera with three Canon primes, the slowest of which was f2.8. Regular shots would be recorded in 1080P ProRes, while VFX plates would be captured in the 2.5K CinemaDNG Raw format. I feared I would be struggling to light to f2.8 without raising the camera’s ISO above its native 800, but in fact only one scene felt underexposed.

Interactive light, the low-tech way
Interactive light, the low-tech way: a 60W bulb on a stick

This scene took place in the garage, where the lead character, Faith, uses her superhuman abilities to generate a glowing light source above her head. To create the requisite interactive light, I borrowed the pendant fitting from the ceiling of the garage, removed the fluorescent bulb, put in the 60W tungsten globe and taped it to the end of a broomstick. I had chosen Medium Blue/Green as Faith’s “special powers” colour, but this is a very dark gel. With only a 60W bulb inside, even boomed above Faith’s head, it didn’t shed quite as much light as I wanted. Hopefully these shots, recorded in Raw, can be brought up in the VFX/grading process without too much noise creeping in.

Other sources used in the garage included the two LED panels, colour-balanced to 5600K so as to show up blue on the tungsten-balanced camera. These were positioned in the rafters at either end of the space and dimmed right down, to give a hint of backlight to scenes supposedly taking place in pitch blackness.

The garage’s ceiling light, turned on by the characters of Mitchell and Charlotte when they enter, was represented by our only functioning Dedo. I chose the Dedo for its focus; I didn’t want the room awash with light, just a pool of illumination that would still have shape and mysterious shadows.

Stella Taylor and Oliver Park, as Charlotte and Mitchell, are keyed here by a Dedo in the rafters. A foreground glow is created by an LED panel. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris
Stella Taylor and Oliver Park, as Charlotte and Mitchell, are keyed here by a Dedo in the rafters. A foreground glow is created by an LED panel. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris

For several shots I used my LED camping light as a key, believe it or not, even going so far as to rig it on a stand for certain close-ups. The distances involved were small, so it was quite effective. In one shot (not the one pictured below) I bounced it off the floor AND covered it in tough-spun diffuser, to get an ultra-sublte eyelight.

Haruka Abe as Other Faith, keyed by an LED camping light (£1.50 from a charity shop). Image courtesy of Jordan Morris
Haruka Abe as Other Faith, keyed by the LED camping light shown above. Image courtesy of Jordan Morris

Stay tuned for my report from day two of the shoot.

Forever Alone: Day One