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Henri-Georges Clouzot-Inspired Music Video Shows Us the Power of Light on the Human Face

06.12.13 @ 9:13PM Tags : , , ,

Screen shot 2013-06-11 at 12.57.38 PMHow often do we think about the effect that light has on shaping the human face? It’s one of those questions that experienced cinematographers are always contemplating, but one that younger shooters tend to think less about as camera technology dominates most filmmaking discussions these days. Luckily for us, every now and again a profound example of how powerful light can be comes along that slaps us in the face and forces us to look back at one of the most fundamental aspects of cinematography: lighting the human face for emotional impact. Opale’s recent music video for their song Sparkles and Wine provides one such example. Check out both the teaser trailer and the video below:

And here’s the video for Sparkles and Wine in its entirety:

While the effect of the light source moving around on a circular path is a unique one (and trippy as can be), these videos from Opale hammer home an excellent cinematographic lesson as well: that the angle of your key light in relation to your subject can dramatically change the emotional tone of your characters and your scene. As Shane Hurlbut said in a recent podcast, “If you make every choice as a cinematographer based on the emotions of your characters — whatever he or she is going through — you will hit a home run every single time.”

The concept behind these videos – the moving light source continuously reshaping and redefining the subject – is no doubt inspired by L’enfer, an unfinished experimental piece from Henri-Georges Clouzot that has surfaced in several different incarnations over the past few years. Here’s one such version (there might be an NSFW moment or two):

What do you guys think? Do these videos make you think about the power of the key light any differently? What are some of your tricks for placing a key for emotional impact? Let us know in the comments!



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  • Thanks very much for posting this. Really fascinating to see how keylight sculpts the human face depending on where it’s placed. I find it even more interesting to pause and forward step by step to truly appreciate how the faces change their shapes as the light moves. Thanks again.

    • Random thought: In Alton’s Painting With Light, there’s a light he calls a “testlight”, which he uses to explore people’s face and find out how best to light them. Basically looks like a little lightbulb on the end of a walking cane.

  • amazing

  • Beyonce copied it right after they released the documentary.

  • Jared Caldwell on 06.13.13 @ 1:28AM

    I think this is a great technical exercise. The next step is understanding how to create a world that motivates the lighting that reflects the emotional journey of the character at the precise moment in time that strengthens the story.

  • A question to those who work with the latest editing/coloring software – if this was shot in a “neutral” color, could post-production adjust the RGB’s just as well or, at least, reasonably well?

    The reason I am asking – when I watch a daytime soap, as an example, I think I notice considerable post-production work done. In the old 1″ Type C days, their typical back/overhead lit sets looked very flat. I doubt that the lighting techniques have changed much since then but nowadays they try to distinguish the foreground, the lead actors from the rest. In other words, instead of moving lights, actors or cameras, they up the contrast here, dim an area there, saturate the colors everywhere and save themselves hours of shooting time by electing to use the tools at their disposal.

    Am I way off here? (not that you have to be a soap follower, mind you)

    • Take this comment with a large grain of salt. I don’t know crap about what I’m purporting to talk about. But my vague impression is that lighting HAS changed. In a lot of modern soaps: (a) a lot more is shot on location than used to be the case, so that affects the lighting; (b) the philosophy of lighting is less about lighting someone directly, and more about prelighting the room, creating effects from the combination of different light sources in the room, and then judiciously applying fill. There might not even be a “key” light as such.

      Or, to put it another way: people are lot more conscious now, compared with the 80s, say, of not wanting things to look lit.

      • Thanks for the info @Paper_bag … as I observe the shadows on the actresses faces, they seem to be made off hard overhead or over-the-shoulder lights (i.e., the non-diffused Fresnels) striking loose hair (bangs, pony tails, extensions) … I would think, in these cases, a well placed fill would make these shadows appear far more subtle … I do agree about pre-lighting the room and then directing/blocking the actors movement off that … the Hulu based soaps – and I have watched 2-3 “One Life to Live” episodes – have a lot more actor movement, including an occasional Steadicam shot or two … the bulk of footage, however, is still shot with 2-3 cameras with the scene participants glued to one spot …

        PS. Just to explain – my current interest in soaps lies less in their entertainment quotient than in trying to figure out the mechanics of shooting 144 script pages in one day (All My Children had that in their promo) … there’s something to be said about that kind of workflow …

        • Ok, I don’t know how to shoot 144 pages in a day. I imagine part of it is lots of cameras, minimal takes, multiple units in different locations and loose lighting.

          But just to explain one method of set lighting I’ve seen, if it’s of any interest to you or anyone else:

          1. Have everything, including practicals, connected to a dimmer board.

          2. Since it’s a set, you can have the luxury of a grid with space lights or similar (soft large sources pointed downwards) and lots of lights already set up on stands ready to go.

          3. Set the ambient light. Some subjectivity here. And depends on genre/mood etc. The particular demonstration I saw, the DP had rated his camera at 800, knew he was going to be shooting at f/4, pulled out a light meter and set the ambient to two or three stops below that.

          4. Bring in light from windows and doors (using rig, and light on stands). Angle/colour based on time of day. The particular set used a row of three 5K tungsten lights.

          5. Bring in backlight relative to where the camera is likely to be shooting from. In this case, backlight was mostly tungsten bounced off polystyrene boards from the top walls of the set. In particular places, dedolights used instead.

          6. Add “dress lights” highlighting particular objects. Bookshelves, curtains, etc.

          7. Bring up practicals to desired level.

          8. While this is going on, have track set up.

          Now that you’re prelit…

          1. Bring on the actors and have them go through their blocking once. Pay attention to where they stop. Eg: actress goes to window, looks through. Then goes to bookshelf, fiddles with something there. Then walks towards lounge, but pauses when she hears something.

          2. Have the actor stand in each of those spots, and assess what the lighting is like. If the actors’ faces don’t look properly exposed, time to add some fill, with a preference for soft, bounced, and passive. Ie: place some poly boards from beneath the lens, or conceal around the set, and see if that helps. If that doesn’t do anything, then might have to make it an “active” fill — actually bounce something off it, perhaps with diffusion. Or, if that fails, bring in something like a kinoflo to shine directly at actor. This is another big difference between modern lighting and older lighting — soft, bounced, diffused is in vogue.

          3. Fix any problems. Any harsh highlights or especially weird shadows. This particular DP wasn’t at all fussed if there were double shadows on someone — in real life, you get double shadows all the time. One key trick to working out how to fix a problem: stand where the problem is, and look around, and then you can see all the light sources that are affecting you from that point.

          4. Camera rehearsal. Tweak anything further that needs tweaking. Could be dimming this or that light (easily done, since everything’s hooked up). Could be tweaking iris slightly. Etc.

          5. Relight for the close-up (but a simple relight, leaving most of existing lights in place).

          • Clarifications:

            * ambient light = space lights
            * lights from windows and doors = either 5K tungsten sources hung off grid, or floor stands, depending on layout
            * fixing problems means playing with angle of sources, adjusting brightness, using cutters or diffusion, etc

          • Erik Stenbakken on 07.1.13 @ 2:09PM

            Slam dunk. And that’s how the machine works. Great post.

  • the original is amazing. thanks for sharing

  • There was an “old” Michel Gondry music video that was inspired byClouzot’s test, way before it was rediscovered a few years ago…

    And is quite stunning

    • Not to disrespect the Sparkling with Wines video, but I think it’s fair to say what Glouzot masterfully started, fifty years later, Gondry masterfully finished.

      • Erik Stenbakken on 07.1.13 @ 2:15PM

        I’ll second that. This vid is the APPLICATION of an experiment. And well done.

    • The Gondry video is great!

  • after watching Clouzot footage about 6 months was a film that was in Cannes…I started shooting in film..breathtaking footage

  • Very inspiring material! Interesting to know if there are many good examples of different lighting tests performed on a single human face / body in the real environment to see the emotional change in the a scene.

  • While an interesting exercise, during the shots in the music video that used this technique, all I could really focus on was the woman’s nose and the shadow going round and round.

  • Those tests were for Clouzot’s last film “La Prisonniere”