Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Infinity White Backgrounds

"Hello All,

A shoot coming up calls for talent in front of a completely white back drop. The frame will start from below the talent's feet to above their head.

The director wants the white to be completely blown out while properly exposed on the talent. Not a problem as there will be enough separation from the back drop... EXCEPT, the talent's feet.

The director also does NOT want to blue or green screen the shoot and matte the talent against the white. Sigh...

Because the frame will be wider than full frame, the actor will be standing on the white drop. The question is:

How do I get the white below, and immediatly around the talent's feet to blow out while not over-exposing the talent? I'm thinking FLAT BLACK SHOES for the talent and lots'a flags.

Any and all pointers will be GREATLY appreciated.

Rick Gibbs

It seems to me that a lot of the success of this shot depends on how white/reflective your backround is.  There are 12' width of both white and ""bright white"" paper drops.  Caution in shooting with the ""bright white"" as it has ""whiteners"" in them (phosporus, I think) and they can iridesce a very light pale blue, but they really are brighter.

I think the key to making this shot a lot easier is to keep the talents clothes somewhat darker than neutral-grey toned.  Creating the differential between the reflectivity of the backround and the talent would be easiest.  If you are able to do that, your flagging solution, which carries it's own set of troubles, will be unnecessary.

Cliff Hancuff

 My first thought would be to start with a glass topped riser to support    the actor's weight, then hang a translucent white backing material --      perhaps some kind of cloth, and drape it over the riser, to produce a      seamless white region around him.  You could then light the white from     behind and underneath, and use light from the front only to model the      talent as you want.                                                                                                                                 

 -- J.S. --                                                                                                                                    

I assume that your intention isn't really to ""blow out"" the white but rather to create freatureless white limbo with no detail or horizion. Check out Lucas' movie THX-1138.  There are several long scenes  with characters lost in white limbo (wearing white clothes too!).  The trick is more in keeping the white set clean physically.  I say build a seamless white space, fill it with light, expose for the actor's face and let white be white.  --


The easy solution to your director's requirements is to shoot using the 3M product used for front projection (sorry I forget the actual name of the product) as a backdrop, running from behind the actor forward and under his/her feet.  Bounce any small source from a half silvered mirror placed in front of the camera lens (as in front projection) and you will immediately have a blown out white background. I have used this method most successfully shooting 'space people' whose costume is made out of the same material.  It doesn't matter what angle the camera looks at the material as it will always reflect directly back to the centred light source.

David Wakeley ACS

The 3M material (I forget the name as well) works very well, I've even used it for green screen. However, it may not be the most practical if the shoot is for Telecine. A white cyc, evenly lit, can be pumped up in the TK by raising the white levels without too much problem and cause them to blow out. Just watch for shadows and uneveness.  Wardrobe with dark shoes and pants helps tremendously for the floor problem allowing you to light the floor brightly.

BTW- Recently I've seen many people light white cycs with overhead spacelights and get very even results.  I've always used the old method of skypans and silks but this other method looks very appealing and much easier.  What methods do you all like to use for this tedious task?

Jim Sofranko  

It's Scothlite (light).

Eric Swenson

I would recommend some rules to follow:

OVERLIGHT the white cyc.  Put your first space light on the 'edge' of the cyc.  Put your last light on the opposite edge of the cyc.  This may seem like you are wasting 'horse power', but this will eliminate most of the 'center hot spot' you will get if you don't overlight.  For a 40' wide stage I use about 18 6K space lights.

USE PRIME LENSES.  Zooms will give your vignetted edges (subtle as they are.... they will creep up in telecine).  If will be difficult to match the whites from one mm to the next mm unless you use primes.

USE REFLECTIVE METER  My whites work best when they are 31/2 stops over lens exposure.

NEGATIVE YOUR FOREGROUND ACTOR  Use plenty of black to remove light wrap from the actor.  Use overheads to pull the intensity down. 

USE FLAT DISC-  For your exposure, use a flat disk on your incident meter and set a stop.  Then use your reflective meter to read your whites.

USE OLD WHITE SEAMLESS to cover the floors while you are working.  Roll it up to shoot.

Will this on film or tape??? For telecine to be viewed on TV for theatrical???

On film for TV.  I did this once for a music video.  20 x 20 silk with 10 or 12 2k soft light overhead and some bounce in front and as back light and then whiten the the few slightly darker spots on the floor in transfer.

On video if using a 600 or 700 use the ""knee"" feature (which is usually for un-cliping really hot areas) in reverse.  I others words everything above a certain level will wash out with no detail.  Did this on clip too.

There are propably many other ways but those are two I have used before.

Good luck

Daniel Villeneuve, csc


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