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Old October 29th, 2009, 03:31 PM   #1
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Painting with shadow...

How on earth do you paint with shadows...
I understand the basics of lighting (as well as some advanced techniques) and know that I should get a bazillion dollars and hire a "good DP," but seriously... how do video guys find and use the ever ellusive realistic shadow to enhance their productions.
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Old October 30th, 2009, 06:50 AM   #2
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shadow is a result of presence of light, so you just need to paint with light, and this will create shadow. The drawback of this is most of time shadow is considered as a bad side effect of lighting.
shadow is the only thing you can not change at editing.
you can add light at editing, but it will not create shadow.
you cannot add or remove shadow, you can eventually make it more or less visible.
that is mainly why shadow is hard to work with.
In the 40/50 golden years of movie insutry, shadow was fully considered.
the good old trick of having face with a rectangle of light over the eyes was very common.
it has totally disappeared today. Dramatic lighting was a technique, and they were not really taking care about how realistic it looked.
Today you would hardly use these tricks.
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Old October 31st, 2009, 06:46 AM   #3
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Do a little google search for the word "Chiaroscuro".
This will give you some background on using light & dark to define your scene.

Good Luck!
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Old October 31st, 2009, 11:45 PM   #4
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Tough question to answer on a message board!

It may help to think about working with shadows on the face vs on the background--often it takes different approaches for foreground and background. To create a mood I will often break up a hard light on background with a homemade gobo--strips of 1" or 2" camera tape applied gently to a single net can achieve a very custom effect. Last weekend I was shooting a short film and needed to create a broken-up late afternoon sun effect in an interior with very little gear; this technique served me well as I was able to "erase" the light from places that I didn't want it. As far as knowing where you do or don't want it, that's entirely personal taste and the joy and artistry of cinematography. Seek out and study paintings, photographs and DVD's that you like, dissect each and then try to duplicate the look at home. Remember that the harder the light source (and the further a gobo is away from a light), the more pronounced the shadow.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, I've attached some frame grabs from a film noir feature I shot--a genre that is all about shadows, of course. I'd be happy to answer specific questions about how these were achieved, if that would be helpful.
Attached Thumbnails
Painting with shadow...-tpsarch.jpg   Painting with shadow...-tpsknife.jpg  

Painting with shadow...-tpstunnel.jpg   Painting with shadow...-tpsbasement.jpeg  

Painting with shadow...-tpscompound.jpg  
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Old November 1st, 2009, 06:37 PM   #5
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[QUOTE=Melvin Harris;1439882]How on earth do you paint with shadows...
QUOTE]

The best example that springs to my mind is when the artist Richie Havens appeared on a BBC broadcast just prior to his appearance at Woodstock, so its about 1969. They had an open face redhead type light on a dolly mounted low down and moved it right and left so that it cast a sharp shadow on the back wall of the studio. The effect was quite dramatic in that the eye was drawn to the shadow more than Richie's performance. Richie's animated performance especially his leg tapping was somehow transcended into a wonderful artistic piece.

You may be able to find it on the BBC archives on the net.
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Old November 1st, 2009, 07:56 PM   #6
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That's an interesting reference John. It reminds me of the segment from "Stop Making Sense", the 1984 Talking Heads concert film, where a lighting technician moved around the stage with a Lowel Omni held low making big shadows of the David Byrne and the rest of the band on the back wall.
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Old November 2nd, 2009, 02:15 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, I've attached some frame grabs from a film noir feature I shot--a genre that is all about shadows, of course. I'd be happy to answer specific questions about how these were achieved, if that would be helpful.
I would love to know what techniques were used in these grabs- especially the dialogue grab. Also, the only thing about studying paintings is that once you start to try the techniques in your tests or productions you realize that either the subjects, or the canvas, or both move and ruin your carefully set up portrait. Unfortunately, emulation is a very difficult part of the learning cycle in this case.

I have read all comments that have been contributed and appreciate all of your help! I have even done some homework.
Looking at GOBOs now.
Thanks...
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Old November 2nd, 2009, 03:32 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
That's an interesting reference John. It reminds me of the segment from "Stop Making Sense", the 1984 Talking Heads concert film, where a lighting technician moved around the stage with a Lowel Omni held low making big shadows of the David Byrne and the rest of the band on the back wall.
Maybe it was the same lighting guy :)

I like DB so I guess he was being "Lazeeeeee"
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Old November 2nd, 2009, 08:02 PM   #9
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For the dialogue shot, there was a hanging practical lamp over the table in the middle of this huge basement (old newspaper printing press room), so the lighting on the actors was largely emanating from this source. For a given setup I cheated the table and actors so that the angle of the light was optimized for each shot, much easier than adjusting the practical which was hung from above. There was a also a small eyelight, probably a dimmed down 300w tungsten unit, positioned on the floor to the right of camera.

The background was lit with a series of larger units, probably 2K and 5K open faces from the catwalks above the floor, aimed through the stairways and railings to create the broken pools and shadows as seen in the shot.

There was a 360 degree Steadicam shot that played for one version of the complete 3 minute scene, so all of the broad lighting had to be set from above.

You can see all of these stills in action, including a few more angles of the above scene, if you go to my site (charlespapert.com) and click on "The Perfect Sleep" trailer.
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Old November 2nd, 2009, 10:23 PM   #10
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I have been staring at your post for about an hour and honestly cannot find a question to ask that wouldn't make me seem completely incompetent, or show my apparent inexperience. Frankly, after going to your website and watching the trailer, what I don't know speaks volumes. It is humbling to realize that the only way to accomplish your vision is through someone else. It is also comical to think that I, or anyone else for that matter, can achieve the results that we envision through sheer force of will, ingenuity, "talent," or any other concept that we bullshish about in forums or on boards- there is getting what's acceptable, and there's getting what you see. This topic has been an exercise in humility. Maybe I should seek the assistance of a true DP and stop the charade, but the problem is as it always is... no money! So, how do I surmount that insurmountable?
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Old November 2nd, 2009, 11:58 PM   #11
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Melvin:

There are many talented up-and-coming DP's who are looking to forge relationships with directors and producers; it's a matter of hunting them down and convincing them of the merit of the particular production. It can be done without "bazillions" of dollars in play...! "The Perfect Sleep" was actually a low-budget affair, I'm not really supposed to say how low-budget but let's just say that it was a lot less than it looked. I came onboard because of the obvious visual possibilities and the great locations, but I had to deal with severe restrictions of time and resources (several other DP's had told the director that it simply couldn't be done well given that budget, apparently I was the bright-eyed optimist of the bunch).

So yes--bringing in a skilled DP may not be as daunting as it seems, and if your goal is to learn that craft also, what better way than to have someone shoot for you and be able to observe their techniques. Much of what I have picked up over the years has come from looking and learning while working under a myriad of DP's (good and bad--there's plenty to learn from both) as an operator, but I was doing that even back in my PA days.

The craft of cinematography involves many factors; certainly it is apparent that lighting and framing are chief amongst these but time and personnel management skills are also required. It doesn't do much good to have a brilliant DP on a low-budget set who takes hours to light each shot, or can't communicate to his/her crew, or is a difficult personality.

These days, the availability of inexpensive and high quality equipment has plunged many more people into the image-making end of filmmaking than ever before. The internet is an incredible resource for learning tips and techniques; that's why we are all on this board. The WYSIWYG aspect of digital cinematography makes it somewhat "easier" than shooting film--you can immediately see your contrast and exposure values on the monitor--but the choices of where and how to shape light within a frame is the same skill it always has been, which is to say that it can take a lifetime, if ever, to master. That's what I personally love about it; walking for the first time into an environment that I am to light from scratch, I can make countless choices of how to to proceed which is a wonderful challenge. And no matter how happy I may be with the results of a given project, there's always more things to learn and new ideas to try on the next one.

Thinking back to my earliest days of lighting, I remember shooting a series of recreations for a MADD-type concern in my town and being entirely baffled at how to go about lighting a hallway, having had essentially no experience and nothing to draw on (I was 16 or 17). I ended up putting up a couple of Lowel Omni's, one in each corner of the hall, blasting away at the direction of the subject. When we did a closeup of a hand on the doorknob, there were naturally two harsh shadows going opposite directions, and the director asked me to do something about it. I looked up at the lights and had no clue how to proceed. It was a feeling perhaps similar to what you describe in your last post--how on earth are you supposed to know how to do this? It's not an exceptionally intuitive process, but one that is most often learned by trial and error, studying reference material, reading books and magazinese like "American Cinematographer" and hopefully, getting to observe a skilled DP at work and then putting those observed and learned techniques to work.

hope this helps!
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Old November 3rd, 2009, 04:41 AM   #12
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As Ive delved deeper into painting with light and shadow, it seems to me that lighting for Video is much easier, and less complicated than doing so with Film.

I have no experience of lighting for film, but am looking to get some. Even considering purchasing a 2nd hand 16mm film camera for that reason.

Ive found that once you start deconstructing light and shadow, you never look at anything the same way again. Its quite a uplifting experience.

God, I sound like Ive warped in from the 60s!
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Old November 3rd, 2009, 09:36 AM   #13
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I've read your resume, Charles. Roger Deakins... whew! It helps a great deal, but I finding the match is the problem. I live in Houston, TX... if I lived in Austin, there would be no issue, but I live in Houston. Finding a person to work with, at a low to no budget level, with little to no ego, and good management skills is like finding hay in a stack of needles...

Niall, I am enamored with light and shadow, but honestly, if I am not on the path to becoming a cinematographer/DP how deep should I get into it?

Because I wholeheartedly believe that a person should have working knowledge of the various aspects of the craft, I am learning as much as I can in order to speak intelligently to the crew and cast and understand as many concepts and as much jargon and lingo as I possibly can- should I go deeper or just find a kindred to work with... a Deakins or Sonnenfeld to my Cohens.
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Old November 3rd, 2009, 12:25 PM   #14
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This question is much easier to manage than the original one that started this thread, Melvin! As a director, it is certainly to your advantage to understand the essentials of cinematography so that you can communicate with your DP (same goes for other departments, from production design to makeup, hair and wardrobe to editorial, etc). There are directors I've worked with who know what lens (focal length) they want for a given shot, and where the dolly track should begin and end. However, there are others who leave many of the specifics up to the DP, simply describing the shot to him in basic terms. Frankly, there are still many others who defer to the DP on almost everything, either out of laziness or lack of experience.

Even with the first version, lighting is usually the sole province of the DP and while a director may suggest a mood, it's up to the DP to figure out how to achieve it. For the scene I described above, the most I would expect to hear about from a director might be that the conversation takes place at a table in the middle of a huge industrial basement, that it is intimate and foreboding. Perhaps he might mention the overhead practical, perhaps not.

The best choice for communicating and discussing a look with a DP is to use reference images, either from other films or photography or paintings. This allows the two of you to analyze what aspects you might like to use in your project, discuss what you like and don't like. For "The Perfect Sleep", while there are many film noir examples we touched on, the primary film we used as reference was an obscure Japanese film from the 60's called "Branded to Kill" (check out this still and compare to the tunnel shot in the clips above--this was the most specific reference we used).
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