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Lighting Actors from a Fixed Point of Light in a Moving Shot

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Jamie HarrisLighting Actors from a Fixed Point of Light in a Moving Shot
by on Jan 30, 2014 at 8:52:33 am

Hi guys,

So for my final year video project at University, I want to create a narrative piece that is about the aftermath of an apocalypse that never happened. Whether it be a close encounter with an asteroid, or a 'Planet X' type situation, a la Melancholia, I want to feature a flashback nighttime scene, starring a number of actors, whereby the anomaly is visible from the Earth's surface and casts an intense light, comparable to a second sun, although blue-white in hue.

The scene would be comprised of, say, no more than 10 shots, but most of the shots would contain some kind of movement, both from the camera and the actors. In some shots, the anomaly would be directly visible, so I would have to create a 3D object to place in the scene. In others, I'd just have to light the scene as per the kind of light that the anomaly casts.

I realise that I'm talking largely in generalisations, but I'm a relative newcomer to After Effects. Would something like this be possible? I've got 6-9 months before I even have to start pre-production on the project, so plenty of time to better familiarise myself with the program.


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Matt DavisRe: Lighting Actors from a Fixed Point of Light in a Moving Shot
by on Jan 30, 2014 at 5:00:36 pm

In general terms there are several techniques that jump to mind that you might use.

For me, I'd likely use a mix of lighting effects in AFX and practical lighting on set. Rather than have a lighting effect created in AFX, why not have a real light? Especially since you plan on having movement from the actors and camera. That way your light source is fixed throughout your scenes. Just be careful that you don't create shadows with your camera person or turn too far around and see the light on the stand. Unless you have a plan for that.

You'll also likely want to do some green screen and/or sky replacement to get the shots with the anomaly off in the distance.

For the anomaly itself there any number of techniques that might give you an interesting effect, depending on what you're looking for and how far off and big this thing is supposed to be.

Sounds like a fun project.

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Darby EdelenRe: Lighting Actors from a Fixed Point of Light in a Moving Shot
by on Jan 30, 2014 at 10:32:04 pm

[Matt Davis] "Rather than have a lighting effect created in AFX, why not have a real light?"

In general I agree with Matt's suggestion. It's far too complicated to try and create a light source entirely in post. If you have a light source to begin with then you get all of the natural play of light/shadow on the scene and you also have the flexibility of modifying the light properties in post (making it more intense, adding a color cast, etc.)

However, in your particular case it may be difficult to pull this off shooting at night. It sounds like your light source is intended to be hundreds of miles away. It is easy for even casual viewers to tell the difference between the light and shadows that a close light casts vs. a distant light.

My suggestion would be to do some experiments shooting this during the daytime and using the Sun as your "anomaly." If you underexpose a bit and color correct in AE you could probably get a decent day-for-night.

For the shots of the anomaly I might not shoot directly at the sun; that'd be way too bright to meaningfully color correct. Instead try positioning your talent so that the light looks correct and the sun is just out of frame. Alternatively if the Sun/Anomaly don't cross any of the foreground elements you may be able to remove it entirely in AE when doing your sky replacement.

This'd probably look best just after dawn or before dusk as well for the more dramatic lighting, but that's a stylistic choice for the director to make :)

No guarantees the above will work (that's why I recommend testing!) but it's the first thing that came to mind.

Darby Edelen

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