Emmanuel Lubezki: Large Soft Boxes

From American Cinematographer, Galloping Ghost by Stephen Pizzello (December 1999)

The crew's grim slog was brightened a bit by Lubezki's lighting setup, which comprised three giant softboxes suspended from a trio of 250-ton construction cranes. The roof of each unit contained six 24-light (Par 64) Dinos aimed downward, while three of the sides contained a trio of 9-light Maxi-Brutes angled at 45 degrees. According to gaffer John Higgins,

"Our initial idea for that set was to have a tank-track road ringing the set, and we did tests with various lighting rigs at positions we could access from the tracks. That idea proved to be impractical for many reasons. Instead, we decided to suspend these very large soft sources on rotating bases that could be positioned at any point above the set and still be kept hidden. The art department built a fantastic scale model of the set, and when we studied it we though there might be three points where we could position our supports. We eventually located a company that had three 250-ton telescoping cranes with a reach of 67 meters [approximately 220 feet]. The art department then made working scale models of these cranes, which we positioned around the model. This test confirmed that the only way to reach all points on the set was to use three cranes. We then did a test with a half-size version of our rig, which confirmed that our theory would work."

- John Higgins, gaffer for Lubezki on Sleepy Hollow

Each of the completed soft-boxes consisted of a 20' x 20' base with sides 12' high built from scaffolding. The units had to be strong enough to be suspended safely with the lights attached, and the set''s roads also had to be reinforced to support the cranes' weight. Each box could provide 250k of light, and full gridcloth was affixed to the bottom and sides of each. Long black ropes were attached to the corners of the rigs so the crew could control their rotation from the ground. The last lamp mounted on the base of each rig was a 70k Lighting Strikes unit, and the power to the rigs was provided by twin 200k generators. The rest of the power for the set was provided by three other generators, while a complete cabling system was wired and then buried during construction of the set. The system enabled the lighting crew to deliver large amounts of power to any part of the set very quickly.

..."In a funny way, using the cranes was cheaper than lighting the sets any other way. When you rig immense softlights up on cranes, you can move them really quickly. Each rig has only one light, and you can put it anywhere you want, which allowed us to do more setups a day. We also didn't have to use much supplemental lighting at all-- almost none, in fact. Sometimes from the ground we'd add a bit of fill light just to see the actors' eyes and so forth. Any extra lights we used on the ground were always aimed through diffusion grids. Bu the time the light reached the subjects it was simply a 20' by 20' gird of light, so it almost didn't matter whether we were using 10ks or Mini-Brutes. A cinematography purist might not agree with that statement, but once you put the light through so many layers, it really doesn't matter what kind of fixture you're using. I would basically tell the crew which stop I wanted, and John Higgins would pick a light and use it to fill a 20' by 20' frame."

- Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC

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