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Timelapse Sunrise Simulation

Published : 8th May 2011


I am working on a set-up to simulate a timelapse from moon lit to sun rise on an actor in a medium-wide shot. I would like to composite this with a timelapse plate afterward- so the actor will be shot on green screen.

My idea right now is a two light set-up. The moon will be a 3/4 5k fresnel backlight off of the actor's right shoulder. It will dim down. As this dims down I will raise a 10k fresnel on a powered stand or jib arm from about 5 to 12 ft while I increase its intensity from 0 to near full power.
Both the light will probably require 250 or something similar to taste.

Does this sound like it could make the effect work?

Thanks in advance

Van Royko
Director of Photography,
Montreal, Qc, Canada

Van wrote:

>> I am working on a set-up to simulate a timelapse from moon lit to sun rise on an actor

Have you considered putting the lights on tracks, and counter clocking them, a much more realistic effect IMHO?

Ed Mash

>>.... I would like to composite this with a timelapse plate afterward- so the actor will be shot on >>green screen.

Hi Van

It seems to me the best idea would be to shoot the plate first so you have something to follow. Or at least take a series of stills at the location to give you an idea.

I have done similar transitions and the trickiest part is to get the colour temperature right as the sun rises, and the ratio of fill light in the transition through dawn from moonlight.

I presume you will light the actor as if he is hit by moonlight? It would help with the background plate if there were some other props or bits of scenery lit in the same way at achieve the trick.

I would be very careful with the intensity and blueness of an artificial moonlight, but that's just me, I don't like blue much at all.

For the colour temperature change on one job I built my own graduated filter on one 8 x 4 frame per light, using strips and different intensities of orange gel. I think I started with a complete frame of
1/8 CTO and added more of the same, 1/2 and full to get the colour change I was happiest with when sunlight broke. It was slightly over the top as it was for a stylised commercial. Raising the key light/s
and increasing the fill at the same time worked pretty well.

Good luck

Chris Maris
Director of Photography
UK 0044 7956 251061
Sweden 0046 7340 76003

I've not had to do this particular effect, but it occurs to me the one thing you've forgotten about is the brightening sky. You'll probably want some sort of fill source overhead, and you might want to colour it
slightly blue. One of the most beautiful parts of sunrise/sunset is the part where the ratio of sunlight and skylight are very close, differentiated only by colour (warm vs. cool) and quality (hard vs. soft).


Art Adams | Director of Photography
San Jose, CA USA

Hey Van,

The one thing I would suggest ( although it could get me shot round here) is to keep your colour as neutral as possible on the foreground element.  The comp artist is going to have to CC the greenscreen element to match the varying colours of the background plate as the moon sets/sun rises, and you'll end up with a much more convincing shot if they don't have to fight any colour changes introduced on set.

John Allardice
Los Angeles

Art Adams writes:

<< one thing you've forgotten about is the brightening sky. >>

I've never done this sort of shot either... but:

I'd imagine that shooting the background first would help me pre- visualize the sky changes.

Before shooting the background plate, I'd make sure I'd designed the shot so when I got into the studio my "sun" source and its motion/ support hardware could be fully garbage-matted out at all times, with some room to spare.

When shooting the foreground I'd take pains to avoid lens flares that would make my greenscreen matte harder to pull. A 10K aimed more or less straight toward the camera and moving on a vertical track will surely require some fancy flagging.

Most of all, I'd want to shoot some tests to see exactly how much flexibility and leeway I had in every aspect of the process. I wouldn't want to end up having to cheat the sun angles more than a few degrees.

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

HI Van

I have done similar setups, and it’s an interesting puzzle.

I would recommend using dino's. If you use the variety that has single bulb control through soccopex/ dimmer/ console you can increase the intensity one bulb after another (perhaps in a radiating pattern) this way the colour temp gets progressively more stable as you bring up the intensity. You can program this to a time log and even get the camera to drive the cue, timecode matched to frame rate...etc.

If you use par cans bunched together instead of dino’s you can have different colour groups and go from one colour through to another.

The same can be done with spacelights for the ambience, If you hang twice as many as you need you can run a two colour pattern and shift from one colour to the next, bulb by bulb.

On and on until you run out of space and or budget.

Have fun.

Mat Buchan