How to illuminate a car with a chroma background?
Shooting a subject on greenscreen is relatively simple. People, unlike motor vehicles, tend not to have curved and angular edges. These highly polished and rigid structures will reflect, refract, bounce and spill light off the green walls. And show the kit and crew’s reflections too. With this article in Zeferino Professional Light we want to help you combat some of those issues so you can seamlessly merge your background with the interior and exterior car shots.
The car’s shapes and lines can cause all manner of headaches in shot types, lighting and editing. Planning is key but also be prepared to think on the fly, as unlike certain models of cars, no two studios or lighting set-ups are the same and you may have to get creative with some shots; use said shots sparingly and plan for front and side shots out of sequence. Having to reverse a big Cadillac several times a day can eat up time!
Getting Started – Prep advice
Shoot backgrounds before you start your studio shoot. This will give you a heads up on the lighting conditions needed. You DOP will have a good idea of the conditions they need before you shoot.
When recording background video – Drive on a long, straight road, no direct sunlight, no sharp turns, clean, clear backgrounds (there is only one Angel of the North, one tower of London etc., so remember continuity). Use a pillow to reduce camera shakes. Try a few different positions and zoom lengths so you have a library of footage. Repeat with night shots as well.
Positioning your vehicle
Drive the vehicle into the space. Don’t stretch cables across just yet as you may have to drive in and out for quick turnarounds, re-positioning and testing. Try to make your set up as wide as possible to allow enough space for your vehicle to manoeuvre. You may have to re-frame accordingly.
Light the green screen according to every shot. A good solid, sunny daylight set-up is a key light through the front windscreen, back light through the rear and a reflector on standby to the side, out of shot. This can easily be moved for different shooting angles and moved to simulate changing light patterns you would get with moving cars. Also have a runner on hand to rock the car to give the idea of motion.
If the shot is a side view, close up past the passenger seat and then light the green wall with soft lights. This will reduce the spill. If it’s a wider shot , then use the space lights and mask the car using poly board erected across the bottom of the space lights. This may require you to move the car away from the green cyc wall so you can ensure less spill, and a more favourable position away from right underneath those glaring space lights. Alternatively use poly boards on C-stands as flags to create a blackout ceiling.
Ideally you should be aiming to mask as much light from the car as possible and lighting the wall. And the car separately on wider shots, you may need to daylight blue gel the space lights. There are so many scenarios so choose your shots carefully. No two shots will ever be the same and usually the best way to tell is to get a simple camera shot on the car as soon as possible to frame and light based on that framing. Closer shots will require less green wall lighting time but more set up time for flagging.
ART DIRECTION TIP:
Fake moving shadows across the windscreen – use bits of wood or cardboard and any tree branches lying about. And pass them across smaller dedo lights or red heads intermittently to give the impression of speed. Best to ask the director of the intended speed of the car. So you can judge the speed you pass the ‘shadows’ across the car. Experiment in this area and stick to this method in short takes.
We hope these tips and suggestions can help you start filming these complex lighting conditions of int / ext with cars. Ideally they are used to show the passage of time through movement. And can also work very well with a voiceover. Cars can mean a trip and be a good way to get closer to the characters. If they are well shot, they can really add a new dimension to the movie.