Hello and welcome to Into the Badlands: Day Exterior Set Lighting. What the heck does that mean? It means that inside a giant sound stage – in our case, a giant community center – I am creating the feel of sun and skylight ambiance. This is one of the most difficult things to do as a cinematographer.
When you think about it, light comes from everywhere. When you’re forced into a sound stage you have blackness all around you. That ambient light has to be created artificially and has to feel like it’s coming from many different places.
This was our pre rig day. At this level, you don’t see anything. All of a sudden, Bud looks up and you can see our monstrosity of a lighting rig.
The quality of light in alleys is unbelievable. It’s one of the coolest qualities of light on the planet. Many still and fashion photographers always try and mimic this light.
It’s light that comes right from overhead in a long slender shape due to the tall buildings around. This nice line of ambient skylight comes right above and fills in. You get a beautiful reflection in the eyes while also creating a nice shadow down underneath the chin. It really shapes a face.
A sound stage would have been no problem. We would have had more power; people would have been able to work from above, etc. We could have done it so much easier. We did not have that.
My 14 soft boxes in the ceiling were on chain motors. They could go up and down and angle on their sides. Sometimes, I would drop them down and angle them if I needed to. They were all on dimmer controls. They contained daylight fluorescent bulbs. Each bank had 15 fluorescent tubes in it. In each light box, we had 5 fixtures. You do the math! That’s a LOT of bulbs.
I went crazy with this amount of light, not because of the day exteriors we were going to be doing but because of the night exteriors that fight unit would be doing. They were also going to be shooting at 300 frames per second. I set myself up for success for both scenarios.
The strips of Duvetyne I hung on the sides of each light box acted like egg crates. Without them, the light flew everywhere and looked unrealistic. That’s not the way the beautiful alley light works. The alley light is very far away from us and is a sliver.
The ceiling was not level in our “sound stage.” Near the wall, it was 35 feet to the ceiling and in the middle of the room, the ceiling was 55 feet tall. The roof sloped. It was not the optimum situation for lights that are supposed to be 4 stories in the air. We were constantly dealing with this situation where we were barely framing lights out. There were big windows we had to block out as well in this community center.
On the tech scout, the producer asked me if I could make this space work. I said Yes, I think we could make this work, but all these air conditioning vents had to get out of there. I remember he looked up and went Oh my God. The HVAC team came in and within a day and a half they had every single one of these things down. We absolutely had to remove them because they actually lowered the ceiling by 10 feet.
We were able to properly rig our soft boxes thanks to the absence of the vents. From this angle, you can see the first and second story. We could just see the roofline of the second story. This was at the high part of the ceiling.
When I turned around in the other direction, I didn’t even get a roof. Carey Meyer, the production designer, didn’t even bother putting one there. He knew we’d never see it with our 35 feet restriction.
Let’s go to our schematic. I have an 18k that’s raking the wall behind them. I have a topper coming in overhead. It’s a 2’x6’ floppy topper. I had 16 light boxes rigged overhead creating this top ambient alley light.
I also positioned an 18k down this alley in order to streak light across a small patch they walk through. We’re getting this nice light and dark. I put my battens in this building behind them to give a nice warm glow coming from the windows.
Then I had a fire effect Magic Gadgets in there with two 1k Mollettes. They’re right inside the barrel creating that flicker effect.
Going back to Sunny’s closeup, you can see that nice top light coming from all these sources. I actually brought 2 of my softboxes physically down closer to the ground and angled them towards Sunny so that I could give him a little more light. He was getting taken out by the roofline directly over him.
A few times we went underneath the canopy with an 8’x8’ Matthbounce. We would bounce M18s into it. That would just bring up M.K.’s eye a little more and provide some frontal fill.
Let’s go to our next sequence. I took my 18k and moved it over here, shooting in from the other side of the road now.
When we turn around, I would have an 18k on the other opposite corner that was used to backlight M.K. in the street.
She walks up to him and then is about to punch him. You can see that hot streak from our other 18k in the background.
The light direction is cheated all over the place here. It’s behind Tilda, then it’s behind M.K., then it’s streaming through the alley after she punches him. If it looks good, it works. The cheat behind all this is making the light look interesting and good and then just going for it!
The shaft from the 18k down the alley separates them from the background as well. They also caught this little neon from the storefront to the left.
The camera sees down the alley as well as these lit shops.
The SECRET to lighting day exteriors inside is light coming from everywhere. Top light, bounce light off the floor, off the buildings – if you see it as creating just one or two lights, then you are going to fail horribly. This is a very difficult and a very expensive thing to do. It is also very time consuming.
Let’s quickly recap what we’ve seen:
- Artificially re-creating the feel of natural sun and skylight ambiance is one of the hardest things to do as a cinematographer
- Light comes from everywhere in day exteriors. It bounces off the walls, off the ground, off buildings, etc.
- When you’re forced into a sound stage, you have blackness all around you. You need to re-create that bounce ambiance
- In order to re-create this, we had over 14 different light boxes rigged up in the ceiling. Each could be moved up and down, tilted and dimmed. This gave us maximum control.
- Natural alley light is one of the coolest qualities of light on the planet
- The light forms a long slender shape due to the tall buildings overhead
- You get a beautiful reflection in the eyes and it beautifully shapes a face
- I went with this amount of light, not because of the day exterior work we would be doing, but because of the night exterior work the fight unit would be doing at 300fps. I set the production up for both success and speed
- I hung strips of Duvetyne on the sides of each lightbox, which acted like egg crates
- Without the Duvetyne, the light would fly everywhere and look unrealistic
- The ceiling was not level in our “sound stage” – it was a situation we just had to deal with
- We had to take out the air vents to maximize every inch of our space
- I would rig 18ks as back lights in all directions
- This is how you can cheat light direction. If it looks good, then it looks good.
- Make the light look interesting and good and then just go for it
- I scraped an 18k across the back wall which resembled direct sunlight
- My fire light flicker gag was created using two 1k Molelettes on a Magic Gadgets flicker box
- A few times we brought in our 8’x8’ Matthbounce with an M18 shooting into it for some extra fill and more detail under the canopy
- The secret to lighting day exteriors inside is that you need to have light coming from everywhere to create that ambiance
- If you see it as creating just 1 or 2 lights, then you’re going to fail horribly
- Creating artificial day exteriors in a controlled environment is a very difficult to pull off, very expensive to do, and very time consuming