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Old January 29th, 2007, 04:26 PM   #1
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Total Darkness

I am shooting a short and many scenes place the charater in TOTAL darkness. I mean pitch black! The character will going from room to room "looking" for a way out by feeling walls, cigarette lighter, cell phone light and just blindly walking/running.

What is the best way to shoot this and get a good clean, clear picture?


All scenes are to be black and white and eventually converted to 24p.
Cameras: Sony DCR VX2100 and Sony A1U HDV
Location: We have 20,000 sq. ft. of wide open empty spaces and rooms, all of which we have total control over light.


So far I have found through testing that putting a 20 - 40watt light on the VX2100 and filming a scene -THEN in post - bringing the brightness down about 8%, taking out the color, deinterlacing, and converting to 24p makes it look pretty decent. I'm hoping to avoid that workflow for an easier one. Suggestions?
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Old January 29th, 2007, 04:56 PM   #2
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Well, give us a little more info about the short. Is it a comedy? a drama? horror? What kind of feel do you want?

How about lighting to simulate the lighter or cell phone or whatever interspersed with lots of totally black. Get a really good sound guy :)
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Old January 29th, 2007, 05:13 PM   #3
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I think you'll need to do some tests to get the look you want.

One recommendation - do *not* leave the camera on auto-gain or auto-shutter. It will try to make your blacks grey, will probably not succeed, and will give you a picture with lots of grain/noise in the blacks.

For nice, rich blacks you typically want very minimal gain, no more than 3 to 6db, depending on the camera.

Some NLEs, Vegas for example, offer a filter called "black restore" that will crush the blacks and dark greys to black. Worth looking at if your NLE has it.
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Old January 29th, 2007, 06:00 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Keyser
Well, give us a little more info about the short. Is it a comedy? a drama? horror? What kind of feel do you want?

How about lighting to simulate the lighter or cell phone or whatever interspersed with lots of totally black. Get a really good sound guy :)

Sorry, it is a horror/thriller. The feel for this sequence is "lost in the darkness with loads of eerie sounds".

We've thought about the lighter and cell phone simulation as far as light, working on testing that out.
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Old January 29th, 2007, 06:07 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seth Bloombaum
I think you'll need to do some tests to get the look you want.

One recommendation - do *not* leave the camera on auto-gain or auto-shutter. It will try to make your blacks grey, will probably not succeed, and will give you a picture with lots of grain/noise in the blacks.

For nice, rich blacks you typically want very minimal gain, no more than 3 to 6db, depending on the camera.

Some NLEs, Vegas for example, offer a filter called "black restore" that will crush the blacks and dark greys to black. Worth looking at if your NLE has it.
Thanks for the heads up. Luckily I shoot full manual and lock down the settings on the VX2100. Our last test was about 4 hours and yielded unsavory results until a quick post production render (b&w, deinterlace, 24p, and dropping the brightness by 8%).
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Old January 29th, 2007, 06:34 PM   #6
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Marco,

If the scene is built around an environment where it's TOTAL BLACK. than ANY source of light is going to be un-motivated. Unless you can build a construct into the script to bring a source of at least background lighting, you have to create a way for the audience so suspend their disbelief and BELIEVE that the character is in total darkness.

Remember in Silence of the Lambs, they had the bad guy don millitary light enhancing goggles, just to motivate the impression that Jody Foster was ACTULALY in the dark, while we could still actually see her? In all the rest of the "dark" scenes, there was SOMETHING to light - like a background window frame that let us orient ourself to the scene.

The bottom line is that all any camera is is a device for recording reflected light, and if there isn't any, you have no picture. Period.

Motivate what lets you "see" your characters - or you've got yourself a radio play.

I'd also be VERY careful about taking a dimly lit scene and crushing it down further. It might look fine on your monitor in your edit bay, but if you ever need to distribute it on DVD or (shudder) any form of videotape to somewhere (foreign rights?) then you're already extremely weak signal can get royally hosed.

Good video is built of contrasts. Dark VERSES light. Loud VERSES quiet. Relaxation VERSES tension.

Force yourself into a world without visual lighting and contrast - and I think you'll find that for a large part of what you're doing, you're limiting your ability to help your audience understand your story.

Your mileage, however - and your SCRIPT may vary, of course!

Good luck.
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Old January 29th, 2007, 07:31 PM   #7
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Thanks Bill,


That makes a great deal of sense and I was not planning a pitch black sequence, just wanted to make it SEEM like he is in total darkness and try to hide all the light I can. I think I'll have to watch Silence of the Lambs and see what they did to make it still feel totally black in that part you mention. Audio is going to reign supreme in this part.

Attached is what I have so far for a test render screen grab. It was with the VX2100 and using 20 watts on cam. halogen. Aperature was open with zero gain and shutter at 60.

The great part is that my character wears a white t-shirt!
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Total Darkness-dark.jpg  
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Old January 29th, 2007, 08:02 PM   #8
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The trouble is, having the light mounted on the camera, pointing at the subject head-on, makes it look just like poorly lit amateur footage (at least it does to me).

Any light you do use should come in at an angle, giving you shadows on the face to emphasise the darkness. More back-lighting, less front lighting. Yes, having a strong back light comes from an unmotivated light source, but, technically, so does your front light.
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Old January 30th, 2007, 03:13 AM   #9
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Marco,

Not to mention that as the light level falls, the first thing to go is the chroma part of the signal.

Your screen grab appears totally devoid of any color. Which is typical of inadequate light levels.

I think you said you're doing a horror/suspense film. If so, and you have any blood, it's going to look like chocolate syrup in this kind of lighting.

No way you can get around having enough light if you want to present a picture that your audience can relate to as "reality."

My advice is to write in a box of matches & some candles, lanterns (ala Blair Witch) or SOMETHING to give you a reason to light things up enough to let the audience see the facial features of your actors.

Then when they light the darn things in the picture, don't rely on THAT light - just use it to motivate the addition of some real controllable scene lighting.

A lit candle is marginal. A lit candle supported by a nice little 150 fresnel or something equally controllable on a characters face will give you the light you need to help your audience see the acting (hopefully) going on.

Again, good luck.
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Old January 30th, 2007, 08:12 AM   #10
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Total darkness

I had to film a similar scene a couple of weeks ago.

The way I did it was to have a dimmed 150w with a blue gel to act as backlight/rimlight to simulate moon light. So you get to see a silhouette with a blue rim.

Then the character turns on a torch, which reflects into his face from the documents he is looking at.

Looks very convincing.
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Old January 30th, 2007, 09:54 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Davis
Marco,

Your screen grab appears totally devoid of any color. Which is typical of inadequate light levels.
The short is supposed to be in b&w.....

Thanks for the other advice though!
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Old January 30th, 2007, 10:46 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Antony Meadley
I had to film a similar scene a couple of weeks ago.

The way I did it was to have a dimmed 150w with a blue gel to act as backlight/rimlight to simulate moon light. So you get to see a silhouette with a blue rim.

Then the character turns on a torch, which reflects into his face from the documents he is looking at.

Looks very convincing.

Very nice! My char. holds a clip board and will be lighting a cigarette lighter and a cell phone display at certain points. I'll give some of these suggestions a shot. Thanks all for the advice.
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Old January 30th, 2007, 10:50 AM   #13
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"The great part is that my character wears a white t-shirt"

IMO forget the all white t-shirt .. unless you can get a 50% reflective or lower white .... as you can see from your photo - take away the white T shirt & the person is in darkness - the white T shirt takes away the darkness look - you could end up with many shots only seeing the white t-shirt surrounded by pitch black ...
study some movies that give the illusion they were shot in total darkness ..
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Old January 30th, 2007, 12:02 PM   #14
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Yeah this is nice and easy! LOL I picked a pretty wonderful project to cut my "darkness" teeth on.
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Old January 30th, 2007, 02:44 PM   #15
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what you need is to create a light with no shadow, that shows only the character (not around him).
i would use some ring light and a mask to cut light on left and right and bottom. the goal is to have only shoulder and head visible.
the goal is to have the guy looks like he pops out of the darkness.
do not be afraid to put more light on the actor, it can be cut at post and the surrounding darkness will be even darker.
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