Wondering what sort of equipment you need to light a spaceship? Or what, exactly, a “Best Boy” is? Meet the people behind the lights for Episode 2 of RocketJump: The Show, as cinematographer Lauren Haroutunian breaks down how the spaceship set was prepped and lit for “Fan Friction.”
This is the third installment of our series following the production of RocketJump: The Show! We’ll address different technical aspects of each production each week as new episodes come out.
Hi @Lauren and everyone involved, very useful video. I have a question about lighting set ups for different shots in the same scene. When you switch camera setups to frame a new shot, do you also adjust the lighting? Or is the scene lit to be filmed from any angle?
@Lauren this video is so awesome and I have hella questions!
-What were some your references for Fan Friction in terms of other pieces of lighting/cinematography?
-I see that you generally stayed away from hard lights and instead favored a lot of soft light. You even augmented that softness by means of atmospheres/hazer. Did you try to soften the look any more with filtration or in lens choices?
-Was everything prelit to run straight through the shoot, or did you augment/further shape light (quickly) for close ups?
-How did you go about differentiating the look of the space ship and the girls rooms in terms of lighting? I think its always instantly clear which “world” we’re in, and the lighting and camera work definitely contribute to this, but I’m wondering how you approached this in prep.
Sorry if some of these are obvious. Thanks again for sharing!
This was a great BTS on the pre-lighting! I learned a lot about lighting for spaceship/sci-fi. It was also great to learn the relationship between the cinematographer and gaffer and how they work together. Oh, and I didn’t know there is only one spaceship set in Los Angeles, that’s pretty cool to know!
I have a question: how did you approach the lighting atmosphere you were going to use for Fan Friction? In the beginning, I feel like the lighting is normal spaceship lighting, but as the short progresses, the lighting really sets a mood and really adds to the scenes. At one point, it felt like the whole scene was inside of some sort of spaceship-like club, with all the colorful and soft lights, which is totally epic and goes along with the story perfectly. Are there any movies or TV shows that you were inspired from? Oh, and totally agree with @BDHTaylor and @uffda1wes question about if you adjusted the lights quickly for the close ups, or just shot the close ups separately. Thanks! Great work on all the aspects of the short!
On most sets, there is usually some time built in to the schedule to readjust lighting with each set up. We knew we weren’t going to have that time to spare on Fan Friction’s action day, so the function of the pre-light was to make sure we could film at every angle straight through with only minor adjustments, if any. We were able to do this because we had created a shot list and knew where the choreography and blocking was going to placed ahead of time. On the day, the only adjustments were some temporary effects (bringing up a light with a gold gel on a dimmer as a practical for the transporter effect, which we set up and took down before and after that one shot), bringing in a bounce board for some more light on close ups, and bringing in the hazer in between takes. Other than that, we basically shot straight through without any adjustments.
Ashly and I chatted a lot about the look of the spaceship, and definitely wanted an Empire Strikes Back sort of vibe, with the contrasting reds and blues, but I did want to add some green as well so it felt a little more alien. I also liked the concept of vertical lines. shaping the hallway and adding depth.
Was actually directly inspired by the film Highlander, shot by Gerry Fisher:
(Which, funnily enough, Tarantino also referenced in Kill Bill, if you remember!)
I wanted to do something a little more romantic and warm than that, however, so we went more with pinks and purples than blue. Since that scene was the result of the two girls finding a compromise together, the setting of the fight/make out scene needed to feel different than the previous scenes, which were more cold and sterile. I also added gold up top to give their muscles more definition (important when filming hunks) and to separate them more from the background so it wasn’t a total silhouette.
Because we were sharing the same equipment over eight different shorts, and couldn’t afford to rent different lenses for each one, we went with two Angenieux Optimo zooms (a 16-40mm and a 30-90mm) for the whole run of the show, supplemented with RocketJump’s Canon 16-35 L series and a Tokina 11-16mm for when we went handheld or onto the MOVI and needed a lighter or wider lens.
For the spaceship, the lighting and haze did all the heavy lifting. I would have loved to played with more vintage lenses (from the 70’s or 80’s) to invoke the Star Wars look even more, but alas! I also wished I had gotten to play with the Schneider DigiCon filter, especially with the shadowy scenes. But we had no time for tests (wasn’t sure how a diffusion filter would have reacted to those bare fluorescent tubes, or if any halo effects would make matching the sabers harder in post) and our MOVI rig needed to be lightweight and bare-bones. We used the Angenieux zooms for the girls’ bedroom scenes, and the Canon zooms for the spaceship. I think this definitely has a subtle effect on the “feel” of each location.
The spaceship’s lighting was purposefully very stylized/unnatural and source-y. You saw almost all of the light sources on screen as practicals or as part of the set design. We wanted it to be high-contrast and shadowy, with some of the background falling off into black, but not too harsh on faces… the main rule of thumb was to keep our boys looking handsome. Everything except the white tubes had crazy color gels, and most of the lights on the spaceship were either fluorescents or LED’s, which have their own feel compared to tungstens and HMI’s, and lean a little cooler on the color spectrum in general. (LED’s sometimes tend to have a weird effect on skin tone, I still want to test that more.)
In contrast, the girls’ rooms were based in more natural indirect light sources off screen, like sunlight through windows. We mostly used tungsten fresnels or source 4’s shot through silks or bounced off white cards, with very few in-camera sources. In Liz’s room after enough time had passed for it to be evening, we had a gem ball (or china ball) as one of our main sources above camera, playing like a soft ceiling light. We wanted the girls’ spaces to feel soft and warm and indirect, the opposite of the shadowy, contrasty intensity of the ship.
ALSO! Here are some images the director @AshlyBurch pulled when creating a look book (also called a mood board) for the short. A look book can include anything that communicates the tone, feel, colors or look that you have in your head. It gives the DP, production designer, gaffer, colorist, etc… some visual examples so they understand your vision as much as possible.
Lauren! This whole response is so thoughtful + helpful, thank you very much . Its amazing how simple/effective the choices you guys made were to differentiate the two spaces of the short. I almost feel embarrassed for having missed some of them, but hearing them articulated by you makes it all very clear. I have follow ups for you, but please by all means enjoy your company and the movie while you can! I’m sure you’ll get back to us soon enough anyhow.
-From the lens comparison video, and VGHS BTS series, I take it that RocketJump cinematographers are very much into their zoom lenses, almost exclusively so. Hearing FDubs and Jon Salmon talk about it, the main reasoning behind this seems to be that you aim to save more time without having to swing lenses on set. Having worked as a 1st AC for a little while now, I’ve become more and more skeptical of how much time this saves. Maybe I’m just a totally rad AC who changes lenses very quickly, but I’ve never been on a set that’s suffered more than 30-45 seconds per swing, and that’s only when the DP hasn’t made up their mind. Even shooting on celluloid, if the DP has a solid plan going in, swinging lenses almost always takes place during natural down time, and thus a zoom would almost always be useless in terms of saving time. In addition, you’re dealing with a lot of setbacks in terms of weight/form-factor. Also, while I’m less familiar with the scene in LA, in the UK and on the East coast two decent cine zooms will run you just as much as a set of cine primes, if not a little more, so the budget doesn’t seem to be a prevailing issue either. I was wondering if you could offer your own take on the zooms vs. primes scene at RJ and just in general in your life as a DP. There also might be some great pros to the zooms in your scenario that I’m missing!
-Did you operate every short for Fan Friction? If so, what was that like and how did your arms not break from running a freaking movi all day? And if not, what was it like working with an operator, and do you have any tips for giving instructions/notes/working out shots with an operator?
I think the most true answer here when it comes to zooms vs primes is that is ultimately comes down to your production style and needs and it’s gonna be different for every crew and production. For RJ, zooms really do save us time, because of the crazy fast pace that RocketJump productions in particular move at. For context, I have gotten so used to our unique pace that when I visit other sets I find myself getting impatient. Jon has said something similar! It can sometimes freak out new crewmembers (I remember some more old school guys we worked with once missed the usual down time they get on film sets and were grumbly about it) but most new crew adapt to it really quickly and like it. We’ve assembled a pretty rad team and are fairly unique in that we know each other so well it is easy to move smoothly and have a production short hand. Part of the current RJ shorthand and style is downsizing equipment needs and doing more with less.
I have mentioned repeatedly to the guys that I would like budget to play with more equipment, types of lenses, filters, etc and spend more time crafting a look. I think I’ll have to keep complaining.
I operated a lot of the shots, but I actually had Freddie as a MOVI operator, which was a funny experience directing him instead of being directed! Saved my arms and was a fun collab!
Okay this is actually fascinating/terrifying. Maybe this is more a subject for a whole video, but I would love to see a break down of like, 1 hour of one of your shoots, and the whole process y’all have honed. I’m sure it’s a beautiful thing. But maybe also something that should be kept secret/mysterious. I’m not sure. In any case I’m glad to hear it does make sense, and am inspired by a production as relatively large as yours moving as fast as I am now imagining it does.
I think this is the DP/Producer relationship in a nutshell.
Did you find yourself giving him a lot of notes/instructions or is that working relationship so solid at this point that you both kind of just knew what you needed from the other?
We have a pretty solid work style. Lots of Max/Furiosa hand-grab/high-fives. However, the new fun part about this shoot was that Freddie would (naturally) be thinking several steps ahead, and we’d be chatting and he’d say something like, “You should probably make sure you get this, this and this” and I got to grin the biggest, smuggest grin at him and say “Those are already on my shot list SUCKAAAA!”
(…I’m really glad he puts up with me.)
So while I was giving him direction on the shots Ash and I wanted, he was already on the same page and I didn’t need to hover or say much. It was also good to know that he was paying attention and had my back in case we missed something, and that my instincts already lined up with his. Freddie and Matt were great about being pretty hands-off and letting me and Ash do our thing!
AMAZING. I’m glad Matt and Freddie let you guys fly free, that’s going to be really important for the whole group to grow. Plus Fan Friction shows you and Ash can make something really effing awesome in 2 (?) days of shooting? I know this came up in RJTS, but how do you think you guys managed on such a tight schedule?