Author Archives: D. Plotnick


Thank you YouTube

By Paul Sowards:

So I did not realize that this blog post was due the day we didn’t have class. As such I’m going to make up for it by doing two posts. The first is a lighting setup breakdown and the second is a cool trick one of you may like to try in your video.

Inglorious Basterds Red Dress Scene:

You only have to watch through the first 00:47. The uploader interspliced some footage from earlier in the movie, so disregard the quick shot of Ms. Laurent running in the field. We’re just concentrating on the Red Dress.

I’m going to start easiest first, with the extreme close-up from 00:07-00:14. She is backlight by a single lamp with no scrim, probably some sort of barndoor or flag(s) to control spill. The light on her face is almost certainly softened with a scrim or gobo, and almost certainly controlled with a snoot.

The next shot I will attempt to reverse engineer is shown from 00:00 to 00:07, and 00:20 to 00:29. I didn’t remember this as being so tricky but upon closer inspection it looks pretty precise. Ms. Laurent is lit from her left 45 degree angle above. What’s interesting is the highlight around the rim of the window. I am going to assume that this window was built on a set and that the street scene outside is cgi or more set. I only assume this because the light appears to be coming from outside the window. I don’t know any better so my guess is one light feathered about 50% towards the “inside” of the actress. To get the aforementioned window highlight it appears that the barn door or whatever was used to control the light is opened up towards camera right. Color temp of this light looks like a standard 3000k. the only reason I think this is a one light setup is because often when trying to figure out a unique lighting design it’s easier to explain highlights and fill in terms of two or more lights when it may just be clever bounce and control.

The last scene in this clip is the following close up where Ms. Laurent pulls down her vail. This is a low power light with a snoot and scrim. We have a hair light from behind, more powerful, no scrim. It also has a much bluer temp so maybe the first one was a 1/4 CTO. I think the fancier HMI lights let you vary the temp so who knows. There appears to be one more light for the backdrop, posing as ambient.

I would try to say something about how the lighting design in this scene works with the narrative of the movie but I’m having trouble making those connections. Something about high contrast and empowering the subject. Maybe I need to read more of the textbook.

Cool Color Balance Trick:

So we all know that our cameras can balance for whatever temp we want. If we aim our marker at a coffee lid it gets a good white to work with, and whatever color our ambient is becomes white. During our lighting demo someone asked if we were going to put the gel over the lens. You can do this but everything will be blue. And not in a good way.

But what if you put the gel over the lens, balance, and then remove the gel? Everything that was white will now be the opposite of blue, and everything that is blue will be white. Huh? This is because the camera is now balancing for what it thinks is white. Is this useful? Well…

Say you have a scene that involves both ambient and the Arri kit. Say this scene has an appreciable amount of ambient, like the sun coming in through a big window. Or maybe we’re on a deck. Or you’ve figured out how to power the kit outside. Whatever. Say you’ve been patient and waited until golden hour but the light is a little flat. Maybe it’s overcast, or maybe you’re lazy and are shooting at 2 pm. We have a couple ways to pump up our ambient. We can color grade in post but its tricky and now we’re essentially be guessing for the skin tones. You would think that’s easy, but it took Kodak 50 years to make “new” Portra. We can put the 1/4 CTO over the lens but now both our ambient and our subject are orange. Not very flattering, and too low contrast to look natural. If it was light through a window we could try to gel the window itself, but we need a lot of plastic and the result might not be very noticeable. So let’s go with the crazy option.

If we white balance with a blue gel in front of the lens, and then put the same gel on our lamp, the lamp is now “white.” or the sensor thinks so anyways. Which means the the light on the subject is white. The ambient, however, meaning the sulight and anything not covered by our Arri lamp, will be a crazy orange-red. Not blue, but the opposite. If you used an orange filter you would get purple skies, yellow would be magenta, green would be, uh, blue maybe? Either way it’s going to be the opposite of the filter, plus the natural blue of the skies. If you want to get real creative you could use two lights and not gel one of them. Or gel it a different color. I don’t even know what happens when you do this, probably academy awards. The neat thing about this trick is that it takes about ten seconds to accomplish and you get the effect perfectly in camera. I hope this isn’t too confusing.

Cliff notes: Put gel in front of camera. Aim amera at lamp. Preset balance. Put same gel on lamp. Aim lamp at subject. Note wild skies.


George Kuchar

Hey Folks,  Glad a bunch of you commented on how much you enjoyed the George Kuchar film I showed in class the other day.  He was truly an inspiring and  influential filmmaker, especially in San Francisco.  I was honored to be asked to write an obit for him on a site called Fandor.  Here’s a link to that obit.  I apologize for the two typos.  Sheesh, isn’t that what editors are for?

Also,  here’s a much more personal and in-depth look at Kuchar penned by film curator and writer Jack Stevenson.  It’s a fantastic read.

And here’s a link to an amazing short of his.  Considered his best by many. Desperate, lonely, funny and lecherous.  The sound is a bit rough, but what are you gonna do?


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