Definition June 2024 - Web

This month we sit down with the legendary Robert Elswit, ASC, to find out what went into crafting Ripley’s stunning, noir-inspired cinematography, plus get the lowdown on sci-fi smash 3 Body Problem. We also throw it back to one of 2023’s biggest TV events, The Last of Us, hearing how pandemic restrictions necessitated new ways of working – with impressive results. Elsewhere, we explore the latest in lighting technology, pick the brains (and kitbags) of four top gaffers, get the lowdown on Cine Gear LA Expo, report on our favourite finds from NAB Show and discover how #GALSNGEAR has been driving change in the industry.








– Robert Elswit, ASC


Mastering monochrome: Ripley’s Oscar-winning DOP unpacks the show’s stunning, noir-inspired cinematography

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EDITORIAL Editor in chief Nicola Foley

Senior staff writer Katie Kasperson Chief sub editor Matthew Winney Sub editor Minhaj Zia Junior sub editor Molly Constanti Editorial director Roger Payne Contributors Will Newman, Adrian Pennington, Phil Rhodes ADVERTISING Sales director Sam Scott-Smith 01223 499457 Sales manager Emma Stevens 01223 499462 | +447376665779 DESIGN Design director Andy Jennings Magazine design manager Lucy Woolcomb Senior designer Carl Golsby Junior designer Hedzlynn Kamaruzzaman Junior designer and ad production Holly May PUBLISHING Managing directors Andy Brogden & Matt Pluck Bright Publishing LTD Bright House, 82 High Street, Sawston, Cambridgeshire, CB22 3HJ, UK Definition is published monthly by Bright Publishing Ltd, Bright House, 82 High Street, Sawston, Cambridge, CB22 3HJ. No part of this magazine can be used without prior written permission of Bright Publishing Ltd. Definition is a registered trademark of Bright Publishing Ltd. The advertisements published in Definition that have been written, designed or produced by employees of Bright Publishing Ltd remain the copyright of Bright Publishing Ltd and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the publisher. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. Prices quoted in sterling, euros and US dollars are street prices, without tax, where available or converted using the exchange rate on the day the magazine went to press.

T here’s been chatter recently that we’re exiting the era of prestige TV. But while the heyday might be over, the streamers have certainly been serving up some bingeable, big-budget, star-packed shows lately that demand our sofa time. Let’s start with Ripley – hands down one of the best-looking shows I’ve ever watched and our cover star this issue. Ravishingly beautiful in every frame, the cinematography has become a water-cooler topic in its own right. So, who better to sit down with this month than the man responsible for it, legendary DOP Robert Elswit? Read his insights into the show’s artful aesthetic on page 10. Another big hitter, 3 Body Problem , comes from Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss. Reportedly costing $20 million an episode to make, this sprawling sci-fi series sees ‘The Davids’ and Alexander Woo serve up a visual extravaganza bolstered by some serious VFX gunpowder. The show’s crack team of DOPs take us behind the scenes on page 16. We also throw it back to one of 2023’s biggest TV events, The Last of Us , hearing how pandemic restrictions necessitated new ways of working – with impressive results – on page 50. Elsewhere in the issue, we explore the latest in lighting technology, pick the brains (and kitbags) of four top gaffers, get the lowdown on Cine Gear LA Expo, report on our favourite finds from NAB Show and discover how #GALSNGEAR has been driving change in the industry. Enjoy the issue and see you next month!

Editor in chief







JUNE 2024


54 TRAILBLAZERS The founder of #GALSNGEAR, Amy DeLouise, talks gender parity in M&E 56 CINE GEAR LA EXPO A feast of new production tech in the LA sunshine? Sign us up! 62 NAB: THE BEST OF THE SHOW Our favourite discoveries from the 50 THE LAST OF US Necessity proved the mother of invention for this show’s editing team Simisolaoluwa Akande discusses Queer Nigerians , her latest project 70 TOOLKIT The lowdown on FilmLight’s Nara software and lots more new toys 79 CAMERA LISTINGS Las Vegas summit 68 IN SHORT Our monthly round-up of the camera bodies revolutionising digital images


06 INDUSTRY BRIEFINGS FilmLight Colour Awards launch, news of DNEG 360, diary dates and more 10 RIPLEY The legendary Robert Elswit on his role in Netflix’s gorgeous take on Ripley 16 3 BODY PROBLEM The show’s cinematographers dissect this epic sci-fi series 24 MASTERING THE ART OF COLOUR PRECISION What are the limitations of LEDs – and how do we fix them? Def investigates 28 ROUND TABLE Industry luminaries explore the future of lighting technology 38 A LIFE IN LIGHTING Four bright sparks take us through their career stories 49 TAKE TWO In the first of a new series, we revisit Alien ’s lighting (or lack thereof...)




© Netflix




FilmLight Colour Awards add category for rising talent N ow in its fourth iteration, the FilmLight Colour Awards –

other creatives, the awards now span six classes: commercial, music video, television series/episodic, theatrical feature and ‘spotlight’ (low-budget feature), as well as ‘emerging talent’. Also new for this year, FilmLight welcomes four supporting partners: Mexican Society of Cinematographers (AMC), ShotDeck, German Society of Cinematographers (BVK) and Indian Society of Cinematographers (ISC).

which are presented annually at EnergaCAMERIMAGE – have added a new category that celebrates emerging industry talent. The award will recognise a colourist between the ages of 18 and 35 who has contributed to a commercial or music video. Judged by an independent panel of cinematographers, colourists and

The submission deadline for FilmLight 2024 is 31 July. Learn more at

DNEG and Dimension launch DNEG 360

D NEG and Dimension Studio have co-launched DNEG 360, an end-to-end virtual production service for feature films, TV episodics, commercials, music videos and more. DNEG 360’s offerings will span project development, visualisation, virtual production and content creation, providing clients with a one-stop production shop. To celebrate this joint venture, DNEG 360 is opening studios – complete with two of the world’s largest LED volume stages – in London and Rome. London’s Stage One features a 20x8m curved LED wall with a retractable ceiling, while Stage Two is configured for vehicle and volumetric capture. DNEG 360’s Rome location, situated in Cinecittà Studios, includes a 24x8m LED volume with a 25m rotating platform deck. DNEG and Dimension have thus far collaborated on Masters of the Air , Avatar: The Last Airbender , No Way Up and more. DNEG 360 will further support their shared mission.




BAFTA announces TV Craft Awards T he British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) recently announced the winners of its Television Craft Awards. Black Mirror , Eurovision Song Contest 2023 , Once Upon a Time in Northern Ireland , Silo and Slow Horses each took home two prizes, with several other shows – including The Last of Us – collecting one. BAFTA recognises existing and emerging talent across photography, lighting, editing, directing, composing, VFX and more, separating each award into factual or fiction. The event bestows the Television Craft Special Award to an outstanding individual or organisation;


1. Nolan to receive knighthood Christopher Nolan and his wife Emma Thomas are expected to receive a knighthood and damehood for their contributions to the film industry. Nolan won his first Oscar for best director on Oppenheimer , which Thomas produced, with the film picking up six other Academy Awards. 2. SMPTE releases report on AI The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) released an engineering report which addresses the role of AI in media production, distribution and consumption. The 42-page document explores the ethics of these technologies and argues in favour of standardisation. 3. Netflix sees subscription surge Despite dwindling profits in 2023, Netflix saw 9.3 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2024, bringing its global total to 269.6 million. Profits and revenues grew, with an overall performance which surpassed expectations. Top-performing Q1 titles included Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen , 3 Body Problem and Avatar: The Last Airbender .

this year, that award went to MAMA Youth Project, a collective which aims to widen industry representation.

For the full list of winners, visit

Sony Pictures and Apollo bid on Paramount

S ony Pictures Entertainment and Apollo Global Management put in a joint bid on Paramount Global, offering $26 billion in cash, plus the assumption of any debt, to turn the company private. This bid coincides with another M&A proposal from Skydance Media, which – if accepted – would merge Paramount and Skydance while keeping Paramount a publicly traded business. Paramount’s current estimated enterprise value rests at $22 billion. The deal with Sony and Apollo would likely result in mass layoffs, decreasing the number of major Hollywood studios from five to four. Sony – currently the largest studio without a direct-to-consumer streaming platform – would also acquire Paramount+. Amid the negotiations, Paramount Global removed Bob Bakish as CEO, temporarily replacing him with three senior executives plucked from its subsidiaries. No final decisions have been made at the time of writing.




BFI National Lottery Short Form Animation Fund opens applications I n conjunction with the National Lottery, the BFI’s Short Form Animation Fund provides financial support for animated short films of any technique or genre. To be eligible, applicants must be over 18, based in the UK and seeking up to £120,000. As part of the application, creatives must include their team’s contact information

and professional bios as well as details of their proposed project, such as its content (submitted as a completed storyboard or script), production and financial plans, festival aims and marketing strategy. Applications will be assessed based on the projects’ creative ambitions, its potential to resonate with audiences, the team’s

UK Screen Alliance and Animation UK unveil Outstanding Contribution Awards U K Screen Alliance and Animation UK regularly celebrate the country’s VFX, post and animation industries with the Outstanding Contribution Awards. This year’s coincided with the UK Screen Alliance’s 20th anniversary. The trade bodies doled out five in total: outstanding contributions to visual effects, animation, post- production, skills development and diversity and inclusion. The winners were Sara Bennett (Milk VFX), Oli Hyatt (Blue Zoo), Natascha and Dave Cadle (Envy Post Production), Amy Smith (Framestore) and Phil Attfield (NextGen Skills Academy). The Short Form Animation Fund is now open to all applicants and closes on Tuesday 9 July at 5pm. Applicants should receive a decision within 12 weeks. Full funding details are available at respective strengths, the project’s potential career impacts and the budget’s feasibility, among other criteria.


Muslim International Film Festival 30 May-2 June In its inaugural year, the Muslim International Film Festival – held in London’s Leicester Square – champions Muslim filmmakers, and those inspired by Muslim culture, from across the globe. Windrush Caribbean Film Festival 1-30 June Created as a response to the Windrush scandal, and in honour of the Windrush generation, this festival celebrates Caribbean storytelling from the UK and abroad. Films will be screened throughout the month in venues across Britain. Sheffield DocFest 12-17 June Held annually in Sheffield, DocFest is the UK’s largest documentary-only festival. The event also includes an industry marketplace, which gives featured projects the opportunity

to pitch to distributors both national and international. London Indian Film Festival 17 June-3 July The London Indian Film Festival – which runs simultaneously in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds – is Europe’s largest South Asian film event, showcasing Indian narratives from the UK and elsewhere. Raindance Film Festival 19-28 June One of London’s most notable fests, Raindance (the UK version of Sundance) runs annually in the city’s West End. The festival hosts the BIFAs and is now in its 32nd year.




Murderous monochrome thriller Ripley is a masterclass in tone and tension. Nicola Foley sits down with the series’ Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit, ASC to find out more

W hen Robert Elswit, ASC got a call from director Steven Zaillian asking if he’d like to work on Ripley , his first reaction was: “Why would you want to remake that?” It’s a fair question. Anthony Minghella’s seductive, sun-drenched 1999 feature, The Talented Mr Ripley , delivered an iconic, five-times Oscar-nominated portrayal of Patricia Highsmith’s enigmatic antihero nearly a quarter of a century earlier. It had been done, and it had been done well. So why revisit it? BACK TO THE SOURCE “Steve made it clear that it wasn’t his intention to ‘re-do’ the film,” begins Elswit,




whose previous credits include There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights . “He told me, I’m starting over – I’m doing the Patricia Highsmith version of who Ripley was. Matt Damon’s Ripley was a charming college boy who inadvertently made some stupid choices, and he wasn’t that talented at all. “But in Steve’s take on it – which I understood after we spoke about it and I read the books – Ripley’s talent was that he could have a five-minute conversation with you and knew exactly who you were, and how to manipulate you. He was a wonderful con man, probably the smartest person in most rooms he walked into, and understood human nature. That is a great talent.”

Zaillian wanted to scratch beneath the surface, exploring Ripley’s inner emotional workings and his evolution as a character. Partly, this is achieved through the visual design of the series, which communicates the change in Ripley as he finds his footing in a rarefied new world; but it’s also helped by the simple fact Zaillian and his team had nearly eight hours of storytelling time at their disposal. “I think that’s what he loved about the eight-episode idea,” reflects Elswit. “It was an 860-page script and gave us space to show Ripley’s emotional connection to what he sees around him – falling in love with Italy, the art, the architecture and that lifestyle; but

it also meant that we could show how his mind worked. “Steve was interested in Ripley’s ability to improvise when things go wrong; the way he has to constantly figure out what to do next. I remember reading the part of the script where he kills Freddie and drops the body off, but realises he’s left the kid’s passport in his pocket, so he has to go back and get it. We follow his rhythm: him going back upstairs, to the cab, the whole journey – I didn’t expect we’d actually include that, but Steve was adamant. He wanted to show every bit of Ripley’s improvisation; how his killing wasn’t premeditated. These details and transitionary moments became an obsessive focus, whether watching




Ripley typing a letter or checking into every hotel – it adds to the texture of the character and Steve embraced that.”

Released globally on Netflix in April, Ripley stars Andrew Scott in the role of Tom Ripley, with Dakota Fanning as Marge Sherwood and Johnny Flynn as Dickie Greenleaf. Additional cast includes Eliot Sumner, Maurizio Lombardi, Margherita Buy and John Malkovich. Ripley is co-produced by Showtime and Endemol Shine North America, in association with Entertainment 360 and Filmrights. All eight episodes were directed and written by Steven Zaillian, whose previous directorial credits include All The King’s Men (2006), A Civil Action (1998) and Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993). Robert Elswit, who collaborated with Zaillian on HBO’s The Night Of (2016), is cinematographer across all eight episodes. The grade, online and finish were delivered by Company 3 in DaVinci Resolve Studio. 😀

DEATH ROW A sequence which gives us a blow- by-blow (literally) insight into Ripley’s movements is Dickie’s murder on the rowboat. Here, we follow in real time, watching every bone-crunching fall of the oar and every frantic moment of calculation that follows, as Ripley tries first to throw Dickie’s body overboard, then sink the boat to destroy the evidence. Appearing in episode 3, III Sommerso , this visceral set piece is a pivotal turning point for Ripley’s character, giving the audience a clear picture of the extremes he’ll go to in order to preserve his facade. Capturing the scene was no small feat, requiring six full days of filming, with much of the shooting taking place in an outdoor water tank to provide the necessary controlled environment. Utilising three cameras mounted on cranes, the team erected diffusion

material to soften the harsh sunlight and simulate an overcast day, adding to the suffocating mood of the final sequence.

build tension. The visual style is so striking that Elswit initially had concerns it might distract the viewer from the story, but Zaillian’s reasoning won him over. “The way the show looks is a correlative to the emotional side. Steve wanted the audience to feel the tension and unease of the world that Ripley moved in – and he felt that the images would evoke this,” Elswit explains. “Not a lot of directors feel that the way something is lit has a direct connection to the emotions of the people watching it, but Steve knows it,” he continues. “It became part of our dialogue: not just what the scene is about, but how

SHADES OF NOIR In the Minghella film, Ripley’s world is a sumptuous, colour-soaked Mediterranean fever dream, where Zaillian’s is the inverse: shadowy, cold, menacing and entirely monochrome. Paying homage to the Caravaggio paintings which appear in the series, the cinematography is a masterclass in chiaroscuro; boldly playing with light and dark to shape the narrative and

ON THE MOVE We follow Ripley on planes, trains and buses, from the dank backstreets of New York to the resplendent Amalfi Coast




should it feel? How should the people feel watching it?” Production took the team across Rome, Venice, Naples, Capri and the Amalfi Coast, and they had their work cut out not just in ensuring a pitch-perfect period aesthetic, but in giving these idyllic settings a sinister edge befitting the story. They were helped on both counts by the fact that principal photography took place in 2021 – mid-pandemic – which left them with deserted, tourist- free streets to play with. The flip side of this timing was the restrictions put on filming, which caused severe delays to production; though Elswit ended up seeing this as a blessing since it gave them more time to scout and plan. “I took hundreds and hundreds of stills and printed them in black & white, and I started considering what monochrome does – which is all about texture, quality of light and the tonal structure of an image. It’s very different from working in colour, and I needed that because I hadn’t done anything in black & white for a long time.” Elswit began to think about lighting in a new way, considering how it could SHADOW PLAY In Ripley, the way someone is lit says a lot about their character, from total shadow to direct sunlight and all in between

illuminate character dynamics: “There’s a general cliche about tonal structure and pictorial style – in painting, anyway – that light presents the idea of wisdom, understanding and enlightenment. If you are painting someone in open and direct sunlight, you’re making an emotional statement about your sense of who they are. And that carries over into monochrome more than in colour.” In Ripley , light reveals truths about the characters and their inner worlds – Dickie can often be seen in half- light, while Marge “is open and honest – fully exposed. And there’s Tom, sitting in shadow,” he explains. Taking a heavily stylised approach inspired by film noir, Elswit embraced the interplay of black & white highlights and shadows. “It makes you feel a certain way about what you’re looking at,” he muses. “It is a builder of tension; a creator of anxiety; and it just doesn’t happen the same way in colour. “We have big LED units now that are very soft and broad and can recreate the feeling of day interior light. But with this series, we wanted hard light – something that didn’t look that real, the way films were lit 60, 70 years ago,” he adds. “When you look at people’s faces, there’s a more distinct nose shadow; there’s a fall-off; there’s a design of the lighting on someone’s face that takes

advantage of the difference between a very strong highlight and shadows. So we exaggerated that; we didn’t try to create a realistic look.” While he relied heavily on LED panels and praises their versatility – particularly when it comes to adjusting the colour temperature to create realistic lighting in both natural and staged settings – Elswit also utilised traditional tungsten lighting on Ripley , for a unique contrast which lends itself well to black & white. Lamenting the disappearance of older lighting technologies like carbon arcs, which were adept at simulating sunlight, nowadays, he often combines LED panels with older fixtures like fresnel lenses to achieve desired effects, occasionally deploying HMIs for outdoor scenes. THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS Shot on an ARRI ALEXA LF and ALEXA Mini LF, lenses were supplied by Panavision, and Elswit had the firm’s VP of optical engineering on speed dial to ensure he got exactly the right glass for the job. “Dan Sasaki is a lens genius – he’s built lenses for me forever,” he gushes. “You can make a perfect lens now, for any format, which has no chromatic aberrations, almost no vignetting; that doesn’t have the kind of quirky qualities we became accustomed to. Lenses are




pretty much so perfect that we don’t get that character any more.” Seeking a blend of vintage characteristics and modern optical technology, Elswit and Sasaki landed on Panavision’s large format VA prime lenses, supplemented with a few select focal lengths from the brand’s Primo 70 and Ultra Speed series. Designed with a compact, lightweight and modern mechanical structure, these lenses deliver state-of-the-art performance while offering predictable aberrations. With a softer look compared to other Panavision lens collections, VA primes excel in close focus capabilities, fast apertures and consistent performance across focal lengths – enhanced by modern coatings to mitigate veiling glare. “They’re really great,” concludes Elswit. “Panavision has given us back a set of lenses which imitate the look of classic movies.” LESSONS LEARNED One hallmark of the series is its sneaky framing and camera movement, which shows us the action from above, below and through foreground objects, adding an air of voyeurism. “Steve was always looking at ways of seeing Ripley through things, as if you’re an objective observer,” notes Elswit.

NOBODY works harder . NOBODY IS more dedicated to a vision . HE IS JUST AN EXTRAORDINARY HUMAN. I’M SO GLAD HE dragged me along ”

“He also made me think about the difference between moving back 15 feet and shooting someone with a longer lens in a medium close-up, and walking right up to them and shooting them with a wider lens; and the difference in intimacy and the feeling of presence,” he continues. “There’s barely a shot in Ripley made with a lens longer than 40mm: everything is wide lenses and mostly close-ups or medium close-ups or 40s. His storytelling sense is really something – and his understanding of what the scene had to be in terms of the emotional connection with the action.” Elswit also credits the director’s influence in shaping his perspective on utilising architectural elements to inform shot design; a technique he’s continued to apply since. “We tried to make sure the

lens choices and how we frame things worked as a complementary version to all these different spaces and buildings around us, and I definitely took that away from Ripley ,” he shares. Elswit was impressed by Zaillian’s uncompromising attitude. “The things you could live with, Steve wouldn’t live with. He was stringent about the design issues and everything. Once I understood this, I would never let things go and think ‘oh I can fix that later’ – which of course we can do in the digital suite. I almost never did that on Ripley ,” he shares. “Nobody works harder. Nobody is more dedicated to a vision. Nobody is more focused. He’s just an extraordinary human being. I’m so glad he dragged me along on this!” Ripley is streaming now on Netflix




B efore Game of Thrones became a global phenomenon, there was a feeling fantasy was something only a niche, if loyal, audience would lap up. Now the makers of HBO’s dragon and sorcery hit aim to do the same for sci-fi naysayers. As their source material, showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss – along with Alexander Woo – chose The Three-Body Problem by Chinese novelist

Liu Cixin and turned it into an eight-hour series for Netflix. “We’ve all seen a thousand alien invasion stories,” Benioff says, “but this one’s different because it focuses on the human response to finding out we’re not alone in the universe — and the others out there are not necessarily friendly.” The ambitious story spans different decades and planes of existence, from

China’s Cultural Revolution in the sixties to contemporary Britain, New York City and a vast, epic virtual reality world. Naturally, the showrunners turned to the experience of a DOP who had shot 17 episodes of Game of Thrones to help establish the show’s visual language. “There are many elements to the first season and to what they hope would become subsequent seasons,”




A trio of DOPs discuss their roles in transporting viewers between real and virtual worlds in David Benioff, DB Weiss & Alexander Woo’ s sci-fi hit 3 Body Problem





according to Jonathan Freeman, ASC, a Canadian DOP who won an Emmy for Boardwalk Empire and has also worked with directors Russell Mulcahy, Richard Loncraine and Robert Lepage. His first decision was determining the aspect ratio. Game of Thrones was presented in familiar 1.78:1, but for a story at least partly set in outer space, they discussed using several framing formats. “I was keen on the notion of a wider aspect ratio because eventually this story will expand into space,” Freeman says. “A wider-screen format of 2:39 or 2:35 is used in many successful space odysseys to represent the vastness of space and the distance between elements, whether between two planets or an astronaut

floating over a planet. A widescreen format also made sense for the VR game, where we need to convey the scale of individual figures in a landscape, Lawrence of Arabia style.” A storyline in episode 5 about a giant freighter ship also suggested a wider-screen frame. They decided to stick with 2:35 shooting on ARRI ALEXA LF, but to divide earthbound scenes of relative normality from the hyper-real sequences of the VR world by using different glass. “Given that the first couple of episodes jump from scenes set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution to contemporary scenes in London, and to lean into the cinematic language of films set in space, my preference was for anamorphic. I felt




we needed glass with a vintage look but also a way of making it feel modern at the same time.” That balance was found in the ARRI ALFA, a lens set purposely detuned for Greig Fraser, ASC, who was at the time shooting them for The Batman . “It had almost exactly what I was looking for,” Freeman says. “A vintage feel surrounding the edges of the lens, but sharp in the centre so we could cut between any period from late-sixties China to modern-day London smoothly and effortlessly.” In contrast, the VR scenes appear extraordinarily sharp – a factor of being filmed with ARRI’s spherical DNA range. “Technically, they are a bit purer, which was an advantage to the VFX team who needed to produce some very complex environments in the VR world.” The VR world, which was engineered by extraterrestrials in the story, takes the player from the Shang dynasty in China to Tudor England to post-apocalyptic deserts. These were filmed against a large 180° wall consisting of ARRI SkyPanel LEDs filtered through and hidden behind a Rosco scrim. “We spent a long time developing ideas for how to shoot these imaginary worlds,” explains Richard Donnelly, ISC,

who also shot episodes 1 and 2, joining the project a little later after shooting The Nevers . “Our board operators could control any kind of colour we wanted. It was fantastic as it enabled us to light the actors as we wanted to, for instance with the sun rising, instead of it being led by VFX. We augmented the set with many other lights, but that wall was us lighting the actors. It’s almost the reverse of volumetric capture in which you use plates filmed on location to light the live action. Here, it was the other way around.” For example, a scene set in a VR desert in episode 2 introduces the AI child character Follower and the concept of dehydration. The characters hide under a rock to escape the rising sun. Donnelly lit the scene with the wall and a ceiling rig of Vortex lights. “All the long shadows are real. It’s almost like shooting back in the forties where you’re creating all these shadows in camera on-set and it’s not a heavy FX world.” Swedish cinematographer Martin Ahlgren, ASC ( The Plot Against America ) lensed the three-episode block following Freeman and Donnelly. This included the startling scene in episode 5 in which a container ship and everyone onboard is silently ripped to shreds by ‘nanofibers’.

VAST LANDSCAPES The contrast between sharp and soft lensing allowed the creators to flit between different periods and realities




“It needed a lot of figuring out from a storytelling perspective; how to build up the mystery of what was being done, then also revealing it happening as well as finding the right level of detail.” A storyboard artist designed ‘some gruesome ways to be sliced’, but the showrunners and director Minkie Spiro dialled that down. “We’re setting it up for a shockingly violent way to die, but letting the imagination do the rest,” he says. This scene, in keeping with the rest of the series, stretches the boundaries of our known physical world, rooting the fantastical elements in some level of scientific understanding. Ahlgren plotted camera moves for the scene using LED pixel tape before moving to the backlot where production design had built a large, to-scale section of the tanker – complete with a helicopter pad. “The idea is that the nanofiber technology is cutting at a molecular level, WE HAD TO FIGURE OUT at what speed THE NANOFIBER WOULD MOVE in relation to the ship ”

SETTING THE SCENE Creating the right balance of mystery and revelation was key in depicting shocking scenes such as the gory nanofiber attack, and the VR game world’s eerie uncanniness

so unless gravity is doing something to the object or person, we don’t show its effect. We show cutting paper and when the ship hits the bank of the canal it topples like a stack of plates, but the technology itself is not revealed. “We had to figure out at what speed the nanofiber would move, in relation to the ship’s movement and that of the camera. We decided that it moves slowly enough for someone to run away from it

if they can, and that becomes a big part of the drama.” The series was shot at Shepperton Studios over nine months, ending in August 2022. Most was filmed in England using locations in and around London, as well as in Portsmouth, Kent, Oxford, Sussex and Bedfordshire. Other locations included a mountain ridge near Cáceres in Spain, site of the Chinese radar station, and Cape Canaveral in Florida. Director Derek Tsang ( Better Days ), a Chinese native, had drawn on his own experiences of hearing stories about people who lived through the Cultural Revolution in order to picture the series’ opening scenes. “His own memory of that time period is from images that are shot on Ektachrome,” says Freeman. “We opted not to go full Ektachrome in our look since that would give us bright primary colours and everything else would be muted. We go in between to yield that period feeling, pulling back on the primaries, but without becoming a distraction for the rest of the story that follows.”





Insights & innovations lighting up the world of production THE LIGHT FANTASTIC




A nyone who’s bought a light in the last few years might have concluded that the LED revolution has reached a point of maturity. However, people who have bought two lights during that time, especially if they’re from different manufacturers, might have identified some issues that need to be addressed. And anyone applying that technology to virtual production will be painfully aware of how difficult it can be to get any two things to look the same colour. Jon Miller is vice-chair of the Lighting Committee from the ASC’s Motion Imaging Technology Council, an organisation well-placed to help out. He describes the state of the art as pretty capable: “Most fixtures which are five-channel have come up with a combination of LED sources, whether that’s RGB plus warm and cool white, phosphor-converted reds, amber and cyan; whatever that combination is, you now get high-quality colour. Yes, there’s still an opportunity to keep iterating on that. There were once quite a few LED fixtures which were not achieving both full-spectrum white light and saturated colour at the level I thought necessary to be useful on films. But we have crossed that threshold, I think. “Now it’s really a question of control, and allowing the user to exploit that hardware,” Miller proposes. “I think the issues became clear around 2018, as the real onrush of multi-chip LEDs became widely adopted across film and TV products. It became clear that not only were there issues with matching, there are now ways to do something about it. With two white light emitters, there weren’t many levers to pull, so there wasn’t much interest in addressing it. Now fixtures can match others.” It’s clear, though, that this sort of initiative doesn’t need to keep anyone from exploring the outer edges of a light’s capabilities. “End users can choose to go beyond the matching abilities and use them for other things,” Miller confirms. “We’re not a standards committee, so these would all be best-practice-type documents, but we’re addressing three challenges. There’s a colour science subcommittee to figure out which is the most practical and useful colour space recommendation. Then we have

integrated systems, which look at virtual production, but overall their remit is control systems. The last one is education and outreach. The issue is that, frankly, it’s going to take years to roll out across the industry and for people to understand it.” To date, much of the committee’s work has been behind the scenes, but Miller expects to see more public engagement soon. “We have a bit of an iceberg problem with the committee: it’s all happening under the surface. The education and outreach part is where hopefully you’ll start to see some movement in the next 18 months. Despite the fact a lot of work has been done, it’s been done internally. Everyone involved is a volunteer – and the R&D schedules of manufacturers represent a not- insubstantial investment.” That creates a complex situation, which has only recently started to see solutions. Anyone with a need for advanced colour control in 2024 might consider the technology that’s being applied to virtual production, bringing post-production tools to the lighting department. Mazze Aderhold handles product design and worldwide support for Assimilate’s Live FX, which makes it possible for background plates, 3D rendered scenes and lighting effects to interact with huge flexibility for both technical and creative adjustments. “You can flag your video clip with a colour space, and you can also flag your display output that goes to an LED wall, and Live FX will convert from one to the other – and it’s the same for individual lights, which can be tagged

Phil Rhodes takes a look at the challenges & solutions for achieving LED colour control







PIXEL PERFECT Assimilate’s Live FX creates live composites for every manner of virtual production deployments

with a colour space,” Aderhold explains. “We support all the colour spaces and transfer functions of every manufacturer, and all the standardised ones. That’s a pure technical conversion that doesn’t include tone mapping. It’ll be technically correct, but won’t look great out of the box. To make it look the way the DOP wants, Live FX ships with all the colour grading tools in the world.” Similar things are possible for Image- Based Lighting, with the software capable of understanding the behaviour of individual lighting devices. Both Miller and Aderhold concur on the idea that lighting might soon begin to implement the same sort of colour standards used in video. It’s been particularly relevant to Assimilate’s work, as Aderhold reflects: “We’ve been doing video for the last 20 years, and went into the lighting business... now all our video stuff is being requested for lighting purposes.” Standardising communications, then, has never been more necessary – and given the huge range of ways in which lighting devices are built, it’s essential that lighting manufacturers observe standards, since it isn’t practical for control applications to assume full external control of the hardware. “When you get into lights which have amber, lime and cyan LEDs in them, we can’t possibly do the mathematics to go from RGB to RGBACL because we have no idea about the electronics in all those fixtures,” Aderhold states. “We send RGB data to the fixture and the manufacturer

takes this and does the mathematics to control the amber, cyan and lime light emitters from that. The image content we’re playing back to a wall or a light is all RGB-based anyway, and you have to calculate a white, a cyan, an amber and a lime colour from that at some point in the pipeline. But the light manufacturer knows best how to do that.” In practical circumstances, gaffers may prefer an approach based on hue, saturation and value, which separates brightness from colour so that the overall brightness of the light can be controlled independently. This is, Aderhold says, still a work progress. “We’re not yet 100% sure precisely what is expected. Many fixtures have a dedicated dimmer channel to make them brighter or darker. We also have the RGB gains and a master gain… if I have RGB data and I dial down the master gain, it probably doesn’t just get darker, it might also appear more or less saturated – that’s what we need to separate from each other.” For now, software like Live FX seems likely to remain the answer, for the simple reason that it provides such a rich toolset. “You get the tools from post for live virtual production,” Aderhold continues. “You can dial in a sunset look or do crazy stuff like a sky replacement – if the director doesn’t like the sky, you can go ahead and put in a new one. Or key certain colours, desaturate just the reds because they pop too much, or make a particular colour pop a little more because it should.”

The result will be a blurring of concerns which were once distinct. It might also mean more computer horsepower on- set in order to handle real-time video effects. “It just depends on what you are doing,” Aderhold suggests. “A primary grade – colder, warmer, whatever – that’s background noise to the GPU even at higher resolutions. As soon as you key something and want to blur your key, you really need something beefy. “It’s where the industry is moving towards,” Aderhold concludes. “The difference between video walls and lighting starts to blur massively, and that’s not only in the way you drive those things, but also in the nomenclature. Gaffers are now asking to colour manage their lighting set-up – they want to use their own RGB matrices or load 3D LUTs onto fixtures. It turns out all our video stuff is becoming more and more relevant in the lighting world.” YOU CAN EVEN DIAL IN a sunset look, OR CRAZY STUFF LIKE sky replacement ”







Tim Kang Principal engineer

A panel of industry experts examine the latest developments and consider what could be next

for imaging applications, Aputure Raphael Kiesel Senior vice president, business unit lighting, ARRI Group Sascha Jazbinsek Head of innovation, SUMOLIGHT

Definition: From your perspective, what recent advancements in lighting technology do you believe hold the most promise for enhancing film production? Raphael Kiesel: The efficiency of a production is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, future lighting solutions must include technologies that increase efficiency for the whole production. This affects pre-production (eg improving planning with a digital twin), the production itself (eg moving heads) and post-production (eg the availability of lighting fixture metadata). Dave Amphlett: Lightweight, portable and battery-powered fixtures continue to enable both speed and flexibility in the workflow. For example, Rodlight’s Spectron Series of inflatable LED tubes are ultra lightweight and feature a CCT range of 2000-20,000K, perfectly embodying these technology advances. Control and the granularity of the control that fixtures offer also continues to advance. In particular, pixel mapping and sector control enhance the effects fixtures can produce and allow for subtle, nuanced design opportunities such as cloud effects or colour-temperature graduation. The scope offered by IP control through networks will be increasingly essential to enable levels of control that aren’t possible with DMX. Tim Kang: At time of writing, we can now create living and interactive lighting environments, not just simple set- ups. The most recent advancement in lighting tech is not just new toys, but a new fundamental philosophy and perspective on our craft. Since co-founding the American Society of Cinematographers’ Motion Imaging

Technology Council (ASC MITC) Lighting Committee in 2019, I have advocated for the motion picture lighting industry’s adoption of the CGI rendering lighting technique known as Image-Based Lighting (IBL). This well-established virtual lighting technique uses calibrated photographic colour information to generate subject and environment lighting. VP popularised IBL as a method to motivate light with LED displays. I have tried to clarify IBL to the production world to mean: a fundamental lighting philosophy that uses any image, like a pattern painted live or a light card, as a lighting source, and a lighting control methodology that employs an entire environment of lighting fixtures, not merely displays, to generate IBL onto a scene. Via technical specification research, standards body work participation, public seminars, manufacturer lighting product development and educational training, we have developed clear technical steps to turn lighting fixtures into colour-accurate and video-driven lighting pixels. Upon this foundation, the entire craft of entertainment lighting can formally shift its mindset from pixel mapping as a live entertainment effect towards physically – and accurately – executing creatively intentional lighting environments and concepts. Sascha Jazbinsek: IBL, in its broad sense, has yet to reach its full potential. Small studios are continually evolving by combining video walls or back- projection with IBL fixtures. There appears to be a demand for ICVFX (in-camera visual effects), but to truly cut costs, productions often opt for these smaller set-ups for specific scenes rather than shooting entire movies or TV shows in

Dave Amphlett Technical

director, Panalux




BRIGHT FUTURE IBL is a VFX technique which uses photographic colour data to accurately emulate real-world lighting

large VP studios. I’m confident that many creative individuals will utilise it in ways that will further drive the development of new technologies. The standardisation of workflows and metrics is making this complex technology easier to use in the future, thus making it more accessible. Reflective lighting, which is highly popular, has led to a demand for very narrow-beam fixtures, specifically based on modern multi-emitter fixtures. In the realm of underwater lighting, which is a niche market with limited volume, technological advancements have not yet been widely adopted. Many fixtures still rely on standard designs housed in waterproof enclosures. However, we have developed a solution that maintains full functionality underwater without compromising performance. Also, batteries, particularly large ones, are already impacting

productions and will continue to do so. Powerful LED lights exceeding 3kW and having an IP65 rating are on the horizon. Def: As virtual production continues to gain momentum, how do you envisage lighting technology evolving to meet the unique demands of this approach? DA: Colour changing, white tracking, remote focus and zoom, control levels to finesse the calibre of the ambient

light quality – essentially everything that is required to get across the credibility chasm when working on a virtual set – will all contribute to the ease of operation in these environments. RK: Besides enabling more creativity, the goal of virtual production is to facilitate efficiency. To meet the demand of virtual production, lighting fixtures must be integrable in a system, ie together with cameras and LED walls. The required technologies go hand in hand with the recent advancement for increased efficiency on-set, which is why lighting tech should evolve in this direction. SJ: As we’ve discovered since we began developing the SUMOSKY system for Image-Based Lighting (IBL) in 2021, synchronising dynamic content with video walls was just the

BESIDES creativity , THE GOAL OF VP IS TO facilitate efficiency ”




THE ABILITY TO light by eye AND express creativity IS PARAMOUNT”

TK: Virtual production forced lighting and LED display manufacturers to define and solve the technical requirements for accurately reproducing video colours as light. Solutions must keep developing to enable both spectrally and colorimetrically accurate lighting environments. Colour communication standards must be followed by lighting control applications and fixtures alike to ensure the seamless transfer of dreams to photons. Moreover, just as IBL developed in the CGI world to also describe how photons spatially disperse within virtual spaces to light them, lighting fixture IBL standards and hardware solutions need to follow suit. Significant development must take place for dynamically controlling a scene’s complete volumetric field of light, not just its spectral composition

beginning. There’s still a considerable amount of communication required among stakeholders to fully unlock the potential of this technology. To bridge this gap, lighting manufacturers must equip primary users such as DOPs and gaffers with tools that enable creative lighting while ensuring consistent colour management throughout the entire production process, from shooting to final grading. Providing the ability to light by eye and express creativity without needing to grasp the intricacies of post- production workflows is paramount. Lighting tools should be user-friendly for both colourists and the lighting department alike. Automating fixture addressing when dealing with numerous fixtures enhances efficiency. Calibration of light sources is essential; simplifying this further will yield even better results.

and colour. The variables of optical dispersion, fall-off and output angle need a clear communication mechanism for successful control by IBL. Def: How do you see sustainability playing a role in the future of lighting for film production, and what steps can the industry take to further responsibility should be supported by everybody. Besides that, using energy- efficient lighting fixtures decreases the reliance on energy and cost. Also, the durability, serviceability and long lifetime of products helps to reduce electronic waste. However, to further push sustainability, stricter regulations are an important lever – as other industries already show. SJ: Batteries are increasingly prevalent on film sets, both small and large. They are already replacing diesel- powered generators in many instances; simplifying energy distribution in the process. The adoption of LEDs has inherently eliminated safety concerns integrate eco-friendly practices? RK: Social and environmental

EVER-CHANGING VP continues to grow, pushing lighting companies to keep developing



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