December 12, 2014

This is How World-Class DP Robby Müller Lights a Scene: A Step by Step Masterclass

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall as a world-class cinematographer set up a shot? (Who hasn't, right?) 

Well, now you can be! In this video from Eyes on Cinema, DP Robby Müller (Paris, Texas, Down By Law, Breaking the Waves) walks you through what it takes to set up one of his shots -- every track, every light, every filter, step by step. So, get ready for 23 minutes of top-notch lighting education from one of the masters.

Did anyone else thank their lucky stars that they're a no-budget filmmaker who works with barebones setups after watching that video? (I'm -- extravagantly lazy.) So, not all of us are going to be setting up shots in studios or working with a veritable army of lights, but there is still so much wisdom to glean from Müller.

For instance, it's important to take stock of what you have and make it work for the mood you're trying to create, like Müller did when his shot called for daylight, but he only had one HMI and a bunch of tungsten lights. Instead of opting for the HMI, he went for the tungsten -- probably because more lights gave him more freedom and latitude to shape the lighting of the scene, even though HMIs tend to be much brighter than tungsten.

Creative decisions like this, as well as professional and interpersonal ones, like taking on the challenge of a director's vision even if it makes your life a living hell, is what being a cinematographer is all about. You're part artist, part technician, and part magician -- making shots look so good that they don't call attention to themselves.     

Your Comment

12 Comments

Bad quality video but it still looks like to me a badly lit set or at least very stagey (when you see the final shot) rather than a real location. Replicating proper sunlight in an exterior shot but in a studio doesn't look easy and I think this time round is a fail.

December 12, 2014 at 9:31AM, Edited December 12, 9:31AM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1747

I gotta say.... I don't understand this rating / voting system. On a site like this, it makes absolutely no sense, because ratings are spawned out of oppinion or taste (or lack there of) rather than sense.

I completely agree regarding the final result of his setup. At some point he does say he didn't have time filling the shadows.... I mean, what?? Didn't have time??

How can they open the video with saying he's considered to be the best dutchman with light since Vermere and the have him saying he didn't have time....??!?!

The final result is, well... appalling.

I don't know where the heck the three people who voted Jonathon down learned to light, but if they can't see how wrongly lit this shot was, they will have a lot to learn still.

What you can take from this video, is general ideas, and then take his setup and complete it for him.

The cyc was too dimly lit, the shadows were too harsh and if he was going for late night sun the color was wrong.
The interior wasn't finished / perfected.

All in all... this video is a treat, if you can see what he did wrong.
If you take it at face value as how it's supposed to be done.... ouch.

December 12, 2014 at 3:47PM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
737

Hi Torben, thanks for the comment. Would be interested to hear what else you'd do to finish the setup.

(Yeah, the voting on this site sucks! It was always a hostile and ego-driven environment. Real names improved the situation. Voting is a peace offering to the trolls.)

December 12, 2014 at 4:53PM, Edited December 12, 4:53PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
1016

I don't think I have commented since the change with the rating system, it's an even worse version of /r/filmmakers comment sections.

December 12, 2014 at 4:56PM

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Was intrigued by the idea of transitional lighting between outdoors and indoors. That was new to me.

Also liked that he lit the telephone. From what I understand, he was worried about the telephone being lost in the dark, but it's also a "look at me", right? And I think that's also an idea that a lot of noobs, like me, aren't necessarily conscious of. I mean, the main things I've worried about in the past are simply lighting for exposure and lighting for mood -- not subtly highlighting things so that the audience's attention is drawn to them or so that the image sticks in the mind. The temptation is just to rely on close-ups and framing and focus for drawing attention to this or that.

The method of lighting the telephone was also good to see -- bounced off furniture. I think it added something you wouldn't have got from lighting the telephone directly.

Thanks for posting, V.

December 12, 2014 at 2:05PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
1016

Robby Muiller, what a hero! Thank you for your wonderful work on my personal favourites, Paris Texas and Down by Law, You're a good heck!

December 12, 2014 at 3:32PM, Edited December 12, 3:32PM

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May 21, 2018 at 4:28AM

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I love that we got a visual diagram showing us where and what exact light was placed to give a desired effect. Regardless of the video quality it's great to see someone set something up, and explain why he/she is doing it. I found this to be very informative.

December 12, 2014 at 5:57PM

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Great find! This had an actual 3D diagram that really helped illustrate where he placed his lights and how he bounced them, very informative then most videos on this subject.

December 12, 2014 at 11:54PM, Edited December 12, 11:54PM

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Gvickie Xiong
Editor/Cinematographer/Director
730

One of the best. Thanks for posting :)

December 16, 2014 at 2:33PM

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LJ
662

Great find!

I also noticed something not exactly relevant... but I'm pretty sure I saw Andrew Lesnie in there at the telephone - is this an AFTRS masterclass?

December 16, 2014 at 7:33PM

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Wye Keen Wong
Director of Photography
74

Can't believe they built the set so close to the wall / cyclorama. Talk about painting yourself into a corner. You will always get spill and drop off from your key light in that situation.

December 22, 2014 at 6:25AM

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Willard
Director of Photography
156

I've loved Robby Muller's work for some time and even contacted him to work on a film I was trying get off the ground - unfortunately like so many it never saw the light of day. It was nice to see a video of him in action. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to work with him in the future

December 26, 2014 at 12:57PM

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Alan Austin
Artist/Photographer/Cinematographer
86