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Old February 9th, 2007, 11:46 AM   #1
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Lighting an "Office Space" parody

This question is for the real lighting sticklers out there...

I'm doing a short parody of the scene in "Office Space" where the Bobs are conducting interviews; I'd like to duplicate the look as closely as possible (granted, acting/shooting/sound/editing will all play an important role but I'm just thinking about lighting at the moment).

I'm attaching two frame grabs- are these scenes just the flourescent overhead lights? Would they have used brighter-than-normal flourescents? Or are are they supplementing it with key/fill, and doing a great subtle job? I appreciate the advice of anyone with insider info or serious lighting chops. Thanks!
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Last edited by Benjamin Hill; March 22nd, 2007 at 02:29 PM.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 01:25 PM   #2
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No, these are not just overhead fluorescents. If they were, there would be more pronounced shadows in the eye sockets, to the point of losing quite a bit of detail. This is because most of the light from office fixtures comes straight down.

However, they are lit very flat, which would be typical of office lighting. Also, there appear to be (it's a little hard to tell) no backlights used.

What they (probably) did: Supplemented ceiling lights with large sources of the same color balance - all the overhead and supplemental could have been fluorescent. The supplemental sources would have been more for front-light, a big soft key/fill.

Instead of backlights, they've carefully controlled wardrobe and background so that there are contrasting colors and grey levels. Therefore, the characters' heads and shoulders are not dissappearing into the background.

All in all, they've done a good job of lighting the scene so that the camera sees it much as our eye might see an office environment.

One also has to watch and match color temp from any sun-lit window sources that appear in the shots.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 01:34 PM   #3
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Thanks Seth. So you think they used overhead flourescents to simulate office lighting (but bright enough for camera) and filled in with some diffused lighting? If I don't have access to flourescent production lights, do you think should I put gels over my 1K Tungsten lights or just do a cool white balance? Thanks for your opinions.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 01:45 PM   #4
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If you look at the shadow underneath Peter's nose, you can basically tell how they lit him. The shadow has sharp edges, and goes straight down from his nose. This tells you two things - the light that's keying him is a fairly hard source, and he's facing directly into it. Most likely there is a single Fresnel a short way back and fairly high (which is why you don't see his shadow on the wall). There is a lot of fill on the background, (perhpas from the in-ceiling fixtures) and a slight bit of fill too. Look at the shadows on his neck, they're harldy filled at all. The best way to get the natural look is to fill from basically the lens position, but at a very low level. Fill light is basically used for a couple of things - most importantly, it allows shadows to actually read on film/video. Without any fill, the luminance is too low to distinguish any detail. Fill brings up the level just enough so it reads. OR, fill can be used to convey a mood. In sitcom lighting, there is TONS of fill, because shadows bring down the mood of the lighting. And why the lens-position fill? Well you can fill from anywhere you like, and sometimes the lens position is not an option. BUT, it allows you to "up" the shadow levels without casting another visible shadow. This can be something like a ring-light or a big piece of foamcore and a bounce light directly above the camera (or a chimera, etc...)

If you look at the Bobs, the Bob on the left has a nose shadow that arcs down and right, while the Bob on the right (who faces their key light) has his shadow going straight down. This lets you know that they have a single shared key that is to the left of the camera and facing directly at Bob on the right. The fill, if you look at the reflection in "right" Bob's head, is a large rectangular soft source overhead and slightly to the right. The trick to this setup is that the camera has limited movement. The Bobs sit close to a glass wall, so they have to control reflections, which means that there's only a small range of angles (once lit) you can shoot from - so this rules out the easy dolly move. But, for an office setting, the locked-off camera may be more of the style you're going for.

Anyways, just my 2c.

Last edited by Jaron Berman; February 9th, 2007 at 02:20 PM.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 02:03 PM   #5
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Jason, I'm going to ape this shot for shot, so I'm not thinking about camera movement yet. I just need a lighting strategy for the scene, I already sorta understand lighting fundamentals but haven't done a setup like this one.

Are you recommending something different than what Seth suggested?
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Old February 9th, 2007, 02:25 PM   #6
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Well I wasn't really making suggestions, just dissecting the shots. But yes, I actually disagree to the lighting suggestion, because if you're trying to go for that exact look, the light isn't soft at all. The keys are hard. Fill is almost always soft, but when you refer to lighting as hard or soft, you're talking about the key.

There is a HUGE amount of confusion about soft vs. high-key lighting. Soft light simply refers to the size of the source vs. the size of the sibject (or more correctly the angles). High-key and soft light have some similarities, in that soft light fills its own shadows. But just because you don't see razor-sharp noir-like shadows everywhere doesn't mean the light is soft. In this case, the office setting is fairly high-key (a misnomer because the term applies to the fill-light). The key is hard, and the fill is fairly close to the same luminance as the key.

As for the background, light it separately. In this scene you have the luxury of an essentially static shot. Often you have to light a space so that your characters can move through in a flattering way. But here, it's served on a plate! Whether it's using the flos in the ceiling and flagging them so they dont spill onto the crew (and cause reflections), or just punching some light against the walls, the main problem you're asking about concerns the lighting on the foreground. You definitely don't have to agree with me/believe my deductions, but take a look at the stills and try and find clues which can help you.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 02:29 PM   #7
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Cool Jaron (sorry not Jason), thanks for taking the time.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 02:52 PM   #8
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Well, I should be able to give you the definitive answers on this, because I was behind the camera for these very shots...! Unfortunately, the intervening 9 years have eroded my memory of how they were lit (I do recall that we covered the camera and myself for the angles towards the Bobs because of reflections in the glass, it was a supreme pain for the 3 or 4 days that we shot in that room).

Overall, the office was indeed lit by ceiling flo's which were all daylight balanced Kino tubes. The windows were hard-gelled with ND I believe.

What I would expect from memory and what I see in the pix was that diffusion was added to the overhead flo's (generally taped or clipped over the fixture and allowed to balloon downwards a few inches to soften the light output) and possibly a 4x4 Kino in the room to continue the light a bit lower (which would have been flagged off the back wall when looking towards Peter).

I remember at the time the look of the film was criticized for its "flatness", but really this was by design because that's after all what the film was about. Peter's apartment was a source of frustration for the DP, Tim Surhsteadt, because it was largely blank, white walls and not much depth; but again, that was the production designer fulfilling Mike Judge's vision of a realistically drab, underfurnished apartment. Incidentally, the apartment interior was a set that was built at one end of the office --the ceiling was ripped out to make room.

Other than having operated the camera for the movie, I do have some second unit shots that I DP'd sprinkled throughout. Many of these are largely run-of-the-mill like closeups of a watch or computer screen inserts, but I did get to do the shot of Peter trying to get at the letter under the door of Lumbergh's office, as glimpsed through the crack at the bottom of the door, which required a raised set that rolled off in a curved arc so that the camera could be placed right at floor level. It was a bear trying to light his face as it pressed up against a closed door!

Other than that, I shot the first 3 shots in the movie (the traffic jam) with a splinter crew in Dallas, plus the inserts of the printer being trashed during the "rap video" sequence (they were shot at a different location on a different day--if you look closely, the weeds around the printer don't match the wide shots).
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Old February 9th, 2007, 03:27 PM   #9
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Charles, thanks so much for replying and sharing that information. Very exciting!

I really liked the "flat" look of Office Space, including the production design, I think it works perfectly and the enduring popularity of the film is proof. Your other shots in the movie are hilarious.

Thanks again for those technical details, certainly made my day.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 04:30 PM   #10
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An under rated masterpiece in my opinion. Like a current Charles Chaplin's, Modern Times, this movies satire on the human condition is brilliant and very well may be more appreciated 50 years from now as a reflection to life in a cubical. Great work Charles.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 04:49 PM   #11
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I agree Ken. I can't believe how well Modern Times holds up. Actually that goes for any of Chaplin's films as well as his music.
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Old February 9th, 2007, 07:52 PM   #12
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I love Office Space. It is the story of my life. Office Space 2 would need to end with Peter getting tired of doing uninteresting labor and becoming a videographer.

*****My boring life story as it pertains to Office Space******

I was a computer operator/programmer and realized I hated that lifeless work. I quit my job and abandoned college as I didn't know what to do now that my life plan fell through. I started waiting tables and moved to Hawaii. I worked at TGI Friday's and had to wear "flare". Yes, they called it "flare" and I needed 14 points of flare. I borrowed various buttons with sayings and music group's logos from a friend. Needless to say, waiting tables was just as bad as Jennifer Aniston's character's experience and I became a handyman. Being a handyman can pay the bills, but it is not mentally challenging enough.

*********************

I belive Charles' memory is correct. You can see in the reflections on the black water pitcher something that looks like a 4-foot kinoflo on a stand. This would be the supplemental that helps bring fill to the front that he spoke about. The other reflections on the top of the pitcher look like the overhead fluorescents.

I think Office Space was shot perfectly. It looked exactly like the sprawling office parks and two-story apartment complexes that covered the land around Indianapolis. It really captured the look of reality but didn't look like cheap video. It was really creepy how much that movie mimicked my life except for the siphoning money from the company and setting it on fire parts. At least I have prettier colors to look at now in Hawaii! :)
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Old February 9th, 2007, 08:00 PM   #13
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Yeah, I could've sworn it was Naperville when I saw it. So many details of that movie are memorable because they are specific and at the same time universal.
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