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Lighting a MASSIVE exterior set (with a roof on it)

John Russell Schmidt

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I am on a show that is shut down due to Covid and we are coming up to monsoon season. We have a number of weeks worth of exterior work left and production is floating the idea of building a roof over our neighborhood set so once lockdown is lifted we can continue to shoot into the rains. 

The set is a large neighborhood, consists of a 3 story building and other fronts, streets, alleys etc and measures about 300' x 450' or over 140,000 square feet, about 2x the size of a standard soccer field. 

The proposed roof is planned as steel, and translucent tarp above without sides. 

My general thoughts are that I need to soften and probably supplement overhead ambiance and have a number of units as sunlight effects, depending on the shot. 

Ambiance- I am not yet sure how translucent or diffused the tarp will be but figure I could always hang diffusion below it if necessary, because I'm concerned about shadows from the frame if sunlight peeks through. I feel like adding units to supplement and soften out transitions, if the sun is going in and out is probably wise. Although I'd love to have the flexibility of color and wireless, I don't think S60s above diffusion is realistic because I'd need about 1400 of them. Tungsten space lights probably out as well because we'll have proper daylight bleeding through on the sides. I could go Muslin on the diffusion and then set up a ton of Dinos/Maxis on the ground and put them through blue gel and bounce, which seems most practical. Ideally run everything through dimmers and have some that are un-gelled on a different channel to have some color control. 

Sunlight- A couple 18Ks for clean shadows and smaller scenes. 100k (or 2) soft sun for larger wides? How do these compare to HMI? I've heard they can be unimpressive as a hard source. Or maybe an array of HMIs and Maxi's might be better when clean single shadows aren't necessary. 

Obviously, will discus with my gaffer but curious if anyone out there has any advice or thoughts on doing large exteriors, now inside. 


Edited by John Russell Schmidt
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A very efficient way of doing big soft lights is the flexible LED panels, things like the Aladdin Fabric Light. The power consumption is low because having a diffuse field of many small LEDs is highly efficient in comparison to firing a big light into the back of conventional diffusion.

You are talking about a huge amount of it, though. I assume you don't want to light all this at once? There's no way to do that without it becoming a king's ransom in gear.

I would suggest whatever the roof is, make it white, so you can bounce off it, then you can do it with fairly conventional gear from the ground.


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No, I mean something you can suspend from a crane and tie off as needed, not a free standing roof.

Anyway, yeah, white underside and bounce from the ground with some large fixtures on condors to add sunlight as needed. If the material were translucent white, you'd at least get some nice ambience AND avoid the potential for shadows when the sun was hard.

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What an undertaking.

This is a dream gift and opportunity to experiment! Right? I mean to intercept the sun over entire city blocks and place your own? What a treat! I would ensure that whatever the overhead solution is, that it works for you obviously. If the material can take the 80,000 lux of sunlight and bring it down to 10,000 lux or less, then your 18ks can work. Id look up the fixture photometrics and have the overhead diffuse and chop enough light to make those fixtures bright enough to play as sunlight.

Remember, sunlight is 3 stops over skylight, on a clear cloudless day.

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  • 3 weeks later...

That’s an… interesting situation! 

How about blue-tinted muslin as the diffusion material, under a clear plastic roof? Muslin will eat up to 2 stops of light. It’s available in large quantities. It would give a colder color temp as in a blue sky
Or else maybe a sort of white plexi. Better look into construction building materials and which can work. Roof clearance for boom lifts might be an issue. Also rain noise on the roof.

Also I think maybe that’s a perfect use case for a Softsun! Either direct or as bounce. 

good luck!

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