Conrad Hall: "Highly Pointillistic" Approach

Over the past few years, Hall has been developing what he calls a "Highly Pointillistic" style of lighting, culminating with his work on Searching for Bobby Fischer, in which he employed this technique to its greatest degree. He again utilized this approach for A Civil Action. -AC Mag

"Early in my career, I started to use spotted-down Fresnel lamps for scenes in hallways where it was hard to hide lights. I would put a light 'on the pin'-- which means fully spotted-in-- and then raise it up behind the camera, shooting it over the heads of the characters down the corridor. I'd then just tip it down so that the hot spot wasn't really hitting anything except the far end of the hallway. The light was at a great distance, so it wasn't very bright at the end of the hallway, but I could then bring just the edge of the light down to subtly illuminate the heads of the people walking. Since that light was from the camera, the shadows wouldn't be apparent and I'd get this nice falloff on their bodies.

From there, I started to develop this sort of pointillistic sense of using light by focusing it rather then cutting it. If you hit a wall with a light and then start gradating it by cutting light off certain parts of the wall, you end up with a lot of flags. A light spotted in on the pin is like working with a finer brush, painting a certain area the way you want it to appear with the contrast you want it to have. I can't recall which film this idea started with, but I began using all of my lamps at full focus. Obviously, to create a soft light you don't focus a lamp on a 12' by 12' or 20' by 20' muslin-- you fill the muslin completely and then cut the light from there. But if you're using the raw light at full focus, it doesn't create shadows that are so sharp. If the character happens to run into the light, it creates sort of blurred shadows on the wall. The edge of the light falls off softly, but there's a hot spot in the center. I love to have people walk through too bright an area, for instance. I don't want them to stand there [in the hot spot] and deliver a page and a half of dialogue, but if they pass through something very bright for a moment it creates a good feeling of movement."

-Conrad Hall, ASC

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