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Road to Perdition...unrealistic lighting?


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#1 Daniel Moore

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 01:39 AM

I was watching Road to Perdition, and the lighting seemed unrealistic to me. There were several scenes, mostly where the scenes had dim rooms, and the characters had soft but bright light projected onto their faces. It seemed almost as if ambient light was the key light, and not only that but that it didn't seem to be motivated by anything....

There was also a scene where it was raining outside a window, and there was that interesting effect where you see the shadows of the rain projected into the room from the light behind it....although, has anyone actually seen rain do that in reality? I'm not sure I have, although it seems possible. I'm wondering if it's a style of direction/lighting that is used to be cinematic regardless of it's realism.

Anyone seen this movie lately or remember it?
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#2 Tom Lowe

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 02:35 AM

i saw it for the first time about a year and a half ago. i am usually a real stickler for "realism" and i'm always looking for unmotivated light, but frankly, i don't remember seeing these problems you mentioned. i was very, very impressed by the cinematography, and immediately added it to my top 10 alltime pictures in terms of cinematography.

keep in mind that you always have to allow for some manipulation of light. it's just like any other form of necessary "suspension of disbelief."
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 03:33 AM

Conrad Hall said that he usually started out in terms of thinking about a logical or realistic source for the light for a scene -- but he was not a fanatic about realism. He often mixed hard and soft light within a scene for mood or to direct the eye. There are many lighting tricks in "Road to Perdition" that have elements of film noir in them, like projected shadows. Given the Depression Era gangster storyline, it seems justified.
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#4 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 04:06 AM

I have personally witnessed rain making shadows on faces and on the wall. I remember stopping a conversation to mention it to the other person.

American beauty was similar in a sense that there would be very dark scenes and a "facelight". I did notice, but it didn't bother me at all, especially when compared to other terrible lighting choices in many other movies.
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#5 Stephen Murphy

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 07:38 AM

Does it really matter if the lighting is unrealistic or unnatural? As long as the images suit the story and enhance the viewers experience then the photography is appropriate IMO. People get too obsessed with with "natural" lighting.
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#6 monday sunnlinn

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 10:53 AM

i've seen that rain shadow effect in real life...

i guess my opinion would be that if you're creating the agreed upon look, you've done your job...
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#7 Kiarash Sadigh

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 01:08 PM

Does it really matter if the lighting is unrealistic or unnatural? As long as the images suit the story and enhance the viewers experience then the photography is appropriate IMO. People get too obsessed with with "natural" lighting.


I agree. Who says that lighting must be realistic...and what is the definition of realistic lighting anyways? I have to say that I really liked what Mr. Hall did in Road to Perdition, however it looked a bit over lit to me, meaning that things and characters were in most part conveniently lit, an American tradition of motion picture photography I'd say.
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#8 Paul Bruening

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 01:17 PM

The lighting for so many movies is largely, utility. Conrad's work in RTP was actually beautiful. In this case, I mean that the shots were beautiful in and of themselves just because of the lighting. Amazing work. Just lovely.
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#9 Tom Lowe

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 02:05 PM

IMO, there is something to be said for more realistic lighting. It annoys me sometimes when I see a couple lying in bed, for example, and there are just obvious stage lights shining on them randomly, with no motivation anywhere in sight. I think what David mentioned about Hall is the way to go: aim for realism, but don't be fanatical about it at the expense of the movie.
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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 03:27 PM

IMO, there is something to be said for more realistic lighting. It annoys me sometimes when I see a couple lying in bed, for example, and there are just obvious stage lights shining on them randomly, with no motivation anywhere in sight.


I run into this problem all the time though -- I have a bedroom set on my current show with a window on each side of the bed, but any light shining through the windows doesn't really hit the faces at the headboard. So whenever someone turns out the lights at night, I have to go through all sorts of contortions to have any light on the faces -- I can't just put a slash of moonlight or streetlight across their faces. And I can't let it go too dark either because the characters are talking and you need to see their emotions. In real life, all you'd ever have hitting the headboard end of the bed is soft ambience, even in day scenes, unless a room lamp is on somewhere. But really soft lighting on faces in the dark can get too dim and mushy, low-contrast, murky, especially for a TV screen -- you need a little more shape to the light. So you often make-up an off-camera window light to the side of the bed that doesn't really exist.
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#11 Jarin Blaschke

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 04:45 PM

I run into this problem all the time though -- I have a bedroom set on my current show with a window on each side of the bed, but any light shining through the windows doesn't really hit the faces at the headboard. So whenever someone turns out the lights at night, I have to go through all sorts of contortions to have any light on the faces -- I can't just put a slash of moonlight or streetlight across their faces. And I can't let it go too dark either because the characters are talking and you need to see their emotions. In real life, all you'd ever have hitting the headboard end of the bed is soft ambience, even in day scenes, unless a room lamp is on somewhere. But really soft lighting on faces in the dark can get too dim and mushy, low-contrast, murky, especially for a TV screen -- you need a little more shape to the light. So you often make-up an off-camera window light to the side of the bed that doesn't really exist.



Agreed, and I've been there as well, trying to cheat in a little contrast and visual interest. However, a couple very respectable contemporary DPs don't seem to worry much about it all the time. The best example I think is Harris Savides. Look at "Margot at the Wedding" with Kidman and her son in the guest room one night. No real shape to the light, just an even murkiness. The same a few times in "The Yards" - one scene that comes to mind is when the thug comes into Wahlberg's mother's house with a gun. Come to think of it, he does this somewhat often: Last Days, Birth, etc. Lance Acord is another DP often going for a realistic ambiance over well-shaped light on the faces. Just another school of thought, also dependent on what's appropriate for the piece of course.

Edited by Jarin Blaschke, 08 November 2008 - 04:47 PM.

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#12 Daniel Moore

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 06:40 PM

Wow great responses from everyone.

That makes complete sense about directing the eye. I remember the conference table scene where Daniel Craig apologizes, and as the other men leave the room as the camera moves closer to him, his face and also his shirt are very white, almost "glowing"....and it definitely directed my eyes. It actually reminded me of how a "black light" works.

I also agree, lighting doesn't have to be "natural", but, when I thought about how the exterior lighting in the locations seemed to me to be very undirected soft light, and then I see an interior shot where the character's seem to have unexpected highlights, that to me seems contradictory to the exterior visuals.

Interesting point about "suspension of disbelief" too.

I guess I can say, from a technique based perspective, I can appreciate Road to Perdition more now. Thanks for the responses.

Edited by Daniel Moore, 08 November 2008 - 06:44 PM.

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#13 Jason Outenreath

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 07:48 PM

Also, Road to Perdition was a comic book originally. What I was so impressed with in the lighting/colors was how it actually looked like a comic book sometimes. So it was realistic/stylized within the context of the source material.
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#14 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 08 November 2008 - 09:39 PM

Wow great responses from everyone.

That makes complete sense about directing the eye. I remember the conference table scene where Daniel Craig apologizes, and as the other men leave the room as the camera moves closer to him, his face and also his shirt are very white, almost "glowing"....and it definitely directed my eyes. It actually reminded me of how a "black light" works.

I also agree, lighting doesn't have to be "natural", but, when I thought about how the exterior lighting in the locations seemed to me to be very undirected soft light, and then I see an interior shot where the character's seem to have unexpected highlights, that to me seems contradictory to the exterior visuals.

Interesting point about "suspension of disbelief" too.

I guess I can say, from a technique based perspective, I can appreciate Road to Perdition more now. Thanks for the responses.



Whats that story.. the DP is asked by the director.. when he put up a big HMI for a night ext... but where is that light coming from..DP answers.. same place as the music.. :)
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#15 Israel Yang

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 12:23 PM

wasn't it also Conrad Hall who noticed the rain drop shadows on the character's face and decided to keep it in "In Cold Blood".
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#16 Mike Lary

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 03:43 PM

wasn't it also Conrad Hall who noticed the rain drop shadows on the character's face and decided to keep it in "In Cold Blood".

Yes. It was an unintended side effect of aiming a large light at water streaming down a window. And that answers the question of whether or not that effect can happen in real life. We may not see it often because the conditions have to be just right.

I never had a problem with the 'realism' in Road to Perdition. I always felt that the lighting design was consistent and that light was used with painstaking accuracy to enhance every element of the story. I find the Cinematography to be quite beautiful and inspirational.
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#17 Henry Weidemann

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 04:03 PM

I think there's a difference between "realism" in the common sense of the word, and "realism" in the sense of telling a story for a motion picture. I can't remember seeing those "unrealistic" moments when I watched the movie, but it's now 3 - 4 years ago that I've seen it. I think if the lighting goes hand in hand with the story and if it works out the unspoken elements of the story, it can be realistic or natural as well, just in a different way.
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#18 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 06:55 PM

Ironically, I went out and bought the film and am watching it not; just to see the unrealistic lighting. Now there are a few spots where I agree it looks, unreal, but just in the Night EXT stuff. But the thing is, I buy into this world-- the world this film created, and because of that, it doesn't matter that the lighting is unrealistic. After all, it's a movie.
Nothing is really glaring, nor would I think, be noticed, by your typical viewer.
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#19 Serge Teulon

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 08:15 PM

.....I buy into this world-- the world this film created, and because of that, it doesn't matter that the lighting is unrealistic. After all, it's a movie.
Nothing is really glaring, nor would I think, be noticed, by your typical viewer.


I personally believe that Conrad Hall is the best at that. And he does it in films that relate to human life on this planet. Not sci fi's etc...
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#20 Chris Keth

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Posted 19 February 2009 - 10:29 PM

Does it really matter if the lighting is unrealistic or unnatural? As long as the images suit the story and enhance the viewers experience then the photography is appropriate IMO. People get too obsessed with with "natural" lighting.


This is my opinion. If every movie was lit like real life, 99% of movies would be very ugly and many actors and actresses would be very angry with a lot of DPs.
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