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Monday, 22 November 2010 21:41

Lighting Up a Flavor Explosion

Written by  John Law
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Cinematographer John Zilles has shot many commercials for such companies as Walmart, Toyota and Pizza Hut, and he describes his new $2 million Sprite commercial as “one of the biggest, most interesting and challenging jobs I’ve had to light and shoot in 20 years of doing commercials.”

Directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet of Partizan Films, the commercial’s four-day shoot was at Paramount and Universal Studios. “We shot two versions, one for the American market, featuring Rik Cordero, an indie filmmaker, and another for the Chinese market, featuring the Chinese music star Jay Chou, and they have a lot of visual effects and green screen work,” Zilles reports. “The concept was that the taste of Sprite comes to the rescue when they’re having frustrating creative meetings about ideas for a film, and the camera goes into their imaginations. Suddenly you see all this stuff like ninjas, a cheerleader and a flying panda, and all these elements come flying in and crash down and land in the heads of our two leads, and there’s this big explosion of Sprite water.”

Zilles shot day exteriors as well as a lot of the green screen work on film using an ARRICAM and ARRI 435. The DP also used a Vision Research Phantom to gather elements, such as water explosions, steam and smoke, and to capture high-speed plates for the effects work used to create the “Sprite flavor explosion” done by The Moving Picture Company.

LightingCol_Zilles2The commercial had three main lighting schemes overall. “For our day exteriors at Paramount, we used Maxi-Brutes on Condors gelled with half-blue to give us a nice warm, sunshine feel,” says Zilles. For all the green screen lighting, the team had a huge 50-by-200-foot green screen on Stage 28 at Universal, lit with far cyc and space lights. “We also used Maxi-Brutes on a big scissor lift that would travel around behind the green screen so we could place our sun at the optimal angle for each instance [and] so each plate shot would match the plates shot from a helicopter,” Zilles explains. Additionally, the DP and his crew used ARRI T12s for ambient bounce for scenes shot in front of the green screen. “Our third lighting setup was our Phantom setup for all our element plate shots for the visual effects,” Zilles notes. “We used a couple of big 20K tungsten lights for backlighting all the water and smoke elements, because at 1,000 fps the Phantom needs a lot of light, and we found that HMIs can flicker at these extremely high frame rates.”

The production’s gaffer was Bill Silic, who Zilles says is one of the best in the business, and all the lighting for the shoot came from Sun Lighting. “This was as big as a commercial can be these days, and it was like a puzzle with a lot of different pieces,” adds Zilles. “It’s always fun to mix live action and visual effects, and our director had a great vision and was a delight to work with. And Partizan gave us plenty of manpower and resources to do the job well, which is something you don’t always see anymore.”

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