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Lighting setups on a moving car


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#1 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 30 March 2016 - 07:48 AM

I'm shooting a short film that is set entirely inside a car soon. The film is 50% driving shots, and 50% shots where the car is parked. The whole film is one setup in terms of camera, mounted to the car bonnet, on a 35/50mm lens to capture a medium two shot of a driver and passenger in the front seat, jump cutting between different days/months. I don't have permission to light from the pavement for the shots where the car is parked due to the films budget, a generator is also out of the equation, so I have opted into hiring a selection of innovative battery powered LED lights from a rental house in London. 

 

For my main lighting setup, I have planned an autopole rig that attaches to the top of the car horizontally. Attached by K clamps and suction limpits. This will allow me to hang LEDs either side of the car, lighting the drivers and passenger side depending on the setup. My two main lights are flexible 1x1 LED panels, that also clamp into a solid 1x1 frame. The film needs to look like different times of the year, even though we are shooting it in a few days. This lighting setup will allow me to increase/decrease the intensity of the LEDs either side of the car depending on the look I am going for, whether that be a soft 'overcast' daylight, or a harsher 'sun' coming in from one side of the car, with softer skylight from the other side. 

 

There are a few night scenes as well. I will probably place some sodium gel of some sorts on the side LED panels to replicate street lights. I'm testing the kit tomorrow, but as far as I'm aware the dimmer pack for these 1x1 LEDs is separated by a wire, so I'll have my gaffer creating some kind of chase sequence to replicate the car passing street lights (naturally this will be happening anyways as we are actually pulling the action vehicle with an A-frame). internally I want to boost whatever light would be coming from the cars dashboard, my plan would be to place one of the flexible LED 1x1 sheets on the interior roof of the car, shining down onto some white paper on the dashboard, creating a soft ambient light on the drivers face.

 

These are just some of the basic ideas I have had so far. I was wondering if anyone on the forums has had experience lighting this kind of setup with LED lights? Would be great to hear some of the tricks/tools you used to enhance the naturalism in the lighting. 

 

I'll be using a linear polariser filter on the lens to help with reflections on the car window screen. If I chose to add any lighting in front of the car, for example each side of the camera, would these lights show up as reflections on the screen? Or is that more of a problem with lights hitting the front of the car from above?

 


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#2 Jay Young

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Posted 30 March 2016 - 09:47 AM

 I don't have permission to light from the pavement for the shots where the car is parked due to the films budget

 

 

Could you explain this a bit more?  If the car is parked, whats the problem?


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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 30 March 2016 - 09:57 AM

Night is easier, with cars. Have you pondered parking it somewhere you can rig some back projection, even if it isn't moving?

 

It depends very much what sort of coverage you need.

 

P


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#4 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 30 March 2016 - 10:38 AM

 

Could you explain this a bit more?  If the car is parked, whats the problem?

 

Just a law in the UK. We have permission to be on the streets with the car. Just won't be allowed to place tripods, light stands on public ground. 


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#5 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 30 March 2016 - 10:39 AM

Can I suggest doing it somewhere microscopically outside London, then it'll be rather easier.


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#6 Mark Dunn

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Posted 30 March 2016 - 10:44 AM

If the location isn't critical, why not find some private land where you can set up as you wish- car park, industrial unit forecourt, field, crew members' parent's drive?


Edited by Mark Dunn, 30 March 2016 - 10:45 AM.

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#7 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 08:33 AM

The film is set in London, for various reasons there is no changing that now. 

 

I've been looking into ways of achieving a flashing siren effect for one of the scenes, as if there is a ambulance with it's lights on off screen.

Has anyone had experience with a cheap strobe like this? http://www.ebay.co.u...QoAAOSwAYtWMKDy


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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 08:42 AM

Careful with that sort of thing on rolling shutter cameras. Any sort of flashing light, but particularly LED, will create artifacts.

 

And lots of places near London can double for London!


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#9 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 08:50 AM

I just found out that we are hiring a replica siren from a props company, so that should do the trick


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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 09:16 AM

Yes, but still, be careful about rolling shutter. What's the camera?


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#11 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 09:18 AM

C500


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#12 Guy Holt

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Posted 03 April 2016 - 01:04 PM

I'm shooting a short film that is set entirely inside a car soon. ...The whole film is one setup in terms of camera, mounted to the car bonnet, on a 35/50mm lens to capture a medium two shot of a driver and passenger in the front seat, jump cutting between different days/months....For my main lighting setup, I have planned... to hang LEDs either side of the car, lighting the drivers and passenger side depending on the setup. My two main lights are flexible 1x1 LED panels, that also clamp into a solid 1x1 frame. ...This lighting setup will allow me to increase/decrease the intensity of the LEDs either side of the car depending on the look I am going for, whether that be a soft 'overcast' daylight, or a harsher 'sun' coming in from one side of the car, with softer skylight from the other side. ...These are just some of the basic ideas I have had so far. I was wondering if anyone on the forums has had experience lighting this kind of setup with LED lights? Would be great to hear some of the tricks/tools you used to enhance the naturalism in the lighting. ... If I chose to add any lighting in front of the car, for example each side of the camera, would these lights show up as reflections on the screen? Or is that more of a problem with lights hitting the front of the car from above?

 

 

I’m afraid your LED 1x1 Panels are not going to be enough to light the interior of the car on day scenes. On car setups like this you face an extreme contrast problem during the day. If you were to expose for your talent, even with the LED panels on, the exterior as seen through the back and side windows will blow out.  If you expose to hold detail in what you see outside the car, your talent is under lit and will be underexposed. The problem is that you are shooting into a black hole. To the contrast problem a second problem is that when the windshield glass is backed by black it becomes a mirror and will reflect the sky above. The challenge of these set-ups is that you need to both pick-up the levels inside the car (not easily done with 1x1 LED panels on a bright sunny day) as well as eliminate whatever it is (usually a bright sky) that reflects in the wind shield. Below is a picture of how a big budget movie approaches these problem.

 

Car_Rig_Eyebrow_WS_Sm.jpg

 

Note that they have rigged an 8x8 solid out over the windshield so that only black will reflect into it. They are also using an Arri M40 4k HMI (equivalent output to a 6k HMI Par) to pick up the interior of the car. Because all this gear obstructs the view of the driver, but also because it is quite often too much for an actor to act and drive at the same time without getting into an accident, the big movies tow the picture car behind a camera truck with an onboard generator to power the lights.

 

Car_Rig_WS_Sm..jpg

 

If a process trailer like that pictured above is not in your budget. A less expensive alternative is to rent a “car carrier” to tow behind a pick-up truck. A number of low budget indie productions I have worked on have done this with great success.

 

Car_Rig_w_400W_HMI.jpg

A partially built car process trailer. Rosco Scrim still  needs to be applied to windows and a 8x8 solid still needs to be rigged to the roof rack.

 

To reduce reflections in the front windshield, you should likewise rig a large solid on top of the car. To also reduce the contrast range inside the vehicle the solid should extend several feet out on all sides as well.  This way you will not have to deal with any direct sun on your talent and can light them through the front windshield for better modeling and continuity.

 

To reduce the size of HMI that you need to light your talent, you can reduce the contrast between the interior and exterior of the car as seen through the back and side windows by putting Rosco Srim #3421 over them (any window that will appear in a shot.) This scrim will act like a Neutral Density gel and reduce the intensity of what is seen through the window by allowing a specific amount of light  (two stops) through fine holes in the material.  When it is slightly over exposed you don’t see the scrim itself but just what is on the other side. It is better than Neutral Density Gels in this situation because it is more pliable and less likely to wrinkle and shimmer as the car is traveling down the road.

 

Even after this contrast control, you will still need a light that is larger than what you can power with an onboard battery or through the car lighter socket. Car lighter sockets are only capable of handling a couple of hundred Watts at most and you usually require at least a 400-575W HMI to light your talent during a day scene. To power a small HMI on the hood of the car you can use a "Battverter" - which is a Battery/Inverter system. A "Battverter" system consists of a 12V DC power source (usually large Marine Cells), a DC-to–AC True Sine Wave Power Inverter, and a Battery Charger. Wire these components into a Road Case or milk crate and you can put it on the floor in the back of the car.

 

Here are some production stills that show you two Battverter systems I built to run lights in vehicles at various times. The first is a 750W "Battverter" rig wired into in Calzone case.

 

Car_Rig_w_750W_Battverter.jpg

 

To maximize the running time on the batteries, I made up a "jumper cable" that we attached to the leads of the pickup truck's battery. That way the engine alternator charged the batteries as they were being discharged by the light. Tie–ing the Battverter into a vehicle engine will extend the running time on your Battverter batteries so much that they may never run out of power.

 

Car_Rig_w_Battverter_into_Truck.jpg

 

The production stills below show a more elaborate 1800W Battverter system that I built to run 16 - 4’ kinos  tubes inside an airport shuttle bus. Use this  link - http://www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/shuttlemailintro.html - for details on  how we wired it into the shuttle bus.

 

shuttlefilmstrip4.1lg.jpg

Kino Flo 4x4s  rigged to an exo-skeletal frame of a Shuttle Bus and powered by an 1800W Battverter

 

shuttlefilmstrip3.2lg.jpg

Custom 1800W BattVerter powers 16 - 4' Kino Flo single tubes rigged

in the interior and on the exterior of an Airport Shuttle

 

When building these rigs, keep in mind that when voltage goes down, amperage goes up. Wire that carries 12V DC has to be much larger than that which carries the same load at 120V AC. For instance to supply 12 volts to the 1800W inverter used on the shuttle bus required that we run 2 Ought feeder to the bus' alternator. Also be sure that

the alternator is large enough to take the load without burning out.

 

Finally, You have to be really careful when choosing a DC-to-AC inverter for film production because there are three basic types of inverters and not all of them are suitable for all types of motion picture lights. For more information on what type of inverters to use with different type of lights I would suggest you read an article I wrote about portable generators that is available online (use this link.)   Since inverter generators use the same three types of inverters, the information in the article is applicable to stand alone DC-to-AC inverters designed for use with batteries as well.

 

If you don’t want to tie batteries into the car’s alternator, you should consider using a small portable generator. But, you don’t want to use a generator, like the Honda 2000, whose fuel is gravity fed to the engine. The size head it can power is limited and the fuel will slosh around and cause the generator to run erratically. I suggest you instead use a generator that has an electric fuel pump like the new fuel-injected EU7000. The fuel pump assures that the engine receives a continuous feed of gas. When used with a 60A transformer/distro, the EU7000 is capable of powering HMIs up to 4k and it is so quiet that you will not hear it in the car with the windows closed. As you can see from the picture below of another rig, a generator this size with a 60A transformer/distro is cable of powering even a couple of 2.5 HMIs for daylight fill.

 

Car_Rig_w_2.5k_HMIs.jpg

A 7500W modified Honda EU6500 powering a couple of 2.5HMI Pars on a car rig.

 

If you have any questions about using inverters or generators, I would suggest you read the article I wrote on the use of portable generators in motion picture production mentioned above. Use this link to read it on-line for free.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer,

SceenLight & Grip,

Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston.


Edited by Guy Holt, 03 April 2016 - 01:07 PM.

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#13 Kurtis Myers

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Posted 04 April 2016 - 06:58 PM

Thanks for the great write-up Guy!


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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 05 April 2016 - 02:50 AM

This does raise one issue: at what point does "homemade" become "custom-built!"

 

P


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#15 Shawn Sagady

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Posted 05 April 2016 - 03:49 PM

Lots of great tips here. If you don't mind I have a question to tag onto this. I am shooting a short which predominantly takes place in a car. Would love to do it practically as apposed to projected but the driving is on a major freeway and I can't help but thing process trailers at 65mph could be a legal issue etc.


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#16 Akpe ododoru

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 09:06 AM

11807326_10152915722767540_6586365867870

 

poster6.jpg

 

poster5.jpg


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#17 Guillaume Cottin

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Posted 17 April 2016 - 02:16 PM

Hi there

 

Most of the topic has been covered by Guy.

If I may put my grain of salt, just a few humble tips from my limited experience.

First of all, on a low-budget film, filming in and around cars usually takes more time than expected simply because of the logistics of driving a car around, and continuity.

 

Rocco scrim or ND on windows, solids on windshield and around the car (216 also works on the sides) work great.

A polarizer on your camera and on the windows would allow you to expose the windows and the interior separately… but that is super expensive. However, again, maybe it fits your budgets: car windows aren't such a big surface and this car is your only set.

 

If you can, ask that the car has beige or grey seats, not black. You'll get that ¼ stop more inside the car and you'll lose less detail, especially at night. You'll be seeing these seats a lot. You can also ask for a sunroof or a glass roof (certain cars have that). This gives you opportunities to toplight.

 

The second big question is: do you really want your actors to drive themselves? A process trailer will give you more framing opportunities as well as safety, repeatability, and freedom for the actors. You can have the director and crew much closer. It is just so much better. Even if this is low budget, again in your case your whole film takes place in a car, it is your only set, so it would be money well spent.

 

The DIY trailers Guy showed make the car look like it is very, very high from the ground. You will barely see any following cars. This is why a purpose-built process trailer is very low.

 

Now, lighting. If you want to light from the interior: I like the LED blankets from Aladin and Rosco, also check out Litegear, and SoftLights also makes small LED fixtures.

If you have a process trailer, you will likely have enough juice to have a few Kinos or HMIs going on. LED-wise, check out Creamsource and Cineo. Also, for night scenes, I would probably use some DMX RGB LED theatrical light strips on each side of the car to emulate moving lights.

 

Ah, and windows give some green. Have some plus/minusgreen ready to compensate either way.

 

Hope this helps?


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#18 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 21 April 2016 - 05:32 AM

Great writeup Guy, appreciate that a lot!

 

Guillaume, we shot the film before you posted your response, now looking back at the rushes there is a green tint a lot of the time. I never noticed this looking at my monitor during shooting. I've boosted the green saturation in lightroom and the highlights on our actors faces go crazy! I will address this issue when I meet up with my grader. It doesn't ruin my shots, but I'd still like to control whats going on with the green tinting. 


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#19 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 21 April 2016 - 05:44 AM

Guillaume we also made us of smaller LED units made by Aladin. The 1x1 flexi panel was used for almost every setup, daylight and tungsten. Had so much control being able to dim it as well. I also used the Aladin eye lite for the night scenes to emulate dashboard light on the driver. I enjoyed using smaller LED units inside the car, I felt like I had a lot of control over each setup.

 

We also used a towing system that turned our picture car into a trailer of sorts, so our cast didnt have to worry about driving at all. It worked really well!

 

 

 

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#20 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 21 April 2016 - 05:46 AM

Aladin 1x1 flexible light panel -

 

13062801_10208087577821483_1937441907_o.jpg


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