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Achieving solid silhouette shots.


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#1 Nick Robertson

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Posted 06 October 2010 - 01:21 AM

Hi everyone,

I'm looking at shooting a few shots comprising of the actor(s) and some sets as pure silhouette. I have access to the local theatre which has a big screen for showing movies. I'm figuring that if I pull the screen down and set the action up behind the screen and blast light from behind them towards the camera, I'll achieve the silhouette effect. But I'm quite sure that for a solid, crisp shadow I'll have to use only one source of light, correct? I also want the light to be a colour.

There's a similar shot in Tarantino's Kill Bill II, I believe. Pai Mei and The Bride are training and they are just black shapes against a red background.

Any ideas, guys?

Thanks,

Nick.

Edited by Nick Robertson, 06 October 2010 - 01:22 AM.

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#2 Adam Hunt

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Posted 06 October 2010 - 05:40 AM

Hi everyone,

I'm looking at shooting a few shots comprising of the actor(s) and some sets as pure silhouette. I have access to the local theatre which has a big screen for showing movies. I'm figuring that if I pull the screen down and set the action up behind the screen and blast light from behind them towards the camera, I'll achieve the silhouette effect. But I'm quite sure that for a solid, crisp shadow I'll have to use only one source of light, correct? I also want the light to be a colour.

There's a similar shot in Tarantino's Kill Bill II, I believe. Pai Mei and The Bride are training and they are just black shapes against a red background.

Any ideas, guys?

Thanks,

Nick.


Hi Nick. I have worked on some projects where the director insisted on shooting silhouettes in back-lit fashion like you are describing above. It was always a huge pain in the ass and produced not-so-good results. It seems the logical way to do it I know, but there are actually much better ways. The very easiest way to shoot silhouettes is to shoot them as greenscreen shots. You then key them like normal, except instead of layering the actors onto another image you simply use the key mask itself as a black and white silhouette. It creates incredibly clean results (provided you have somebody who knows what they are doing with greenscreen). You can then take that clean result and manipulate it in many different ways to get whatever silhouette look you want. It gives you tonnes of flexibility and control.

I have done several projects involving this technique, and trust me it's the best way to do it. I even did some DVDs with a 'Mystery Science Theater' style commentary where the shot lasted 85 minutes. It worked really well.

Best thing to do is get someone on board who has done this before. They can make it go incredibly smooth so you don't have to worry about it.
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#3 Adam Hunt

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Posted 06 October 2010 - 05:46 AM

I took a look at that Kill Bill scene. I think it is probably done practically with a very powerful red light behind a screen. But to do that you end up needing a very, very bright light. The same kind of shot could be created from a greenscreen silhouette in post. Sin City has several greenscreen silhouettes, but in that case they kept them very crisp and brought in some details on the actors to make them look 'comic book'. A more naturalistic silhouette like the Kill Bill one can be done with the same technique though. It just depends on what you do with it after you get your key.
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#4 Nick Robertson

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 02:23 AM

Thanks for the replies, guys!

I have no idea what to do concerning greenscreen and know no one that does. I may have to screw around with the natural way of doing things. I happen to be an apprentice electrician so acquiring lights is no problem, plus, as I said, I'm shooting this at the local cinema/theatre so they have many many production lights...

The greenscreen thing does sound MUCH better though...
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#5 Michael E Brown

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Posted 07 October 2010 - 08:09 PM

To do this the old fashioned way, you need a single - very sharp focused source. The key factor is a single point source - which means you also need a bright light.

You can use (in order of effectiveness, which is pretty much based on brightness):

1) A moving head profile fixture (ex: Mac III, VL3500, VL1000). These fixtures are similar in concept to a leko mentioned below in that they can focus the light sharp enough to project patterns, or in your case - sharp enough to make a perfect silhouette. Only downside is most of these fixtures are 30 degrees or narrower (Mac III below is 55 degrees, but very expensive). This means you will need quite a bit of depth to achieve even coverage of a square/rectangle screen.
Example: http://www.martin.co...?product=maciii

2) An ellipsoidal reflector spotlight or "leko" (ex: ETC Source 4). These fixtures can focus the light sharp enough to project patterns, or in your case - sharp enough to make a perfect silhouette. The 750w lamped Source 4 is pretty punchy, however renting a k5600 400w or 800w Joker with the Source 4 adapter makes it even better. The nice thing about these is that you can usually find 50 degree fixtures in any theater, reducing the depth you need. There are 70 and 90 degree lenses now, but I would questions the evenness of the beam having never used them.
Example: http://www.etcconnec...w.aspx?ID=20080

3) An open face fixture with black reflector installed (ex: Arri X series). These fixtures have a single lamp with a simple reflector behind it. The concept is the same as a Lowel Tota, Cyc lights, etc except usually with a different style lamp like a fresnel lamp or HMI lamp that is not as long. Many of these fixtures have the option to change the silver reflector to a black reflector - eliminating multiple points of light and making the beam very sharp and distinct. One specific fixture I know of is actually sold with the black reflector and called a "silhouette light". You can also cheat this effect by using a cyc light and either painting the reflector with high temp black or just covering it with blackwrap. A cyc light doesn't work quite as well since the filament of the average 1000w cyc is about 3" long, where the single ended lamps on their side have a square filament around 1". The upside is that these fixtures are extremely wide (100-130degrees), although the light will fall off on the edges - which can be very apparent with a large area. The other fixtures above will be even across the whole area, but require much more depth. The downside to these is really the brightness. With the black reflector, the efficiency of the light does way down since much of the lamps output (back 50% and some of the sides) is wasted. HMI fixtures like the Arri X Series aren't too bad due to the bright source, but a small or tungsten version might not do too well.
Example: http://www.arri.de/l.../arri_x_12.html

The other thing you need to think about is your screen. If the theater screen is a white front projection, it's probably useless for this. If it's a grey rear projection - that's perfect. You'll have to be very careful with your light placement in order to not see it through the screen. A thicker screen will hide the source better - if you can get your hands on a "low-gain" screen, they are usually very thick and block the source very well. The other option is to raise the screen (and actors some) above the light level, but then you may have perspective issues. I have found shooting through a white fabric to be a bad idea, you see the light source quite easily.
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#6 Christian Appelt

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Posted 14 October 2010 - 10:38 AM

There may be another way to get your silhouettes, unless you want to show the inside of the theatre with the actor's shadows in one shot:

1. Light the theatre screen from the front, as evenly as possible, switch all the house lights off.

2. Put your actors between the screen and the camera, keep the theatre dark. You may need to put up some kind of base for your actors to stand on and your camera must be raised to get actors and screen straight on.

3. Contrast between the brightly lit screen and actors without front lighting should be enough to create silhouettes.

I used this setups many years ago to create silhoeutte shots for a 16mm music video where the director wanted a kind of poor man's Maurice Binder montage (Bond movies). We had the actors stand on plywood boards put over the theatre seating (with blankets under the boards to protect the seats), the camera was on a small platform in the rear of the theatre.

It works with matte white screens, may be harder to light a silver screen evenly. We used 2x5kW lamps for a 50ft.+ theatre screen. Compared with the backlighting technique, you lose less light and can use more than one lamp without creating multiple shadows.
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