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white walls and ugly backgrounds


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#1 David Desio

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 01:17 PM

Hey all, first time caller, long time listener.
This past weekend I was faced with the all to familiar challenge of shooting a scene against a white wall in a white room. To fix the problem I tried a few different things but due to space and lack of production design, decided to just do the ole slash of light across the BG.

So, I was curious...What is everyone's favortie, tried and true way to spruce up those otherwise flat and boring BG's?

Thanks,
Dave
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#2 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 03:09 PM

it doesn't have to be a straight slash, you can make other shapes. add color. yadda yadda yadda.
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#3 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 17 June 2008 - 06:05 PM

What is everyone's favortie, tried and true way to spruce up those otherwise flat and boring BG's?


Tight framing and shallow depth of field is always a good way to cover up poor art direction. And if it's a plain white wall you're dealing with, it's easier this way to throw up a flag or scrim to cut down the levels on the wall.
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#4 David Desio

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 12:43 PM

cool, cool. Thanks for the replies. The scrim and flag ideas are good, the shallow DOF is a bit tough to achieve and always get what I want due to budget constraints (there really is no money-found that out a bit late). Just seeing if anyone has tried any methods that maybe aren't typical solutions.
Thanks again guys.
Dave
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#5 Tim Terner

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 12:58 PM

To be honest, with a 1/3 chip camera and a white room, there isn't a lot you can do. To make it visually impactive, I'd bring a light right close in to the talents face ( side angled light ) and expose for this which would make a very contrasty image, buts that just me
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#6 David Desio

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 02:53 PM

To be honest, with a 1/3 chip camera and a white room, there aint a lot you can do. To make it visually impactive, I'd bring a light right close in to the interviwees face ( side angled light ) and exose for this which would make a very contrasty image, buts that just me



Nice, a little modeling goes a long way, eh? This peice is actually a horror film, sorry should have been a bit more specific. What the director wanted was a dolly into the scene from a picture window to a small dining room. The dining room is between a front living room and a back living room, both of wich appear in the shot and both of which will be included in the sequence. The backroom falls into darkenss, moonlight through the back window, and the scene is a birthday party. (whew)

Anyway, thanks for all the help guys!
Dave
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#7 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 02:55 PM

At some point and on some jobs, you aren't going to reinvent the wheel. It's more like making the best out of the situation.

In the end, if the producer wanted it to look better, they'd get a better room.
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#8 Kevin Zanit

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 03:27 PM

Paint.
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#9 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 03:43 PM

The Noir movement was borne out of the lack of budget for great sets. If it looks like crap, don't show it. Dark moody lighting is the answer and definitely if it applies to the story/topic.
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#10 David Desio

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 05:01 PM

The Noir movement was borne out of the lack of budget for great sets. If it looks like crap, don't show it. Dark moody lighting is the answer and definitely if it applies to the story/topic.



Yup, I think that's gonna be the answer. It is after all, a horror flick. Thanks for all the suggestions.
Dave
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#11 M Joel W

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 05:41 PM

Yup, I think that's gonna be the answer. It is after all, a horror flick. Thanks for all the suggestions.
Dave


White walls are a really bad idea for a horror movie. Most horror movies rely on low key lighting and areas of darkness where you can imagine something might hide. Not only are white walls hard to keep dark (white is much brighter than skin tone) but the white wall acts as a bounce board, making a high contrast ratio on the actors' faces very hard to achieve without a lot of flags or negative fill--which usually take a lot of time to set up on a low budget shoot.

Paint or wallpaper are generally the best answers. It's pretty important to remember that noir was in black and white and that made for a much less cluttered frame. The classic noirs were also shot by very talented DPs who used hard light well. Unfortunately, hard light does not look great on modern color stocks (unless you're some sort of genius, but even Kaminski blew it on the latest Indiana Jones) and it always looks bad on video--and hard lighting can create distracting shadows, which look particularly bad in color.

My personal recommendation would be to keep the actors a distance from the walls, use hard backlighting to create depth, and use a soft 3/4 key near the camera, which can also function as an eye light. Soft light falls off quickly so your actors won't be too dark compared with the walls, assuming the light is tilted down a bit and not directly at the walls and also that your actors are far enough from the walls.

I personally like to vary color temperature and maybe have a warmer key than the backlight/background light, which might be a bit bluer. It can also be helpful, for shots in which there is a lot of figure movement, to allow your actors to go into shadow and become silhouettes against the wall, then maybe walk back into light for more emotional scenes when you need to see their faces. Pointing soft boxes down (so as not to get too much bounce off white walls) can be a good idea; I sometimes even tape compact fluorescents to the ceiling and covered them selectively in gaffer's tape to make a toplight or slight backlight when there's no where else to put one. I did this for a very low budget project so I assume you can do better, but it worked sometimes. Using practical sources to your advantage can also help, since many lamps have colored lamp shades that can motivate a soft, warm light that can put some color and contrast in frame. Just darken the front of the bulb with a gel or a spray so it doesn't blow out so badly and this should look good.

Throwing a slash of light on the wall or shooting a cookie at it is fine, but it also has to be motivated and not too distracting and, again, you're adding more light to a wall that's already too bright. I always find set dressing to be a better option to add texture and, also, you can manipulate set dressing creatively for close ups to create nicer compositions. Not to say high contrast lighting isn't the right answer; it is, it's just very hard to achieve noir lighting in a white room without totally blowing out the walls, so you may want to experiment with soft light, too. If you're shooting film this will be easier to avoid, at least, but my experience is solely with video.

Edited by Matthew Wauhkonen, 18 June 2008 - 05:46 PM.

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#12 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 08:46 PM

When dealing with white walls like this, "poor" latitude/contrast ratio is your friend. Make your key "hot," expose for it and control it as best as possible. With a deeper stop that the bright key demands, your walls will fall off into black much more successfully.

As much as everyone seems to whine and complain about how bad video/HD is, one of the benefits is the ability to use the (lack of) latitude to your advantage when necessary. Fourteen stops of range is not always a welcome thing.
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#13 Frank Barrera

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Posted 18 June 2008 - 10:44 PM

Hey all, first time caller, long time listener.
This past weekend I was faced with the all to familiar challenge of shooting a scene against a white wall in a white room. To fix the problem I tried a few different things but due to space and lack of production design, decided to just do the ole slash of light across the BG.

So, I was curious...What is everyone's favortie, tried and true way to spruce up those otherwise flat and boring BG's?

Thanks,
Dave

create what you can in camera in terms of contrast and then do some power windows in post. here's an example of lighting and post work:
http://www.frankbarr...edycentral.html
all white walls.

Edited by Frank Barrera, 18 June 2008 - 10:45 PM.

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#14 David Auner aac

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 03:54 AM

My favorites are gobos, venetian blinds or a cuke here and there, colored slashes of light and plain old darkness! As someone already said, if it's ugly, don't show it.

Cheers, Dave
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#15 David Desio

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Posted 19 June 2008 - 08:31 AM

When dealing with white walls like this, "poor" latitude/contrast ratio is your friend. Make your key "hot," expose for it and control it as best as possible. With a deeper stop that the bright key demands, your walls will fall off into black much more successfully.

As much as everyone seems to whine and complain about how bad video/HD is, one of the benefits is the ability to use the (lack of) latitude to your advantage when necessary. Fourteen stops of range is not always a welcome thing.


Yeah, ya know I've never thought of using that lack of latitude. My only concern there is the amount of noise it may generate in the shadows. These have all been very helpful suggestions. Maybe there's something to these forums...
Dave
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#16 Chris Keth

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 12:29 AM

The classic noirs were also shot by very talented DPs who used hard light well. Unfortunately, hard light does not look great on modern color stocks (unless you're some sort of genius, but even Kaminski blew it on the latest Indiana Jones) and it always looks bad on video--and hard lighting can create distracting shadows, which look particularly bad in color.


These comments about hard light are so unbelievably fallacious! Hard light can look great on any filmstock, why would that matter? Same with any video format. Do you have to tailor your approach to the stock or video format, yes, but that always applies whether it is hard or soft light. The success of one's lighting is solely reliant on the skill and inventiveness of the cinematographer.

As for working with white walls, I can't really add anything that hasn't been said. My approach would probably be to not light them. Let them go dark most of the time.
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#17 Anton Delfino

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 02:35 AM

a milk crate-oloris or chair back-oloris works nicely
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#18 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 08:29 AM

a milk crate-oloris or chair back-oloris works nicely


I've also used the freshly cut branch-aloris, the C-47aloris, the staircase-ironworks-aloris, and the C-standaloris when necessary. Whatever works! :P
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#19 Jamie Lewis

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 11:20 AM

What's wrong with white walls in a horror movie? If done well they could add to the movie rather than detract from it.

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#20 M Joel W

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Posted 20 June 2008 - 12:03 PM

These comments about hard light are so unbelievably fallacious! Hard light can look great on any filmstock, why would that matter? Same with any video format. Do you have to tailor your approach to the stock or video format, yes, but that always applies whether it is hard or soft light. The success of one's lighting is solely reliant on the skill and inventiveness of the cinematographer.

As for working with white walls, I can't really add anything that hasn't been said. My approach would probably be to not light them. Let them go dark most of the time.


I haven't seen a recent movie that makes good use of hard light (or exclusively hard light) in years, although obviously you're right; you can work with it on any stock and theoretically it could look fine. But even look at the grabs of American Psycho someone posted; I can identify maybe one hard source per each relatively high key frame. If you use a single hard source it's generally fine (and hard back/sidelight can almost always look nice) but once you start getting multiple sharp distinct shadows on a white wall, you're in trouble because this looks terrible.

Also, while I'm not that experienced I will admit since I can't get a job, I don't see how DV's low contrast could benefit anything in this situation. Sure, if you have no figure movement it's fine, but if you're relying on a high contrast light near the camera, once the actors start moving their stop is all over the place. The only way to fix this? Move the light back a great distance and make it brighter, thereby making it a lower contrast source per the inverse square law and defeating the whole purpose of the thing. Soft light has a gentler fall off and more forgiving shadows so you can string a few together near to each other in the zone where a character might walk to maintain a roughly consistent stop in that area, and it actually falls off more quickly than hard light in most cases so you can do even more with the background.

Edited by Matthew Wauhkonen, 20 June 2008 - 12:05 PM.

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