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Wednesday, 05 January 2011 19:29

LIGHTING Makes a Splash

Written by  John Law
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LightCol_3Director/Cinematographer Ben Dolphin has plenty of experience working in extreme conditions, such as shooting underwater in limestone caves in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula for Televisa. And although he’s an expert in Unilux lighting, HD cameras and high-speed Photo-Sonics, he ironically faced an extreme challenge while shooting his short film ARISING on a Cine Magic soundstage in his own backyard: New York City. With a premiere on Hulu and iTunes, and screenings at various international festivals, Dolphin’s beautifully lit film features nine near-naked dancers flying, diving and dancing through an 8-foot-wide waterfall.

“Any time you’re shooting with a combination of water and a lot of lights, you have extreme conditions,” reports Dolphin, who also conceived, choreographed, produced and co-edited the film. “It was quite physically dangerous for the dancers because I was shooting at 1000 fps with three [Vision Research] Phantom HD cameras –– and sometimes at up to 1500 fps, and it gets very slippery. I also had a lot of 4-inch foam padding off-camera to protect [the dancers]. Even so, we needed spotters to stop them from crashing into the equipment and all the big hot lights.”

LightCol_4Lighting the mid-air choreography effectively presented additional challenges that required Dolphin to use “extremely powerful” units for the lighting package. “When you’re shooting at very high speeds, you lose a tremendous amount of light because of the short interval the sensor is impacted with the image and the extremely short exposure times in the photography,” notes Dolphin. “The actual exposure time is so brief; the quantity of light must be great. So in order to get a high f-stop, with the depth of field I needed to capture a whole human body traveling through space, I might have to cover 10 feet of focus. To create deep focus at high speed, I produced a huge amount of light in order for the Phantom cameras to deliver that kind of image with deep focus.”

For the event, Dolphin deployed the kind of extreme firepower that would normally suffice to light an entire city block –– all set up within a 10-foot-square area. He used a mix of 6K and 12K ARRI HMIs, along with Mole-Richardson Mini Brutes and 20Ks, and two 7K and one 2K Xenon lights that were all rented from Xeno Lights with the order augmented by Feature Systems in New York City. “The heat was tremendous on stage, but luckily the dancers were diving through a waterfall, which kept them cool and also from being burned,” recalls Dolphin.

To help the performers achieve the required velocity and height, Dolphin used a mini-trampoline. “They could launch themselves through the air and then sail right through the waterfall,” he explains. “Even so, it was extremely challenging for them and they really had to trust one another, as they were literally blinded by all the intense lights. The entire environment was all black, because that’s the way you control your contrast, except for these blinding lights. So the dancers were flying blind.”

Dolphin, whose resume includes lighting Broadway shows, dance concerts and museums, as well as TV spots for HBO, Coca-Cola, Heineken and Tylenol, says that the film turned out just as he’d originally envisioned it. “It was an extreme concept to attempt but we pulled it off and got a great look,” he says. And Dolphin’s next venture may be just as extreme: “[It’s called] ‘3D Underwater High Speed with Green Screen,’ so wish me luck!”

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