Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Shooting Water Reflections & Shadows

I'm in the early stages of pre-pro planning for a noir-ish, martial arts, heavily stylised feature. There are a couple of shots I'm mulling over trying to figure out the best approach for. Both shots are of action sequences involving one - against many fighting.

#1) In the first shot, the scene starts in a downpour, then when rain stops camera tilts down to a puddle and films the bulk of the scene in a puddle's reflection. Obviously this reflection needs to have a certain level of "image fidelity" for the shot to work. I was considering two options. First one is to place a mirror or other reflective surface in the puddle just below the surface level. The second approach would be to try to work out the angles with a half-silvered glass oriented so the tilt is horizontal. The challenge to that approach will be the tilt-down from a view of the action directly to the puddle reflection. I've not worked much with half-silvered glass before, though I do understand the basics. The other challenge with that approach is at the end of the shot, the puddle's calm surface will be disturbed and break up the image into ripples.

#2) Similarly to #1, the scene is in an alley and starts as a normal dark/night sequence. At a certain point, the camera pushes past talent and watches the rest of the scene play out in silhouetted shadows on the wall. Sounds pretty simple, but I'm not sure where to place camera so that its shadow is not also in the frame. I want the shadows of talent to be full figured, so anything else in the path of the light will obviously be on the wall as camera. I was thinking of using a very long lens and orchestrating a designated clear line of sight between talent. But I don't think the physics will work for that approach. I need to see clearly delineated shadows of 2-4 characters on a wall. Obviously they need to be close to the wall or their shadows will diffuse, so I can't shoot a long lens and not them and keep them close enough to the wall for good shadows. I guess another approach would be to again use some form of a half-silvered mirror and shoot it from above pointing down with the key light passing through the mirror and camera still seeing the wall on the mirror. Another approach I was considering was to film the fight in silhouette, and project it on the wall.

I know that I could get a lot of this done as post/CGI work. But, I was quite inspired by the work of Dick Pope on "The Illusionist" who did so much of the "magic" in camera rather than in post. I very much want to take that approach on this project, and am willing to go to some extremes to get the exact look I want in camera. Any suggestions or advice would be welcome.

Paul Nordin, DP
El Mundo Bueno Studios
Emeryville, CA

Hey Paul,

I'd get a copy of The Third Man and study it. Robert Krasker shot much of the film with wide angle lenses, which helped make the perspective of Vienna so compelling. No CGI, just really really good cinematography. Also, you can get sharp shadows with the individual not being close to the wall, you just need a point source. The water reflection using the water is what I would lean towards. Just remember that you will lose about a stop in the reflection v/s the scene not in the reflection.

Kind Regards,

Mark Woods
Director of Photography
Pasadena, California

1) I would say one of the easier way and to have clean footage for this is using a Motion control head for your Pan tilt. Just shoot the reflection clean out of the water so you could even shoot the end shot to see the rippling effect on the image out of the calm water till the water gets disturbed. Now repeat the same move with the rain till the camera pans and or tilts down towards the puddle hopping the talents more or less do the same move. When the rain stops still normally it takes time for any puddle to settle down so you can get away with bit of improper ness. If you really want, you can do a dissolve between the two shoot any were you want or go for a straight cut at some point assuming that you are kind of tight on the puddle.

2) For the shadows on the wall one thing you did not mention is, are all the shadows of the characters created by just one light source or can you use multiple light sources to create the shadows? If it is multiple light source you can carat just dark hallow spot in between the characters and try to get away with out Camera shadows. the best way to do this have the Camera on a Techno Crane or on any other Jib Arm with remote Head with a long lens that way you can start wide and Dolly in or push in with Techno Crane arm to pass the talents and just to capture the shadows on the wall.

Good Luck.

Suresh ROHIN
Director Of Photography.
Eastman Films Inc..
Toronto. Canada.
416-898 5323 (Canada)
91-40-2360 8014 (India)

I don't know about #1) but for #2) ..the scene is in an alley.. camera on small remote head on motorised dolly (mo-sys?). Soft source obliterating camera's own shadow; encoder on dolly with inverse square algorithm doohickey to dim source as it approaches wall (though maybe a chap could do just as well). Perhaps secondary encoder function to operate barn doors - hmm, maybe not...

All the best

Jim Swanson
Aerial/Tracking cameraman

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