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Lighting Airplane Interiors

Hi. Seems I have to shoot the interior of an commercial jet, a 727 I think. I think at least one shoot will see most of the interior. It will be in a hanger and the director wants it to look like sun is coming in through the windows. Single source and slightly moving, at least back and forth, simulating a plane in flight. I don't think I could manage up and down also. It's only a one day shoot. Any suggestions.

Many thanks, Randy Franken, DoP

New York and Hamburg.


I've produced this effect by putting the light on a dolly. You can mount to the boom and do up and down as well if the source is close enough to the windows to see the effect of the vertical movement. This works great for doing the "rising/setting sun" effect through a window; love those moving shadows!

Just ask your Dolly Grip to move slowly and randomly while doing a stem up and down.

Good shooting!

Leo Ticheli

Director/Cinematographer Birmingham/Atlanta


...Dolly at window level???

Remember this is a 727 not a car...lots of scaffolding, try putting your 20K or HMI on a Crane and boom it to your liking, faster setup for sure.

Owen StephensSOC DoP


I think you're right, Owen, a crane sounds like a much better idea. I was thinking of putting the light on a high stand mounted to the boom, but a crane would be a lot simpler and could take the weight better. Also, I think the action of the crane would be more natural looking.

I did put a dolly on scaffolding once, but I had a bunch of Fire-fighters to do it; those guys can lift anything!

Leo Ticheli

Director/Cinematographer Birmingham/Atlanta


I've done this shot in IMAX for a 747 - I respectfully (but strongly:-)) disagree with the "single source" proponents on this one - with a bunch of oval windows, one source will throw odd geometry throw successive windows - it will not look right becaue is won't be right unless the source is very far away (the sun comes to mind) Lots of parallel sources is a better way to emulate this look IMHO

The way I did this, was to rig light weight truss outside the windows - quite a distance away, rigged from the ceiling of the hangar.

I hung one PAR can per every two windows on each side of the plane.

216 on one side, hampshire or something like it on the other

You can get the plane to move a bit by tugging the truss fore and aft which chases the shadows the opposite way, and you can rise and set by running the lights up and down on their chain motors

You can also do this with many more PAR cans and crossfade from sets of cans to other sets of cans. If you are crossfading, the light diffusion on the sun side will help hide the fact that you are changing source positions in a crossfade rather than with actual movement

Caveats :

If you melt the windows on the plane (which I never have but others have done with 9 lights etc) they will hate you a lot!!!!!

The windows are designed to work at low temps, they are easily melted (or so I am told).

As you probably rememeber, there is something on the order of 2" between the inner and outer window so as the lights get off-axis, the window shaped beam rapidly becomes a sliver.

Adding fill can be a drag We augmented the on board fluorescents with lots of $12 shop light two lamp fluorescent fixtures (the ones with electronic ballasts) which we taped up to the top of the luggage bins and the ceiling. Our camera was between the aisles, so the luggage bins hid them from us.

The on-board fluorescents are generally running at 300Hz but you should check - the last time I shot inside a commercial plane was a long time ago

Mark H. Weingartner VFX,

Photography & Lighting for Motion Pictures & Television

LA based


It's true the windows will melt rather quickly. I was hired to do a re-shoot for a DP who melted about 12 windows on a L-1011. When I was lighting, and shooting, there were a bunch of suits on the plane who's whole job was to put their hand on the window. The plane we were shooting was for the UAE and was being delivered the next day. The cost of the replacement windows wasn't the issue, but the time to do it. They had time penalties built into the delivery. I can imagine what is built into the non-scheduled down time for a commercial jet. BTW, I also used multiple sources on the windows and a similar diffusion.

Mark Woods,

Director of Photography

Stills That Move,

http://www.markwoods.com/

Pasadena, CA


I've put a light on a jib arm before and it works great. It sells the illusion like nothing else.

Phil Badger Gaffer, LA

http://home.earthlink.net/~badger111/


Hi Randy...

Did this jet interior once. Set a mirror tile at about 45 degrees to every window, outside the plane and hit them all with a single HMI par set up forty feet behind the jet. The mirrors were those foot square tiles from Home Depot or somewhere, mounted on the plane with a gobo head and a 1-K pigeon plate apiece.

Back behind the jet (next to the light) you could look down the side and see a line of mirrors stacked up, and with a 2500 on a spot lens you could strike about 12 windows at once. Inside the plane got a nice convincing set of parallel rays. The hot-spot was biased towards the furthest (frontmost) mirrors. Thus all windows could change, flash, at once, and by panning the light you could even simulate a rapid change from front to back of the plane, like going though close clouds.

Didn't try to bank the light ray but maybe by putting the par on a boom you could get the rays to walk around the cabin a little?

Fill in the cabin was daylight Kinos.

Skip Roessel NYC


And 20k, must we use such a large fixture?

Walter Graff


If you want a nice single source, or use something smaller if budget is a concern. If you have an endless amount of time & men/women to work with, plus budget then go nuts. Simple is most times better. A simple 'Car effect' can work too if your frame is somewhat tight.(put a smaller unit on a High Roller & pan thru your frame area) Good shooting.

Owen StephensSOC


Why not use a Vari-lite or Golden Scan, motorised light at each window, stage lights?

Rickie Gauld DoP UK


>Did this jet interior once. Set a mirror tile at about 45 degrees to every window, >outside the plane and hit them all with a single HMI par set up forty feet behind the >jet.

Very clever.

Anecdote about set-rage. There was once a very successful Dir/DP in NYC with a very bad temper. He was lighting a big airliner with a Mighty Mole at each diffused window. (This was in ASA 50-100 days) He read his meter and yelled for more light. The gaffer warned him of heat and enraged director told him to move the #$*^%$ lights closer. Result was that EVERY window melted.

But seriously....

If time is a problem lighting a large airplane, try 50 or 100K Soft-Suns on an arm of some (beefy) sort. I have a lot of respect for the amount of relatively soft light these units produce.

I am shilling for Lightning Strikes and Soft-Sun (today only) because I just spent a week touring Germany with David Pringle (owner/inventor) on Dedo Wiegert's annual new equipment "Road Show" (five cities/five days). His various products are very impressive and should be known to you. I receive absolutely no pay for product placements other than $3,000/word and a few beers down payment. BTW, Dedo has a 400 Watt (!!!) Xenon-type light that throws a very narrow beam forever.

Jerry "but not a penny to Kreines" Cotts DP/LA


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