With each new movie, Warner Bros.' Batman franchise seems to inch closer to its comic-book source. In the fourth entry, Batman & Robin, which explodes onto 4,000 screens June 20, there's a new Caped Crusader: George Clooney. There's also a fresh villain in the form of Mr. Freeze, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gets top billing as well as a $25 million fee. Other new faces on hand include Uma Thurman as secondary antagonist Poison Ivy, and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl; Chris O'Donnell's Robin is the one major recurring player. But despite these changes, returning director Joel Schumacher and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, ASC, spent their lengthy time on Batman & Robin furthering the colorful graphic style they established in the 1995 Batman Forever.
"It starts where the last film left off," says Goldblatt, an Oscar nominee for Batman Forever. That meant an even further departure from Tim Burton's original vision in the series. "Remember the first two Batmans, how dark they were?" says special effects lighting designer John Tedesco. "Even last time, Val Kilmer as Batman was very serious. Well, you get George Clooney in there, he's very animated. The movie is about a cartoon, it's about color: Let's just pull out all the stops." Goldblatt even briefly flirted with the notion of shooting in the old Academy Standard format, because it more closely approximated the square shape of a comic-book frame. He eventually settled on today's standard of 1.85:1, but the impulse was understandable given the risks taken in other areas on the project.
"There's no need to justify light source, there's no limitation in the sense of what the world is," says the DP of the Gotham unveiled in this movie. "Of course, you've got to be consistent within the world you create--you still have to have color continuity, you still have to make the people look beautiful, you still have to get the day's work done." And on Batman & Robin, a key element in getting the day's work done, as well as in creating the look, was automated, computer-controlled lighting. "I don't think this film would have been possible otherwise," says the DP. "It was more like a stage show than it was a normal movie."
With the blessings of producer Peter Macgregor-Scott, Goldblatt once again turned to the services of San Francisco-based Phoebus Lighting, which had come in at the last minute to provide special effects lighting for Batman Forever. This time there was a crucial difference: Phoebus was contracted during preproduction, and given its own budget. "We were given the mandate of providing special-effects lighting--moving lighting, cutting-edge lighting--in a major Hollywood movie," says Michael Garrett, co-chairman of Phoebus with Tedesco, with whom he also shares effects lighting credit on Batman & Robin. "They created a whole department and gave it to Phoebus, rather than the gaffer jobbing it out to this company and that company. To my knowledge, that's the first time that's ever been done."
It is not the only first on Batman & Robin. According to Tedesco, among the items making their film debut on the project are Coemar's 2,500W NAT units, supplied by The Obie Company; the Wybron Autopilot; and PIGI projectors, courtesy of Production Arts Lighting, which also supplied Pani projectors. High End Systems' Studio Colors(TM) are fairly new to film, while theatrical instruments like Cyberlights(R) and ETC Source Fours are comparative old hands. Other vendors that Phoebus subcontracted include Cameleon, which provided 44 Telescans and controller; Flying Pig Systems, whose Wholehog II consoles did the bulk of the computer control, under Michael Nevitt's direction; Lights West, supplier of the Studio Colors and Cyberlights; and Laser Media, which did all the laser effects. "We just scratched the surface on the last film," says Tedesco, whose first movie project was A Star Is Born in 1976. "The special-effects lighting is ten-fold what it was on the last one."
Did everyone in town, and many out of town, work on this movie? It seems so. The film's personnel rolls reportedly swelled to 800 people, toiling in three specific areas: first unit, which concentrated on the actors; an unusually massive second unit, which covered the action and stunt sequences; and a miniatures unit, working out of a hangar at Van Nuys airport, miles away from the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, under the supervision of visual effects master John Dykstra. That, of course, doesn't include digital and other postproduction work on Batman & Robin, which plays a major part in expanding the budget to a rumored $150 million. "This is so big, no one person can handle it all," Goldblatt confesses.
The film officially started shooting last September, but the DP had been working with Phoebus, production designer Barbara Ling, and other key participants for at least four months ahead of time. "There were seven scenes that we were originally involved in, and then it grew to upwards of 14," says Tedesco. These range from incidental elements in a non-effects-driven scene or projection inserts for Dykstra's unit, to major sequences during which the effects lighting pretty much runs the show, such as the opening scene in the Natural History Museum, and the climax in the Gotham Observatory. Overall, the designer estimates, special-effects lighting plays a role in about 75% of the film.
Testing during preproduction was crucial. "On the last movie, we didn't really have time to do tests," says Tedesco. "This time, we were in on the very first planning meetings. When we saw what a set was going to look like, Stephen and I would make a game plan, and start looking at a multitude of effects; the mission was to bring in the most state-of-the-art gear and test it out. Stephen would say, 'That's what I want,' and we'd come up with an idea of how to cover it. I'd say, 'I think we need this many fixtures,' he'd say, 'That's a good idea' or 'Maybe we need more,' and then we'd put that one to bed." Light plots were done for every scene, along with preprogramming of cues, so that changes could be made quickly while precise continuity was maintained from shot to shot. "Then it was my responsibility to make sure it stayed working. You need to assemble the elements and go into battle with them to satisfy the needs of the cinematographer; the bottom line is that Stephen is the guy who gets it on film."
At this point, "the gaffer isn't in the mix, really," Tedesco adds. "Les Kovacs is a brilliant gaffer, but we do theatrical special-effects lighting. He's minding the store as far as the beauty lighting, how an actor should look. Because we'll destroy the look of an actor." "My role was lighting people, and John was lighting inanimate objects," confirms Kovacs, a 20-year veteran gaffer. "They would set the background first, and that was the effects lighting. And then we would light the people conventionally. That's how it went, until we got into closeups, and then it was just normal conventional lighting. But I would always incorporate the effects lighting as a backlight, always something moving."
One of the big effects sequences, for example, is set in the Botanical Gardens, a Victorian-style conservatory with frosted glass panels, where a fashion show is unfolding. The party is crashed by Thurman's Poison Ivy, previously known to us as "good-girl botanist" Pamela Eisley, who heats things up when she enters, sprinkling magic dust and making men fall at her feet. This is not one of the more gargantuan sets in the film, and wasn't high enough for the narrow-beam NATs--which were so important elsewhere--to be employed effectively. Instead, 31 Cyberlights complemented by 18 Studio Colors provided a constant backdrop of moving light and color. Thurman's arrival on the scene is heralded by Pani and Phoebus' own SP1200 projectors equipped with GAM Endless Film Loop Machines (EFMs). "We engulfed the set in flame effects, saturating the walls with them," says Tedesco.
As impressive as that may look, it presented several problems for Goldblatt and Kovacs. First of all, getting the projections bright enough to read effectively on even the fastest film stock--in this case, Kodak 5279--required months of testing of plates, housings, and exposures. Then on the set, "You've got a very beautiful woman, and it's tricky because we're using lights that aren't normally used to light film stars," says the DP, a devotee of soft light. "You can really make a mistake. I used big diffusion frames, because the lights are too hard. And you can't control them enough for closeups."
Chimera products were normally used on faces in Batman & Robin, adds Kovacs. "All front stuff, whether half or three-quarter, is soft," he says, "and that's where the Chimeras came into play. We used them on everybody and everything, with the exception of the liners on the rubber suits. With the honeycomb grids on the front of them, they were completely directional, so the light doesn't go flying all over the place." Befitting the cartoon tone, the main characters are generally gelled in their own trademark colors: Mr. Freeze is deep blue, Poison Ivy is green or pink, and Robin, naturally, is red. On the other hand, Batman--whose black rubber suit is even more redolent of S&M than previously--is often backed by a rainbow field.
The gaffer found his major challenge to be balancing the color of the film lights to the wide-ranging and quickly shifting effects palette. "I just thought, the heck with this, it's going to be easier for me to match what John Tedesco throws up," says Kovacs. "What I did was get every color of the rainbow. He would scroll through his colors, Stephen would choose it, and I had to quickly recognize it and put a match to our gels. I've always been a huge fan of Lee Filters, and using them, I was able to match whatever John would throw at me. Then I had to figure out whether he was using a tungsten light through the color or a daylight light, so I would know whether to use an HMI or an incandescent."
The warm color and mood in the Botanical Gardens sequence changes dramatically when Schwarzenegger's cryogenically suited Mr. Freeze enters the picture. He is ice to Poison Ivy's fire, and his favorite evil pursuit is to blast Gotham with a gun that turns targets into fiberglass bergs and shards. The fire loops in the EFMs switch to cloud formations, run vertically as ice flows, for Freeze's entrance, and the color transforms instantly to blue. To a large extent, Schwarzenegger is self-lit by LEDs built into his suit. "They were going to have changing fiber optics in his suit, but it got wildly complicated," Goldblatt recalls. "It got to a point where they had, I think, three to six miles of fiber optics in each suit. Fortunately, we found these blue LEDs."
Mr. Freeze's dedicated blue backlight was one task assigned to the NATs. Keeping the instruments focused on this nefarious bald creature as he moved about the bigger sets is what initially brought the Autopilot, transmitting from Schwarzenegger's helmet, into the mix. "We could keep him in lights without having to say, 'We're going to take NAT #1, #4, and #8, and we're going to plug it in here, and then we're going to move it 4' over here and try to do a timed walk,' " says Tedesco.
"In the Natural History Museum scene in particular," says Autopilot operator Craig Schertz of the opening sequence, "Mr. Freeze is walking down the steps, and you know they'll probably shoot that four or five times at least. Autopilot provided the ability to repeat the lighting movement." The first swooping shot on Mr. Freeze was accomplished with an Earl Wiggins Aerial Rigging camera mount on flying truss that spanned the entire length of the set. And quite a length it was: at 200' long by 120' wide and 60' high (61x37x18m), the Museum (which even encompasses a full-scale dinosaur skeleton) filled every inch of Stage 16, the largest soundstage at Warner Bros.
This stage was up and running for nearly six months, an extended period necessitated by Clooney's and Schwarzenegger's conflicting schedules: Goldblatt says they were rarely on set at the same time, making computer control all the more essential. Following production, one end of the Museum set was used for green-screen shots. "There was no way to light that set conventionally, using 20ks or 10ks or other hand-manipulated lamps," says the DP. "Normally, you'd have a lighting rail, and the guys would be up there putting on gels and changing things. This set took up all the stage space. So from a design point of view, it had to be lit using the lights that you could see, and they had to look as if they were part of the architecture." Enter Ling, who was called on to both incorporate fixtures and even the aerial camera track into her designs, and to collaborate on the color and looks in the effects lighting. "Every single thing in that Museum is lit with visible sources," says Goldblatt.
Next, enter Tedesco and Garrett (who usually stayed behind the scenes working on light plots and organizational duties). Foremost on the Natural History Museum set were 30 NATs, which found their ideal application here, since throws of up to 60' (18.2m) or even 70' (21.2m) were required. Also on hand were 50 Studio Colors, Obie Xenoscans, Phoebus low-voltage beam spots, Source Fours, Altman Shakespeare units, 1kW and 2kW Phoebus Silverbeam xenon searchlights, Laser Media argon lasers with Fiber Rays, SP1200 projectors, 1,000W Hubbell Sportsliters, and Ianiro Iris 3 far-cyc lights. Some sources were focused on mirrors held by 36 CM Lodestar chain hoists, installed by West Coast Theatrical, all computer-controlled to instantly change lighting angle. It took two Wholehog II desks to cover this set.
"Our concept for the museum lighting depended on contrasting warm and cool looks," explains Garrett. The cool side of the equation naturally came from Mr. Freeze's icing activities, which were sometimes contrasted by the way the ice was lit. "To create color and movement within the ice," Garrett continues, "we used a combination of effects from below. Xenon searchlights beneath the floor were focused onto rotating drums covered up with mylar reflectors. Studio Colors were located beneath all the icebergs and programmed for movement and color changes. The Fiber Rays transferred light to mirror mounts beneath the bergs, creating a dancing scatter of bluish light within." Warmth was contributed by specially fabricated MR-16 housings with dichroic color media, which uplit the set's interior columns in gold. Far-cyc lights ringed the set's perimeter and kept the backgrounds in blue.
After Mr. Freeze ices the set, a nasty collection of "ice thugs" skate in to spirit away a priceless diamond, knocking it about with hockey sticks like a puck. As happened repeatedly during production on Batman & Robin, the Autopilot was adapted to this action, which was shot as a second-unit scene. Placed on the end of a hockey stick, the element kept NATs trained on the diamond, which was also lit by a Source Four and electroluminescent wire lights from Brooklyn, NY-based Live Wire Enterprises. "It was a little hit or miss," says second-unit DP Jamie Anderson of the Autopilot. "Those devices are designed to follow a singer around a stage, and they don't react quite fast enough for the kind of action we were doing." Also complicating the usage was that, because of the size of the set, the soundstage had to be divided among three Autopilot systems of eight receivers each, and changeovers were a little bumpy.
Anderson adds that the Autopilot worked better during the movie's climactic showdown between Batman and Mr. Freeze in the third big effects location, an 85'-high (26m) domed observatory constructed in the Long Beach Seaport Dome, the former home of Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose aircraft. This sequence starts off as yet another party that the villain disrupts, this time in an attempt to gain control of the Observatory's telescope and use it as an ice gun to freeze Gotham. After Mr. Freeze enters, Tedesco says, "the whole place goes pretty nuts, and transforms into quite a spectacle of projection." Goldblatt's idea was to "change the look of the observatory when the big confrontation starts, to make it look as if they are in outer space."
As Batman and Mr. Freeze struggle on the spinning telescope platform, a hydraulic contraption that could pan, tilt, and rotate 360 degrees, the walls of the observatory dissolve to reveal a panorama of night sky, on which planetarium projections play. Four PIGI 7,000W xenon projectors provided scrolling "star fields and aurora borealis kind of looks," says Tedesco, adding that "the PIGIs are dead-on accurate. If you want to scroll 20' of film and you want to do it in three minutes, you look at the beginning, you look at the end, you scroll, and it will be right there." Then, 44 Cameleon Telescan Mark IV instruments were sunk under removable hatches in the Observatory floor, emerging to project heavenly bodies--"Saturns, Earths, planets everywhere." Studio Colors around the base lit the telescope and provided wall washes, and NATs followed the actors with the help of the Autopilot system.
Mounting the nine NATs in the observatory set presented a problem, because nothing could be hung in the Seaport Dome, and the equipment and crew were too heavy for a scaffold structure that was built. A circular truss was eventually applied to the top of the multipiece set, and the NATs lowered through ports above the wild lines. Total Fabrications Studio Truss was used for the first time in a double-stacked configuration to support translight switching systems, tractor mechanisms on aluminum I-beams devised by West Coast Theatrical to track the traveling backdrops into frame.
If all this weren't complicated enough, a half-section duplicate of the dome was constructed next to the original, to be used for second-unit stunt work and other shots that would be too dangerous on the 85'-high (26m) main set. "We programmed everything to work for first unit, and then ditto, the exact same thing when the second unit came in to do all the closeups and the stunts," says Tedesco. That pretty much was the norm during the Batman & Robin shoot, at least 50% of which everyone agrees involved second unit, under the direction of Peter MacDonald. In most cases, MacDonald and Anderson would simply move into a set after first unit was finished, with the lights and colors in place, the positions and cues recorded on the Wholehog, and Tedesco's crew left behind to assist.
"I would look at Stephen's dailies," explains the second-unit DP, "and the guys would have the lighting schemes on a disk for each basic setup. We'd change it as we had to for what we were doing, but always keeping the same feeling and the same colors, so you could intercut. Invariably, with all the sets, you're changing the lighting, because they're never pointed in the right direction for every shot. So we were starting from zero all the time, but always with the reference of what they had done. John's people would be able to call up stuff that we could look at, which was marvelous: It's one thing to have a little clip of film, but it's another to be able to punch up the actual lighting program."
Anderson wasn't the only one who had to match Goldblatt's original lighting. Miniature DP Tim Angulo, working on a 100'-long, 80'-wide, 40'-high (30x24x12m) stage at the Van Nuys Airport, had to come up with equivalent looks on sets that ranged from 1/24 scale for Gotham cityscapes to 1/6 scale for shots involving pyro to 1/4 scale for more detailed miniatures. Using film clips or videotape of a live-action sequence as reference, the DP had to produce one mini-equivalent after another. "What makes it really difficult is that he's using projections and moving lights, which is hard to duplicate in the miniature world," says Angulo.
One of the miniature unit's most formidable tasks was creating a 1/6 scale, 12' (4m) replica of the observatory dome for a shot in which an explosion causes the telescope to crash through the floor. "We made 35mm slides and used real bright xenon projections to project some of these patterns that he had done with the larger theatrical lighting," says Angulo. "Then once the pyro and explosions start to happen, that takes over and becomes the lighting. So you try to give an instant of the same flavor so that it looks as close as it can to what Stephen has done; when the thing starts blowing up, it doesn't matter at that point."
For the Botanical Gardens sequence, Angulo actually projected a video of the first-unit lighting onto the roof of his miniature, and used gelled mini-fluorescent tubes to duplicate Goldblatt's wall washes. Lighting on the miniatures could range from 12V "grain-of-wheat" instruments to flashlight lamps for accent, all the way up to studio 20ks for washes on large models. Since multiple passes are generally taken on miniature sets with the motion control camera, discrete lighting elements are often added one shot at a time.
All three scales of miniatures were used in a chase sequence involving the Batmobile and Freezemobile, accomplished with remote-controlled cars on the Van Nuys Airport tarmac. For this scene, a 60'x32' (18x10m) translight of Gotham was used as a backdrop, lit with more than 100 Kino Flo Image 80s. This sequence, like so many assigned to Angulo, had to interface with the second-unit footage as much as it did Goldblatt's. Such was the convoluted nature of the Batman & Robin production that Anderson says, "Sometimes we'd be going into a situation where the colors had been defined by a miniature they had already shot. I must say, when I first saw the shots they had done, I thought, 'This is beautiful, but how are we ever going to be able to make it look like this picture belongs to those miniatures?' You just keep trying to make it not real, no matter how mundane the setting you're working in might be."
A case in point is one sequence Anderson can really call his own, featuring a motorcycle race through the streets of Gotham. The DP, whose first-unit credits include What's Love Got to Do With It and Grosse Pointe Blank, took on a subsidiary role with Batman & Robin because of the volume of work involved, the chance to work with unfamiliar equipment, and the promise of scenes like this one, done second unit in their entirety. "It involved the most practical locations we had in the picture," says Anderson of the motorcycle race. "Locations in downtown LA, and some sets built outdoors at night in San Pedro. We approached it with the feeling of what Stephen was trying to do, using a lot of Tedesco's equipment--Panis, PIGIs, Cyberlights--even though it was a night exterior. We still wanted it to look like this world of Gotham, totally unreal and stylized."
Indeed, the theatrical lighting equipment crept onto many sets for which it was not originally intended, even though Kovacs' truck was packed with hundreds of conventional film units. These included 200W-18k HMIs provided by LTM and DeSisti; various tungsten instruments from Mole-Richardson, including 9-light Maxi Brutes and Molefays; and the gaffer's favored Kino Flos, in 4'-bank, 2'-bank, Mini Flo, and Dedolight forms. "We used major amounts of Kino Flo," he says. "There were a lot of instances where Uma Thurman would be running around her little area, and we would just hide single Flos on tables and things to underlight her. These are all relatively young, good-looking people, and all of them could take the low light really, really well."
Fittingly, Wayne Manor was the most conventionally lit set in the film, but the Batcave beneath it was another matter. There, forty 10ks were supplemented with the trusty NATs, and according to Goldblatt, "If I had it to do over again, I think I would retire the 10ks and just put up the NATs. On a big show with big sets, I'd use them all the time, especially now that they're coming out with a wider-beam unit. I just wish they had a constant daylight color temperature." The watery ripples on the walls of the Batcave were achieved by a combination of 1kW and 2kW Silverbeam xenon searchlights focused into water trays, and, to add an unusual shimmer, 4k Compact Panis from above and SP1200s from below with EFM machines. Krypton and argon lasers were also used in the set, displayed in symmetrical lines to suggest a security system.
"I'm kind of opposed to lasers, but if you're going to use them, use them differently," says Tedesco, who goes on to describe the Gilgamesh Project sequence, which takes place in Poison Ivy's South American jungle lab, as an example. This set was lit conventionally with Kino Flos and Lightning Strikes units, until the scene in which Bane, a 400lb monster who becomes the villainess' slave, is created. The life-giving jolt is provided by a YAG laser, "the hottest, brightest laser you can get," says the designer. "But instead of it coming out like lasers always come out, in a converging manner, it was a perfectly flat, parallel plane of light. Stephen went totally nuts over it."
In fact, Goldblatt kept wanting to add more and more in the way of lighting effects. "I wanted to do more within smaller sets," says the DP. "No one thought we'd use Cyberlights on something like the Turkish Bath set, which was lit with conventional 2k xenons. But when I did the seduction scene between Poison Ivy and Robin there, the look was basically Cyberlights in magenta spirals." Not only Cyberlights: Studio Colors and Source Fours were also part of the look. "The whole thing was very magical," says the cinematographer.
The British-born Goldblatt has seen the value of automation and computer control on a film set at least since working on his first American film, The Cotton Club, in 1984. "There were something like 25 or 30 musical numbers," he recalls, "and I wanted to be able to flip back and forth and change lighting direction without having to wait two hours. So we went to lighting houses on Broadway, and got these state-of-the-art cassette tape controllers. Somehow, we hooked all our lighting into those controllers, from every single practical fixture all the way through to backstage. It was fabulous."
Now, with 48-channel dimmer boards available to film crews and the world of automated lighting jumping in leaps and bounds, it's difficult to keep up. "The great surprise to me is how things have changed so much in 18 months," says Goldblatt. "NATs weren't available on Batman Forever, nor were Autopilots. And the control is incredible." The value of having Tedesco and Garrett on board Batman & Robin was that they make it their business to keep track of the latest in moving lights. "It's such a fast-changing industry," says Tedesco. "One minute the Cyberlight is king, then the next minute the NAT is king. Don't expect movie gaffers to know that. They go out and buy a Mole fixture, and they've got it for the rest of their lives."
Nevertheless, Goldblatt would like to see the way he operated on Batman & Robin become some sort of industry norm. "I feel that all film lighting should be adapted, that most of the lights that we use are so antiquated and difficult to maneuver that we're still sending people up on ladders to hand-change a lamp. I mean, it's wonderful to be able to just change diffusion and colors, and move things. I'd like all the lights that come off the truck when you go on location to go into a rugged handheld computer controller which may only have 20 channels or something, which is usually enough." He goes on to wish that companies like Mole-Richardson and Arri would adapt their housings, "so you could put eight different kinds of diffusion in each lamp, so that when the camera is wide the light is hard, and as you go into a closeup you could make it softer."
Unfortunately, he adds, "I don't think a lot of people see the possibilities. I mean, you get used to doing it the old-fashioned way." Nor does he think theatrical designers and programmers fully appreciate what they've got. "They have their computers as a means of control and backing things up," he says. "But I don't think it occurs to them how incredibly useful that is as a tool for continuity. For film it's extraordinary. Because then you don't have to say, "Well, what did we have?' or have someone go around and do a diagram of all the lamps."
Schertz is one non-film person who has given the matter some thought. "When we're doing rock shows and plays we have a pretty static stage, and we use automated lights to give movement and depth and dimension, to kind of change the environment," he says. "The way they do that in movies is to do different camera angles. So it hasn't really flashed on them what they can do with this equipment. I think as time goes on they'll incorporate it into the setup a little bit better. And I would say Stephen's a real pioneer in this."
So, does Batman & Robin represent the wave of the film lighting future or is the blockbuster just a freak tsunami? Garrett feels that "the technologies in the movie industry are on a conversion course, and this is indicative of where they're going." Tedesco points out that so many IA local crew members worked on the movie that "there are a lot of people that are far better off now than they were a year ago, people who have gotten hands-on experience running boards and handling the equipment." Anderson says that if expense weren't a factor (which of course it is), "I'd have a couple of NATs and a couple of Cyberlights on the truck, and I'd use them a lot."
There are all sorts of signs that people can adapt to new ways quickly. "The time savings we got with these controllers was so amazing," says Goldblatt. "You know, sometimes you'd have a little glitch, or they were backing up, and you had to wait a minute. And everyone would get impatient. But I had to say, 'Guys, have you any conception how long this would take to do normally?' We'd still be there."