Exterior Night Lighting

COSMOS Banner Exterior Night LightingCOSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 22:
EXTERIOR NIGHT LIGHTING


“Life is full of shadows.” — Chris Weaver, our Dad.

The whole of COSMOS is set across a single night, and about thirty percent of that story takes place outside. This blog is a rundown of our approach to lighting those night exteriors scenes.

We’ve tried to cover a lot of info about our lighting approach, including kit, technique and inspiration. As always, our aim with this production blog is to be as informative and thorough as is possible, hopefully without boring you.

Before we get started, below is a video of COSMOS B-rolls for the night exteriors to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how we’re making this film. As with all indie films our resources are limited, but that’s not always a bad thing. We will discuss the lights and techniques being used in this video further on in this article.


 

Why is Film Lighting Important?

Photography is the combination of two Greek words:

  • Photo, derived from phos – meaning light
  • Graphy, derived from graphos – meaning written

Photography literally means written in light making a Photographer a light-writerAnd the art of photography for the cinema is known as Cinematography.

I can’t think of a more beautiful reminder of the importance of light in the filmmaking process; without light there can be no recorded image. Cinematographer John Alton is famed, aside from his legendary anthology of films, for his phrasing “Painting with Light”. And that is what we, as filmmakers, must strive to do – our paint is light, our brush a camera, our canvas a cinema screen. (more…)

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Character Costumes

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 21:
CHARACTER COSTUMES


“What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what
they are not. “ — Edith Head

Costume Design, as the name suggests, is the creation of costume or clothing for a character in film, tv or theatre. The development of this overall appearance contributes heavily to the believability of the world and its population in a particular story.

Costume styles vary significantly depending on gender, nationality, geography, class, period, economics, religion, season and even character backstory. Historical dramas obviously rely heavily on believable and accurate character costume. Science fiction obviously accesses artistic license to the same effect.

Costume design is so impactful on the filmmaking process, that sometimes iconic movie characters are inseparable from their iconic costume. A leather jacket and fedora can only belong to one man… and if adventure had a name… it must be Indiana Jones! 

But remaining faithful to the old movie maxim, why tell, when you can show…? here is a collection of insightful vignette videos all about the costume design process and its value to the production, the actors and the audience. Enjoy.

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Camera Tests

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 20:
CAMERA TESTS


“The most powerful weapon in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is the camera.” — Paul Watson

The purpose of camera tests are to put a camera system through it’s paces to expose (if you pardon the film pun!) its strengths and weaknesses, thus creating a library of footage that will serve as a reference for your production.

The principal of camera testing obviously originates with testing different film stocks – but like each film emulsion, each digital sensor is different. With so many new digital cameras available on the market it’s difficult to know the pros and cons of each… and whether your preferred camera fits your preferred shooting style. You don’t want to just pick a camera and then hope it’ll work nicely in low light if you’re shooting night scenes. Or hope that it’ll be great at handling highlights if you’re filming in the midday sun.

Obviously most indie filmmakers don’t have the luxury of choosing from a range of cameras (or film stocks!), but it’s still vital that you test the camera you’re planning to use for your shoot – familiarising yourself with its optimum operating settings allows you to showcase the camera’s strengths while hiding its weaknesses — and in turn making your cinematography appear more considered and crafted.

Here’s a really cool video from KODAK that features an elaborate camera test designed to showcase improvements in the VISION3 Color Neg Film 5219/7219. Clearly you don’t have to go to such lengths but it’s a great template to help you design your own camera tests.

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Cast Rehearsals

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 19:
CAST REHEARSALS


“All the real work is done in the rehearsal period” — Donald Pleasence

Whichever way you want to look at it, filmmaking is an expensive game – there’s either a money cost or a time cost. And ideally, you want to spend as little of both as possible!

If you have money you can buy time and get things done quickly. If you don’t have money, it’s going to cost you more time to get the job done. And one of the best ways to make the most of your shooting time is to have some constructive rehearsals sessions under your belt, for your benefit as well as your cast’s.

This video features some of the greatest actors of our time and although the topic of rehearsals isn’t directly discussed, it’s clear how seriously these actors approach their work – they love what they do, they want to do their very best and they put a lot of effort, thought and research into how they can achieve that.

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Making Props & Set-Dressing

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 18:
MAKING PROPS & SET DRESSING


“In the property-maker’s room lives the wizard of the studio. He is an inventor, a chemist, a bit of an artist, and an engineer.” — Edward Carrick

The first thing you need to know is what the difference is between Props and Set-Dressing

Prop is short for Property  suggesting that an actor will somehow use such an item as their character’s property. A phone, a compass, a gun, a camera are all Props IF the character uses them in the scene.

BUT if the character does not interact with these items, and the phone or the camera just sit on their desk in their office they become Set-Dressing  these items are not pivotal to the action of the scene but help to make the environment more realistic.

This cool video essay, Why Props Matter,  takes a look at the hidden power of movie props. And how filmmakers use those everyday (and not so everyday) objects to enhance cinematic storytelling.

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The Script-Readthrough

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 17:
SCRIPT READ-THROUGH (Table Read)


“If the script is right and the cast is right, there’s not much else that can go wrong.” — William Goldman

The read-through (also known as a table read) is a stage in pre-production when the film’s script is read aloud around a table by the full cast of actors, and is also attended by producers, writers, heads of departments and directors.

That Star Wars Read-Through

That Star Wars Read-Through

The read-through is a major milestone in the production process, giving the core filmmaking team an early insight into the project’s potential and also highlighting any problem areas hidden in the script, such as wooden dialogue or a lack of chemistry between cast members.

As read-throughs normally happen before any rehearsals, actors are not expected to give polished performances but simply to read their dialogue, as written on the page. However this process can be extremely beneficial for an actor, giving them the chance to find their character and begin building relationships with their fellow cast members.

For the writers and directors, the read-through is not only useful but one of the most exciting parts of the filmmaking process — after months, sometimes years of development, it’s exhilarating to finally see a project come to life and the characters burst off the written page into living, breathing people. (more…)

Listening To Space (Sound Designing)

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 16:
LISTENING TO SPACE (Sound Designing)


A great film once taught us that out there, in the cold vastness of space – no one can hear you scream… Why?

Sound waves (as we perceive them) need a medium like air to travel through, and in the vacuum of space there is no such medium. So to the human ear at least – space is silent.

However, this is not the whole truth.

On August 16th 1977, a radio telescope in Ohio picked up a steady source of radio waves that became known as the “Wow!” signal…

Wow_signal

There is much speculation as to the origin of the “Wow!” signal and perhaps we will never know for sure if it was of extra-terrestrial design. But it certainly makes you wonder.

The field of Radio Astronomy observes astronomical objects by studying their radio wave emissions. These astronomical objects, such as stars and galaxies, naturally emit radio waves which travel across the vast ocean of space at the speed of light – an astounding 186,282 MILES PER SECOND! (The equivalent of flying around planet Earth 4.6 times in a single second!) (more…)

Creating Fantasy User Interfaces (FUIs)

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 15:
CREATING FANTASY USER INTERFACES (FUIs)


You’ve probably never heard the term ‘Fantasy User Interface’ but I can guarantee, you know exactly what one is.

An FUI is the super cool and futuristic computer display system found in movies, TV shows and computer games. Obviously these FUIs are not real computer programs but bespoke animations created with the purpose of helping tell the story. In modern filmmaking, most of these FUIs are added in post production but some films still feature on-set displays that the actors can interact with.

For COSMOS we need to create several FUIs of our own, and in researching the topic we found ourselves entering a vibrant sub-culture of FUI designers and admirers. If you’re interested in learning more about the cool user interfaces in your favourite movie, please check out Kit FUI which is basically an IMDb-like database for anything and everything FUI. You can also lose hours marvelling at the intricacy of these designs and enjoy the talents of their creators such as Jayse Hansen, OOOii and Mark Coleran.


 

green screenMoving onto COSMOS we need three different displays for the three main characters to work from. As discussed in a previous post about Building the Goodman Satellite in Blender, we’re big fans of practical and physical effects (for both photographic and budgetary reasons!). (more…)

Building ‘The Goodman’ Satellite

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 13:
 BUILDING ‘The Goodman’ SATELLITE


A grainy shape appears at the edge of screen… The image sharpens. We see– A SATELLITE. Its shape undeniable; a pair of solar panelled “wings” clearly defined. The silhouette is hazy, distorted by Earth’s atmosphere.

Roy quickly leans in, the images of this satellite on screen reflecting in his glasses. He sits mesmerised watching it hang almost magically overhead. But the smile slowly fades from his face, his expression growing more solemn. Why? We can see it in his eyes– there’s more to this man. What does this satellite mean to him?

As suggested by the script excerpt above, a science satellite (nicknamed The Goodman) plays a pivotal role in COSMOS for reasons that will remain a secret… for now.

"The Goodman"

The Goodman is a fictional ‘Earth Observation’ satellite residing in Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 2000km. This satellite traverses the Earth’s surface and completes a single orbit in about 130 minutes, and is observed by the characters in the story via a telescope connected to a computer monitor.

green screenBeing big fans of practical and physical effects (for both photographic and budgetary reasons!) we really want the actors to view and interact with a ‘real’ image of The Goodman on a monitor, rather than compositing this image in later in post-production.

Therefore we’ve had to create several visual effects shots ahead of shooting the film. The first step in creating the telescope image of The Goodman flyover is of course, designing and building our very own science satellite during pre-production.
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Creating the ‘Astro-Nuts’ Baseball Caps

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COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 14:
CREATING THE ‘ASTRO-NUTS’ BASEBALL CAPS


Due to budgetary limitations the filmmaking Art Departments, such as Costume Design, are often overlooked by independent filmmakers — when money is tight the camera becomes top priority and every other department seems to cascade beneath in a perceived order of importance.

'Astro-Nut' Photoshopped Concept

‘Astro-Nut’ Photoshopped Concept

But dressing your characters in a costume that reflects their personality and profession will not only dramatically increase the production value of your movie, but more importantly help your audience believe in your story.

As filmmakers we MUST strive for a high level of production value across ALL creative departments — there’s no point shooting our films in stunning 4k resolution if the costumes look like an after thought! We may get a few excited comments on the ‘dynamic range’ and ‘digital noise’, but no one will believe in our characters.

For proof if proof were needed, here’s Baz Luhrmanns excellent podcast on Costume Design for his epic AUSTRALIA.

Costume Design is fundamentally the expression of character through clothes, but it can be much more than that. Everything we learn from costume, we find out about the life of the character and the world that they lived in.


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