Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Car Headlights - Lighting Gag


Hello everyone,

I have searched & researched various ways to make the best [and quickest] means to recreate the look of sunlight reflecting off windshields [for building interiors] as well as the look of headlights at night [again, in building interiors].

Jan DeBont did a fab job on FLATLINERS with the Chicago headlights inside the diner and Keefer's apartment...anyone remember that?

I was told that he used a series of mirrors on a turntable...
Often times, I have a grip with a 4x4' outside on a sidewalk and he does the 'spin' at random intervals to recreate sun off of windshields.
But it never quite looks right...

Also, it is VERY important that the final sound design contains some sort of car/street sound to carry the illusion home.

Any works of wisdom here?

Jeff Barklage, s.o.c.
US based DP

Hi Jeff,

I've tried a variation of this that seems to work quite well. Having also tried the Matthews 4' x 4' mirrors & found that the hit was a little too clinical; & depending on the hit angle sometimes too small a also.

I've mounted 2 sheets of 4' x 6' side by side, to create a 8' x 12' mirror. Sheets used were only 4mm thick, mounted on a custom base (there you go the European side coming out)before anyone comments you can make these rigs quite lightweight & controllable (On King Arthur I built 4 rigs that were 12' x 18'each, that 4 guys could lift onto stands & only took 2 to manoeuvre). The beauty is that you still get the hard hit, slightly more organic in that the imperfections in the plexi mean that its not totally perfect(as the bend in your windshield would be), & the size means that even if its fleeting you can make it as big a hit as you like: or if its a slow sweep you don't get this box (narrowing as) sweeping across your background/ceiling. Its this really nice effect that has its own distortions.

We used the real thing (Le soleil) with these rigs most of the time (you may find that hard to believe as we're in Ireland). I may take some stills of the bigger rigs if you'd like to see & the effect on the castle wall. See what you think, oh & be careful my guys set one propped against a wall (on standby), the resultant hit on the sleeper cab of one of the trucks set it smoking. The driver caught it just in time.

I should have stressed in the previous post that the 4' x 6' mirrors were plexi mirrors as opposed to glass, forgive the typo as its a little late here


James Mc Guire

Be careful with "gags"

A friend of mine was DP-ing a MOW and got a bit carried away with "sun off of the windshield" passing thru the hospital room.(again and again)

He nearly got replaced.

It was a neat effect, but a bit distracting from the scene.

Josh Spring
Gaffer, Washington D.C.

I've rigged this with some rolling stands and occasionally used a flattop dolly on track. Sometimes nothing replicates movement better than movement.

For car headlights I've rigged a couple of babies or molepars on a doubleheader stand and wheeled them by. Getting Art Dept. to put some ultra-thin shears on the windows (sometimes with those frilly lace patterns) can really sweeten the effect.

Mitch Gross

I have had good results with about 12" x 18" plastic mirrors arranged back to back in a triangular shape and mounted on a stand to rotate. Hampshire frost or 1/4 opal in front of the rig breaks up the sharpness if required.

With that type of effect I find that less is more. Also cueing the moves with constant dialogue cues from shot to shot helps a lot in editing.

Daniel Villeneuve, c.s.c.
Directeur-Photo / Director of Photography
Montréal, Canada
demos :

Regarding windshield 'glints', Daniel Villeneuve, c.s.c. wrote:

>>I have had good results with about 12" x 18" plastic mirrors arranged >>back to back in a triangular shape and mounted on a stand to rotate. >>Hampshire frost or 1/4 opal in front of the rig breaks up the sharpness >>if required

That is a GREAT idea!

Jeff Barklage, s.o.c.
US based DP

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