DP Anghel Decca, whose credits include the pilots for HBO’s “Entourage” and TNT’s “Witchblade,” reports that his first HDTV project was Midnight Bayou, a film for Lifetime. His second HD shoot is Ben 10: Alien Swarm, a TV movie based on the popular Cartoon Network show. “It’s aimed at a bit older audience than the series, so all the characters are in their late teens and drive fast cars, and find aliens,” says Decca. “It’s fast-paced with very intense visuals, and the big challenge of shooting and lighting an HDTV show is making it look like film as much as possible. And in this, we also had a mix of live and CG characters, so it was very important to deliver very detailed, consistent footage to the postproduction for all the visual effects work, so they could do very clean compositing.”
Ben 10 was shot on location in Atlanta over some five weeks. “[We shot] scenes at the Atlanta Aquarium, which is this beautiful, modern building, and a lot of night exterior scenes” notes Decca, who shot the movie with the Sony F23. “[The F23] came out about 18 months ago so it’s a fairly new camera, and people have been learning how to use them and discovering their full potential. With the 2/3-inch chip, it comes pretty close to film, though not as close as the [Panavision] Genesis or the newer Sony F35. The main difference from film is that they have a little too much depth of field, so I have to light everything for less depth of field. Otherwise, I light it pretty much the same as I would if I was shooting film, and tried to consistently get the T-stop between 2.5 and 2.8, so I get a limited depth of field and get more of a 35mm look.”
For night exteriors, Decca used ARRI 18Ks and 12Ks. “I’d [also] have three or four Condors most of the times, so I’d use a lot of those lights spread around,” he says. For day exteriors, Decca used very little fill light. “I’d just take advantage of the extreme dynamic range this camera has, which is almost film-like, and used bounces to reflect.” And for small interiors, he always likes to use Kino Flo ParaBeams. “I had several units of those that Paskal Lighting brought from L.A. just for this show, and that helps me light very fast as they have built-in dimmers and ballast, and that makes lighting more efficient. They also have these very narrow-focusing louvers that act like barn doors, so they’re very flexible units.” When the DP needed to light through windows, he used a combination of ARRI 12K Pars and 18K Fresnels with minimal color correction and no diffusion because he likes to shape and deepen shadows.
This project was Decca’s second long-form HDTV shoot, but his methods haven’t changed. “Working with the Sony F23s proved to me that I don’t really have to change my lighting approach that much from my film work,” he says. “I can light in the same style that I like without compromising the final look. Of course, the F23 still doesn’t have the dynamic range of film, like a 5219 KODAK, but it’s close enough for some projects.”