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#1 Marty McCool

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 09:05 AM

I am a Film Reviewer based in Ireland. I would lilke to gather some opinions on the 'Magic Hour' - this aesthetic cinephiles speak of called 'The Magic Hour'...This is a cinematic term used to refer to the optimum time for filming romantic or magical scenes due to the soft or warm light in the sky, often characterized by a golden/orange hue. Examples of ‘The Magic Hour’ in the movies are Nestor Almendros' cinematography in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) and Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams (1989) and Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris brilliantly captured that amber Autumnal sunshine. The term 'Magic Hour' has been used to refer to the hour when the shoplights go on in Paris. I would love to hear some contributions on this.....
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#2 Freya Black

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 10:23 AM

I am a Film Reviewer based in Ireland. I would lilke to gather some opinions on the 'Magic Hour' - this aesthetic cinephiles speak of called 'The Magic Hour'...This is a cinematic term used to refer to the optimum time for filming romantic or magical scenes due to the soft or warm light in the sky, often characterized by a golden/orange hue. Examples of ‘The Magic Hour’ in the movies are Nestor Almendros' cinematography in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) and Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams (1989) and Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris brilliantly captured that amber Autumnal sunshine. The term 'Magic Hour' has been used to refer to the hour when the shoplights go on in Paris. I would love to hear some contributions on this.....



Hiya Marty.

Thought I would write a reply as I have lots of experience with magic hour, which while not totally up to date (I've been hiding indoors a lot lately with my computer), I feel will probably still be very valid even in these times. I should however point out that these are my personal opinions and may not be shared by everyone involved in moving image work.

My personal opinion on magic hour is that it is very beautiful. I love the colours, I love the way the orange light reflects off things and the way things glow and shimmer and the way once seemingly ordinary things suddenly react in a special way. Truly it is magical I feel.

There is of course a lot of contention around the subject of magic hour. There are many cinematographers who feel than an hour just wasn't enough, and feel frustrated that they don't have enough time to work in. Some people go further and even claim that they have been shortchanged on occasion and havn't even got a full hour! Theres obviously been quite a lot of demand in the past to extend magic hour. Call me a conservative, but while I understand these opinions, I feel that extending magic hour might devalue it. I feel people might start to overuse magic hour as a cheap trick and it would cease to be quite so magical. Also it should be pointed out that extending magic hour would mean a corresponding reduction in the other hours which might have a detrimental effect to those who don't tend to work with this paticular aesthetic. I understand there are some regional variations on magic hour too (some places have set their magic hour at different times it would appear) so it might be worthwhile getting peoples opinions in other parts of the globe on this kind of thing.

More recently there has been some suggestion that with the new digital techniques we have now, magic hour is basically obsolete and is no longer needed as it can basically be efectively be created in post with cgi and advanced colour correction, eliminating the worry of only having an hour. These people have suggested that dedicating a whole hour to this "so called magic" is a waste, and the hour should be reverted to more conventional light which would be more versatile for different kind of looks in post. Some even go so far as to suggest that magic hour is just one of thse cinematic conventions we have become used to and isn't as real as normal light anyway. We just tend to associate it with a more cinematic look becase that is what we are used to.

Call me old fashioned but I very much believe that magic hour should stay. I would argue that it has uses outside of just cinema and photography but that many people get a great deal of pleasure out of magic hour in their everyday lives even when they are not watching it on a movie screen or filming it. It's my opinion that it has many very theraputic qualities which are often not recognised and that we would all be very much the lesser without it.

In the past I used to do quite a stressful job from which I would walk to and from each day. Sometimes this would co-incide with magic hour and I would notice how much better I felt on my walk, looking at the beautiful sky and the reflections off the buildings etc. It helped alleviate a lot of stress from the day and strangely gave me a lot of hope for the future.

I realise I've gone on a bit on this subject and I suspect that there will be a few other film makers on this site who wil also be familiar with the concept and aesthetic of magic hour, so I will wrap it up here but indeed my personal opinion on magic hour is that it is very beautiful and worth it's weight in golden.

Hope that helps!

love

Freya
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#3 Marty McCool

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 11:17 AM

Hey Freya, thanks for your very thoughtful and detailed post. The Magic Hour is certainly the best time to compose a shot with the warm, soft lighting and painterly colours. That time of day increases the capacity of the cinematographer to be an artists.
Many thanks, Marty

Hiya Marty.

Thought I would write a reply as I have lots of experience with magic hour, which while not totally up to date (I've been hiding indoors a lot lately with my computer), I feel will probably still be very valid even in these times. I should however point out that these are my personal opinions and may not be shared by everyone involved in moving image work.

My personal opinion on magic hour is that it is very beautiful. I love the colours, I love the way the orange light reflects off things and the way things glow and shimmer and the way once seemingly ordinary things suddenly react in a special way. Truly it is magical I feel.

There is of course a lot of contention around the subject of magic hour. There are many cinematographers who feel than an hour just wasn't enough, and feel frustrated that they don't have enough time to work in. Some people go further and even claim that they have been shortchanged on occasion and havn't even got a full hour! Theres obviously been quite a lot of demand in the past to extend magic hour. Call me a conservative, but while I understand these opinions, I feel that extending magic hour might devalue it. I feel people might start to overuse magic hour as a cheap trick and it would cease to be quite so magical. Also it should be pointed out that extending magic hour would mean a corresponding reduction in the other hours which might have a detrimental effect to those who don't tend to work with this paticular aesthetic. I understand there are some regional variations on magic hour too (some places have set their magic hour at different times it would appear) so it might be worthwhile getting peoples opinions in other parts of the globe on this kind of thing.

More recently there has been some suggestion that with the new digital techniques we have now, magic hour is basically obsolete and is no longer needed as it can basically be efectively be created in post with cgi and advanced colour correction, eliminating the worry of only having an hour. These people have suggested that dedicating a whole hour to this "so called magic" is a waste, and the hour should be reverted to more conventional light which would be more versatile for different kind of looks in post. Some even go so far as to suggest that magic hour is just one of thse cinematic conventions we have become used to and isn't as real as normal light anyway. We just tend to associate it with a more cinematic look becase that is what we are used to.

Call me old fashioned but I very much believe that magic hour should stay. I would argue that it has uses outside of just cinema and photography but that many people get a great deal of pleasure out of magic hour in their everyday lives even when they are not watching it on a movie screen or filming it. It's my opinion that it has many very theraputic qualities which are often not recognised and that we would all be very much the lesser without it.

In the past I used to do quite a stressful job from which I would walk to and from each day. Sometimes this would co-incide with magic hour and I would notice how much better I felt on my walk, looking at the beautiful sky and the reflections off the buildings etc. It helped alleviate a lot of stress from the day and strangely gave me a lot of hope for the future.

I realise I've gone on a bit on this subject and I suspect that there will be a few other film makers on this site who wil also be familiar with the concept and aesthetic of magic hour, so I will wrap it up here but indeed my personal opinion on magic hour is that it is very beautiful and worth it's weight in golden.

Hope that helps!

love

Freya


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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 11:26 AM

I haven't heard anyone talk about how Magic Hour is no longer necessary in the digital age. If you are trying to balance artificial lights of a low level with soft daylight, there is no alternative even today, short of a lot of expensive post effects that most people can't afford anyway.

Now if there is a lot of coverage needed and the window is too short, it's not uncommon to try and fake some angles either at night or during the day, depending on which cheat is easier. You see that in "Wyatt Earp" in some Magic Hour scenes -- a few angles are actually overcast daytime faked for Magic Hour. But without lights in the frame to give away the gag, as long as the overcast light is soft, it looks pretty close to Magic Hour as long as you don't have too much depth of field.

I had a scene in "Big Love" where a car pulls up to a house at Magic Hour and parks, and then the two people inside talk. I managed to get the wide shots at Magic Hour but the coverage had to be shot at night because we lost the light. I put a lot of soft blue-ish light on the background to match what we had during Magic Hour:

Posted Image

The soft bluish light falling onto the window sill of the car was done by hanging a 4' 4-bank Kinoflo (daylight) right over the car windows. I also edged the actress with another soft Kinoflo. Then the warm key was motivated by a tungsten practical light over the garage door that the car is facing.
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#5 Marty McCool

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 12:59 PM

This is very interesting, the 'Magic Hour' can be convincingly rendered digitally now, so that some people find it indistinguishable from scenes shot in real time during the actual 'Magic Hour'. But there is a real artistry to your work as you describe it and the photos below are certainly expressive of the aesthetic of 'Magic Hour'

I haven't heard anyone talk about how Magic Hour is no longer necessary in the digital age. If you are trying to balance artificial lights of a low level with soft daylight, there is no alternative even today, short of a lot of expensive post effects that most people can't afford anyway.

Now if there is a lot of coverage needed and the window is too short, it's not uncommon to try and fake some angles either at night or during the day, depending on which cheat is easier. You see that in "Wyatt Earp" in some Magic Hour scenes -- a few angles are actually overcast daytime faked for Magic Hour. But without lights in the frame to give away the gag, as long as the overcast light is soft, it looks pretty close to Magic Hour as long as you don't have too much depth of field.

I had a scene in "Big Love" where a car pulls up to a house at Magic Hour and parks, and then the two people inside talk. I managed to get the wide shots at Magic Hour but the coverage had to be shot at night because we lost the light. I put a lot of soft blue-ish light on the background to match what we had during Magic Hour:

Posted Image

The soft bluish light falling onto the window sill of the car was done by hanging a 4' 4-bank Kinoflo (daylight) right over the car windows. I also edged the actress with another soft Kinoflo. Then the warm key was motivated by a tungsten practical light over the garage door that the car is facing.


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#6 Freya Black

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 01:58 PM

This is very interesting, the 'Magic Hour' can be convincingly rendered digitally now, so that some people find it indistinguishable from scenes shot in real time during the actual 'Magic Hour'. But there is a real artistry to your work as you describe it and the photos below are certainly expressive of the aesthetic of 'Magic Hour'


It depends what you call convincing. I mean films are all about suspension of disbelief to some extent. Ed Wood used a blank wall and a couple of chairs as an aeroplane cockpit once and you just had to imagine it was an aeroplane, which I think is fair enough.

Incredible things can be done with cgi now however, you only need to look at the pixar films. I suspect that a fake magic hour effect still wouldn't look quite right tho and would be very. very expensive compared to the real magic hour which is free. :)
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#7 Marty McCool

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 02:31 PM

Given the 'magical' quality we associate with 'Magic Hour' and the rapture we experience from it, I think it is preferable that it is done with natural light and colours. Actually, it was just pointed out to me that Kubrick's Barry Lyndon was shot almost entirely during 'Magic Hour'. There was certainly no digital trickery done with that one!

It depends what you call convincing. I mean films are all about suspension of disbelief to some extent. Ed Wood used a blank wall and a couple of chairs as an aeroplane cockpit once and you just had to imagine it was an aeroplane, which I think is fair enough.

Incredible things can be done with cgi now however, you only need to look at the pixar films. I suspect that a fake magic hour effect still wouldn't look quite right tho and would be very. very expensive compared to the real magic hour which is free. :)


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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 05:01 PM

Given the 'magical' quality we associate with 'Magic Hour' and the rapture we experience from it, I think it is preferable that it is done with natural light and colours. Actually, it was just pointed out to me that Kubrick's Barry Lyndon was shot almost entirely during 'Magic Hour'. There was certainly no digital trickery done with that one!


What are you talking about? There were only a few shots made at Magic Hour, one was a shot of Barry as a soldier standing over a fire contemplating going AWOL. What Magic Hour shots in "Barry Lyndon" were you thinking of?
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#9 John Brawley

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 05:41 PM

I am a Film Reviewer based in Ireland. I would lilke to gather some opinions on the 'Magic Hour' - this aesthetic cinephiles speak of called 'The Magic Hour'...This is a cinematic term used to refer to the optimum time for filming romantic or magical scenes due to the soft or warm light in the sky, often characterized by a golden/orange hue. Examples of ‘The Magic Hour’ in the movies are Nestor Almendros' cinematography in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) and Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams (1989) and Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris brilliantly captured that amber Autumnal sunshine. The term 'Magic Hour' has been used to refer to the hour when the shoplights go on in Paris. I would love to hear some contributions on this.....



It's very general to call it magic hour. In my part of the world it's usually less that an hour. More like magic 20 mins.

I also take magic hour to actually be the time JUST AFTER sunset or JUST BEFORE sunrise. The sky itself is your light source, rather than sunlight. It's basically the sun BOUNCING off (or defracting really) through the atmosphere. Instead of a point source of light, you have a larger and softer source.

jb
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#10 John Sprung

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 05:44 PM

I understand there are some regional variations on magic hour too (some places have set their magic hour at different times it would appear)


Indeed there are -- It depends primarily on latitude. You get only a few minutes in Quito, Ecuador, and several hours up in Murmansk.




-- J.S.
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#11 Michael Collier

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 04:52 PM

Magic Hour in Alaska this time of year is around 6 or 7 hours. But to me magic hour is the usable portion of time, when the sun gets low enough in the sky that the extra atmosphere knocks down the contrast, and the sun becomes softer, even without a cloud diffusing it. That lasts (to me) until the sky looses its color and just goes to a low blue color. During that whole period its easy to light to maintain continuity, even in wide shots. Just before that and just after it, as David mentions, you can get closer coverage with a bit more set up. I think the fun thing about that period during the day, is the light changes so quickly you have to anticipate and plan to get the coverage you need so you can finish your day without too much compromise.
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#12 Freya Black

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 07:17 AM

It's very general to call it magic hour. In my part of the world it's usually less that an hour. More like magic 20 mins.

I also take magic hour to actually be the time JUST AFTER sunset or JUST BEFORE sunrise. The sky itself is your light source, rather than sunlight. It's basically the sun BOUNCING off (or defracting really) through the atmosphere. Instead of a point source of light, you have a larger and softer source.

jb


Ah! This is what we usually refer to as dusk I think. (If I am understanding you correct). With twighlight being the morning version. Here where I live both of these states are fantastically dark and are basically mostly a kind of night. During summer it might be possible to shoot something in the earlier part of dusk.

I would have included all of the sunset and the usable part of dusk as being magic hour. To get all arty, I would have described magic hour as being the liminal state between night and day, or in Freyish this would be the bits when the daylight goes orangey.

I note that many people would disagree with me on this however, so maybe I am what is reffered to in technical speak as "completely wrong"? What do you think?

love

Freya
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 10:23 AM

Magic Hour is when the sun is down but there is still light, what is also called twilight, dusk, etc. It's "magic" because there is light but no sun.

Now of course if it is overcast, it's hard to tell a difference between sunset and magic hour, it all just blends.
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#14 Tom Lowe

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 11:10 AM

To me, magic hour could also include the time just before the sun sets or just after it rises. At that point, the light is usually very warm and beautiful for shooting - even in direct light.

Although technically, yes, David is right that it is supposed to refer to the glow of the sky right after sunset, at "dusk."

To throw another monkey wrench into this, there is another sort of "unmagic hour" when you are in the mountains, for example, when the sun has not technically set, but the light levels have dropped due to the mountains blocking. I don't know what this type of lighting condition is called, but it can be very tricky to shoot in.

Here is an example that actually turned out pretty good on an HVX shoot:

Posted Image

But often this light can seem cool and dull in the mountains once the sun has disappeared. This type of light can last for like 2 hours depending on how tall the mountains are.
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#15 Freya Black

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 11:12 AM

Now of course if it is overcast, it's hard to tell a difference between sunset and magic hour, it all just blends.


This may be the problem here in the UK, as it's generally like that all the time. Also what people tend to refer to as dusk or twilight in normal conversation tends to be the very dark stage of these times.

Some intresting stuff coming out of this magic hour conversation for sure! :)
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#16 Niels Lindelien

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 12:55 AM

Speaking of shooting in the mountains at the end of the day, 'Alpenglow' is a beautiful phenomenon that adds to the feeling of magic.
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#17 Delorme Jean-Marie

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Posted 27 June 2009 - 02:57 AM

hi
i'v recently shot 3 comercials in a row at magic hour only.
i founded that i prefer the moment before magic hour and backlit.
i'm looking for flares, it adds naturalism to the scene.
i think the best reference to me are "easy rider" an "Days of Heaven "
as if you look for a magic hour front lit the reference would be "Tess" from Polanski


natural lighting was a fashion in the 70's with the hippie mouvment.

Edited by Delorme Jean-Marie, 27 June 2009 - 02:58 AM.

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#18 Marty McCool

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Posted 30 June 2009 - 11:02 AM

hi
i'v recently shot 3 comercials in a row at magic hour only.
i founded that i prefer the moment before magic hour and backlit.
i'm looking for flares, it adds naturalism to the scene.
i think the best reference to me are "easy rider" an "Days of Heaven "
as if you look for a magic hour front lit the reference would be "Tess" from Polanski


natural lighting was a fashion in the 70's with the hippie mouvment.

Easy Rider is an interesting one. Are you referring to those complex rooftop shots with the flickering light? The lyrics from The Byrds song which plays in the film speaks of "trees with leaves of prisms and break the light in colors that no-one knows the names of" could potentially capture something of Magic Hour.
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#19 Tom Lowe

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Posted 30 June 2009 - 12:51 PM

hi
i'v recently shot 3 comercials in a row at magic hour only.
i founded that i prefer the moment before magic hour and backlit.
i'm looking for flares, it adds naturalism to the scene.
i think the best reference to me are "easy rider" an "Days of Heaven "
as if you look for a magic hour front lit the reference would be "Tess" from Polanski


natural lighting was a fashion in the 70's with the hippie mouvment.


Much of "The New World" was shot backlit in the afternoon.

Probably using some bounce on this particular shot:

Posted Image
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#20 Marty McCool

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Posted 30 June 2009 - 01:17 PM

Much of "The New World" was shot backlit in the afternoon.

Probably using some bounce on this particular shot:

Posted Image

Very nice, Terrence Malick seems to have a real penchant for these kinds of scenics, if you think about Days of Heaven and this film.
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