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Lighting Tunnels


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#1 Andrew Sisnett

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 12:57 PM

I've recently started production work on a short film involving tunnels we've constructed from 12' long, 3' wide Sonotubes (Cardboard cylinders) to simulate tunnels our actors will be crawling through. The set design turned out really well and the tunnel effect is indeed convincing. We've been mulling over lighting options in such confined spaces and haven't been able to come up with a setup that looks appropriate.

The setup I used to do most of the footage involved cutting out a large section of tunnel (1/3 to 1/2 vertically on some parts) and having key and fill set up at the front/back of the actors as we had tracking dollys for the length of tunnel. I'm attempting to light the tunnel to bring out the earthy tones, so CTO is a definite must and i've been trying diffusion to reduce the harsh shadows that would reveal unrealistic sources for light in a tunnel but that also conflicts with the fact that natural shadows do occur when the only apparent light source (to the viewer) would be a flashlight.

I have shot all the tunnels scenes with actors and when I get the footage back I will post a link to to show what I did, but I'd like opinions on alternative methods to attempt for the future or even a demo reel as I don't feel the way I lit them works as well as I had hoped.

We have a lot of coverage shots involving rats in a scale model of the tunnels (10' wide tube, 6 feet long) to make them appear unnaturally large but are having great difficulty figuring out lighting setups for the miniature....we're basically limited to backlighting or front lighting, the latter of which reveals how cute the rats are as opposed to how "scary" the director wants to make them look, heh.

I've mulled over cutting the tube in half vertically and shooting through a clear sheet of vinyl and setting up typical key and fill that way, but are there any other options here?

Has anybody lit tunnels before? What are your thoughts, comments on how to light these appropriately? Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated, thank you in advance.

Edited by Andrew Sisnett, 26 November 2008 - 01:01 PM.

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#2 Andrew Sisnett

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 01:06 PM

i will also add we were severely limited with lights for the shoot, we had 2 2k HMI's, NO flags or silks, no scrims, and only Full/Half CTO. At the film school we are at somebody cleaned us out before the shoot...

What i thought may work very well would be a light mounted on the tracking dolly.... comments?
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#3 Chris Keth

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 02:23 PM

What are these tunnels supposed to be? Could you cut a few round holes in the top of the tunnels and play them as stormdrains (and cut the light to show that by punching through a slat pattern like a grate)? That would give you enough variation from backlight and frontlight to help make things more interesting.
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#4 Andrew Sisnett

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 05:37 PM

What are these tunnels supposed to be? Could you cut a few round holes in the top of the tunnels and play them as stormdrains (and cut the light to show that by punching through a slat pattern like a grate)? That would give you enough variation from backlight and frontlight to help make things more interesting.


The Tunnels are supposed to be under a graveyard, dug out by large rats. We did mull the idea of cutting small holes and have shafts of moonlight spill in, but I am more concerned with bringing out a general level of detail in the tunnel walls and subject, especially while they move and we track them through the tunnels.

Edited by Andrew Sisnett, 26 November 2008 - 05:38 PM.

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#5 Chris Keth

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 05:49 PM

I would backlight the tunnel so you see the texture in the walls. It doesn't need to be that bright but you can go brighter than you might think and still have a good illusion going on. A bonus of this is being able to have silhouettes happen sometimes, which help it look very dark and quite scary. Beyond that I think you're doing some minimal fill with a low level kino or something similar. It's simple but it works.

I do think some shafts of light coming in would add a lot of depth to the image. Some light haze would add atmospheric depth as well and be nice.
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#6 Brian Rose

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 06:04 PM

Perhaps some blue gels, to suggest the kind of darkness to which our eyes have adjusted? I recall they did a similar effect quite nicely in the first "Halloween." In order to reveal the killer standing in the shadows, someone off camera slowly turned up a blue filtered light to reveal his masked face. It was so subtle to be almost subliminal.

From the way you described your project, my knee jerk reaction would be to embrace darkness. It's become a bit shopworn to say, but it remains true that the most fearsome things are that which we cannot see, that which are unknown. If I may be so bold, seeing rats in a miniature tunnel will be very difficult to pull off without seeming hokey (prove me wrong). BUT, what if you kept things dark, and we only saw their eyes, illuminated briefly by a flashlight? Or heard their crawling through the tunnels? You could do a lot with the soundtrack in tandem with a dark light scheme that would be d*mn creepy.

Whatever you decide, I hope you post some frame grabs. I'd love to see what you come up with!

Best,
BR
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#7 dan brockett

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Posted 26 November 2008 - 09:19 PM

Andrew:

You may find it helpful to track down the book, "The New Cinematographers" by Alex Ballinger. There is a whole chapter devoted to Lance Accord's work on "Being John Malkovich". He goes into some pretty nice detail about how Accord and Spike Jonze decided to light the tunnels that the various characters go down to get into Malkovich's mind. Some very nice detail about stocks, lighting, how he decided to get to where they ended up. A good read, well worth it if you are researching your project. The book itself is well worth your while too, it explores some great work by several cinematographers. http://www.amazon.co...s...1892&sr=1-1

Dan
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#8 Andrew Sisnett

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Posted 27 November 2008 - 02:11 PM

Thanks for the feedback thus far, I'll definitely be looking into these. Cheers guys!
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