July 2, 2019

Epic Ways to Introduce Your Action Heroes with Cinematic Lighting

Indiana Jones
Learn some pro lighting techniques that will make your action hero intros impossible to forget.

There countless ways to introduce your audience to your characters depending on the genre, character type, and tone you're trying to set. 

But for action adventure films, it's especially crucial to really nail it considering the fact that unveiling your hero in an unforgettable way is a major trope in the genre. 

I mean, what would the world even look like right now if we never had that epic opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana Jones steps out through the Peruvian jungle mist?

In this tutorial, Aputure's Valentina Vee goes over some effective lighting setups with DP Andrew Kowalski that can help you reveal your heroes in the most epic way possible. Check it out below:

There are so many cool techniques you can employ in an action sequence, from camera movement to fast-paced editing, but let's zero in on some lighting applications.

Setting the Tone

For action-adventure films, the name of the game is creating an air of mystery, intrigue, and anticipation. That's why we don't see a lot of action heroes sitting down to eat a bowl of Apple Jacks the first time we meet them.

They're obscured by shadows, hidden in the background, driving sports cars with tinted windows, and scaling cliffs. We get really acquainted with the back of their heads...or the brims of their dusty, adventure-worn fedoras...or their intense eyes through a tiny sliver of light as they're fixed on a dastardly ne'er-do-well. In fact, many times we meet their lesser foes first...as they're getting their asses kicked by these mysterious champions.

So, how do we translate all of that into a cinematic approach?

Lighting Techniques for Action-Adventure

Well, as Vee and Kowalski demonstrate in the video, there are many ways to use lighting to not only establish the tone but to also effectively obscure your hero in shadow until the time is right. You can create a silhouette of your hero, have them walk into the frame until they're illuminated, or use an interesting technique that is used a lot in action cinematography, "soft face/hard body", which softens the shadows of the face to create an overall attractive look while using harder shadows on the torso to give those rockhard bodies more definition (and appearance of strength).

The Color of Action

While there isn't necessarily a specific color that screams "action hero" (although, I'd argue warmer colors like amber and red do that for me), the color of your light plays a huge role in unveiling your hero. Of course, it depends on where the scene is taking place, what's happening in the scene, and what tone and emotion you're trying to convey.

Is your hero venturing into a dark cave with nothing more than a torch? Then, yeah, it makes sense to recreate the warm light of a fire. Is your hero scaling a snowcapped crag at night? Then you might want to go with a cooler look. Did they just unearth the golden talisman they've been searching for the entire movie? Go with gold, man! Are they feeling excited, scared, angry, determined, or amorous? Colors can help communicate those emotions.

Wrapping Up

There are so many lighting possibilities when it comes to creating the perfect look for your action-adventure flick. Hopefully, this video helped you learn a few key techniques as well as get those creative juices flowing.     

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1 Comment

These are pretty cool, even if it is another Aputure commercial. Is is me, or does it seem strange that a video about lighting .... blows out the talent with their key light ...

July 2, 2019 at 4:43PM

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