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"Universal" Lighting


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#1 Aaron Martin (TX)

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Posted 28 September 2008 - 03:15 PM

Hello,

With Halloween a little over a month away I have pulled out my DVD's of the classic Universal horror films and started watching them again -- both for fun and for study. Next year I hope to do a short in this style, but I am not quite sure how to go about replicating the look of those films.

I know that the lighting style of films like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Werewolf of London and The Black Cat grew of out German Expressionism, and so I am wondering how to go about getting the same look with modern film stocks and lighting equipment.

As it stands now I will not be using a modern camera or modern lenses (both my camera and lenses date from the late 1920's) and I plan to shoot on 5231. Given all that, here are my questions:

1) What kind of lighting package should I be planning on? I would like to keep this as simple as possible as this project will be done on a very small budget with a small crew.

2) What kind of exposure level should I be shooting for?

3) What kind of key-to-fill ratio should I plan on?

4) This project will most likely be lit from the floor. At what angle to the camera should the lights be placed?

5) How can I replicate this look when shooting on location in sunlight?

6) Are there any special laboratory instructions I should consider for this style of lighting?


Thanks a lot for your help. I'm happy to provide more information about the camera the camera and lenses I will be using to shoot this project if that will help in answering my questions.


Aaron

Edited by Aaron Martin (TX), 28 September 2008 - 03:17 PM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 September 2008 - 04:08 PM

Exposure level is going to be limited by your lighting package -- you're working with slower-speed b&w neg stock so you'll need a decent amount of light, although a hard-light style makes it easier to get enough exposure. These 30's horror movies were not necessarily lit to a deep stop, luckily for you.

You need to shoot a test to determine good key to fill ratio in general and to know when a shadow falls to black or a highlight burns up to white.

35mm Plus-X pushes one-stop pretty well, which may give you some extra contrast as well as more working speed.

Outdoors, the orange-to-red filters are good for adding contrast, and reflectors are good for filling in shadows, adding kickers and edges to things, etc. A lot of this will be visual design, finding ways to have foreground silhouette shapes framing the wide shots, etc.

Studying frame grabs from DVD's can help. Here are some I pulled from "Jane Eyre":
http://www.cinematog...showtopic=24129
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#3 Simon Wyss

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 06:57 AM

Hi, Aaron

As a lab specialist let me recommend you to look at how it was then. In the 20s you'd have had around 25, 32, 40 ISO. The films were not underexposed but mostly a bit overdeveloped. So they had denser negatives. From these they printed onto positive stock, a little underexposed and somewhat overdeveloped. Projected with simple carbon-arc lamps the image was that contrasty but brilliant screen dream. Towards the end of the 30s with sound and colours the cinema became flat. The high-intensity carbon arc light and a new generation of projection lenses came up.

You are on forgotten trail. But go for it ! Bring the smaller lights close to the subjects. Try carbon-arcs with their heavy ultraviolet component from far. Mercury vapour lamps were also in use. I fear you cannot simply imitate a part of our history. It will be an adventure.
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#4 freddie bonfanti

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Posted 02 October 2008 - 12:38 PM

carbon arcs and tungstens mainly...i also remember an interview with Henri Alekan (he worked on a completely different kind of movies but roughly in the same period) where he said that back then most cinematographers didnt have light meters and were used to guess exposure by eye...
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