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Driving scenes in "Almost Human"

John Hale

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I was watching the new show Almost Human on FOX the other day and liked the look of the interior car scenes. What caught my eye at first was the way the windows reflected the outside atmosphere speeding by. It looks as though they are shooting through the car windows on a sound stage with some sort of rear projection (possible big digital projectors) simulating the fast moving background. Guessing they used a polarizer to fine tune the reflections.


Any thoughts on how they achieved this look? How did they get the reflections on the car windows? Big massive digital projectors on each side? Or did they not even shoot through the windows and just added the reflections in post?


Anywho, would like to hear some thoughts on it, thanks!


here's one clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dv6JmczZCI

Edited by John Hale
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Thanks David for your response! I have roamed this forum for over a year now and have learned a lot from you. Thanks for being a big source of information for me!


Seems like a green screen out side the window keyed out with a plate plus another plate over the whole image would give a similar effect.

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I've shot footage in car during drive and also using projection. If you can it is easier to shoot with real scenery using a super-g-glamp or suction mount. Drive slower so there are less pronounced bumps - even driving at 10mph seems like a normal speed. Put lots of white paper over the ceiling or dashboard to increase the ambient lighting in the car so that the contrast between inside the car and outside aren't overdone, or ND gels over the windows. Obviously this depends on the complexity of the shoot - I don't recommend driving and acting at the same time on roads without towing it on a platform.


Projection is difficult. I suggest two projectors - one projection screen set up to reflect into camera side window. The other onto a screen in the background. In the daytime you can get away with greenscreen in the background. It looks like the above was done with greenscreen in background plus a digital plate superimposed for reflections. Lighting looks as though they put a soft light on the bonnet of the car.

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Stephen thanks for the reply! I agree that driving scenes that aren't done in the real world always seem to look fake (at least to us peoplel that pay attention to this stuff) but if done right can give some interesting results and make it easier for everyone on set. I did a couple shoots recently in a driving car, just a low/no budget thing so it was pretty much just me in the car working with ambient light. I love your idea of using white paper to build up the ambient level. Seems you could put it anywher out of shot, was thinking of doing something like this but didn't really have the time. I guess the ND really depends on what your seeing outside. Seems the best way to do this with no ND is to find a nice street where everytning is in shade or the BG is dark enough to hold.


Ya after looking at it more and seeing it in HD on TV seems like green screen too. Can you shoot through windows on green screen (like a head on 2 shot)? does the glass reflect green making it hard to key?


I'm gonna try your idea on adding white to the ceiling and dashboard on a shoot coming up. Would any type of daylight ring light or onboard LED help add fill in the car? I tried my micro LED and it didn't to crap but add an eyelight, any light out there with more punch thats small enough to mount on camera and help fill in the car?

Edited by John Hale
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I would always try to avoid shooting green screen when doing process work with cars because the sheer number of reflective surfaces at all different angles make it impossible to get rid of green spill, which in turn creates a headache for post production. Rear or front projection doesn't have this problem, and can also offer realistic moving reflections and lighting effects to a degree.


In this instance, I think the reflections in the window glass were added in post, purely because it's generally easier to do it that way.

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You can always greenscreen with the windows down then add a little glass reflection in later. In fact even if recording live it sometimes looks better with the windows down and hardly anyone notices, especially if shooting in evening light the sun will just show up any smears on the windows. Clean your glass thoroughly. Projection might give you a better look but never tried it. I tend to avoid greenscreen. There is normally a live solution for everything.


Leds in cars can work to give extra fill. Wrap it with some 216 diffusion or tracing paper so that it is soft fill.


If it is a one shot lower the passenger seat so more light can get to the driver

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I don't recommend driving and acting at the same time on roads without towing it on a platform.


I agree that you shouldn't have an actor drive and act at the same time - neither is done very well if they do. Towing a car on a platform as Stephen suggests doesn't have to be expensive. For very little money you can rent a “car carrier” from U-Haul and tow it behind a pick-up truck. A number of commercial productions I have worked on have done this with great success.


You usually need to do some lighting of the car interior because it tends to be a very high contrast situation. I don’t recommend that you try to power lights with an inverter through the lighter socket. Car lighter sockets are only capable of handling a couple of hundred Watts at most and you usually require at least a 400W HMI to provide fill during a day lit shoot. To run a small HMI you can use a "Battverter" - which is a Battery/Inverter system. A "Battverter" system consists of a 12V DC power source (usually Marine Cells), a DC-to–AC True Sine Wave Power Inverter, and a Battery Charger. Wire these components into a Road Case or milk crate and you can put it on the floor in the back of the car.

Here are some production stills that show you two Battverter systems I built to run lights in vehicles at various times. The first is a 750W "Battverter" rig wired into in Calzone case.


To maximize the running time on the batteries, I made up a "jumper cable" that we attached to the leads of the pickup truck's battery. That way the engine alternator charged the batteries as they were being discharged by the light. Tie–ing the Battverter into a vehicle engine will extend the running time on your Battverter batteries so much that they may never run out of power.


The production stills below show a more elaborate 1800W Battverter system that we built to run 16 - 4’ kinos tubes inside the airport shuttle bus. Use this link for details on how we wired it into the shuttle bus.


(Kino Flo 4x4s rigged to an exo-skeletal frame of a Shuttle Bus and powered by an 1800W Battverter)

If you don’t require a lot of light, a Battverter will even enable you to use a car engine as a generator. Use the engine to run the lights through the Battverter as described above during set up and rehearsals. When it comes time to shoot a take, simply shut off the engine and continue to run the lights on the Battverter alone. Running the vehicle engine between takes charges the batteries so that they will run lights all night.


(Custom 1800W BattVerter powers 16 - 4' Kino Flo single tubes rigged

in the interior and on the exterior of an Airport Shuttle)

When building these rigs, keep in mind that when voltage goes down, amperage goes up. Wire that carries 12V DC has to be much larger than that which carries the same load at 120V AC. For instance to supply 12 volts to the 1800W inverter used on the shuttle bus required that we run 2 ought feeder to the buses' alternator. Also be sure that the alternator is large enough to take the load without burning out.

Finally, You have to be really careful when choosing a DC-to-AC inverter for film production because there are three basic types of inverters and not all of them are suitable for all types of motion picture lights. For more information on what type of inverters to use with different type of lights I would suggest you read an article I wrote about portable generators that is available online at http://www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/emailnewsletter_generators.html. Since inverter generators use the same three types of inverters, the information in the article is applicable to stand alone DC-to-AC inverters designed for use with batteries as well.

If you don’t want to tie batteries into the car’s alternator, you should consider using a small portable generator. But, you don’t want to use a generator, like the Honda 2000, that has a gravity feed for fuel. The fuel sloshes around and causes the generator to run erratically. I suggest you instead use a generator that has an electric fuel pump like our 7500W modified Honda EU6500is Inverter Generator. The fuel pump assures that not only will the engine receive a continuous feed of gas, but also that it won’t run out of gas in the course of a production day. The EU6500 is so quiet that you will not hear it in the car with the windows closed and, as you can see from the picture below of another rig, it is cable of powering large HMIs for daylight fill.


A 7500W modified Honda EU6500 powering a couple of 2.5HMI Pars on a car rig.

If you have any questions about using inverters or generators, I would suggest you read an article I wrote on the use of portable generators in motion picture production. Harry Box, author of “The Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook” has cited my article in the just released Fourth Edition of the handbook. In addition, he has established a link to it from the companion website for the Fourth Edition of the Handbook, called “Box Book Extras.”


Of the article Harry Box states:

"Great work!... this is the kind of thing I think very few technician's ever get to see, and as a result many people have absolutely no idea why things stop working."

"Following the prescriptions contained in this article enables the operation of bigger lights, or more smaller lights, on portable generators than has ever been possible before."

If you haven't yet read the article, or looked at it in a while, it is worth reading. I have greatly expanded it to be the definitive resource on portable power generation for motion picture production. Use this link to read it on-line for free.

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SceenLight & Grip, Lighting and Grip Rental & Sales in Boston.

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