How to Light a Film that Looks Like One Continuous Take: Chivo Talks 'Birdman'
Blocking and choreographing a feature film to look like one continuous take is a daunting task on its own. But how in the hell do you light something like that?
We've already taken a quick look at technical challenge of making Birdman feel like one continuous take. In short, it's a combination of extremely long takes (usually in the 10 minute range) seamlessly stitched together through a combination of editing trickery and subtle VFX mastery. In case you missed it the first time around, here's the nifty BTS video detailing the film's seamless look and the process of color correcting it.
Making the film look like one take is one thing, but considering the Birdman's visual style, which features complex steadicam and handheld camera movements that sweep around the massive, maze-like set, having any semblance of traditional lighting is virtually impossible. The obvious solution is to build as many practical sources into the set as possible, which allows for freedom of character and camera movement while maintaining a naturalistic sense of light.
To a certain extent, much of the lighting in Birdman comes from well-placed practicals. However, relying solely on practicals makes it extremely difficult to create lighting that looks and feels staged -- which is a crucial element of a film that is essentially an elaborate filmed stage play -- so Emmanuel Lubezki had to figure out a way to light Michael Keaton to achieve that glamorous and dramatic staged effect while factoring in the need for constant camera movement through a variety of spaces.
In a recent Hollywood Reporter article, we get a brief glimpse at how Chivo tackled the tremendous technical challenge of lighting Birdman.
That is because, for instance, the light that is lighting Michael at his makeup mirror will create a shadow a minute later if we move around the room. So we had to time all of the lighting changes, making sure you don't see shadows. We were moving lights; we were moving diffusions. There were grips moving with me. Every time you see a shot, there were eight people moving with me. It was like a ballet — that's what made it truly exciting.
In a series of Birdman BTS videos from the YouTube channel Movie Blooper & Making Of, you can get a sense of just how complex this dance was for some of the shots:
Ultimately, as has been said countless times before, Birdman is a tremendous film that is not only artistically unique (and relevant) in a time when few films are, but it was a massive technical undertaking that was executed perfectly by an extremely talented team of people. And if any more proof that Chivo is a cinematography genius was needed, this is surely it.
What are your thoughts on the lighting of Birdman?