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Basic principles for hugo lighting


Simon Bradley
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Hi everybody,

 

I just saw Hugo by Martin Scorsese DP'ed by Robert Richardson yesterday. Shot on alexa and cooke s4's (quite amazing to think you can get that camera for 5-10k nowadays).

 

i was wondering how one would go about creating a look like this. There is some definite "teal orange" going on, but i feel like it is more refined than we see in a lot of films. It looks like this was achieved more so in set than in the grade, where some films push that look afterwards.

 

I know this is a 150.000.000 million dollar movie and the set design and overall look is determined by more than just the cinematography. 
 

What i would like to dissect, though, is the more technical side of achieving this when, say, the production design and costumes are already top notch.

 

Which white balance would you choose? Which lights? What are the key principles for achieving such color seperation? Can this be done on a budget?

 

of course robert is also known for the hard backlight, which i actually quite like for the right story. Anyone knows how and which light he uses for this effect?

 

i wanted to attach some more stills but there it wont allow me. Feel free to check out filmgrab for more stills: https://film-grab.com/2014/09/30/hugo/#

 

All the best!

 

 

C85A34FF-5648-42B7-93F9-98870C29BED3.jpeg

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The key on him and the light from the desk lamp looks to be balanced to whatever the camera's balanced to, which I would assume would be tungsten, but it shouldn't ideally matter. The backlight is a steely blue. It doesn't look like just CT blue to me, it's greener, maybe something like a Lee 117 but that could just as easily be grading.

And you're absolutely right, a huge amount of it is production design. I've said this before but back in the day we used to get a lot of questions about films like Saving Private Ryan, where people would ask how to make it look high contrast and green and desaturated. Well, there's all kinds of things you can do to pictures to make them high contrast and desaturated, and some of those were done for Ryan, but mainly, how do you make it green? You shoot green objects. Here we see that there are no books on the shelf that aren't either brown or colourless (often near black). The brown stuff adds to the warmth, the colourless stuff picks up the colour of the light. The desk lamp establishes the blue. This stuff is not chance and honestly it's not even that hard, it's just a bunch of books and a lamp. Any production can do that.

Often if you look at before-and-afters of this kind of thing you find the production design starts it, the lighting helps it along, and the grade finishes it off. That's how you get that sort of unaffected-but-stylish thing where it's pretty and has colour contrast, but it doesn't just feel like you tried to screw a look into it in Resolve with just universally blue shadows, or whatever.

 

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In this case, the cyan backlight isn't that strong, it's not the usual Richardson spot parcan backlight.

As far as making the blues more cyan, that can either be done with lighting gel or color-correction - luckily blue is the opposite of fleshtones so it is easy to shift the blue channel to the cyan without making faces look too odd.  But then any blue in the art direction and costumes will also shift to the cyan. Which may or may not be what you want. I think in this movie, there was an overall color-correction choice to shift the blues towards cyan to give the subtle feeling of the old 2-color Technicolor process where the prints just used cyan and orange dye.

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6 hours ago, Phil Rhodes said:

The key on him and the light from the desk lamp looks to be balanced to whatever the camera's balanced to, which I would assume would be tungsten, but it shouldn't ideally matter. The backlight is a steely blue. It doesn't look like just CT blue to me, it's greener, maybe something like a Lee 117 but that could just as easily be grading.

And you're absolutely right, a huge amount of it is production design. I've said this before but back in the day we used to get a lot of questions about films like Saving Private Ryan, where people would ask how to make it look high contrast and green and desaturated. Well, there's all kinds of things you can do to pictures to make them high contrast and desaturated, and some of those were done for Ryan, but mainly, how do you make it green? You shoot green objects. Here we see that there are no books on the shelf that aren't either brown or colourless (often near black). The brown stuff adds to the warmth, the colourless stuff picks up the colour of the light. The desk lamp establishes the blue. This stuff is not chance and honestly it's not even that hard, it's just a bunch of books and a lamp. Any production can do that.

Often if you look at before-and-afters of this kind of thing you find the production design starts it, the lighting helps it along, and the grade finishes it off. That's how you get that sort of unaffected-but-stylish thing where it's pretty and has colour contrast, but it doesn't just feel like you tried to screw a look into it in Resolve with just universally blue shadows, or whatever.

 

Amazing Phil! Thanks! 

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40 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Yes, the green lampshade, the wooden shelves, the color of the wall paper, his blue-grey jacket are all production design choices.

I was looking at that jacket and wondering if it's actually a cool colour, or if it's just picking up the light. 

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42 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

In this case, the cyan backlight isn't that strong, it's not the usual Richardson spot parcan backlight.

As far as making the blues more cyan, that can either be done with lighting gel or color-correction - luckily blue is the opposite of fleshtones so it is easy to shift the blue channel to the cyan without making faces look too odd.  But then any blue in the art direction and costumes will also shift to the cyan. Which may or may not be what you want. I think in this movie, there was an overall color-correction choice to shift the blues towards cyan to give the subtle feeling of the old 2-color Technicolor process where the prints just used cyan and orange dye.

Thanks David - your knowledge is always very welcome and seemingly never ending! 

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2 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I was looking at that jacket and wondering if it's actually a cool colour, or if it's just picking up the light. 

Yeah... i feel like it would contaminate his skin if it was a light. Might be a cool color and have then been shifted towards cyan in the grade

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12 minutes ago, Phil Rhodes said:

I was looking at that jacket and wondering if it's actually a cool colour, or if it's just picking up the light. 

Yes, it's probably mostly dark grey. The color is all from the soft back-top cyan light.

However, if you see through the gaps in that foreground where his jacket is lit by the white light of the lamp, it's made up of a lot of colored threads.

 

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When examining the image, It's safe to assume the camera was balanced at 3200K judging by the actual light bulb, which looks to be a clear, non-frosted forty to sixty watt soft white light bulb. Accordingly, when looking at the reflection on the left side of the eyeglasses, I can see it matches the color of the light bulb nearly perfectly. So the key light is also around 3200K. It's difficult to tell where exactly the back lights are positioned, but it's rather obvious there is one on the left and one on the right. I believe the lights were the typical cool blue color before later being shifted more towards the warmer end while editing. I say this based on the color of the blue books, the lampshade, and the cool back lights all having a similar shade of blue. One could argue the blue books having a similar color to the light source could simply be the light source hitting the books which sounds like a valid point at the surface, however when looking at the white and red books, it is evident they haven't been affected by the light source nearly as much as the blue books appear to have been. So essentially I see a camera set to 3200K, a tungsten balanced key light on his left side, a cool blue side light on his right side, as well as stronger cool blue light illuminating the books and a little shifting of the blues during the editing process. I'm sure there were some more smaller and larger light sources around as well, maybe even a light pointed at the ceiling acting as sort of a top fill light.

Edited by Matthew J. Walker
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