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Some Gear Advice for a Small Set

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Jesse Schutt
Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jun 30, 2009 at 11:32:55 pm

Hello All.

First off, thanks for the many helpful posts! I have already been learning a ton from all of you.

I am the media specialist at a year-round camp. I video and photograph mostly outdoor activities and have not had a real big need for lighting. However, a project has come up that I need some help with.

What would you recommend I need to light a small set (5ft to 8ft across) for a host and several puppets. The set will be along the lines of a Sesame Street or Muppet type where there will be one person who is primarily stationary who will be interacting with one or two puppets. It may be an office scene, living room, as well as other areas in a home. We are not planning on any natural light.

Even some ballpark suggestions would be helpful.

Much Appreciated!

Jesse


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Michael Palmer
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 12:12:09 am

Do you have any thing available to you to start with? Are you renting or purchasing the lights? Do you have budget concerns?

Most of the posts here come from those how need suggestions to produce good lighting on a shoestring.

Before I toss out my 2 cents I'd like to hear a little more info.



Good Luck
Michael Palmer


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Jesse Schutt
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 1:12:36 am

Michael,

Thanks for the response!

Here is what I have so far. I have two Lowel V-Lights, stands, an umbrella, and gel holder. I also have a Lowel Rifa ex44 Softbox and stand.

I am open to renting or purchasing, but I live in the middle of nowhere and I am not sure if I could find any rentals nearby.

The budget has yet to be set, so I am looking to learn what would be the optimal setup and work down from that point.

Let me know if you need any more information!

Jesse


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Michael Palmer
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 3:18:28 am

I should have asked is this 1 camera or more?

You have may enough light with these 3 units. Try using the softbox 45 degrees to one side of camera and the lowel with a light diffusion from the oposite side of camera for back light and use the umbrella for fill if needed from between camera and softbox. Not sure what your back ground will be, but with puppets its really about proformance and not the envirnment or set, however a few fresnels would be nice for the BG. Some Arri 300/650 would do nicely.

This is basic and it works for what you have. I'm sure other pros here can give you more ideas and opinions to help. Very creative people here.

If you have a few bucks for lights then look into some small fresnels (650) AND SOME C-STANDS AND FLAGS to control these lights. And make sure your back light is up high enough to edge these puppets and it will make it easier to cut out of the camera lens.


OK someone eleses turn!!!!

Good Luck
Michael Palmer


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Dennis Size
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 3:20:59 am

How many cameras? Angles?
Audience?
Power and/or AC issues?

DS



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Mark Suszko
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 3:44:10 am

Well I'm not an award-winning LD, but that list is close to what I use most every day, so I'll take my crack at it and you can take it or not for what it cost you. Unlike people who respond to limited-resource questions with a shopping list of unobtainables, I will restrict myself to what you listed. Plus some locally-available low-cost stuff.

I hate v-lights, myself, the only Lowel product I don't like. They are good to shine up into a ceiling or at a wall just to raise the overall light level or get a diffused bounce that way, but I have never had good luck using them to light anything directly, they're harsh unless modified with a gel holder and lots of diffusion, or incorporated into a softbox setup. And that's probably what I'd do with them: build a softbox for each one. I know it sounds crazy, but you can build an effective softbox with just gaffer tape and foam core and a sheet of diffusion. There's more to it, I stole the recipe from Bill Holshevnikoff

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=bill+holshevnikoff+power+of+lighting+s...

and I can give details later if needed.

I would use the Rifa as the key for your human stand-up talent, a spare light stand or mic stand or even a chair and clamp, with a sheet of white paper or crinkled-foil-covered foam core or cardboard attached to it on the side opposite the Rifa as fill, and the two v-lights in softboxes directed onto the set proper and the puppets from opposite 45-degree angles to start, adjust to taste as well as to control unwanted shadows or double-shadows.

If the set needs backlights, on a zero-base budget, I'd use the silly little 7-dollar silver dome clamp-on PARs from the hardware store (the ones that look like little chicken incubators) and try to find bulbs in a color temperature that wasn't too far off.

With this setup, an issue may be controlling spill; with money, you control that with grids attached to the fronts of the soft boxes. But I do that with more stands, and sheets of black posterboard or black foamcore. You definitely can get to the point where you create a forest of stands for all this stuff, limiting your camera movement, so that is a concern. But if this is classic puppet show stuff like Mister Rogers or Kukla, Fran, and Ollie stuff, your camera is mostly from just the front with one locked-off in a wide shot and one camera panning back and forth for tight close-ups on whoever is the key performer(s) at each moment, so you can block out your stands and tripods to suit this. Using a 2x4 and clamps, you might be able to fly some of the lights from above, eliminating some stands from the shots, but be very careful doing anything like this. Also, FORGET using PVC pipe for lighting grids.

Foam core sheets are pretty cheap, and available many places, but if they are not available, cardboard, glue, and heavy white printer or typing paper or sheets of balled-up and re-smoothed cooking foil will do. Remember; it doesn't matter how ugly your lashed-up instrumentation looks, as long as it is safe and controllable, and as long as what the LENS sees looks good.




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Rick Wise
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 4:22:09 pm

Mark, your post is right to the point for people working on zero budgets.

Rick Wise
director of photography
San Francisco Bay Area
and part-time instructor lighting and camera
grad school, SF Academy of Art University/Film and Video
http://www.RickWiseDP.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/rwise
email: Rick@RickWiseDP.com


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Mark Suszko
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 4:30:09 pm

Rick, thanks for the nice words, "zero" is all they ever GIVE me: if they ever gave me a fully-stocked lighting truck, I wouldn't know what to DO with it:-)

I've made my peace with that, and I look at it as the lighting equivalent of haiku poetry, where the thrill is in working creatively within very narrow restrictions.

But I'll admit it makes my work often look very one-note, as the saying goes: "When all you have to work with is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail".


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Rick Wise
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 8:20:04 pm

Mark, it may well be that you wouldn't know what to do with a full truck of lighting gear. But you'd figure it out pretty quickly. In the mean time, you can make many different notes with even one instrument. Haiku is great.

Rick Wise
director of photography
San Francisco Bay Area
and part-time instructor lighting and camera
grad school, SF Academy of Art University/Film and Video
http://www.RickWiseDP.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/rwise
email: Rick@RickWiseDP.com


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Dennis Size
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 8:52:42 pm

Wow..... are there actually people who can afford a full truck of lighting gear anymore? :-)

DS



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Alan Lloyd
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 3:35:30 pm

Jesse - this may be well outside your puppet range, and quite possibly price range, but go have a look at some of the "interior" stuff on http://www.transylvania-tv.com. The set is considerably larger, there are no human interactors, and the show has no connection whatsoever to the "real world", but lighting puppets is something I do know about from experience.

You'll definitely want a good rim light. The director there like it really "butch", and is also pushing the show to go more noir-style for the future.

We are using quite an assortment of instruments and controls there, obviously, and while it's not perfect (it is a weekend "pet project" for a group of us) it does make good use of puppets.

Oh, it's shot film-style.


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Jesse Schutt
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 1, 2009 at 3:43:53 pm

Hey! Great stuff everyone!

Let me see if I can answer some of the questions. This would be a two camera shoot, most likely in HD with Canon XH-A1's. As was mentioned before, I would anticipate a fairly static wide shot with the second camera in tight for close ups. That camera would probably be of to the side left and/or right for the tight shots.

Again, the amount of motion is fairly small from the puppets and actors.

If you'd like to see an example of a prior video from this client, check out the intro on this page - http://www.hairyandcompany.com/go/funstuff/video/ I didn't shoot this and it was done about 6-8 years ago. But it should give an idea of the set and puppets.

I would really appreciate the top end suggestions as well as the minimalistic approach. I have very little background in lighting this type of stuff. I have done basic talking head lighting with varied success.

Thanks again everyone!


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Bill Davis
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 2, 2009 at 6:52:53 am

Here's my 2 cents.

You have two primary issues. Set lighting and character lighting.

Let's start with set lighting. You'll need enough overall illumination to expose the whole frame accurately. Your Lowel V-lights while not ideal, should do an OK job of this. As others suggested, NEVER use them directly pointed at the scene. Reflect them off something. A white ceiling is good. A couple of 4x4 sheets of white foamcore is also OK. (the formcore is angled toward the scene, the V-lights are then aimed AWAY from the scene but directly at the formcore which reflects the light directly back toward the scene, creating overall soft illumination for everything. This will be "flat" lighting with little talent or character dimension.

So next up in character lighting.

Again as others have noted, your softbox can serve as your keylight for the human talent. What really remains is to make the other "stars" of the show - the puppets - pop. I'd consider buying as many small fresnel lights as you can afford. You don't need anything big. Arri 150's or similar would do fine. These are under $150 a fixture and there are a LOT of them in use, so you might be able to find them used. They're light and easy to rig on cheap stands or clamped to virtually anything. Ideally, you'd want two of these per character on stage. One as a character key - one as a back or rim light. Used with cheap Harbor Freight dimmers, you can control the intensity of the key verses the rim light for each character. The fact that they're fresnels will let you use them directly on the characters "faces" to make them stand out of the overall scene.

What you want is a decent overall light level with the characters standing out as the brightest elements of the scene - each with a rim light to provide separation from the background.

One more note. whoever chose the black shiny drape for the "stage" background clearly didn't understand video. It's a giant light sink with nasty sparkles. I'd replace that first.

Let us know how things come out.





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Jesse Schutt
Re: Some Gear Advice for a Small Set
on Jul 6, 2009 at 3:13:29 pm

Guys!

Thanks so much for all the helpful advice. I will refer back to this thread as I move forward.

It sounds like I can pull this off with a few additional fresnels and some reflecting material.

I really appreciate the tips!

Jesse


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