American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 22

Ian (Michael Pitt) is entranced by the eyes on a billboard in the feature I Origins.

scars by slightly washing them out with a
small lamp - dubbed an "Obie" after
Oberon - positioned right over the
camera. A wonderful side effect of having a
source so close to the axis of the lens was
that it created a highlight in Oberon's eyes.
Many cinematographers still refer to any
on-camera light as an Obie.
The kind of light you use, its shape
and size, affects the reflection in the eye. In
the 1990s, a trend in music-video cinematography was to create eye lights by
using lights arranged in unique shapes
around the camera's lens. A more traditional ring-light was famously used on
Madonna's "Vogue" video (1990), directed
by David Fincher and photographed by
Pascal Lebègue, AFC.
Back in my days as a gaffer, I lit
several music videos for director-cinematographer Joseph Kahn using a 4'x4' square of
beadboard (polystyrene foam) and cutting a
hole in the center of it for the lens to see
through. We would then strap four to six 4'
fluorescent tubes above the hole and four
to six below and create a soft and effective
front light that resulted in interesting linear
eye lights in the subject. For the Brandy and
Monica video "The Boy Is Mine," this ringlight variation was our sole source for the
majority of the shoot.
Achieving the right eye light for a
given project can be much more difficult
than just placing a light around or near the
lens, however. Discussing the feature I
Origins - which follows a young scientist,
Ian (Michael Pitt), and his obsessive research
into iris patterns - cinematographer
Markus Förderer, BVK told AC (Sept. '14), "I
became obsessed with eye lights.
22

July 2018

"I shot a lot of tests," he continued.
"I had my iPad with various shapes of light
- dots or organic shapes - which we
could place close to the actor's face to get a
reflection in the eye of something other
than just a pinpoint of light or the square
shape of a bounce board.
"It's amazing how different an eye
can look depending on the shape of the eye
light," Förderer added. "If you have a really
big reflection in the eye, you can't really
[discern] the texture and pattern in the iris,
and if you have no reflection, the eye looks
dead. I found that the best solution was to
have an amorphous shape that was a little
more rounded, with soft edges, but not
symmetrical. If we reshaped a bounce
board into a rounder shape by taping the
edges with black tape, then you saw the life
in the eye but your brain would kind of
erase the highlight."
Förderer also strove to find the best
angle at which to place the eye light, ultimately deciding to set it as far off-axis as
possible without losing the highlight. "You
want the light far enough away so it doesn't
fill in the actor's face, but still close enough
to the lens axis that you get the reflection,"
he explained. "I felt it always looked better
off to the side - not centered - and
slightly above the eye line."
In some instances, he added, it was
also important not to use an eye light.
"When we wanted someone's eyes to look
special, we added the eye light with the offaxis, organic-shaped source. Otherwise, I
was careful not to include eye lights." As an
example, the cinematographer pointed to a
diner scene between the characters Ian and
Sofi (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). There, Förderer
American Cinematographer

used "a single source for her, an M18
outside the window through a diffusion
frame that we rounded - but not into a
perfect circle - by taping off the corners. It
was both her key light and her eye light,
and it created a beautiful highlight. That
same light was also a great backlight for
Michael, and I made sure he didn't have any
eye light at all, which made her look much
more special and 'alive' than him. When we
moved into Sofi's close-ups, I created her
eye light using a small silver reflector with
the same kind of organic shape taped on
it."
The movie's attention to iris patterns
necessitated a number of macro shots of
actors' eyes, which the filmmakers captured
with a Canon EF 100mm macro lens.
During preproduction, Förderer explained,
"We did some early tests in [director Mike
Cahill's] New York apartment, shooting our
own eyes to determine how we wanted to
light the macro shots - since the eye is like
a mirror, you see all the reflections of the
light sources and the camera itself. We took
a black trash bin, mounted LED lights and
cut a small hole in it; then we put the bin
over our heads and shot through the hole.
It worked great to eliminate the reflections,
so we created a larger version [for production]: a 20-foot-by-20-foot black box with
one strong M18 HMI very far away so that
the reflection could be controlled."
- JH
●

Erratum
In the June print issue's coverage of
Avengers: Infinity War, the article incorrectly credited Shed with having provided
the production's dailies services. In fact,
Pinewood Digital facilitated all dailies
services on both Infinity War and its untitled sequel, the latter of which is scheduled
for release in May 2019. AC regrets the
error.

I Origins image courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Quick Tip
Variations on the ring-light look can
be achieved by wrapping miniature holiday
lights or simple rope lights in a circle
around the lens, or by forming geometric
shapes - a triangle, pentagon, wheel
spokes, etc. - with multiple fluorescent
tubes.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Cinematographer - July 2018

Contents
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American Cinematographer - July 2018 - 1
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