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Hannah Getz

How do I show color in a day for night scene?

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I'm about to start a feature and because of our schedule as well as dropping temperatures, the possibility of shooting day for night is becoming more and more real.

 

My concern is that having red/orange light in the night scenes is extremely important to the director, but that the grade will suck all of that out. The source for the light is a campfire, but one of the characters will also be bloody and wearing a faded red jacket. I've seen the 40's/50's day for night scenes which have a lighter grade and thus more colors, but those seem to have been done because of the sheer expanse of the locations that needed to be seen. Cast Away is the best example of fire/red light I can find for day for night, however I have read that there were some VFX in those shots.

 

While we do have access to a good VFX house, I want to be able to introduce red light practically as a baseline. One detail, we'll be shooting in the woods in California so I'll have limited generator power due to fire concerns.

 

So essentially I am at a loss. Any advice is deeply appreciated.

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Day for night really only works when the moon is the only source of light in the scene. As soon as another source exists like a fire, then it's is near impossible to realistically make that source brighter than the sun which is your moon in day for night. At best, you can shoot dusk for night so that those sources expose realistically.

 

You'll note that in "Cast Away" most of the day for night work was before he learned to make fire, and when he did make a fire, the first evening shot of it burning was shot at twilight. In the earlier day for night work they did add the glow of his flashlight in post for some shots.

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If, let's say, I have a good amount of tree cover over the subject, would it be possible to bounce something in to a gelled mirror board to create some kind of flicker effect? I guess even with that approach it's possible that whatever color gel I use will become significantly dulled in the grade... If they insist on day for night I think they'll have to comp the fire in which worries me.

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This sounds a bit like a loosing situation. You're facing shorter days, anyway, in winter, and if you're already having problems with gennys for power and fire, it's not as though you'll need less power during the day-- often quite the opposite due to having to fight with sunlight (even in a treed area you'll still be looking at some large HMIs not to mention how they'd react to an actual fire on set). You could bounce into a mirror board; but you'd need a big unit to fight, well daylight, as opposed to say a few PH213s on a magic gadget on the ground with some gel over them (or 650s or 300 fresnels depending on how close it is).

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Yeah I'm a little discouraged about it all. They see it as a time saver but I'm not sure that will be the case. Though we could possibly use twilight for fire bits (and the flash lights). In all honesty it seems like a jumble. I also wonder if the skies being overcast, which is a real possibility, will kill the day for night effect all together.

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This sounds like things you really need to sit down with and go over with production with some hard numbers; based on your locations and the script. I don't think it's anything we can really answer for you here; as we don't know the intimacies of the project, and what you'll have access to.

 

Day for night can certainly work, especially with today's post tech where you could isolate the colors you want to preserve in secondary correctors and keep them form going as blue (though you'd need a test on this with the jacket etc you'll be using and flash lights and fire) to see how it handles through your whole post chain.

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You can't really ever see skies in day for night, or it looks awful. There has been talk of using polarisers to darken clear blue skies, but it places huge limitations on camera movement and I've never seen a sky polarise dark enough. You end up needing huge amounts of post tweaking to make it work.

 

Shoot at night. It's easier (from a photography point of view. From a personal point of view, overnights are a miseryfest.)

 

P

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Oh I wasn't going to show the skies, I just meant in regards to actual contrast to the spaces to sell the effect. I'll be testing today with lights and some color samples so we'll see!

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Here are some examples of day-for-night with fire, from "El Cid". You can see the problem, that the fire isn't realistically bright. It works best in that close-up of Charlton Heston where at least it was late enough into the afternoon that the sun wasn't so bright. They used Polas and ND grads when they could.

 

elcid10.jpg

 

elcid11.jpg

 

elcid12.jpg

 

elcid13.jpg

 

It was considered problematic even back then, enough so that William Clothier, who shot mostly day-for-night on John Ford's movies, convinced John Wayne to shoot night scenes with campfires at night for "The Alamo" (he said that Ford hated working at night so preferred day-for-night.)

 

At least with overcast-for-night (which was done well in "Wyatt Earp"), you can mix that with dusk-for-night since both don't have hard shadows from the sun.

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Thank you so much for these! I did a test the other day in an overcast environment and it turned out alright, colors and skintones were retained, however I'm not sure the grade was entirely convincing as night. Need to give it a whirl in full sun!

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We ended up being able to shoot night for night, which was a huge relief. That being said we only had two SkyPanels and an M18, but it was almost using the Varicam rated at 2500.

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