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How did Gordon Willis do that?


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#1 David G. Smith

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 07:10 PM

I have gone back and began re-watching and studying as many of the films shot by Gordon Willlis ASC as I can. I am amazed by his cinematography. What I really want to know is how he achieved that signature top lighting. I have noted that he seems to use a variety of fixtures, of varying quality of light, but there is a very specific directional soft light that he seems to have used in multiple films that just knocks me out. I was wondering if anyone knew what type or types of lighting fixtures he used to create that type of lighting?

I was wondering if he just used variations on the "Chicken Coop" type of light, with various types of diffusion, drapes and other light modifiers or something else? I have never used a "Chicken Coop", but they seem to be pretty unwieldy contraptions.

Second, using modern lighting gear, how would you suggest recreating light like that today?


Thanks,

Dave.
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#2 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 06 June 2012 - 09:23 AM

I believe he developed the soft-top light in order to accommodate either Brando's make-up or acting method, (Brando wanted to move freely). I also think that since The Godfather 95% of stage sets have been rigged with bay-lights. The average bay-light is box of black/white foamcore 4'x4'x30", with 3 strips of incandescent lamps at the top, white diffusion on the bottom, and duvateen skirts around the sides. It's a nice soft light, but it's not directional, and often they get rigged and then are never turned on.

Chicken coops are not unwieldy as long as you're just putting them on the floor. Actually, they're quite useful. You can dim them, change the diff easily, they're easy to hide ... That said, my personal preference is for the white paint bucket with a socket.
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#3 David G. Smith

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Posted 06 June 2012 - 06:07 PM

Yes, I've seen interviews with Willis where he mentions that he developed the top light in response to Brando's make-up needs for the role.


So, how high of wattage bulbs are you comfortable using in a paint bucket rig? I find that pretty interesting. I may have to rig something like that up.
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#4 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 09:56 AM

I think I've had ECA's (250w) in the little bucket, though that seems a little dicey ... I know I've seen a 10 gallon bucket with a 500w, but I've never gone that big myself. The first one I made, I put on the lid and cut a hole for the heat to escape, but now I leave the top open and just drape some muslin over it. I can't hold on to them because my gaffer's love them so much, I give them as wrap gifts.


Here's the bucket in action, keying the actor from a table just below the frame, with natural muslin covering the top:
http://www.facebook....&type=1
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#5 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 10:02 AM

Hey Joe.
I really like that paint bucket idea, and I think I might steal it.

Could also be an interesting/cheap way to make a "china cylander." Cut away everything but 2 small plastic "connectors" and wrap it in something like 216. Leave the top circle to hold the bulb and open bottom.-- if that makes any sense... Looks like I"ll be heading to home-depot later on today!
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#6 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 10:42 AM

Is theft the sincerest form of flattery??

I stole the bucket from Gene Engles (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0257291/).
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#7 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 10:59 AM

I dunno about the sincerest; but it's certainly in the top 10 ;)
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#8 David G. Smith

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 11:24 AM

I think I've had ECA's (250w) in the little bucket, though that seems a little dicey ... I know I've seen a 10 gallon bucket with a 500w, but I've never gone that big myself. The first one I made, I put on the lid and cut a hole for the heat to escape, but now I leave the top open and just drape some muslin over it. I can't hold on to them because my gaffer's love them so much, I give them as wrap gifts.


Here's the bucket in action, keying the actor from a table just below the frame, with natural muslin covering the top:
http://www.facebook....&type=1


Jon, that link shows, "Content unavailable". I would love to see a pic of that light in use. Thanks.
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#9 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 08:57 AM

Try logging in to Facebook in another window first.
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#10 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 09:09 AM

Or - to be really shameless about it - at 51-54 seconds on my reel, the guy walks right past the bucket on a table. It was much easier to set it there than to rig it above ...


Also, the light over the hero table is my home-made version of a bay light with two ECA lamps and 250 diffusion.
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#11 Freya Black

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 05:47 AM

Try logging in to Facebook in another window first.


That link definitely doesn't work.
I'd love to see the bucket too! Could you put it up somewhere else?

love

Freya
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#12 Freya Black

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 05:56 AM

Or - to be really shameless about it - at 51-54 seconds on my reel, the guy walks right past the bucket on a table. It was much easier to set it there than to rig it above ...


Also, the light over the hero table is my home-made version of a bay light with two ECA lamps and 250 diffusion.


Watched it twice and didn't see it! I guess thats the idea but... Will try again after 12 when my bandwidth is freee! :)
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#13 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 10:04 AM

You're not supposed to see the bucket ... Just trying to show what it can do.
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#14 Freya Black

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 01:36 AM

You're not supposed to see the bucket ... Just trying to show what it can do.


Ah well would love to see the bucket! :)

Are you talking about a can of paint that's been modified or a sort of bucket that paint is poured into?
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#15 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 12:08 PM

Yes, I've seen interviews with Willis where he mentions that he developed the top light in response to Brando's make-up needs for the role.


So, how high of wattage bulbs are you comfortable using in a paint bucket rig? I find that pretty interesting. I may have to rig something like that up.





Does anybody know, or what would you guess, would be that make-up situation in this case?
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#16 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 02:57 PM

With many caveats about the accuracy of my memory, I think the issue was that Brando was wearing a lot of facial extensions and the standard issue hard lighting circa 1972 would have made the makeup really obvious.

Freya, the paint bucket is just a 5 gallon mixing bucket of white plastic. You just poke a hole for a zip-cord, and bolt, or tape, a porcelain socket to the bottom. Insert the bulb of your choice.
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#17 David G. Smith

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 03:39 PM

Does anybody know, or what would you guess, would be that make-up situation in this case?


The make up on Brando, who was in his forties at the time, to make him look like the sixties plus Don Corleone. The make up was done by the great make up artist Dick Smith. It is my understanding that Smith used a specially designed dental appliance to push out, and down, Brando's lower jowls, thinned his hair and applied an aging technique called "Stipple" to give the skin a wrinkled look. The way the story goes is that in testing of that make up they found that a prominent top light really sold the effect of the make up and they went with it. If you look at pictures of Brando from "The Godfather" you can see that the top lighting gives prominence to the top of his skull, brow ridge, cheek bone and jowls. In that make up, under that lighting, Brando's appearance is, IMHO, almost skull like and very effective. That type of lighting also shadowed Brando's eyes, which Willis has been noted as saying that he liked as it gave an air of mystery to the character. The story continues saying that Willis got a lot of poop for the shadowed eyes from the studio suits because of the break from standard convention ("We gotta show the eyes...", "...The eyes are the window to the soul"...blah, blah).

Now, that is the story as to how Gordon Willis developed his use of top light, and it is a good story. However, he uses beautiful top lighting in the movie "Klute"which was released before "The Godfather". I recently re-watched the Willis shot movie "The Drowning Pool", a Paul Newman potboiler thriller and Willis again deftly used the top lighting. I love Gordon Willis's work.

Edited by David G. Smith, 10 June 2012 - 03:43 PM.

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#18 David G. Smith

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Posted 10 June 2012 - 04:15 PM

Looks like we stepped on each other Jon. Sorry about that.

I love the idea of the paint bucket light. I do have a question though. Do you primarily use it with the top on, like a cylindrical china ball, or with the top off as a more direct light, or both?

When I get some time, I want to put together one of those lights. As a directional light, with the top off, I thought using something like this might be interesting. Any thoughts on that?

Also, What kind of photometrics are getting out of it the way that you use it?

Thanks.

Edited by David G. Smith, 10 June 2012 - 04:18 PM.

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#19 Freya Black

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 05:41 AM

Looks like we stepped on each other Jon. Sorry about that.

I love the idea of the paint bucket light. I do have a question though. Do you primarily use it with the top on, like a cylindrical china ball, or with the top off as a more direct light, or both?


I was wondering the same thing, like do the white sides act as diffusion or are they so solid they are more like a means to flag off the light? Or maybe a bit of both, diffusing from the sides and directional downwards?

Not sure the buckets he is describing have lids tho? Maybe they do?

love

Freya
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#20 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 10:54 AM

The white sides are diffusion, about the same look as the old Rolux. You can hammer the white lid on to cover the top, but I think it's more versatile to drape some muslin over it. I've never had occasion to not cover the top, but I'm sure it could work. It's like a China Ball, but one that's sturdier, doesn't roll around, and it's easier to gel. It's also easier to build than a strip of lights with a frame of chicken wire (AKA a "covered wagon").

I have not made any specific measurements of the bucket's output. Imagine an 18"-24" china ball wrapped in full grid and light grid.

Cheers.

Edited by Jon Rosenbloom, 12 June 2012 - 10:55 AM.

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