American Cinematographer - April 2017 - 35B
There are times when we have to
match lighting on our 'frontlight/backlight' stages to the master set. These
stages are set up with a matte as a
second exposure for the animated characters. Last year we made a big change
to the FLBL stages by switching to black
projection screens. The result was a
much cleaner matte and an increased
number of seconds being shot on those
What advice would you offer
for someone interested in lighting
for stop-motion productions?
Campbell: The advice I would
give anyone for lighting a stop-motion
scene is to approach it as naturally as you
can. Think of it as a normal set. Think of
it as interior or exterior. Think of it as a
complete four-wall set. How would you
approach those issues to make it look
realistic? There are scenes in Buddy
Thunderstruck where, when you see the
sets without seeing the characters, it
looks like a live-action set. Some of the
sets are just incredible and offer fun challenges to create moody landscapes and
realistic desert-set scenes.
The problems you face lighting an
animation stage are all the normal problems you face on a live-action stage,
except you have to do it on a smaller
scale. You have to set it up so you can
walk around the table, so you can light it
for day or night, and you have to balance
it to your eye. I call it an f8 at one-second
exposure. You want to basically stay
within your perfect window - what you
would see with your eye. You can always
break the rules and change the ISO or
exposure, but these can be very big shifts
in the stop-motion world.
What advice would you have
for someone who's looking to build a
career as a lighting technician?
Campbell: Get your hands dirty.
Come in and play with the equipment.
Learn what's available. Learn how to
improvise and make regular lights bring
the magic to the set. The set-lighting
industry is changing so quickly. When I
started off in college shooting documentaries, I had four or five kinds of lights.
When I came to Hollywood, I had 150 to
200 kinds of lights. Today we have 450
A frontlight/backlight stage is utilized for an interior Concho Bolo scene.
to 500 kinds of lights that we use. So it's
now a much larger variety of toys that
are available to you, and each one has its
own merits. We have been using more
LEDs in the animation studio this last
season, but our tungsten lights are still
the primary lights that we use. We
always need a variety of fixtures, and it's
important to know what tools make the
job easy. The hard part is getting others
to realize that they need to buy the tools
or rent the tools for the job - that's a
whole other challenge.
What have you found makes
for the most successful collaborations between a gaffer and a cinematographer?
Campbell: I like to have the
cameramen tell me what they want it to
look like, what they want it to feel like,
and then I try to figure out what tools
are needed to give them that look.
Whether they take a picture out of a
magazine, take a reference off the Internet, or refer to something done before,
it helps to know what they are trying to
achieve with the lighting.
The light on the set basically
develops the character of the scene. The
camera enhances it, but it's all about the
lighting. You have to create that mood
- whether it's an overcast day, or a
sunny day, or a moody night, or whatever it may be. I prefer it when a cinematographer or director describes what
they want it to feel like as opposed to
how they want to do it. Not everyone is
aware of the new tools available to make
it easier to achieve their desired look.
When the cameraman says, 'I want to
use that lamp,' that's fine, but if it's the
wrong lamp, then we're going down the
wrong path. If we discuss how a scene
should feel, then I'll tell you what lamps
we have available or what tricks have
Any final thoughts on Buddy
Campbell: It is a really fun show,
with a big look. Aaron Wise did a fabulous job. It is some of the best stopmotion animation produced at the
Stoopid Buddy Stoodios.
I think this show is going to get a
lot of attention. It works for the kids and
the family. It was a great challenge and a
really fun project.