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Elevator lighting?


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#1 Bon Sawyer

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 07:04 AM

Hi all,

Next month I'll be shooting a low-budget short film, 90% of which takes place in an elevator (containing four characters). We'll be using an elevator set that was constructed a few years ago for another production. It will be 2 m x 2 m in size, and hopefully all four walls will be removable (or at least hinged so they can be swung out of the way), for maximum angle flexibility. We will have a day or two for camera/lighting tests before the actors arrive, and one day for rehearsals (on which I will also be able to do some camera/lighting testing).

I'm looking for suggestions on how to light it, as well as any factors I need to take into consideration. I'm also interested in suggestions of films with well-shot elevator scenes (or other scenes involving tight spaces with similar lighting considerations) that I could check out for reference.

We'll be shooting with an XL1s, with both regular and wide-angle lenses. We'll have access to basic tungsten lighting (redheads, lilliputs, gullivers, a blonde) only. No Kino Flos or the like, unfortunately, but we can probably use conventional household fluorescent fixtures and diffuser panels up top, if desirable.

The primary light source will most likely be an overhead diffused source (as I'm guessing is usually the case). We can't afford to be spending too much time adjusting lights between setups, but I'm guessing that (a) the look will be a bit flat and dull without some extra lighting (rim?), and (b) some fill will be required to control unattractive shadows. I suppose I'm basically looking for ways to add some mood and contrast (it's a drama, and intended to become increasingly tense from start to finish), if at all possible without making the lighting scheme overly complex (or unconvincing).

I already searched, and found these two threads on the topic, which had some helpful tips:
http://www.cinematog...?showtopic=1143
http://www.cinematog...?showtopic=6523

Any other info/suggestions that were not covered in those threads is much appreciated.

Thanks,

-Bon

Edited by Bon Sawyer, 20 December 2005 - 07:06 AM.

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#2 freddie bonfanti

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 08:28 AM

hey there,

using just diffused overhead lighting wont be enough i guess, unless the source is high. it would leave some shadows on the actors eyes and noses unless thats what you're looking for. since you're on a set you've got more freedom to set your lights up, i would try bouncing some light into the elevator either from above with an hmi and a white board or reflector or from the front. then again it depends how much of the elevator itself its gonna be in shot, where youre placing the camera and how much space you have...

good luck

freddy
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#3 Lars.Erik

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 08:50 AM

You don't state the style of which you'll be filming. This is always helpful to state, specially when it comes to lighting.

But nr. 1 concern I would say, is to make 1-2 walls removable, as you said. This is extremely important, or the shots you'll get won't be with enough variety.

If you want to light it easy, well a diffused light from above, as mentioned is a good start. Bounce a few big lights into white cardboard, make a diffusion frame which is place between the bounced light and the elevator.

Personally I wouldn't bounce light for fill. In such a small space, you'll make it more flat. I would probably go for a couple of 300w, place a bit higher than the camera operator. Close the barn doors almost the way inn. I don't use diffusion on this technique. And I like the way this looks. Conrad L. Hall did a similar thing. (Not that I am comparing myself to such a lengendary cinematographer).

BTW, how many actors are in it? Are they all caucasian, or do some have darker skin? Are they all the same height? If there are children there, you also have falloff to worry about.
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#4 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 09:03 AM

You don't say what the film is about. Is it a thriller, a comedy, a horror film? The story will be a major factor in your lighting choices. How 'realistic' do you want your lighting? If you're looking for naturalism, then soft toplight is probably the way to go, using bounce cards to fill in the actors' eye sockets a little, and perhaps some sort of eyelight, maybe a mini-flo taped to the matte box.
If it's a more dramatic piece, then you can take a few liberties with the light, make it harder, colour it, cut it or snoot it into distinct pools, or whatever takes your fancy. Maybe the elevators' light is broken, and it's just illuminated by emergency light, who knows?

I think you're pretty much stuck with toplight and fill - an elevator is after all, just a box. You do have a little flexibilty in how you approach it, but that will inevitably be influenced by the story.
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#5 Scott Fritzshall

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 10:56 AM

I've been in some elevators that have a bunch of very small incandescent bulbs recessed in the ceiling instead of fluorescents. It's got a very different look, and it's sort of interesting. Just tossing it out there as something to think about.
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#6 Alex Haspel

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 11:19 AM

I've been in some elevators that have a bunch of very small incandescent bulbs recessed in the ceiling instead of fluorescents. It's got a very different look, and it's sort of interesting. Just tossing it out there as something to think about.



that's a nice idea there.

what i'd try would be hanging a diffusion frame into the elevator, insted of the ceiling, and coming straight down from above on it with a rather big unit.
and then i'd rig some smaller units directly underneath the diffusion frame, creating pools of light, for those hot spots mentioned above by mr. fritzshall.

if the walls in the set are light enough, you shouldnt need no fill from below since the light coming trough the diffusion from above would bonce around wildy and illuminate the scene quite consistent.

and at last i'd cut holes into the set's walls and put some dull/silky plexiglas or something slightly diffusing in it. (or glas with lee diffusion on it)... as practicals
you could then light those from behind, from the outside of the set and motivate rims with that.
or even make rims with those practicals if you put big enough units behind them.

good luck anyways, show us the results.

Edited by haspel, 20 December 2005 - 11:22 AM.

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#7 Bon Sawyer

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 11:48 AM

Thanks, everyone, for the responses! Plenty of great suggestions for me to experiment with. I kinda had a 'pooled' look in my mind, and the approaches proposed in the last couple of posts sound very interesting.

It's a drama, with some thriller elements as well. There are four actors of similar height. Three of them will most likely be caucasian (two definitely are), and the fourth will likely be Maori (Polynesian, but he's at the lighter end of the Polynesian scale from memory).

Maybe the elevators' light is broken, and it's just illuminated by emergency light, who knows?

I actually suggested this to the director, as I think it would suit the story well. He said he'd consider it, but I think he perceives it as a complication. I'll have to see if I can find a simple enough way of doing it.

Cheers. Any further input would be appreciated.

good luck anyways, show us the results.

Will do... if it turns out well. :) (Or maybe even if it doesn't... I'm sure people here would be able to provide some handy feedback.)

-Bon

Edited by Bon Sawyer, 20 December 2005 - 11:55 AM.

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#8 Bierman

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 08:06 PM

I actually suggested this to the director, as I think it would suit the story well. He said he'd consider it, but I think he perceives it as a complication. I'll have to see if I can find a simple enough way of doing it.


An easy way to pull off the broken fixture might be a simple flicker gag with a dimmer. Just hook in your source and have some one man the dimmer rocking it back and forth rapidly. There's probably a few other ways to do it to.
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#9 Michael Collier

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Posted 20 December 2005 - 10:28 PM

This may be out of your style, but...

what if during the flick you see that light can get in through the doors. set that up first. Then to add drama as the elevator scenes get more heated, take a light, just a small one flagged so it lets just a thin square of light fall through the doors and have that scan feet to head (if the elevator is going down, opposite if its going up.) This way you add another light element that seams to make sense in the beggining, but almost transitions to impresionalistic towards the end. and if you add in a flicker it may be the only light on the scene for a few frames, giving an interesting effect.
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#10 Bon Sawyer

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Posted 22 December 2005 - 06:22 AM

More great suggestions- thanks guys!

I was in an elevator last night (I suppose I should be checking out as many as possible :)), and it had another interesting lighting arrangement- four diffused fluoros forming a 'border' in the ceiling, with none in the centre. It had a subtly different feel to conventional centred fluoros- probably still not as dramatic as recessed incandescents, but another possibility for me to play around with.

-Bon
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