Placing Horizon Lines in The Adventures of Roman – An Outback Musical

The Adventures of Roman Pilgrim was one of, if not the, first Hi Def films for theatrical release shot in Australia.

The film, conceived, written, produced and directed by talented Aussie Filmmaker Anny Slater, shot on the Panavised SONY 950 camera in Tibooburra, far western NSW. It is a fantasy which, in brief, tells the story of a young boy searching the Aboriginal songlines for his “voice”.

“Roman” featured an original score by renowned Jazz Musician/Trumpet Player James Morrison with Christopher Horsey (“Bootmen”) as “Roman” starring and choreographer, The Topp Twins as “the Fates” , David Ngoombujarra (“Down & Under”) as “Albert”, Michael Veitch (“Fast Forward”) as the “Guardian of the Threshold, Taryn Laleen as “Spirit Guide”, John Morrison as “The Butcher” www.swingcity.com.au

As a side note, shooting at the intersection of Sth Australia, NSW, Qld and Northern Territory and working on a limited budget, we needed to shoot as much as possible available light with only reflectors, bounces and careful attention to sun position. All the dreamtime dance sequences were shot totally available daylight with each angle timed to the position of the sun.

After discussions with Anny we decided to shoot flat 2.35:1 aspect ratio on spherical lenses to make the most of the outback locations and the wide theatrical screen. The aspect ratio also worked well for the staging of many of the scenes which required vast wide shots as well as substantial separation between the actors.

Shooting 2.35:1 meant much attention would have to be paid to the horizon line, particularly as one of my pet peeves is horizon lines jumping up and down the screen in the edited scene. I wanted to overcome those jumps and, at the same time use the horizon as part of the storytelling.

 

I had shot a film many years earlier, In Broad Daylight starring Brian Dennehy and Marcia Gay Harden, about a guy who terrorized Skidmore Missouri, eventually to be gunned down by the townfolk (true story). My goal was to use the horizon to tell a subliminal part of the story.

 

In the early part of the film I wanted Brian to be towering over the landscape I shot from lower angles and in particular, on exteriors, kept the horizon running cutting Brian between chest and knees. As the film progressed I moved the horizon line higher until he was eventually trapped by the landscape.
In “Roman” my goal was the same. Use the horizon to help drive the story subliminally and that meant ensuring the horizon did not draw attention to itself by “jumping” up and down in the frame across edits.

 

I shot many tests on an SLR for “Roman” and decided to have a chat to my pal, one of America’s top artists, Eric Hopkins. Eric paints Maine landscapes and he tends to see his world from 10,000’. This obviously means he puts a lot of thought into placement of the horizon in his paintings. We had discussed horizons many times before but now the discussion could turn to implications for the moving image.

 

 

Who is Eric Hopkins? Watch the following short video I shot with Eric on his approach to horizons for another project several years back. He was in the process of taking his art 360 degrees by combining with glass.

I hopped an early morning ferry for the 60+ minute ride out to Eric’s studio on North Haven Island.
We talked at length about where the horizon should be, with my primary concern the “jumps”. I had an idea that the horizon could be played at angles through the frame which also meant the actors would be angled as well.
Eric grabbed some cardboard, cut out a 2.35:1 frame, drew a this line across a table and we started playing. We were both surprised to discover that the more off horizontal the horizon became, the more interesting the picture. However, that was great for static shots or one angle but how about intercutting?

 

I shot loads of stills, transferred them into Final Cut and edited shots into sequences and surprisingly, intercutting also worked better with large departures of the horizon from strictly horizontal. (Watch one of the tests below).

 

Next was to test the theory with people in the shot. I photographed family members in different compositions…WS, MS and CU and then cropped and dropped them into the frames with the horizon line. It worked, for intercut still frames so my theory was it should work when the actors and the camera were moving.

 

In fact it did, and it worked brilliantly (if I do say so myself). Strangely, when watching the film the angle of the horizon and the actors was not noticeable to audiences, unless they were told about it up front. If it was mentioned after a screening they could not recall. Further, the actors, even though to camera at crazy angles, always appeared normal but with a tension and dynamic in each shot that would not have been apparent shot conventionally. Steadicam work was a challenge but Steadicam Operator Andrew “AJ” Johnson was all over the wacky angles and pulled off some stunning compound shots tracking the dancers and maintaining the horizon placement.
Sadly, you do not get the full impact of the technique on a small computer or tv screen. I really works best on a big screen. However, you will see in the following short assembly it does definitely add a different dynamic to the story.

 

Visit Eric Hopkins Gallery

Want to know about the Aboriginal Songlines?

Presented by Colin Jones, lecturer in Aboriginal History, talking about his culture, his history and his art.

 

Tales From The Darkside revisited.

Some screen grabs from Tales from the Darkside. Came up during a seminar in which I was using one of the segments as an example of real-time in-shot scene transitions using compound moves, theatrical scrim and lighting techniques. Much more interesting than CGI.darkside2
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“Irrefutable Proof” Teaser-trailer

Directed by Ziad Hamzeh, we shot Irrefutable Proof in Syracuse, NY December/January. The film is due to be released in the Fall this year. Stay tuned.

FILL-LITE – The best soft lights available

I used the Fill-Lite’s for the first time on the feature “Irrefutable Proof”, which just wrapped Principal Photography in Syracuse NY, essentially lighting the entire movie with them. This Indie film was shot on a very tight budget with huge locations and required an innovative approach to the lighting to keep costs down and maintain a very strong visual style. Fill-Lite make an exceptional unit and this was my first chance to put them through their paces.

Having demo’d the units earlier in the year at a seminar I gave for Band Pro, I knew their potential but did not appreciate the usefulness and versatility of these small units until I had them on set.

“The Lady Pleaser”
The quality of the light is astounding, dubbed by my crew “the lady pleaser”, great wrap and essentially the quality of a soft light thru 216 (without the 216). The fall off is relatively short which meant less cutting and shaping in tight locations and being a square emitter they could easily be panned or tilted to control spill and intensity in different parts of the set.

I used them as singles, doubles and quads, to light masters and close-ups, green screen car scenes, men and women. For women, when punched thru diffusion, the light almost becomes a liquid. I also used them skirted as coup lights for large areas where they provided the perfect amount of base shooting on the Alexa at 800ISO, as fill on overcast day exteriors and in ultra low temps (-9 degrees and color temp and output did not change). In every situation these incredible units excelled. I will not be shooting again without them.

Their small compact size and amazing light quality make them ideal for shooting in very tight locations as, at a little less than 1″ thick, they take up such a small amount of space. They are also supplied with brackets allowing them to be directly attached to set walls giving them an even smaller footprint. Compared to Kino Flo’s or Chimera’s, well there simply is no comparison, these little units outperform in every area.

No Heat-No Generator-Less Cost
Of course one of the big advantages of LED lighting in general is that they do not produce heat. Therefor almost all the electrical energy passing into the LED produces light so they are much more efficient. This allowed using the lower wattage lights off normal household circuits, so I was able to structure the lighting for the film around a lighting package that did not force us to carry a generator, other than a 6500W as a backup source or for remote locations. Any night exteriors were shot dusk for night.
Actors also loved the “no heat” aspect of the Fill-Lite’s .

Check them out at www.fill-lite.com

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Irrefutable Proof – Behind the Scenes

A great behind the scenes film by 2nd AC Mark Davis completely shot and edited on his iPhone.

Irrefutable Proof – The BTS Mini Movie from Mark Davis on Vimeo.

LED street lighting – “The end of cinema”

This one gave me a really good laugh.

“Say goodbye to moody Collateral-style movie shots: How LED street lights mean films set at night in LA and across the world will now be bathed in gray” 

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The story appeared in the Daily Mail  and declares movies will never be the same again if global street lighting changes from Sodium Vapor to LED. It was obviously written by someone who was about, well lets just say not too old, or a movie critic, since I recall, not so long ago, lamenting the fact that the world had slowly become bathed in the ugly (and for a cinematographer difficult to control or balance) orange glow of sodium vapor lamps. Purportedly for the same reason everyone now wants to switch to LED…cost saving.

Whatever the reason all I can say is about time. The faster those awful orange sodium vapor lamps disappear the better, as far as I am concerned, and I am reasonably confident many DP’s will agree.

For the writer of the story I am confident there will be plenty of films shot under the new lights and, if an orange glow is required, I am equally confident we DP’s will have a good idea on how to achieve it.

Using Varicon in Digital Cinematography. (text & video post)

rob draper, acs demonstrates varicon
What is the Varicon?

I have been using the Varicon (on film primarily but also in HD) since it was first produced by Arriflex. It allows me to have maximum control over density AND detail(without the need to set up fill light) in the blacks without any noise penalty.

Continue reading

Is It Technically Perfect – Who Cares?

I have had a few emails today regarding my earlier Facebook post. I was questioned as to why the images did not look like they were shot on Alexa or Canon 5D (two of the camera’s I used for the shoot). My response is….what should images from the Alexa and Canon 5D look like? Is there a rule for using those camera’s or do they have a very special signature that says…this image was shot on a “this or that” camera. It seems most these days regard a good image as something with shallow depth of field and sharp as a tack. Continue reading

How did you light Mammoth Caves for Face of America?

Helium Balloons, crane and equipment loaded into main cavern.

I have been receiving this question on and off for several years now. This was one of the early shoots on the 900 series SONY HDCAM  and I had to come up with some novel ways of lighting …. dancers, a constantly moving camera, nowhere to “hide” lights and no mounting as the caves are a National Park. Continue reading

Dynamic Range – What’s it all about?

Dynamic range has become the catchphrase for a whole generation of image makers but many are not sure exactly what it is, what it means or how they can use it. Continue reading