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Filming in complete darkness


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#1 Rodrigo Prieto

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 05:43 PM

I have not posted in some time, but I am now starting prep on a film in Spain, and an interesting challenge has come up in the script (as always). The scene happens in complete darkness, and the characters can't see what the others are doing, but, of course, we want the audience to "see" the action. Talking to the director, he wants the actors to really be in total darkness so that in fact they can't see each other. Hmmmm.... I once tested a night vision device at Panavision that is placed in front (or behind?) of the lens, which was used in the remake of Roller Ball. It essentially means shooting a low-rez night vision video signal with a film camera. I was wondering if anyone knows of any new developments in this field. Is there a high end HD camera capable of shooting with IR lighting, for example? Ideally the images look like a very high quality Night Vision, which we would colorize a bit in post to make the image less monochromatic. We don't want a military style image, but rather a stylized, high quality version of it, where you can distinguish some color, but the eyes still have the weird look of Night Vision. Am I making sense? Any ideas?
Rodrigo Prieto.
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#2 Tom Lowe

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 05:53 PM

Rodrigo, you should talk to Francis Kenny, ASC. He has been checking out the new NHK "Super Harp Camera" which shoots in very, very low light. Just like what you are asking for. He told me he was going to get a demo at NAB this week and investigate the camera. He's a very nice guy and I'm sure he'll help you.
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#3 Rodrigo Prieto

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 06:04 PM

Rodrigo, you should talk to Francis Kenny, ASC. He has been checking out the new NHK "Super Harp Camera" which shoots in very, very low light. Just like what you are asking for. He told me he was going to get a demo at NAB this week and investigate the camera. He's a very nice guy and I'm sure he'll help you.

Thanks Tom! I will contact Francis. Anyone else heard of this "Super Harp"?
Rodrigo.
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#4 Mike Williamson

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 06:22 PM

Hey Rodrigo, have you thought about contacting any of the camera manufacturers and seeing if they could remove the IR filtration from one of their cameras? I know people have done it with DSLR's and I'm wondering if you could get Sony, Thomson, or Arri to help you out. It would probably take a fair amount of testing, but I'm sure you could figure out which camera has the greatest sensitivity to IR, whether a CMOS or CCD camera would be more effective.

You would then have to find IR lighting units, I know you could get special IR Lite Panel Minis, not sure what else would be out there. Here are some links discussing the conversion of digital still cameras for infrared shooting, see if they're useful for you:

http://www.luminous-.....ed dslr.shtml
http://www.maxmax.co...NiteFilters.htm

Best of luck!
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 18 April 2008 - 10:52 PM

One problem with truly shooting in pitch darkness is that the crew and cast obviously can't see very well -- I was amazed to read that they did a big motorcycle stunt in "Rollerball" using the IR camera in complete darkness. Sounded dangerous for the stunt driver...

I wonder if some sort of over-under two-camera rig like Clairmont has (similar to 3D rigs) could be used where an IR camera is combined with another normal camera (perhaps a gain-boosted F23) and very low (but not pitch black) lighting conditions are used, and then you'd combine elements of both images in post in percentages.

Obviously actors have to make-believe anyway as part of their job, so I'm not sure why it is necessary for them to truly be stumbling around in the dark bumping into things.
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#6 Michael Nash

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 12:17 AM

It just so happens that last night's episode of CSI dealt with this same issue. A murder is committed in a restaurant that serves the food in complete darkness, and the audience has to "see" what happened during witness recounts. They came up with an interesting, but stylistic solution -- they shot the actors in black limbo but with a harsh spotlight that would fade up and down to highlight details and faces. Very artificial, but interesting.

screenshot1.jpeg

You can watch the episode here.

A friend of mine came up with another solution -- you could have a black screen with little blinking white eyeballs, like the old cartoons... :P

Looking forward to seeing what you come up with, Mr. Prieto.
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#7 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 12:50 AM

One interesting way to do it might be using heat signatures like what they did in Predator. Just a thought. B)
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#8 Keith Walters

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 02:23 AM

I have not posted in some time, but I am now starting prep on a film in Spain, and an interesting challenge has come up in the script (as always). The scene happens in complete darkness, and the characters can't see what the others are doing, but, of course, we want the audience to "see" the action. Talking to the director, he wants the actors to really be in total darkness so that in fact they can't see each other. Hmmmm.... I once tested a night vision device at Panavision that is placed in front (or behind?) of the lens, which was used in the remake of Roller Ball. It essentially means shooting a low-rez night vision video signal with a film camera. I was wondering if anyone knows of any new developments in this field. Is there a high end HD camera capable of shooting with IR lighting, for example? Ideally the images look like a very high quality Night Vision, which we would colorize a bit in post to make the image less monochromatic. We don't want a military style image, but rather a stylized, high quality version of it, where you can distinguish some color, but the eyes still have the weird look of Night Vision. Am I making sense? Any ideas?
Rodrigo Prieto.


Kodak make "HIE" Infrared 35mm film for still cameras; I don't know whether there is a version that can be used in movie cameras. If you could get some 400 foot rolls of that, and you could find someone to process it, then all your problems would be solved, because the developed negative would fit seamlessly into the existing post production workflow.

However, I think some sort of electronic camera is likely to more practical.

All silicon-based electronic cameras (CCD and CMOS) are sensitive to infrared, in fact they are more sensitive to IR than they are to visible light. This is why they have to have IR filters. (Actually we are having a discussion about this over in the RED Folder).

So if you take just about any monochrome CCD or CMOS camera and remove the IR filter (which usually looks like a thick piece of blue-green glass mounted directly on the sensor), that will turn it into a perfectly useable IR camera. Ideally you would want one with a 1920 x 1080 monochrome sensor and a c-mount lens because its output would be close enough to 2K HD to fit into an normal digital post production chain, and you can get quite good quality lenses for that format.

However I don't know whether anybody makes monochrome HD cameras.

A good quality standard definition monochrome camera might be good enough. If you are using a traditional photochemical Post/finish, you would need to make a digital recording with minimal post-production and burn a negative with an Arrilaser or similar.

A cheap and easy alternative might be to capture the IR scenes using the "Nightshot Plus" feature of some Sony Digital Handycams, where you can activate an inbuilt infrared LED which allows you to take pictures of sleeping children and so on in total darkness. A small motor moves the IR filter out of the way in this mode.

Some of the larger Handycams have quite good Zeiss lenses and Mini DV digital recordings are excellent quality compared to the old analog Handycams. Most Digital Handycams also have FireWire connectors so you can directly import the digital recordings into a computer as a high quality AVI file, which you should be able to get burned to film or inserted into a DI workflow.

An alternative might be to play back the AVI files on an LCD computer monitor (so there will be no strobing issues) and shoot the screen with the film camera.

It won't be as good as an Arrilaser burn but it might be good enough, depending on what the director wants to portray, and how much he wants to spend. It's a good trick on a limited budget to portray scenes like this as being what somebody is seeing on a monitor screen, as it can disguise a lot of deficiencies!

Edited by Keith Walters, 19 April 2008 - 02:25 AM.

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#9 Alex Ellerman

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 03:13 AM

Silence of the Lambs? Jodie Foster pursuing the killer in the end, he's got the night vision goggles on...
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#10 Frank Barrera

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 11:31 AM

Rodrigo,

Hi. I saw this nature doc shot with zero lights and no moonlight and it looked beautiful and unlike any infrared camera i'm used to seeing. here's a link with some info. http://www.pbs.org/w...rds/camera.html the article doesn't give any specifics about which camera they actually used for this but perhaps you could contact the producers for that info..

good luck

f
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#11 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 12:41 PM

Silence of the Lambs? Jodie Foster pursuing the killer in the end, he's got the night vision goggles on...


But the night vision images are faked. Normal lighting and a green filter.

Ever see a night vision image that sharp?
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#12 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 19 April 2008 - 01:17 PM

A Sony F35 or F23 with an infrared LED ring light on the lens?

If you need more power than that you can always filter a movie light for infrared or you might find the lights built for the security market useful. Supercircuits.com sell some of these. Here is one of their flood lights:
http://www.supercirc...amp;ProdID=3903
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#13 Andreas Wessberg FSF

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 02:57 PM

Or you can do like Michael Haneke and Jurgen Jurges did in The time of the wolf,
Roll the camera and film in complete darkness. Some say wast of film, but I really
liked it, very autentic.
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#14 Rodrigo Prieto

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 04:10 PM

Thanks for all these ideas. I did see the Roller Ball scene that David mentioned when I was researching for Babel. I will test that device ("image intensifier") from Panavision, but I have a feeling it may be to "military" for our purpose. This is a scene where the characters and they are in complete darkness, and the director wants the actors to really feel the anxiety of not seeing anything (if possible). No stunt or danger involved in this case, so I am quite intrigued by the idea and the challenge. Does anyone know if the IR filter is removable on the F-23, the Viper, the Genesis or the D-20? Or any other high end Hi-Def camera? I want an image of the highest possible quality, that can be somewhat colorized in Post, but has the odd eyes of night vision, and is slightly reminiscent of the military and security cameras (but more "realistic"). Andreas, I have not seen The Time of the Wolf, but I also played with the idea of shooting blackness, but the director does want to see the action, that becomes quite emotional. Perhaps I will shoot some of it with regular film, as at one point a character lights a cigarette for a moment, but has to turn it off. It may help remind the audience that indeed they are in a completely black environment. The trick is how to do the transition...
Anyway, all the ideas are welcome at this stage. Thanks!
Rodrigo.
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#15 Hemant Tavathia

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 10:42 PM

If the location is supposed to have windows, the Actors could be silhouettes, with little light outside the windows in the background. Add a little bit of backlight on the actors to show separation to audience.
But if we have to see the actors faces, this advice is pointless.
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#16 Chris Keth

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Posted 20 April 2008 - 11:37 PM

If it is capable, I'm sure panavision would be happy to remove the IR filter from a genesis for you.

Here is one of many articles on the net about modifying DSLRs for IR photography. The mod is simply removing the IR filter and replacing it with clear glass of the same thickness.

Have you given kodak or fuji a call about this? I know at least Kodak has made IR film in the past and they might do it again on a special order basis.

Edited by Chris Keth, 20 April 2008 - 11:38 PM.

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#17 Andreas Wessberg FSF

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 06:13 AM

Rodrigo, have a look at The time of the wolf, Your idea of a lighter is close to how Haneke/Jurges did it.
They had the actors to put fire to some hay in a barn and then in a field. Eventually if I remember correct
the whole barn took fire. It was very beautiful and autentic. The scene might give you some new ideas.

good luck with your new film, really looking forward to see it.
Andreas
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#18 Dan Goulder

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 01:03 PM

I'd raise the background from black to dark gray, lighting it to a level where it is barely visible... something against which to distinguish pitch black silhouettes.
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#19 Nate Downes

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 02:11 PM

One simple and direct idea, shoot it on 16mm B&W film (Tri-X for best effect) using a red filter in front of the lens, with all lighting being an on-camera ring light. Will give you that "night-eyes" look easily.
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#20 Jim Keller

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Posted 21 April 2008 - 02:20 PM

I have not posted in some time, but I am now starting prep on a film in Spain, and an interesting challenge has come up in the script (as always). The scene happens in complete darkness, and the characters can't see what the others are doing, but, of course, we want the audience to "see" the action. Talking to the director, he wants the actors to really be in total darkness so that in fact they can't see each other. Hmmmm.... I once tested a night vision device at Panavision that is placed in front (or behind?) of the lens, which was used in the remake of Roller Ball. It essentially means shooting a low-rez night vision video signal with a film camera. I was wondering if anyone knows of any new developments in this field. Is there a high end HD camera capable of shooting with IR lighting, for example? Ideally the images look like a very high quality Night Vision, which we would colorize a bit in post to make the image less monochromatic. We don't want a military style image, but rather a stylized, high quality version of it, where you can distinguish some color, but the eyes still have the weird look of Night Vision. Am I making sense? Any ideas?
Rodrigo Prieto.


FLIR is now making a 640x480 infrared camera that we've been using successfully for a few months now.

http://www.goinfrare.../thermacam-p640

It's not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, and you may run into some export control issues, but it will meet the level 1 requirement of being able to shoot in total darkness.

Mind you, my real advice would be for the director to trust the actors to act and shoot the thing with lights on (for safety reasons if nothing else), but that's not your job...
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