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"Porcelain" Feature


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#1 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 08:56 AM

“Porcelain” is my second feature as Director of Photography. It’s a thriller set almost entirely in an abandoned Convent. We’re shooting on Sony 750’s recording to Hdcam, and im using Canons HD-EC zooms. Im rating the 750 at 640 asa (0db) for interiors and 320 (0db) for exteriors, and ive been shooting with a Classic Soft 1 and a Smoque 1 for all interiors. I’ll probably loose the smoque for the exteriors.

The premise of the film involves 4 main characters who spend a single night in the empty building, spread out over three large floors, an attic, a large church and a basement kitchen. The entire script is set at night bar a handfull of scenes.
At the moment we’re halfway through the 3 week shoot, and im getting dvd dailies at the end of each week. The images below are a mixtue of frame grabs from those dailies and on set reference stills so the quality is a bit mixed.

In the script the buildings windows are boarded up and the buildings electicity is sporadic and sometimes non-existant, so almost all my lighting is a cheat for “no light” light.
Ive taken a general soft toplight approach to most of the film, with each floor getting progressively darker the closer it is to ground level (mimicing somewhat the characters journey). Most of the frame grabs below are from the darkest level; with a few from the church and a single "family" shot from the second level.
For each floor I had a series of 500 watt paper lanterns rigged to the ceiling, with each lantern coloured with Half Plus green and Lee 101 yellow. For this floor Ive generally been under-exposing my key light by about 3 stops, shooting at T2.8 ½ (at 640 asa). Occasionally id augment this with either a rifa light through light gridcloth or small kino flo. Once again the LitePanels Led kits have proved invaluable for eyelights.

Im not sure if you’ll be able to make out any details in these frame grabs, or any image at all:-) but there is information there…just..:)
Funnily enough the Director has been encouraging me to make things darker, but to my taste this is as dark as im willing to go… for the moment anyway.
At these light levels the skin tones take on a beautifull patina, with the blacks taking on a hint of the colour of my lights, rendering a slightly yellow/green ish cast – kind of 70’s looking.
Needless to say this makes life difficult for my operator using that little coloured LCD eyepiece but hes doing a truly beautifull job regardless.

For our church interior i had two 5K's positioned on a balcony behind camera bouncing into a 12 x 12 bleached muslin. 4 foot flourescent tubes rimmed the alcove behind the altar. All of these were gelled with Primary red. Practicals were replaced with red bulbs and the art department added 2700 candles!!

We’re composing for the 2.40:1 aspect ratio and the camera glides around on the dolly constantly. We’re playing a lot of our coverage as tracking masters that become tighter coverage as we ease in on the zoom. We’ve decided to embrace the zoom on this project and its giving us some really nice results.

Where possible we're trying to shoot through things (doorframes, props etc) to retain a slightly observational approach and we've managed to incorporate some lovely spherical flares for some added texture. I may enhance these with anamorphci flares in post later.

I’ll add another update next week when ill have frame grabs from our upper floors and our night exteriors.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 10:25 AM

Looks beautiful. I certainly wouldn't underexpose any further -- despite the notion that video should be underexposed, the truth is that it gets noisy awfully quickly if you're not careful, especially with the HDCAM format. Also, even though it's so dark because the lights are out, in a room that dark where there is a Christmas tree with lights on, you'd think it would start to provide a "source" and be brighter in the frame.

I like the halation from the Smoque -- reminds me of the old Fog Filter look of the 1970's, but less fuzzy.
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#3 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 11:25 AM

... Looks very atmospheric, and dark enough... Particularly liked the blood-red church interior... 'Look forward to seeing your next grabs...
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#4 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 02:28 PM

Looks beautiful. I certainly wouldn't underexpose any further --


Thanks David - me neither:)
I shot the first few days this way without worrying about the under exposure at all. I was using my meter, checking the results on the monitors and im getting quite comfortable with the astro so i was pretty confident with how it was looking. Then half way through the first week i came in one morning, and started to panic that everything was too dark. I hadn't changed anything, i guess i was just starting to second guess myself. I actually lit and started shooting one of the scenes a bit brighter then i would have and regretted it immeadiately. Its nothing i cant bring down later but its interesting all the same. Ive always considered myself to be "brave" with my exposure, but what i hadnt taken into account is that on all my previous work ive never had to maintain a consistant look for an extended period of time, so ive never had the time for self doubt to set in.
Our night shoots are about to begin so ill have an update at the weekend hopefully.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 12:42 AM

Just turn down the brightness of the director's monitor...
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#6 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 02:17 AM

Jeez, crown the new Prince of Darkness! B)

Those are some seriously ballsy exposures! It's hard to believe that the director actually wants it darker - do you think it's possible that he/she might turn to you during the color grade and say, "bring it up, it's too dark?" What do you do then?

Is the "Astro" a waveform monitor? Where are some of the darker exposures at, IRE-wise? And what's the final release format? It would be interesting to see a filmout test to see how the noise-level holds up.

I like the church interior lighting a lot. Were the 5k's gelled Primary Red as well as the fluoros? The CU looks sharp, despite the red lighting - any tricks there?

Also, how did you choose the combination of Classic Soft and Smoque filters? David Mullen has mentioned that the Classic Soft look is sort of a more subtle version of net diffusion. Is the CS + Smoque a pretty subtle effect?

Sorry for the barrage of questions, but this is pretty exciting! I'm interested in knowing more.
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#7 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 07:51 AM

do you think it's possible that he/she might turn to you during the color grade and say, "bring it up, it's too dark?" What do you do then?

Is the "Astro" a waveform monitor? Where are some of the darker exposures at, IRE-wise? And what's the final release format? It would be interesting to see a filmout test to see how the noise-level holds up.

I like the church interior lighting a lot. Were the 5k's gelled Primary Red as well as the fluoros? The CU looks sharp, despite the red lighting - any tricks there?

Also, how did you choose the combination of Classic Soft and Smoque filters? David Mullen has mentioned that the Classic Soft look is sort of a more subtle version of net diffusion.


Hmm...hadnt thought of that monitor trick:)

Satsuki,
The levels we're working at are so low that if i was to lift it in post the image would look horrible so that option really isnt there. The Director is great, a first timer believe it or not, and he's more then happy with how its looking. We talked about how dark it should be from the begining and he's viewing everything on a 17" full-res monitor. His primary photographic reference to me in prep was a series of dark 70's movies and a couple of Finchers movies so he seems very comfortable with darkness and slightly tinted blacks.
In the church the two 5k's were gelled with primary red as well. The close up was underexposed by about 2 stops. I tested three different red gels a few days before hand and thats the one i settled on purely for colour reasons; all rendered a sharp image, which was nice because ive never been a fan of red in 35mm before.
The classic softs i had used before on previous projects,yes they are subtle and i like the way they halate around light sources so i was always going to use them. The Smoque filters i got interested in when i heard David Mullen talk about them on this site (thanks David!). Originally i had wanted to lightly smoke the building but its such a large building with so many drafts that keeping the smoke consistant would have taken too much time out of our tight schedule so i tested the Smoques and they worked well in adding just a touch of atmos.
Hope this helps,
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#8 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 09:51 AM

Sweet, hope I get to see the film at some point! Thank you, Stephen.
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#9 Matt Workman

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 11:14 AM

Hey I got you topped for low exposure check this out.

Posted Image

:blink: JK

The wide of the church and the 2 stop under exposed close up are my absolute favorite of the bunch.

I have some questions also. I'm definitely not trying to second guess your team's aesthetic choices but:

Isn't part of having a scene play dark having contrast? If you are working at a low lighting ratio and everything is 2 stops underexposed its the same as exposing normally and bringing it down in post.

If you are going for "in-camera dark," shouldn't you have some part of the scene normally exposed to make the darks seem darker in contrast? You guys did that for the wide church and the closeup. Obviously there are no "shoulds," but I hope my question makes sense to you.

Any BTS photos?

Cheers,

Matt :ph34r:

PS: An astro is just a downconverter for an onboard monitor. Some people call all onboards astros, not saying he is though.

Edited by Matt Workman, 11 April 2007 - 11:17 AM.

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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 11:20 AM

There are basically too kinds of "dark" -- there is really what should be called "dim", which is low-contrast and very underexposed soft light, the David Fincher approach that he is referring to, and there is "shadowy", the higher-contrast approach where there are pools of light closer to normal exposure and a lot of black or near-black shadows.

The trouble with simply darkening a normally-exposed shot in post is that it can look artifically crushed sometimes, plus if you are shooting in very dim, underexposed lighting, than any practical sources like flashlights or Christmas tree lights will read realistically brighter, but if you had lit to a normal level and darkened later in post, these practical sources would also get darkened.

The main problem with the "dim" approach is if you ever end up needing to lighten it in post, it turns to noisy mud. This is why I tend to take a more conservative approach of underexposing halfway and finish darkening in post. Also, I don't trust myself to be consistent-enough in my exposures to play right on the edge of what's usable / acceptable. You may be fine three-stops underexposed but crap-out at three and a quarter stops underexposed, and that's cutting it too close for me. But I'm thinking more about film - at least with video, you can use a waveform or zebras to be very precise about how low your highlights are recorded.
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#11 stoop

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 11:24 AM

Hey Stephen, if you were going for that dark look on 35mm, what would you do differently??
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#12 Matt Workman

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Posted 11 April 2007 - 11:32 AM

The Dim versus Dark terminology seems to make sense. I'll definitely have to make those distinctions clear to the next director who is looking for a dark moody feel, <_< .

Check out this super35mm trailer. A friend of mine at Emmerson in Boston shot this.
http://www.fifthstre...othTEASER2B.mov

I am mainly referring to the refridgerator shot where everything is blue and probably 2 stops under but then the fridge light appears super bright in comparison. I guess with the "dim" approach you are always waiting for that practical light ( headlights, streetlamps, flashlight, lighter ) to show the way.

I suppose the "dim" approach calls for soft light to make the source ambiguous. I guess a hard shadow underexposed just looks underexposed.

Something about the "dim" stlyle makes me think of Dogme95. I kind of like the mentality where you dim the practicals and then bring everything up to normal exposure. Or beef up the practicals. As opposed to dimming everything to practical level. Though I guess thats why there is 750T and Master Primes T1.3.

I have a feeling the footage looks much better on a CRT and the darkness works better with moving images and the inherent grain. JPEGS never do justice, ever.

Cheers,

Matt :ph34r:
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#13 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 08:27 AM

Matt,

David hit the nail on the head with the difference between dim and dark. Dim is definitley the way we're going.
The rationale behind it being if you are in a darkened room for an extended period of time thats the way your eyes would percieve things, and as David mentioned it means you feel the effect of flashlights etc.

The Astro is a small HD monitor with a built in waveform that you can overlay on the image for monitoring. Its not a built in downconvertor. All of the Arri supplied 750's have a built in downconvertor for on board SD monitors.

If i was shooting on Film i wouldnt actually change my approach drastically other then being a little more paranoid about my meter readings. As David mentioned at these light levels the difference between beautifull and gross under exposure is 1/3rd of a stop if you're lucky. If i was shooting this way on film id probaby be working at 500T not 640 and shooting on faster primes at a wider aperture. Of course that would present its own problems like a shallower depth of field for the focus puller to work with.

The whole approach requires a lareg commitment from everyone involved to not change their minds at a later stage. Its one thing convincing an Indy producer or director to be brave but my hat goes off to anyone who take the same approach on a studio picture.
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#14 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 01:26 PM

Some more frame grabs.
We're tryign to shoot floor by floor to make the most effecient use of our time, so they're are a few grabs in here of the middle and upper levels of the building, neither of which are as dark as the lower level. The upper most level has cool glass skylights in them so i had a series of Arri Xlights pumping through them with my night colour (101 yellow with Lee Half Plus green).
[attachment=1916:attachment]
[attachment=1917:attachment]
[attachment=1920:attachment]
[attachment=1921:attachment]
We also squeezed in some small day exterior scenes, shot uncorrected on the 3200K setting with a Jade 1 up front. I rated the camera at 320 asa for the day exteriors and usually underexposed by a stop.
[attachment=1918:attachment]

The film called for a few fashbacks and these we had a bit of fun with. Shot uncorrected at 3200K i used arri x lights again, adding full ctb. I switched to the heaviest Smoque and Classic soft filters we had and painted vaseline on an optical flat on the lens. We also shot at 50i. rather pleased with how it turned out:)
[attachment=1919:attachment]

For a scene set in the buildings old burnt out shower room i had a series of frames made up with crumpled silver into which we bounced par cans (VNSP bulbs) with full ctb and full plus green. The sparks gently shook the flags giving me a beautifull water ripple effect that can just barely be seen in the still photo.
[attachment=1922:attachment]

The buildings loft was purposely over decorated by christmas lights by one of the main characters so we tried to shoot through the lights where possible to add some texture to the frame. The floor of the loft was made of wood with large thick skylights so we uplight through them using our xlights again.
[attachment=1923:attachment]
[attachment=1924:attachment]
[attachment=1925:attachment]
[attachment=1926:attachment]

and finally we got to do open up and do some night exterior work, albeit briefly. I had a series of parcans aroudn the buildings walls working as off camera streetlights and for our wider shots (not pictured) i used a 20K for backlight or side light and some 10K's and 5K's to fill out the background.
[attachment=1927:attachment]
[attachment=1928:attachment]

Thanks for reading!
S
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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 06:15 PM

I love the look of VNSP Parcans pointed straight down for nighttime sidewalk scenes -- Robert Richardson went to town on that effect in "City of Hope" (unfortunately not available on DVD for some reason.)
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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 03:32 AM

Looks great, Stephen. That's some seriously nasty-looking puke in the wide hallway shot, BTW.

I have some more questions for you, if you don't mind.

[attachment=1918:attachment]
I really like the look of the Jade filter + tungsten balance to get that cyan color. Did the filter desaturate the blues somehow or did you desaturate the frame in some other way? In my limited experience, shooting 3200K in daylight on video renders the blues too saturated, whereas on color neg the effect is more muted. Either way, looks nice.

I'm also curious about the Arri X-lights, having never used them before. What kind of light quality to they emit, and how are you using them to achieve your effects?

[attachment=1922:attachment]
I've tried the "water ripple" effect with a blue-gelled fresnel bounced into mylar before and had a problem hiding the source. Did you have any problems with this also? Where are the silver frames positioned in relation to the actors (above, 3/4 back)?

[attachment=1924:attachment]
And finally, is the dot pattern in this bokeh produced by the Classic Soft or the Smoque filter?

I love the look of VNSP Parcans pointed straight down for nighttime sidewalk scenes -- Robert Richardson went to town on that effect in "City of Hope" (unfortunately not available on DVD for some reason.)

I too really love this look - it's very reminiscent of Richardson's work. Interestingly (and I'm no Bob Richardson scholar so I may be way off), it seems that Richardson's approach to "dim vs. shadowy" is definitely on the side of "shadowy" -- he always seems to have a hard toplight, kicker, or backlight for separation. Also, even in the darkest of scenes he aways seems to have a soft side key on faces, which I find at times to be too artificial. It always looks great though.
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#17 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 05:33 AM

I love the look of VNSP Parcans pointed straight down for nighttime sidewalk scenes -- Robert Richardson went to town on that effect in "City of Hope" (unfortunately not available on DVD for some reason.)


David,
Y'know im a big fan of Richardsons work but i havent yet seen City of Hope. I loved the way he used Parcans and maxi's for the streetlights in bringing out the dead though. Im a big fan of parcans - they're cheap as chips and suit the way i like to work - i usually carry them on every job.

Satsuki,
I didnt desaturate the colours any further for the day ext. just added the jade. I quite liked the way it turned out so i might use it again more extensively on something in the future.

The arri x-lights are hmi units but because of the orientation of the bulb and the interchangeable reflectors you can achieve a sharper shadow using them then you would normally be able to achieve with a fresnel.
http://www.arri.com/entry/products.htm

In the shot with the water ripple i have a frame placed directly above both them and the background; top lighting them with the ripple effect. I used parcans with VNSP's off to the right of frame to bounce into them. Any obvious source was well above my frame line so it wasnt a problem for me.
And as for the dot pattern yes that is from the classic softs - i dont mind it myself.
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#18 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 02:49 PM

'Lovely ne grabs Stephen - thanks for sharing them with us... the corridor shots reminded me of Peter Deming's work on Lost Highway... 'like your colour/gel choices... And the room with the christmas lights and uplight on the actors reminded me of Clockwork Orange... good stuff...

What gel'ing did you use on the night exteriors with the par cans etc?

Cheers.
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#19 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 21 April 2007 - 07:07 AM

Rupe,

The night exteriors and interiors are all Lee 101 yellow and half plus green. The interior stuff just looks a different colour because its so underexposed.

S
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#20 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 01:33 PM

For anyone that was interested in the stills of the above Feature ive just added a low res Teaser Trailer to my site
http://www.stephen-murphy.com/porcelain.html
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