Definition February 2021 - Web

BRIGHT LIGHTS AT MIDNIGHT Chief lighting technician Julian White talks huge rigs and leaving green screen behind on the set of intense sci-fi blockbuster, The Midnight Sky GAFFER ' S CORNER | JUL I AN WH I TE


S ci-fi is rife with iconic lighting looks. Spaceships, especially, have offered countless visual delights through the years, from the dazzling walkways of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the dim and maze- like USCSS Nostromo in Alien . Now, at the skilled hand of chief lighting technician, Julian White, The Midnight Sky is joining those ranks . Bringing some rare softness to the genre, along with a few splashes of colour, White lights a number of unique spaces, including a post-apocalyptic Arctic tundra and a space vessel whose return to earth must be stopped. “The thing about a spacecraft is, you’re dominated by interior light – exterior isn’t really an option unless there’s a porthole, which we made use of only a few times,” White tells us. “It was mostly VFX for those exteriors, but we did create a fairly powerful sun using an HMI and gobos. He recalls that, inside the ship, his main limitation was the physical build of the set. This meant he had to work very closely with production design and a practical electrician throughout.“We couldn’t exactly screw holes in walls, so we worked out a few simple ways of adding the extra light

we needed. We had a few floor-level panels with some muslin cloth thrown over, for example, so we could look over them and shoot around them easily. It wasn’t a fiddly shoot in that sense,” he explains. The film’s other primary interior setting – out on the Arctic tundra – wasn’t quite so simple, though the most significant rig of all came with the accompanying exteriors. White explains more. “Inside the Arctic research station, we installed a fully working RGBWW LED lighting system, hidden away, built into bulk heads or wherever else was fitting. Those were generic LED ribbons, mainly behind functional backlit transparency arrays, all bicolour, tuneable and dimmable. There were thousands of channels for that, which sounds worse than it was, but it did all mount up on the stage, so required a lot of planning from the earliest prep. He adds: “There was a lot of ambient light coming into the station from our set-up outside, but we augmented that with Sumolights, which are a bicolour LED lens light. We used those individually, but also in a Super 7, which is a seven-bank cluster of the Sumospace fixtures with 30° lenses and

ABOVE Producer Grant Heslov, actors Felicity Jones and Tiffany Boone, and director George Clooney on the set of The Midnight Sky.

As for the Arctic exteriors, they were actually shot in Iceland, but the setting was also reproduced later on a sound stage. White explains that this was decided early on to avoid some of the issues with green screen. Instead, they opted to create a huge LED backlight. “The team snowed up the stage and had these breakaways so the actors could sink into the ice, to keep things practical,” he says. “For the backlighting, we rigged a wall of Arri Skypanels, which we could nit map. “It was a huge set-up, around 50ft high and 250ft wide, wrapping 200° around the stage. I’d estimate we had around 500 of the panels in the wall, then we had a simpler version of that rig in the ceiling with around 120 more Skypanels. This created a very soft, even fill, which you could dim or change the colour of. We almost created a sky with an endless horizon.”

no textiles on them. We could move that around fairly easily if we needed to and used it to introduce some harder kicks.”

In the research station, we installed a tuneable, dimmable bicolour RGBWW LED lighting system, which required thousands of channels


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