Cinematography Mailing List - CML


I'll be shooting my third low-budget feature in about two months (hopefully it'll actually get finished :-) It has an ensemble cast, and each character is in a different place emotionally and/or spiritually. For a couple of the characters, I'm playing around with eyelights and the subtle effect they have on the audience's perception of the characters.

I'm hoping that some of you might share what films and/or paintings you think explore the different effects of eyelights in the most interesting ways. I learned a great deal from Alan Daviau's work on _Fearless_, and I've looked at a few paintings that have given me some ideas. But I thought I might draw on the venerable experience present on the list to possibly point me in a few directions I hadn't considered.

I must shamefully admit that my art history knowledge isn't what it should be ( So, if you reference artwork, please assume that I won't know the artist (well, I might...).

Chris Ray

It's an interesting issue because eyelights often suggest the use of artificial lights. Some DP's pride themselves on never seeing the fill light reflected in the eyes, especially on day exteriors. Others work very hard at always getting that sparkle in the eyes.

Since you mentioned "Fearless", you are also referring to the practice of putting a strip of light across the eyes (ala "Dracula") as opposed to just getting a point of light in the eyes.

On a technical level, I find that eyelights are very useful in a very dark scene, like a shadowy moonlit one. When the face is extremely underexposed, the sparkle in the eyes can make the difference between seeing their expression and focusing on their face - or just having it fall off into murkiness. An eyelight can make the face seem less underexposed.

I find that it's amazing that something as theatrical as a strip of light across the eyes can generally be accepted by the viewer if it's correct emotionally. I had a shot where a girl is hiding from her mother behind a potted plant inside a dim living room. On the extreme ECU, I put a strip of light across the eyes (stealing from Daviau in "E.T." when Eliot is sitting on the lawn chair watching E.T. come out of the shed.) It worked very well.

It sort of reminds of me of the old use of irises (soft black circular borders on close-ups in silent movies) - the shadows create a frame within the frame, emphasizing the eyes more.

I've never found a really quick way of doing strips of light across the eye. On some lights, you can get away with black tape across the front of a snoot on the light. Usually I have to use a slit cut into a card positioned closer to the actor. Dedolights almost can give you that effect just by closing the barn doors down into a slit - I'm curious to try them with the projector lens and see if that's a quicker way of getting the slash across the eyes.

Movies that have used that effect... Well, in "Jurassic Park", when the kid in the jeep at night (the T-Rex scene) crawls into the back seat to look out the window, he takes off his goggles and the camera dollies in - and opposite the key light is a strip of light on his shadowed eye. A similar lighting effect is in "Hamlet" when Claudius in praying in the chapel. I just saw "Lost Highway" and a phone conversation is played with strips of light across the actresses mouth and eyes. In "Dick Tracy", when Beatty enters Madonna's dressing room and meets her, there's a hand-held light creating a strip across the eye on the shadow side of the face.

David Mullen

Actually, no, I'm not really interested in the strip across the eyes. In "Fearless" I was impressed by the placement of the actual glint in the eye itself.

I recall one scene between Jeff Bridges and Isabella Rosselini in which the points of light in the eyes had a subtle effect on the perceived emotional states of the actors. If I remember correctly (it's been a while since

I've seen it), the point of light in her eyes appeared to be right on the axis between the actors, so that she appeared to be intently focused on him. His eyelights, on the other hand, were reflected in the sides on the eyes, giving him a very distracted look. Basically, she seemed to be intently focused on him, and he appeared to be focused on nothing (or at least on something not to be seen with the eyes).

I came across a painting called "Christ and the Woman in Taken in Adultery" from 1621 by an artist named Guercino. The light in the painting was of no interest, but I noticed that the artist had given Jesus (and only Jesus) a glint in the eye, giving a piercing stare which seemed to go right through the judge in the scene. More than simply placing it in the center of the eye, the artist put it toward the top center, giving the face a more authoritative presence.

My interest is in films and paintings that enhance characters' emotional states through the placement and shape of the actual reflection on the eyeball. We're also discussing the effect that taking the light away in certain scenes will have.

Chris Ray

I've wondered how a round silver ball, like an Xmas tree ornament, would work as a small hit in the eyes. You could mount it under the matte box or on a C-stand and let it just reflect stuff into the eyes... Of course, the highlight exposure might change over the course of the shot... but maybe that's a good thing...

-Art Adams

Daviau mentions the lessons he learned from shooting "Bugsy" in hard-light. He said that he used subtle shadows across the face to bring out the eyes; sometimes he darkened Jeff Bridge's forehead with a shadow from a flag. It borders on the theatrical, but it works.

In terms of using a eyelight, check out James Wong Howe's work in "Sweet Smell of Success" - he lit Burt Lancaster with a hard top light that shadows his eyes and gave him a skull-like appearance, emphasized by his eyeglasses. I think he avoided an eyelight to make him more off-putting - or else the eyelight only ended up being reflected in his glasses and thus obscuring his eyes a little.

Also, check out "Godfather II" - Willis varies the use of eyelights (combined with overhead soft-box lighting) so that you only see the eyes when he wants you to see them. And the first shot in "The Godfather" (the pull-back from the face) uses an eyelight to good effect.

David Mullen

Strips of light across the eyes

The Dedo projector lens is great for this effect. Not only can you quickly shutter the slit to the size you want, you can also vary the focus of the beam edge. Very painterly. Lots of control. The projector lens make this so easy that it's hard to show restraint in using the effect. But we must!

Tim Glass

Check out Philippe Rousselot's work for subtle eyelighting in low key conditions - I think one of the secrets is using a circular source, which gives a natural rounded reflection in the eye. The converse is also true - a fluorescent strip or a ringlight can give an unnatural look where one is desired. I love what a soft, subtle eyelight above the camera does to skin and cheekbones, too.

Chris Plevin

Eyelights are interesting. I think a lot of DP's who shoot a lot for television forget that an ECU on the big screen means the source for the eyelight is going to be very big and very obvious. People are used to square, round, and points, but it can be a great opportunity to insert a symbolic touch. Fire is cool, and if you really wanted to use fire try projected (or played back in a monitor) slightly slower so the flames have a great licking action. I've used Kino bulbs on C-stands to make a cross, vertical lines, horizontal lines, etc. I use 2 inch black paper tape right on the bulb to trim them down, and also to kill the light off the lens if they're out in front. I've worked with a DP who had a simple large bowl fixture covered with 216 diffusion and a 3200K bulb that he would move around by hand while looking through the viewfinder and then hold in place while a grip made it stay there (mounting it to camera, dolly, or on a stand). He never shot a close up without it. The Dedos are a great light, but for the budget minded you can do almost anything with a Source Four ellipsoidal that the Dedo will do and the rental is much cheaper. They blade, they iris, they'll soft focus, and they're only 575 watts so you can stick em on those cheap household dimmers. I've used the blades hard for a bar of light right in both eyes, then use some Hampshire frost to soften it and even the light out (I could de-focus but I like the Hampshire), then dim it till it's just noticeable. Great for the dramatic tear scenes or whenever you want to pick up the eyes on a dark face.


Eyelights are interesting, indeed.

Don't forget that many practicals on the set can become eyelights too.

If the principal is sitting before a computer monitor or TV then the monitor itself makes a great eyelight -- same thing if they're reading a book or map, holding a notebook or clipboard, flashlight, and et cetera. They all make wonderful eyelights.

So do those little battery-operated fluorescents they sell at Home Depot.

They also -- though I probably will regret revealing this (I've had lots of compliments on "the look") -- make really good "dashboard" lights; that is, the light one uses to light the faces of the principals in the car (at night, of course) as if the light came from the dashboard. Six across (in three pairs of two) gives a good T2.5 at EI500.

If you're getting dailies, remember to tell the lab/xfer house about the eyelights. I've had CUs come back timed too dark because the eyelights raised the printer lights. This is not an easy thing to explain when EVERYONE is watching the dailies.



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