The Wolfman: Standing Stones

The Wolfman features an interesting scene where Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) attempts to protect a young gypsy who is being pursued by a mysterious creature and has taken refuge in the fog amongst a group of ancient vertical stones. The sequence begins on location outside London in a gypsy camp at night, then transitions to the stones set built on stage. Because we needed a controlled environment to contain our atmospheric fog effects, we shot this on H Stage at Shepperton Studios. For those of you who have shot on this stage, you know exactly what happens to smoke effects in the afternoon when the cold ground meets the growing heat building up at the top of the stage. Absolutely fantastic smoke layering effects that look completely incredible. All of our night cloud sky effects were not Visual effects… but rather standing layers of motionless smoke in the air. I’ve shot on this stage a dozen times and it’s the same phenomenon every time. It’s an old metal building with a few holes in it. I hope Shepperton never changes anything about that old stage.

The amazing gaffer John “Biggles” Higgins rigged an open-face 18K HMI and a cluster of diffused maxi-brutes surrounding that light through an 18-foot hole we located in the painted backing. This allowed us to have both hard and soft lighting coming from the same direction so that we may have a hard punch of backlight through the smoke, while the soft backlight created by the maxi’s spread our pattern and kept it from getting too theatrical. We did only a little augmenting otherwise… maybe just an occasional soft push for faces… but otherwise quite simple. Key Grip Gary Hymns operated the TechnoCrane with his son, Paul. Shelly StonesHe, along with operator Des Whelan and First AC Julian Bucknall could move the camera just about anywhere with  precision. Of course, it was extremely difficult movement. They are just good enough to make it appear effortless. I like to use a small handheld viewfinder and mark our lens positions on the ground. We decide on a post position for the crane based in those marks (considering space, arm sweep and where I propose to place lighting so that the arm can avoid a collision with Biggles’s equipment), then lay the shot out over those marks… Mark the arm then start playing. I’ll always try to start with a marked shot when working with the TechnoCrane so that we don’t waste time “hunting” for a shot with a complicated piece of equipment.


When shooting our scenes around the gypsy camp at night, we had firelight and overhead sources in around the wagons of the camp, then back lit the surrounding hills with dozens of Dino’s and 20Ks just over the horizon, out of view of the camera but lighting the smoke we sent up around the hillside. At one point, Director Joe Johnston needed a shot of Benicio running towards the trees and standing stones, where we would later hand off to our stage set. Because the hillside was lit as background for the foreground camp, when we went to the base of the hill there was no light there. In fact, with the smoke machines off and our lights hidden behind the horizon, it was pitch black. We happened to have a great SFX team lead by Paul Corbould. They were able to drive their smokers and gas powered ritters (which were mounted to 4-wheel drive trucks) and get enough smoke in the sky and create a cloudscape that was catching all the light I had pouring into the air. That little glow near Benicio’s knees are 6 Dino’s pounding in from a few hundred yards away… And the trees to the right have five or six 20Ks hidden amongst them. So, there was massive amounts of light up there… They just needed to get their smokers in the right place so they could feed this shot. Joe is very understanding at times like this and when he sees a crew working hard and they are working on a plan he himself believes might be viable, he is as patient as a Director can be. All I know is that the Corboulds made me look very very good that night.

Smash – Conceiving the Pilot Episode

Smash was a Dreamworks series about the world of Broadway and shot in NYC. It was Directed by Michael Mayer who is a Tony Award winning Broadway Director. When the executives at Dreamworks called me, they said they wanted me to go to NYC for an extra week of early prep so that I could shadow Michael and look at some of his work (his musical American Idiot was playing at the time) and get a feel for the type of complex staging he likes to do in the theatre. They asked me to suggest ways the camera can be used so that the pilot could have a similar type of fearless movement. I thought this was a good idea on paper, but I in no way wanted to force ideas onto Michael. So, I decided to go there and let the situation speak to me, then decide how I could contribute. When I arrived, I found that Broadway Directors work very hard. Casting session here… understudy problems there… project meetings… attending performances and giving notes. It was 7 days a week and endless. Michael was amazing and had a positive spirit and a real love and passion for the theatre. He’s talented, tireless, enthusiastic and a very kind man. About 3 days into that first week he said to me; “Look, I know why you’re here. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to tell you in terms of how I want to move the camera. I don’t know enough about camera to tell you I want this type of move or that type of lens.” I told him not to worry and explained to him that he didn’t have to know an endless amount of technical jargon in order to talk to a DP… that I can get visual cues from what he does know, such as a music choice or editing idea or historic photograph, location… or even an anecdote about being backstage, etc. I suggested we go through the script and asked him to tell me what he did know about any given scene, on any level… and that I was there to help him and that it was my job to come up with a way to represent his idea in a visual manner that I could present to him. He had a fantastic reply; “Shelly there is always one thing I will be able to tell you at any time. I can always tell you what I want the audience to feel.”

That was all I would ever need.


Working with Michael was collaborative and energetic. He reminded me just how much enthusiasm plays a part in the selling of an idea to a producer, actor… or even an audience. Being an accomplished Broadway Director, he wanted to make a pilot that was faithful to the theatre community. Therefore, all the rehearsal spaces are actual spaces used regularly when preparing a show for a Broadway run. All the various offices were actual offices of producers and agents that Michael had dealt with over the years. Restaurants were theatre haunts. He said that his goal was to be able to show the film to any of his friends and have them put their authentic stamp of approval on the finished work. So, when we were scheduled to do a shot in poor light on 8th Avenue, I suggested doing our reverse on 9th Avenue, thus avoiding the poor lighting direction, he said; “You mean use a background on 9th Avenue while the rest of the scene plays on 8th? No… every New Yorker will spot that immediately. We can’t possibly do that. We’ll need to figure a way to use the actual reverse on 8th.” I was the only guy from California… and it showed with that suggestion! Only actual reverses! Through the weeks of prep and shooting, mainly amongst the theatre area on 44th & 45th, just off 7th, I observed that he was very recognizable to passers-by who were all theatre workers… actors, set designers, composers etc. “Hello Michael!” “Hey how are you? What are you working on?” A very small and tight-knit community. The day after we wrapped Smash, I was scouting in that area for the new ending for Captain America, which was to be shot in Times Square. By then, the theatre crowd had gotten to know me (mostly technical people like lighting guys and dimmer board operators) through my association with Michael; “Hey Shelly! What are you working on?” I feel like I made a lot of new friends on that one. The pilot got picked up and the series landed in the very capable hands of DP David Mullen, ASC who photographed all the episodes after the pilot aired.

The Wolfman: Unorthodox Night Source Lighting

In thinking about the night photography in the woods, I wanted this location to feel somewhat otherworldly. I didn’t want to feel slave to the moon being up there, but rather thought about what a haunted moon might make a forest feel like rather than look like… if that makes sense. I just felt that if we hung a moon up there that it would look too familiar and too traditional and, in a way, too safe a choice. I spent many of my weekends at the night locations so I could familiarize myself to them and search for opportunities… and really let the location tell me how it wanted to be lit and study how it would take light well. One of my Sunday excursions lead me to Bourne Wood. Joe Johnston would often come with me for at least part of my Sundays, but this day I was by myself. Joe was spending time with the editor and suggested I go alone and present him some stills on Monday. As I was walking through Bourne Wood, I came across an interesting area that fell away down a slope and the trees sloped down and if I situated myself on top of the high grade, I had this amazing perspective of the trees as they grew from the low-ground upstage with our forest floor in the foreground. Because the tree’s high foliage and vertical height were so pronounced, I thought about lighting the forest from below and creating this unusual low key that under-lit the trees and gave us limitless height since we wouldn’t need to worry about crane mounted backlights that usually determine your top frame line all too quickly. I chose angles that favored this technique and pitched the idea to Joe who was interested in seeing it through. Upon shooting the scene, it felt very theatrical and many of the producers were objecting to the lighting because it was not coming from above. This was worrying since, as you can see from the lighting diagram below, I was completely committed to this low source. I was silently asking myself; “Wow, how am I going to get myself out of this?” Without being argumentative, my contention was that in context, this would work and have the appropriate tone that would allow the audience to become immersed in an evocative and haunting environment… much the same words I used to sell the idea to the Director. At that moment, Joe turned from the video assist monitors and said to me, in front of the producers; “Don’t change anything.” Then turned to them and said; “Shelly’s not changing anything, this looks the way I want it.” I was astounded at the strong stand Joe took and thankful as I believed in this lighting. It reminded me that if a cinematographer has an unusual idea, he needs to champion it through every step of the process. To me, it’s interesting how a thematic idea can feel so right in conversation, yet in application on-set, can feel like the scene is being overworked. I think the key is to not look at a lighting effect like this one, on a scene level… but rather this scene’s contribution to the film as a whole. Then these types of unorthodox plans start to make sense and the cinematographer can create a world in which only that story can exist.

Bourne Wood Forrest

Hidalgo and Jean-Leon Gerome

When I first came on to this film, Director, Joe Johnston and Production Designer, Barry Robison were referencing the work of Orientalist painter Jean-Leon Gerome. Largely, his work with eastern subjects and how they related to the portion of our story that took place in Syria. We had a few large-scale encampment scenes that take place in the desert where we wanted to extend this Orientalist influence. These camps are built in layers from the grand and ornate Sheik’s tent, to the more workaday black Bedouin tents, which were numerous. Considering we were shooting on film and in anamorphic format with older E Series lenses, we were limited to how far we could feasibly open those lenses and still expect a certain level of performance. Panavision would sit in on our lens test screenings (which are much more comprehensive than a typical lens test in spherical formats). They would advise and adjust where they felt the lenses were performing best. But lens performance on a focus and resolution chart is very different than photographing for practical scenes. There are contrast, color and distortion intangibles that become visible… Good or bad. Suffice to say, a T4.0 at ASA 400 was as fast as I was willing to go for this film. So now those black Bedouin tents against a black desert sky were looking like a real puzzle. I came up with a plan to silhouette the tents against layers of lit air that would contain drifting smoke from cooking fires. At the top of this frame, you can see the layers of backlit tents that probably extend back 400 feet beyond where Viggo is taking his shot of whiskey. Gaffer Dave Maddux had dozens of 5k skypans set low to backlight the smoke as it drifted up the rows of tents and skypans. We needed that much wattage to register past our four-stop. Funny enough, when the smokers were off, the camp went completely black. It was unnerving. There was literally nothing visible. But when the smokers came on, the rows of tents hiding in the darkness showed themselves and life was good. We augmented with firelight effects near the actors and those elements, when all combined in a single frame, began to look like our Orientalist Gerome paintings. The camp was set up in a circular pattern and Joe could freely face any direction, as Dave had broadcasted something in the area of 80 of these skypans in all directions and featuring every row of tents.

Hid 1We wanted to give our US scenes a similar type of mood and respect to Gerome as well. Here are the great JK Simmons as Buffalo Bill and the unequaled Viggo Mortensen as Frank Hopkins. An interesting scene on a moving train shot on stage in West LA. In the scene, Frank’s friend and former Chief Eagle Horn beseeches Buffalo Bill to help him save the wild Mustang that roam the Dakotas. The meeting doesn’t end well as Buffalo Bill resorts to grandstand posturing as opposed to any sincere help. In this scene, I would have been tempted to key from the windows and let the train fall off in the interior and play the scene in moving shadowed light. However, much of the Gerome work had a more pronounced key, so I made the decision to abandon naturalism and go for the feel of a more orientalist style. Thus, the formal staging around the table that clearly favors composition… and a key top-source that is brighter than anything to be found in the late 1800’s. To be honest, it feels uncomfortable to part with reality in such a way, but I think it’s important for a cinematographer to previsualize not only the look of a scene, but also that scene’s composition in the larger telling of the story. In many cases, the DP is the only one truly viewing the story on that level while shooting. It’s certainly easier to stick with naturalism and shoot with old lenses… very easy in fact… but I think that the art of previsualization and execution of an authored visual idea is what transports an audience to a new world.

A Family Man

I shot this film in Toronto under a different title, and the Trailer recently was released. The film comes out in May and features some amazing performances by Gerard Butler, Gretchen Mol, Willem Defoe, Alfred Molina and a future young super-star Max Jenkins. Such an interesting project with a first-time Director, Mark Williams, who was amazing. The story was so delicately told and Mark had spent an enormous amount of time developing the script. He knew the story very well and was very humble about his knowledge of the camera, and asked for the crew’s help daily. I like it when a first-time Director is this self-aware and doesn’t pretend to know what he thinks he should know. The fact is, he knew more than anybody about what type of story he wanted to tell, and it was our job to keep the communication open and help him to use the camera to translate those thoughts to the screen. Many first-timers might think they are putting themselves in a position of weakness if they approach the crew with such a brutally frank assessment of themselves, but I find it to be quite the opposite. I think a crew can tell if a Director knows his way around a film set, and when that Director puts the crew in a position to help him, they are more than willing to do so. I think in this case, we gained an immense amount of respect for Mark, because he was so knowledgeable about the nuances of the storytelling and the crew was duly respectful of his talents and sensitivity.


Please meet Max Jenkins, who plays young Ryan in the story. He and Gerry carried this film on their backs and worked hard at cultivating a relationship off camera as well. On weekends, Max and Gerry would sometimes visit children’s hospitals and other personal outings. I thought it was very nice of Gerry to extend himself in that manner to young Max and I think it made a big difference when it comes to their onscreen relationship. A funny story about Gerry and his generosity. The cast, Director and myself were having rehearsals in the house that served as location for the film. The family that lived in the house was very nice and had arranged to be out of the house while the rehearsals where in progress, but the time got away from us and before we knew it, the family was quietly returning home from their long day and beginning to cook their evening meal. Upon finishing rehearsal, Gerry went into the kitchen, where family and a few of their son’s friends were gathered and asked if he might have some water. By then, the kids were sitting at the table and starting to devour a wonderful-smelling roast chicken. They invited Gerry to sit with them and join them of dinner, to which Gerry accepted without hesitation. The kids were in awe of the fact that they were having dinner in their own house with Gerrard Butler. He engaged them with questions about the sports they played, school, what they were up to and gave them a memorable experience and could not have been a nicer guy.


The film existed in three worlds… that in the family home, hospital and Dane’s office, Blackridge Recruiting, which was a competitive and high-tension business run by a manipulative boss played by Willem Defoe. He would keep the team leaders in constant competition with each other with the ultimate goal being the influx more commission dollars. It was very much a boiler room office with interesting dialogue and many interesting recruiting tactics that clearly crossed the line into the unethical. We had one scene where Dane’s group was burning the midnight oil and Mark and I spoke about getting some sort of exterior where we could see that in a transitional shot. Our office “set” was in a high-rise in downtown Toronto. As I recall, we were on the 18th floor in a building that was under renovation. My goal was to get to a building I could see across the street… hopefully on the 18th or 19th floor there, and do a wide shot where we see our cast members working into the night. The location manager found a series of offices that he could get for us and showed us stills from the different angles which looked stunning. We wanted to shoot the shot at the end of dusk, where we had an invisible amount of ambience on the building’s granite face. I also wanted to establish a brighter interior look at night so that our office, even though only partially lit, would have visual pop from a great distance. The only problem was that the building we had chosen for our camera placement had tinting on their glass that was unimaginably dark and with huge amounts of green. Since we were shooting through the foreground glass, I had to open the camera up in order to get our sensitivity to levels that not only gave us sufficient exposure, but also gave us enough image to work with so that we could achieve our massive minus-green grade without everything going too gray. As I recall, I was at a 359 degree shutter, ISO 1600 and wide open on a 50mm G-Series Panavision anamorphic prime. At night, we lost too much exposure through our window tint so the need to shoot at dusk was paramount. I also wanted to carry the hotter glaring look of the interior into our scenes that followed. Interesting set of technical and storytelling challenges!


One of the highpoints of this film was working for the first time with Production Designer, Charisse Cardenas. This being a low-medium budget Indie, our need for production office space eventually migrated my desk away from the director’s office and into the middle of the art department bullpen. I rather enjoyed working with the art department and got a real appreciation for the level of attention they gave to every prop and piece of set decoration… not to mention the painstaking detail to Charisse’s designs. We had one scene in Ryan’s school classroom that we wanted to play in a colorful manner in order to show a contrast between his once normal daily life as a 9 year old boy and the more limited palette in his new hospital environment. Typically, in these types of classroom spaces, the color can get so unthinkably random that the scene can begin to look like what I term as “Disney Channel Random Hue.” I talked to Charisse about the need to focus our intent from a color standpoint, and wow, did she ever. She somehow added massive amounts of color but in a very specific set of tones and hues. She also worked closely with the wardrobe department and they frequently compared notes on what they were working on throughout the film and how they could connect on a color level. Quite extraordinary. I find that when those two departments can work well together, a DP’s life becomes just a little better! Charisse was also very collaborative in giving me my practical placements… especially in places such as the office and hospital where my practicals were largely lighting the scenes. I therefore needed very specific types of LED Channels, such as you see in the first image, or the office fluorescent ceiling to be laid out and executed according to what my placement, color and exposure needs were. She never once questioned anything I had a need for on this front and always found a way to integrate the designs with her appropriate sense of style. She also collaborates with Clint Eastwood on films such as American Sniper and approaches every project with the same degree of detail, no matter what the budget level.


Interestingly, when I started prepping with Mark Williams, I tried to sit with him to do a page-turner of the script in order to get our initial ideas in place. Those meetings weren’t flowing like they typically do, so I needed to change up what I normally do in order to get into the Director’s head. Once we got into scouting and he could stand in a location that he liked, he found it easier to discuss his story ideas. He had such a masterful grasp of the writing and a wickedly sharp sense of humor, frequently wise-cracking that if I bothered to read the script, making this film might be bit easier. Hilarious. So I scheduled repeat visits to the locations and we walked through the script that way… very much a non-linear version of a page-turner, but it got the job done… and in a way that Mark could get his head around the shooting of the material. We had a wonderful group local Camera/Grip/Electric people from Canada. In fact, Technicolor, Toronto showed such commitment to the film when they did the dailies grade, that we brought them the D.I. when we finished the project. For me, its fun to mix in the lower budget indie films with the larger movies. I see that DP’s should, and can move from genre to genre… high budget to low budget… theatrical to TV… narrative to commercial… Home or on the road. Its definitely good for any DP to keep moving in all directions.

“Silhouette Sunday” Reprise from ASC Instagram

Falling Water. This project was Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who was wonderfully thoughtful about how he wanted to approach the visuals on this pilot. The project is about people who share a single collective dream and Juan Carlos wished to establish a very specific visual language that we would “teach” the audience and help add depth to the contrast between waking life and the dream state. He pushed hard for consistency and the project had a purity due to his intent on that front. Juan is a very kind man and was just the right person to pursue this project. I was fortunate to work with him. We shot in NYC with a talented crew. The gaffer was Bill Almeda, who I know from the pilot for Smash. Mark Schmidt was the camera operator who followed this boy through room after room in a shot that ends the story and shows the complexity of the dream landscape. Very talented guys indeed!


Jurassic Park 3. In the spirit of “silhouette Sunday” here is a shot of Michael Jeter walking through a plane fuselage at El Mirage Dry Lakebed in California. This shot started in the cockpit of the derelict plane and panned him through the darker mid-section, then out the open rear door. As I recall there was a 4-stop pull during the shot in order to accommodate the bright exterior and dark interiors as Michael moved through the plane. Joe Johnston is fantastic at coming up with flowing shots of this manner. His ideas are often difficult to execute and are what I would consider to be quite advanced since he often adapts the plan to fit his inspirations on the set… Like any good director should. For me, that translates to having a plan in place, but being ready to augment that plan (to an often more complex interpretation) according to Joe’s needs. Quite a fun way to work and certainly a method that requires intense concentration in order to keep up with him. Through all that work and concentration, I find myself being quite gratified with working with him.

Heat 1

Wild Card. The great Stanley Tucci being introduced in silhouette in this William Goldman written project that takes place in Naked City, Las Vegas. Directed by Simon West… we were scheduled to shoot in an adjoining hallway where Stanley and Jason Statham would perform their introductory dialogue. When Simon arrived on the set that morning, he asked if we could play much of the scene in a showroom in the midst of preparing a Vegas stage show. Gaffer Bob Bates, who I met in New Orleans while shooting a massive night sequence on Percy Jackson, quickly and efficiently brought together what we needed to give Simon what he asked for in a very low-key fashion. This was the second film I’ve done with Simon and I trust his instincts and experience and will happily charge-up any hill he asks me to charge. Source Fours, some atmosphere and a few smaller lights here-and-there gave us a simple and graphic image of Stanley… Who is truly one of the most pleasurable actors to work with.


Captain America: First Avenger. The great Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull on set at Shepperton Studios in England. I had worked with Hugo the year prior on The Wolfman and he always surprises with his choices and brilliance. He understood, completely, the properties of this shot and lighting set-up that he could bring forth. The combination of a great actor coalescing with a great screen moment reminds one of why they decided to make films in the first place. More on Captain America later, but this film was long and involved, and became larger than life in its production scale. I have a regular UK crew that’s helped me through every step, including Gaffer John Higgins (Biggles), Key Grip Gary Hymns, Operator Des Whelan and First AC Julian Bucknall.


Captain America: First Avenger – Suborbital Bomber

One of the more challenging sets on this film was The Sub-Orbital Bomber, which was a very large flying-wing type of aircraft that manifested itself in stage form as a huge gimbaled cockpit set. The set itself was 20 feet tall and placed on a huge gimbal that was 14 feet tall. All lighting and camera needed to be independent of the gimbal (such as camera cranes and sun sources) so that the movement of the set could be registered. In this case, we had the rear wall of the set built to be removable so that we could build our 50 foot TechnoCrane onto a 24-foot rostrum, then float the camera over the moving floor. The set was so large that the 50-foot Techno did not give us a reach into the full depth of the set… only about three quarters of the way in fact… and we made up the rest by coming in through the front glass, or riding-out the gimbal action with smaller jib-arms that still gave a dynamic movement, that related to the set activity. This was a very beautiful set, designed by Rick Heinrichs, that let light in from a single large source in the front. Rick used a metal finish that was reflective and most of the set was rendered in this reflected light value, or high altitude direct setting-sunlight created with a gelled 100K SoftSun. I proposed setting the Bomber Flight at sunset, which gave us a light angle that made moving sun effects more visible and allowed us to create a color contrast.CA6

I had the idea of playing the changing light on Chris’s face as though the Suborbital Bomber was flying amongst clouds. This hopefully would have conveyed some sort of feeling of speed, which is good considering we could see no windows looking back into a set that was the size of a flying small ballroom. My general rule of thumb for any process flying sequence is to unlock anything and everything… all axis on the camera, all lights and any camera mountings. Therefore, we had a moving sun, moving clouds, a camera that could move in, out, left, right and up & down. Never locking pan or tilt so that it was free to float independent of anything else.

SubOrbital Bomber Cockpit

Instead of a greenscreen out front, we were able to use a white source that would bring cooler reflection into the set… and VFX agreed to make their mattes using luminance keys with roto instead of a color key. This set was a real ankle turner. Steel grates and steep steps and drop-offs, as well as built-in VariLites located in wells for some of our light effects. We were all no stranger to an ice-pack at the end of the day (and a cold beer)



Captain America: First Avenger – Opening Sequence

The opening of this film features a group investigating a strange and large object that is heaving out of the ice, after being buried for many years, in Iceland. Director Joe Johnston wanted a midnight sun effect on the horizon and the entire scene was taking place in a blizzard. The production had considered going to Iceland but the fact we shot this film in fall and winter didn’t help the extreme short days there. Nobody seemed to be wanting to think about this opening and so I suggested we shoot this on stage. To me, there were three basic elements needed to create a frozen plain. Skylight, the lit horizon & sun and the blizzard to blend it all. My suggestion was to build up the horizon line and put a late day glow on a white backing, use a Varilite on a dolly as the actual sun-ball seen on the horizon and track that along with our characters (to give the illusion the sun was 93,000,000 miles away instead of 100 feet). The elements were so simCA4ple that they were somewhat laughed-off and looked upon as though it would never work. I created a digital painting that emulated the type of light that Joe wanted and he approved that. I then did a test on a miniature set using the units I proposed and that seemed promising… But still Joe and Rick seemed extremely cautious about pulling the trigger on it. Several months passed and we were well into shooting. After some attempts to stage it outside (including an idea to shoot night-for-day as we did on our JP3 Falls Lake rig) it was decided to build the set on H Stage at Shepperton. We laid out our skylight (HMI’s bounced into Ultrabouce on the stage ceiling) our horizon glow (old fashioned cyc-strips dimmed to 20%) and our dolly mounted VL that tracked about 1/3 the distance the camera did, every time the camera moved… Even if it was only a foot or two. I must admit, without the blizzard turned-on it looked like it would never work. But with the blizzard blending these simple elements into one frame, it seemed to work fine.


Production Designer Rick Heinrichs creates the most fantastic concept art. Here is a scene from the opening of the film where a Sub-Orbital Bomber is discovered largely buried in ice somewhere in the arctic circle. Workers repel into a cut hatchway and Joe Johnston specifically wanted to see a very vertical beam of light penetrate the darkness. All too easy for Rick’s artists to paint as they had plenty of elbow room to keep their paintbrushes straight and parallel. A little different affair for me, as you will see in my next post. That aside, I’ve spoken many times about Rick’s vision and how he “suggests” his sets be lit and how his ideas are wonderfully inspired. Frequently while creating my lighting diagrams during prep, I’ll visit the art department walls and even have a quick conversation with Rick and Joe regarding their intent and even fire some ideas over their transom myself before sitting down to do the final renderings for the crew. In the case of Captain America, there were 115 sets and lighting diagrams… Which is maybe 30-40% more than found in a film of this type and 50-60% more than found in an average film. Therefore, the pre-visualization and pre-light renderings were massively important. Biggles and I knew that if we ever fell behind, we’d never catch up


On the Sub-Orbital Bomber set that we see iced-over in the beginning of the film, Director Joe Johnston was quite adamant about having I very parallel beam of light blasting into the freshly cut hole and slicing through and invading the set. This was the same Sub-Orbital Bomber set that was used for the flying scenes. Different than most plane cockpits, Rick designed this set to be large and organically shaped. The set itself was on a gimbal that was 14 feet high… And the set itself was 20 feet high on top of that. We only had a 42 foot tall stage so that only left me 8 feet with which to rig this light beam. Typically, to make a beam parallel, you need to back the light off… Maybe 60 feet, and shoot it in from that great distance. If the light is too close, the beam fans out in a cone pattern and the beam is not parallel… But has the look of a light set very close to the opening. We ended up setting a 6×6 mirror up in the ozone above the stage perms, then shot in a 36 inch HMI Molebeam from 60 feet to the side of the set and reflected that light 90 degrees thru the opening at the top of the set. Being in the ozone above the perms gave stunts some space to rig their repel rigs and that crowded 8 feet of stage space became workable for us. When Joe saw the light for the first time at our pre-focus he said, “oh. I’m pleasantly surprised. I was prepared to ask you to re-rig this for a straight beam of light. You seem to have done it somehow. Ok.” Whew.



Category 5 – Low Light Levels in Large Areas

I’ve had quite a few inquiries on this set up on my Instagram page, so I’d thought I’d get a little more in depth here… and also include the lighting rendering that I gave the Grip/Electric department. I’m always amazed by how the Arri Alexa accepts light. To me, it’s very different lighting with that camera as compared to film. I remember the first stage interior I shot with that camera… the crew was working on assembling the body and so I started working on lighting the set, film style, with my meter. It was a simple day interior set in a NY apartment and I had a mix of HMI and tungsten lighting units creating the look I wanted. I balanced the levels as I would with film and got the set up and together as a whole. By then, the camera crew had the Alexa together and I framed the first shot and was shocked by what I saw on the monitor. What I had lit as a soft low-key day shot looked like a horribly over-lit amateurish parody of a bad soap opera. I was completely stunned and went about eying only the monitor and making balance corrections according to the monitor image and waveform. Throw in a double here, a flag there etc. When I got the scene rebalanced, I raised my head from the monitor and could barely see anything. The levels were far lower than what I would set on film, but the image looked fine. So, I had to chalk that up to a futurC54e of learning about digital and the best way to transition that format into the movies that might require that medium. That said, digital cameras are a tool and a good one. Now I can plan my lighting based on the Alexa’s sensitivity… particularly in mixed light (HMI and Tungsten) situations. Case in point, a large interior space in Bulgaria where our main characters seek refuge and ultimate (and extremely creative) escape from those in pursuit. Here we have the amazing Maggie Grace and Toby Kebbell cutting silhouettes and doing a great job of showing themselves in scale with their surroundings. Placing characters in a shot like this reminds me that all the technical learning and transition to a digital world is really only background… and a gaining of familiarity with tools with which to tell a story in the best possible way. Add two amazing actors, and a talented and energetic Director and suddenly the technical distractions vanish… and I’m left with the same fun storytelling task that excites every filmmaker.

Below is the lighting diagram with notes on all 4 of the Mall’s levels as well as rooftop and exterior street level lighting placements through sky lights. This rendering was also accompanied by two location visits where we walked the riggers through every light placement and hanging rig to be used. Since most of the lights were seen by camera, the hanging rigging needed to be low-key. The large central skylight will be replaced with a VFX skylight with hurricane clouds and lightning seen through clear glass. Interactive falling water on glass was created with LED projection of an image of water falling water on the windows in our production office.


The Wolfman – Make Up, Hair and Wardrobe Tests

I wanted to post some pictures from our makeup and hair test in The Wolfman. Because I had so little prep, these tests served as a manner to get a lot of the methodology down in terms of general look and feel of the film, as well as roughing in our film color grader to our look and density preferences. These are stills that I shot at the test then color corrected for the color grader as a point of discussion between us later that night. In these cases, I can walk them through the exact moves I make in Photoshop, then they can translate that to a working method on their equipment. Even though almost none of the techniques used in Photoshop are directly make-able in color grading, it helps them to know the image construction and basic recipe of the look.


These make up and wardrobe test stills were shot in the unfinished Talbot Hall set designed by Rick Heinrichs. The previous post showed Benicio in a wardrobe choice for a small scene where he plays Hamlet on the London stage. I’ll find a frame grab from that scene later, and you’ll see they ultimately made a different wardrobe choice. This is Emily Blunt in a proposed look for a funeral scene for her fiancée, Lawrence Talbot’s brother. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with black net over a woman’s face. Emily is an extremely nice person, very easy to work with and works in any sort of light really. In fact, she’s one of those actresses where, if you just get light close to her, she will manage to light herself from within. My job was quite easy when she was around.


These are the final make up and wardrobe test stills that I shot. Anthony Hopkins in a proposed look for around the house (or mansion in this case). Interestingly, because of my shortened prep, I went aggressive with the different looks on this test. The reason being that we were only a few days before production and I needed to get some viable feedback from Director, Joe Johnston and anyone else who wanted to chime-in on what I was proposing for the look of The Wolfman. Joe and the actors were on board but a few of the producers had questions about density and the old “too dark” issue we cinematographers seem to run into from time to time. These tests helped me navigate those waters and gave me a great idea as to where I stood with the different personalities involved with the production.