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The Astronaut Farmer Wk. 4


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 02 October 2005 - 11:16 PM

We returned to Santa Fe on our break and started shooting this week at the ranch location where the main family in the story lives.

This has been a really tough week for us. First of all, the ranch sort of sits in the basin of a small valley surrounded by rough hills, and there's no place out-of-view to park working trucks (base camp itself is down the road.) So everytime I go to a very wide shot, we seem to be shuffling big trucks around to get them out of the shot. Plus some of our scenes involved big pieces of a rocket laying wrecked in the front yard, which requires forklifts to move around. So if this wasn't a time-sucker all in itself, by the second day, we got hit by 40 mile-an-hour winds for the whole afternoon, which created enormous dust clouds blowing through the sets (we're shooting in a drafty barn with lots of window with no glass in them.) Good audio became more difficult with all the wind slamming against the creaky old barn. Then a thunderstorm hit.

The third morning began with heavy rains, which continued all day, turning our ranch into a mud pit and trapping some of our equipment trucks. We moved to our cover set, a large industrial garage down the road where we put our Mercury capsule set. Besides moving our equipment piecemeal to this new location, we had to work out a lot of the small details about shooting in this phonebooth-sized set. There were many wiring issues involved too. With all of these problems, we got only one shot completed before lunch.

I had watched any movie I could find that had a scene inside of a Mercury capsule, or anything similar. There was one low-budget film that did a particularly poor job, using the small window above the astronaut as a soft light source, which made no sense in space since you saw this soft box reflected in the domed glass helmet. The best examples were from "The Right Stuff", which used rear-projection for the window view, which realistically reflected off of the glass visor. And the faces were lit by just tiny cabin flourescent worklights (more than was really used in the Mercury capsule) plus the glow from the buttons. Our buttons weren't bright enough to provide a real key, unfortunately, but I found a small flourescent work light at Home Depot just like the ones used in "The Right Stuff" and installed it just above the astronaut's head to one side. This gave you a key that lit one side of the face, slightly from a high-ish angle (if it were eye-level, the reflection of the flo in the helmet would have covered the eyes of the actor.) I gelled the worklight slightly greenish to make it more industrial. Fill came from two Kino Mini-Flos taped to the opposite sides and low, as if part of the console lights. I got about an f/2.3 at 320 ASA (Eterna 500T stock) and shot it at an f/2.8-4.0 split, about a stop underexposed, which is what "The Right Stuff" seemed to be doing, keeping the cabin from looking too overlit by playing it a little dim. Now and then a spot PARCAN on a boom arm was swung over the cabin window to create an intense sunlight effect drifting through the cabin.

For day scenes on Earth before the capsule goes into space, I added some soft light coming through the small window by bouncing it off of a 12'x12' UltraBounce above the capsule. This brought the level in the capsule to an f/4.

For the re-entry scene, I wanted to have a soft orange light, flickering, coming through the porthole window but I knew that the helmet would just reflect an orange frame, so I decided to light the face only with orange lights bounced off of steam being blown past the window, which was a bit scary in terms of getting enough exposure. As the craft re-entered the atmosphere, I had the cabin lights die so that the face was only lit by this orange gas passing over the window port. Had to open all the way to an f/2.0.

All these scenes had a slight diffusion from the #1 Tiffen GlimmerGlass filter.

The next day, we did a scene in town at a local Dunkin Donuts, and then moved back to the capsule for those re-entry shots, then broke and tried to shoot the exterior landing scene where the capsule comes back to Earth and lands in a field. It's the last scene in the movie which we had already cancelled once because of an empty sky -- we want an interesting sky background for the last scene. Unfortunately, the sky was clear again and we decided to bite the bullet and cancel the scene again and move back to the ranch to shoot something else.

The last day at the ranch was spent shooting scenes where the family is surrounded by a media circus of news people and trucks; again, very tedious to set-up and shoot. The afternoon entailed having helicopters buzz over the property, which we shot from the ground looking up. This also took longer to shoot than expected, for various reasons. We ended the day with a scene inside the big barn where the rocket is on display for the crowds, but it's a two-story space full of windows, and when we lost the sunlight, I had to spend extra time recreating it in order to finish the coverage.

The rocket / barn is mostly lit by natural daylight (when we shoot during the day) plus some additional HMI's. Art department surrounded the rocket with a vertical row of tungsten worklights on the barn columns, creating a warm glow in the polished aluminum surface. This was based on some photos I found of the original Atlas rocket for Mercury parked in the assembly building, glowing from all the small worklights on the scaffolding. I've usually been at an f/4.0-5.6 split at 160 ASA (F-250D stock) in the barn so far.
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#2 Dimitrios Koukas

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Posted 03 October 2005 - 03:32 AM

For the re-entry scene, I wanted to have a soft orange light, flickering, coming through the porthole window but I knew that the helmet would just reflect an orange frame, so I decided to light the face only with orange lights bounced off of steam being blown past the window, which was a bit scary in terms of getting enough exposure. As the craft re-entered the atmosphere, I had the cabin lights die so that the face was only lit by this orange gas passing over the window port. Had to open all the way to an f/2.0.


David,
If I got it correct, u used smoke as a reflecting source?
What a brilliant idea this is!
Despite the low light, I believe it will give you the ''heat'' effect, when the craft is entering the atmossphere!
Like u wanted to be.
I definately want to see this!
Dimitrios Koukas
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#3 Mike Williamson

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Posted 03 October 2005 - 09:50 AM

Lighting off of smoke is a great idea, I'm sure it will look amazing. There seems to be a rule where the more worried you are about an exposure, the better it will look on screen. Hopefully things will get easier next week, keep up the good work!
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#4 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 03 October 2005 - 05:15 PM

Hi, David.
How much over key would you say your swinging PAR can was?
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 October 2005 - 08:47 PM

I was too scared to measure it...

Probably about four stops over key. Since it was only into the cockpit briefly, I didn't care if it really burned out a lot. Figured it would look more realistic that way.

I did have one shot where the light was raised up and over the cockpit instead of side-to-side over the top, to suggest he was flying into a sunrise over the Earth. For that, I dimmed the PARCAN to about 50% max; I faded it up from zero to 50% as it rose over the window. So I got a warm sunrise effect that was probably about two stops over key at the brightest point (just before it was past the tiny window.)
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#6 Rolfe Klement

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Posted 04 October 2005 - 03:50 AM

Are you going to have weightless SFX in shot - floating things. If so did they ask for any special requirements, locked camera, tracking marks etc

thanks

Rolfe
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