Hi everyone! Welcome to a quick blog post about the lighting in The Evil Principal Svint and the Quest for the Lost Knowledge.
This is a children's short I gaffed in 2018. The film was shot with the help of children from 4 different schools in rural Trøndelag, Norway. It was a mini-crew of 5 where I was both gaffer and when I had the time, camera assistant. For this film I had to create effect lighting that would go with a VFX beam coming from the evil principal's knowledge sucking machine.
Director: Ida H. Eldøen. Cinematographer: Stian Eriksen
Feel free to skip around in the post depending on what interests you. The full film isn't out online yet, but I have included some video excerpts.
You don't need much for some fairly good looking inserts. These are a part of the establishing shot sequence.
The flag is simulating the light being cut off by a window somewhere to the left, giving a nice shadow on the wall
Breakdown of the first scene
Check out the video for the final result.
The master shot:
We can see that the direction of the sun is from the left, wrapped around alongside camera left to light the teacher fairly evenly. The highlight on the gray lockers camera left of the teacher was a happy little accident that we decided to keep. More on that later.
As you can see the actual direction of the sun is almost opposite of the direction in the film. We had the sun shooting through the windows changing direction throughout the day. Since we were shooting there all day and wanted consistent lighting I blocked out the direct sunlight with a T-bar and flag. Now only the ambient light is let into the room and we can have the sun come from anywhere. The 1200W HMI to the right is "my sun" and is filling a diffusion frame, and also spilling the hightlight on the back wall that we saw earlier. The light next to the flag is an 1000W Tungsten fixture with full CTB gel.
Here we see the same shot but from the inside. The 1kW tungsten light is giving the teacher and kids a subtle hairlight separating them from the background, while the Skypanel is extending the "sunlight" to light the teacher's face nicely. The small flag is there to reduce the light from the Skypanel on the actors camera left, so that the teacher is brighter since he is the focus in this shot. I wish we had a stronger HMI to give the scene some more contrast and a brighter light-"blob" on those back shelves.
Not much work was needed. For this closeup think I moved the 1200W one window closer to the camera, and moved the SkyPanel with frame closer as well. Might have used the 1kW for the light streak on the back wall.
Enhancing the VFX
The Principal's machine fires an orange beam that lights up the room. I thought the beam would be a lot more unstable, which is the reason for the flickering. Also flickering as opposed to a slow pulses makes the scene more chaotic, which I think is desirable here. But seeing the finished result I think flickering between 100% and 60% would have worked better than the occasional 0% seen in the clips.
A challenge was insering a light motivated by the beam, so it lights up both the principal, his target and the surroundings. Ideally a chinaball or a RGB LED tube in the middle of the shot between them would have been ideal for lighting, but we would have had to remove them in post, which would have been difficult.
Tada! I present to you the abomination that is a home-made grid. If you wonder what a real grid looks like, here are some examples.
Now WHY did I spend my free time making this fragile afwul looking piece of DIY lighting control equipment. Well imagine the light without it. The SkyPanel is a softlight so the beam spreads out almost 180 degrees. That means that the evil principal would have gotten spill light from it and it would have lit him up from the top. Now that makes no sense, the machine isn't on top of him, it's in front of him. So I had to stop the light from hitting him from above. To sell the effect even better we probably should have put another SkyPanel camera right in a Master-Slave configuration (so they are synronized) to also light up the evil principal. We can see this in the close-ups. The flashing effect was achieved by manually dimming the light quickly, as we didn't have any DMX controls.
A bit too much smoke in that shot. We can see the SkyPanel lighting up the smoke giving away its direction. Also it's just hard to see.
Think principal Svint looks weirdly lit? It's on purpose. He is a scary cartoon villain after all. Really important to not light shots like these from the front. That would have flattened his face and made him look more "normal".
Dolly-Shot through hallway?
I read somewhere once that any hallway (even this boring no-set-dressing school interior) looks more interesting if you just put a big light at the end of it. After testing this I agree.
Low budget character transformation
How do you transform a character into a monster at almost no budget? Easy: The oldest trick in the book! Have a look :)
This is: Turn off roof lights in tune with the music, have one light pointing at the roof, and one at him. Whack their brightness on the lights randomly. Looking at the freezeframe I think it would have beel cooler if I kept him in silhoutte more, but I'm still very happy with the execution of this sequence.
Quick dramatic montage
In this shot the kids are dressing up their Arts&Crafts teacher as their P.E. teacher (this is revealed later) so he will get shot by Svint again. We shot this quickly in the same sports hall as the rest of the sports hall shots. Setup is simply two SkyPanels positioned so that they rimlight the objects in frame. Sometimes bringing in a diffusion frame to soften one of them. Since the room was so big we didn't have a problem with light bounce. And if we did, I would have setup a T-bar or two to suck up most of the light.
Light emitting from beam done right
Remember when I said we couldn't just put a light where the beam is, because we couldn't have it in the shot? Well in this stationary shot with lots of space in-between we could! Then the post production team replaced the lights with a static plate (picture of the background from the same point). Looks pretty good eh? The SkyPanels are put back-to-back pointing in opposite directions. With a completely round source we would have avoided the ground being unevenly lit.
Some bonus shots I'm happy with
For once Principal Svint is lit rather nicely. But we are still keeping the contrast high. I think this is a SkyPanel through a thick diffusion frame. Coupled with my small LED daylight balanced fresnel for that hairlight/kicker.
I don't remember why we gelled the SkyPanel and Kino-Flo with CTO for this shot. The SkyPanels can make most colors with the Hue wheel. Maybe it had something to do with brightness being higher in color temperature mode. Or the CRI being higher. You tell me?
Very simple reaction shot. It's just a SkyPanel (with CTO?) blasting away on manual dimmer. No other lights but I think it works.
For this shot I don't remember and can't find bts. But looking at the eyes we can see the reflection from two lights. One key and one fill. The key might be a double-diffused 1200W HMI or SkyPanel because it looks exceptionally soft. If I had had more time I probably would have added a backlight/hairlight as well,.
The shape of the reflection in his camera-right eye makes me think this is a SkyPanel up close as a key. Then we have some red spill from Principal Svint's gun (a gelled SkyPanel), and possibly a window? reflected in his camera-left eye giving that blue fill. If you'd like to see these last shots in sequence, I uploaded the clips here.
I hope you enjoyed this breakdown! The full film isn't out yet and maybe it's for the better because there are a lot of uninteresting shots there as well. Typical light setup time between each shot was 5-15 minutes, with more time for rigging between each scene.
Feel free to follow me on Instagram @tonivuc to see more lighting breakdowns!
I'm a freelance gaffer. I also do basic grip work.