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Creating Dramatic Looks: A Technical Breakdown

On the set of “Reset” – Photo Credit: Matt Maas

Welcome back!

My last blog post was a bit about the experience of working with a decently-manned crew, so I want to get back into the technical of some of the looks we accomplished, how we went about creating these looks, and all the technical stuff in-between.

The film in question is tentatively titled “Reset,” a story that I don’t want to give away, but is basically a man in an unfamiliar environment fending off something that’s trying to kill him. I wish I had stills from the actual film to show you, but it’s pretty locked down at the moment, so scattered BTS shots will have to do for now.

Here we go, after a sexy camera shot.

Ohhhhhh yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The Sony F55 and my favorite focal length. Is it hot in here or is it just me? – Photo Credit: Matt Maas

We shot exclusively on the Sony F55. Attached is the R5 RAW recorder, and we ran those new Xeen cinema primes for glass. All courtesy of Z-Systems in Minnesota.

On our SmallHD monitors, we ran an S-Log3 to Arri Rec709 LUT, which was underexposed a stop, so we had at least one stop of overexposure headroom for our amazing colorist Oscar Oboza to work with in the grade. We could’ve done this similarly with the EI tool, but kept that at 1250 ISO, just because it was a function we didn’t have a lot of time to test out prior to shooting. But overall, we knew we wanted to expose a stop over consistently, to try and reduce the signal to noise ratio as much as possible, especially given the dark environments we were shooting in and lighting for.

Basically, with RAW, if you don’t clip highlights, you’re probably in pretty good shape 95% of the time. On this shoot, we were going to be hard-pressed to clip any highlights, save for maybe the practical flashlight in most of the scenes.

The Xeen lenses were great for this shoot, where we needed a lot of light to hit the sensor because of how minimal our lighting setups were. We hovered mostly between t2 and t4. We know that the foundation of those Xeens are the great and affordable Rokinon Cine Primes, but knowing that, we know that a lot of those lenses can’t (or shouldn’t be) opened up all the way to t1.5, except for maybe the 50mm (which we never used). So we kept most around t2 or t4 depending on the shot.

The director (superstar-in-the-making) Andrew Hunt and I had discussed early on using mostly wides for this shoot, so we primarily shot on the 24mm and 35mm for almost every shot, including close-ups, with the 14mm sprinkled in for some shots, and the 85mm used sparingly for inserts or deliberate changes in lens compression. I love love love love love shooting CUs on a 35mm, so I feel like that lens got the most mileage. I cannot say enough about that focal length. It’s the reason why my lovely Sigma 18-35mm stays on my camera 85% of the time I shoot.

There are three main lighting setups that I want to discuss. Each will have some stills to go along so you can visualize what we were doing.

SETUP #1: The Red Room(s)

Red Hallway

Red

Red Room – Photo Credit: Matt Maas

We wanted to have an effect where a security light was going off in this hallway and bled into this security office. So the amazing Red White (yes, that’s an actual name) devised a method with our gaffer Owen Seaton, in which they setup a 1k par can on a c-stand with a flag rigged to spin around the light, creating intervals of red light and darkness. I attached a semi-decent image showing the setup in action below.

Par can (bottom left) with a red theater gel attached, on a c-stand, with an arm extending to a flag and another arm for our gaffer Owen Seaton to spin it around the light, creating intervals of red and black – Photo credit: Matt Maas

This is an effect probably easily done in post, but doing it in camera gave us the foundation to work with, and when possible, I’m always going to advocate practical lighting effects. This was a rather unique one, and a fun one to shoot. All credit to Red and Owen for rigging this one up. Two people who are incredibly gifted at thinking outside the box with this kind of stuff.

SETUP #2 – A Bloody Pile of Guts in a Closet

Our clean, pristine F55 trying not to get bloody on set.

In a fun scene to shoot, our protagonist comes upon a pile of bloody guts inside a closet, and the setup is again, fairly simple.

We wanted to give it a real subtle overhead light feel, not necessarily spotlit, but something that felt natural and like it belonged in the space.

One of the great things about having so many crew, and all working in one location, is that some of the crew were able to setup while we were shooting in a different area. This one was partially rigged, so I was able to just come in and tweak to taste.

A bi-color LED 1×1 Litepanel was rigged directly overhead the mess to act as the closet interior light. I had it cranked down to probably 50% of what it was, and what was great is it was shining through this sheet of plastic draped over the set, so it gave a nice and gentle diffusion which worked out great. I wanted it to feel really subtle.

Outside in the hallway is supposed to be a washed blue-lit set, so I gave us a little bit of that with another 1×1 Litepanel and I think I had an additional 1/4 or 1/2 CTB on it eventually to give it a slightly bluer hue than inside the room.

First AC Bryce Wandling Googling how to be more awesome, which he finds out isn’t possible.

One of the big things I researched when prepping for this movie is how Roger Deakins doesn’t light people necessarily, he lights spaces, keeping an eye out for reflected light. It’s something I’m obsessed with now. Light hits differently depending on the surface, and for this setup, we just happened to have really reflective surfaces (plastic sheets) that caught all this light from the hallway just beautifully. A couple of tweaks (and I think I added a 1k bounce for the hallway) and we were able to really light this closet without really lighting it at all.

Reflected light, everywhere!

Our main source of light, as it was with most of the film, was going to be the protagonist’s flashlight. So for the final touch, we added a bounce card directly beside camera for his flashlight beam to hit and bounce back on his face and further light the spaace (reflected lighting), and hazed the room for a nice beam of light.

Again, this was not a complicated setup, but by just watching how light fell on the set, and creating motivated setups, we were able to create one of my favorite looks in the entire film.

SETUP #3: The Fan

The fan setup, against the wall, looking very Alien-like – Photo Credit: Matt Maas

Early on in pre-pro, I had sent the director a lookbook with images that I thought really conveyed the mood and tone of the film. One of my favorite things to do is send these things to directors and get on the same page with them visually. It creates really fun conversations, and one of these conversations revolved (no pun intended) around an image of an industrial fan with light blasting through it. I had thought it looked really cool, and had joked in the lookbook that I knew there was no way of incorporating it, but threw it in for shits sake.

In this film, there are two main hallways, and we wanted to give them visually distinct looks. Apart from having different colors, we wanted to give them very dramatic signifiers as well.

Hence, the industrial fan came into play.

Again, all credit to Owen Seaton for gaffing the crap out of this one. The setup consists of a 2K par blasting through a rotating, custom-designed fan apparatus, and to break up light even further, we added a cookie cut out with vent slits (from a previous film I gaffed on) wth a 1k lighting through that separately.

The lighting cave. It was toasty in there.

The fan setup.

It was a bit of a play with positioning to get the two lights to cooperate against the wall, as they had a tendency to want to create these hard lines where you could tell one light stopped and another light started, but in the end we fudged it enough to make it look seamless.

Our final touch for the hallway was throwing a 1×1 Litepanel up in the sky (we had insanely high ceilings to work with) and beaming straight down. I had noticed the ceiling lights naturally gave off a nice diffused ambiance, but we wanted to control that a bit more, so we cut the ceiling lights and setup the 1×1 instead.

I think everyone was pretty happy with their work on this film, and it was a huge learning experience for me to be able to work with so many talented people and delegate accordingly, while continuing to learn about light and how to create some really (in my opinion) badass looks.

This shoot couldn’t have been further from the type of stuff I shoot. I shoot a lot of handheld, natural light stuff, and this was sticks or Chapman dolly, and entirely artifical light, which made for a fun challenge. I highly recommend shooting stuff that’s outside of your comfort zone, as it keeps you sharp and you learn so much.

Thanks for checking out the blog! If you like this kind of stuff, and want to keep up with what I’m working on, head on over to my Instagram, where I’ll be posting lots of BTS with that new Instagram Stories function, which I actually think is a pretty neat feature that I plan on using a lot.

Till next time!

Ben

 

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