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Replicating a forest on a set


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#1 Arvin Farahmand

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Posted 22 May 2007 - 12:17 AM

I've been interested in knowing how a certain effect in "Children of Men" was achieved. I think I've found out how, but some pieces of the puzzle just don't quite mesh.

I am talking about the forest outside Jasper's (Michael Caine's) home. We see this piece about three to four times in the movie, and it always seems as if the trees further off in the background are brighter than those in the foreground. This motif is something that Lubezki uses a lot in this film (just look at the plants in the background in the first scene where Caine and Owen are having a conversation in Jasper's home).

I always wondered how he managed to pull this off, in an exterior no less. At first glance, he would have to either use a lot (a ton) of silk/diffusion to cut down the light from the sun and diffuse it consistently like overcast in the foreground trees or put a hell of a lot of light on the trees in the background, something which given the size of the wide shots is quite impractical. He'd have to blanket the whole forest with it.

But then I came across these pictures from the set:

http://outnow.ch/Med...f...=912&h=1400
http://outnow.ch/Med...f...=1400&h=912
http://outnow.ch/Med...f...=1400&h=912

Clearly the forest is all a set. This would make it possible to have all the 'trees' in the background (or rather the light behind the backdrop) about 1.5 to 2 stops over exposure, while keeping everything in the foreground at an even diffusion (Picture 1 and 3).
com_cap1.jpg
com_cap3.jpg

I could buy that it is just a really good set. But look at the parallax when the car pulls into Jasper's home. It doesn't look like a set to me. This part looks like location.

My other problem is that, in one instance, at about 1:06:00, when Owen is walking in the forest (a few moments before picture 1) the camera pans up and we can see the top of the trees and the sky. Also when The Fishes arrive at Jasper's (Caine) home it is clearly early morning and the sun, well looks like a real sun, and not something that you can create on a set (Picture 2).

com_cap2.jpg

So if those scenes are done in a real exterior then why create the set!?? If it is all a set, then what about the sun and the top of the trees and the sky (OK, I could buy the top of the trees being CG)? If some parts are location and some set, then how did he achieve that light and dark effect for the location part?

I also noticed that the one other forest scene that is undoubtedly a real exterior and must have been shot on location doesn't follow this dark foreground, bright background motif. I am talking about the scene where Julian is buried (Picture 4).

com_cap4.jpg

This makes me believe that they had to create the forest set just to give Lubezki exact control over foreground and background lighting -- why else would you need that set?! Nothing else happens there!

I'd appreciate any input.

Edited by Arvin Farahmand, 22 May 2007 - 12:20 AM.

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#2 Xavier Plaza

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Posted 22 May 2007 - 10:06 AM

ASC magazine in december 2006 have an article about the movie "Children of men" they only say "the woody exterior" was created in stage D at pinewoods studios, and there are a two stills

hope helps

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#3 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 22 May 2007 - 04:29 PM

As the name suggests Pinewood is a wood with a lot of Pine trees - close to the studios themselves... I should imagine they shot in the set and used the real wood itself at times... I've shot there myself a few times and there are many options available...
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#4 John Holland

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Posted 22 May 2007 - 04:54 PM

Its called Black Park right next to Pinewood, loads and loads of films have shot in the park there ,last time i was there , The Hogwart Express train from the Harry Potter films was in there with a load of railway lines and a station .
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#5 Rupe Whiteman

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Posted 23 May 2007 - 05:19 PM

... I'd completely forgotten it's called Black Park... - well I guess it was a few years ago when I last shot there... beautiful woods though...
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#6 Arvin Farahmand

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Posted 23 May 2007 - 11:10 PM

That's what I'm trying to confirm -- if they in fact shot all in studio or was there any piece shot on location?

I can't imagine how you'd pull of that dark/light effect on location without a ton of silk or lights... any ideas?
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 May 2007 - 12:53 AM

I really doubt all the woods scenes were shot in the studio set.
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#8 Chayse Irvin

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Posted 24 May 2007 - 04:08 PM

I don?t think that was shot in studio. I've always found objects in backgrounds become lower in contrast and seem brighter, and even more so the further away they are, simply because of atmosphere. Because of this you can push the look even more in color correction. Here is a still of a time lapse I shot and the sun is right overhead. The trees in the foreground go dark while the mountain is low contrast. All shot within the same lighting.

Posted Image

I think Lubezki's dogma on this shoot was to use a lot of natural light. I think I read somewhere that the house interiors were shot in studio... but not the exterior stuff.
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#9 Arvin Farahmand

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Posted 27 May 2007 - 11:54 AM

There is quite a bit of distance between the trees and the mountain in that photo you posted. In CoM he basically has the front two rows of trees about 2 stops less than all the other trees. The distance is less. Also the mountains have snow on them so naturally they reflect more light than the trees would and hence easier to separate by exposure.

The thing that struck me the most, and led me to think that it must have been studio or otherwise artificially lit, was that the foreground exposure was uniform. Except for minor tonal variations in color they are all pretty much at the same stop (+/- 1/2 stop I'd figure).

In one shot, where the camera looks up, we see that the trees don't have very big leaves so naturally there is bound to be quite a bit of sun leakage through them and onto the ground (assuming 10AM-5PM light). There is also the wind factor, as we can see the trees in the background sway a bit yet there wasn't a hint of dancing patterns of light on the actor's face.

The only other thing I can think of to achieve this would be something special with the geography and the time of the day they shot that sequence (with the angle of the sun) that puts the trees in the foreground in a semi shadow but still shines light on the trees further off. Any imperfections were flagged or silked to give it that uniform feeling.

Anyhow it looks great to me. It just felt too perfect to have been done outdoors.
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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 May 2007 - 05:43 PM

Hi,

I think it may just be that the background trees are often on lower ground, or the camera is looking up slightly - so you see the tops of the trees more, which are lit more by the overcast.

To be honest all that stuff just looks horribly bland and uninteresting to me - I can shoot overcast any day of the week (except when I really need it, obviously).

I can walk ten minutes from where I sit right now, turn on a camera, and it will look more or less like that.

Phil
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#11 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 03:07 AM

Maybe I'm missing something, but from looking at your stills I think the background forest looks "lit" because there's a clearing between the foreground and background, allowing the sun (or skylight) to illuminate the first row of background trees. (Ugh, I just used "background" three times in a sentence). The foreground is dark because of the canopy overhead.

Or, for tighter shots, Lubezki could have put up a big silk over the foreground and exposed for the background. I'm not sure there's that much of a mystery here, but I could be wrong. I saw the film in the theater, and none of the forest exteriors jumped out at me as looking unnatural.
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#12 Arvin Farahmand

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Posted 29 May 2007 - 09:27 AM

It just jumped out at me as being a little too perfect, and then there was that photo of the set piece...

I'm beginning to also think that it must have been geography + time of day that gave such a consistent separation between the two planes.
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