Using the right filtration to impose a mood, create a style, encapsulate a time period or just to cream a woman’s skin can be a very powerful visual tool. I wanted to go into some of the diffusions that I use to do all of these. By using visual examples and showing you before and after footage, my Elite Team and I will take you through the art of diffusion in three parts. This is not just using glass, which is my least favorite of all diffusions. Think more organic, texture, and working with the atmosphere.
The first diffusion I go to time and time again, whether it is film or HD, is smoke. This is a very powerful tool. Having the patience to use the right smoke to get your levels consistent can infuse a mood, transport you back in time, create style, and a cream effect on a woman’s skin. One tool. My go to smoke/diffusion is the DF-50 by Reel EFX.
This is a fairly inexpensive machine and can smoke a very large area. It looks small, but it packs a wallop. This hangs for hours and gives you that consistent level. This is mineral oil, and SAG contracts do not permit this smoke. The Rosco 1500 has been approved by SAG to use. The problem with this smoke is that it doesn’t hang, which requires you to use 10 times the quantity. Go figure. But it has been deemed safe.
The early 1900s was such an exciting time period to shoot in this film directed by Bill Paxton. Oil lamps, fireplaces, gas lamps, and the recent invention of electricity were my brushes. Smoking day interiors is one of my favorite things to do. This morning breakfast scene doesn’t reveal shafts, but it creates that gauze. Remember to be obsessed with the subtleties. The texture was perfect for our intro to young Francis. It also gave it a feel of excitement, but yet uncertainty. Francis’ dad’s condescending nature came across immediately, but notice the light on the mom. She becomes the guiding light in Francis’ journey. Shooting through thick smoke and strong back light gave her an ethereal presence.
My vision for this film was that the world was always smoldering, never having been put out from SkyNet’s extermination. So the use of smoke was everywhere in this film. The mood that it infused was one of neglect, uncertainty and determination, which I felt was perfect for this world that McG had created. The resistance would rise to fight, and like a burning ember, it can be stomped on, blown up, but the smoke, the resistance, will remain smoldering. Maybe I am thinking a little too deeply, but this is how I think when I make a decision. It cannot be there just because it looks good. It has to help tell the story and transport the audience into an uncomfortable world that is unstable and on edge. The mine field was one of my favorite sequences to shoot. Lighting 25 acres at night, with smoke, fire, bombs and debris flying. Yeah!
The reason Act of Valor seems so filmic, and not like HD, is because I diffused all of the interiors and most night exteriors. It wasn’t just Dark Energy adding grain. It was the texture of smoke that helped us cross cut seamlessly from 35mm motion picture film and 5D. The sense of style that the directors, Scotty Waugh and Mouse McCoy, wanted to convey is one that was immersive, real, a visceral experience. Using the smoke in the Costa Rican compound gave it that realistic feel. It took the edge off of the HD capture and added a grain texture that was not 5D noise but diffusion. Getting a consistent level when there were so many open windows was a challenge, to say the least, but well worth the effect. Using a heavy level of smoke once the crash grenade went off created confusion, so the audience did not know where the bullets were coming from and if our heroes had been hit. Just this simple organic tool can really help push your story forward, and that’s what it is all about.
The diner scene was one of my favorite locations on this film directed by McG. Creating all of the different times of day was challenging because it wasn’t a set. This is one thing that I pride myself in doing. At all costs, make it practical. There is a reality that is conveyed when you have the limitations of a real location. You cannot just blow the wall out to get the camera in the right place. You have to embrace the limitations. I do that by turning a challenge into a positive. The night at the diner when they got the call that the plane had gone down with all the players, coaches and boosters on it was a very long shooting day. We had started during the day with a couple of scenes. Then it drifted into the night. This was such an important scene, but as always, delays happen, and we didn’t get to January Jones’s close up until the end.
I always try to make it a priority to shoot our female cast’s close-ups early. It is just good practice to build that into your daily schedule. So here we are at 3 am, and it’s January Jones’s close up. She had just done several emotional scenes prior and was exhausted. She had to look alive, luminescent, stunning. I turned to my EFX team to up our smoke level and use it as my diffuser, instead of pulling the glass out. We shot the medium with a little heavier smoke level, then kept that consistency when I went to the longer lens. By using the longer lens and the heavier smoke levels, it softened her face and gave her this inner beauty. The compression of the glass compresses the smoke and makes it look thicker. That is why when you use smoke you cannot do wides and tights at the same time. Your wide needs thicker smoke levels, but your longer lens work needs lighter. January is one beautiful woman, and that night, I thought we knocked it out. Her expression when she realizes her husband was in that plane – it was magic.
Next week, we will discuss the art of using female stockings to add a glow, a pearlescent quality and transport you to a time period that had a sense of glamor, when movie stars were king.
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