Who knew that automated lighting dates back to the Stone Age? Maybe prehistoric humans didn't have the benefits of computer programming or even electricity, but Michael Nevitt, theatrical lighting designer of The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas, imagines that they had ways of compensating. Take the movie's heavily patterned Jungle Room nightclub set, for example, where Mick Jagged and the Stones perform with a full complement of Vari*Lite(R) VL7s(TM) and High End Systems Studio Colors(TM). To account for the very active sources on view here, Nevitt says, "If you want my opinion, which is in no way an official opinion, there's a monkey holding a hollow rock with a flame in it, and there's something in front that changes colors as the monkey moves it around." The Rock Vegas Strip, which is almost as blazingly glitzy as the modern equivalent, is a little more difficult to justify, but, hey--this is The Flintstones.
Mostly, the idea was to keep the lighting off-camera in the comedy, which Universal released April 28. "When I started working on it, I wrestled with the whole question of when are we true to period?" says director of photography Jamie Anderson. "When does it matter? Even the cartoon is true to the period only when it serves the comedy. It was interesting to get a sense from the director, Brian Levant, what the ground rules were. We did try, in the Jungle Room and other places, not to show any sources, at least."
As for the introduction of theatrical lighting to the Jungle Room package, Anderson mainly chalks it up to practicality: "As soon as we saw the drawings of the sets, we realized there was just no room on the soundstage for conventional lighting anywhere. The sets went right up to the ceilings, and there was no room for green beds or that kind of thing. We could fit trusses in, but there would never be time to send people up to do major lighting changes."
Anderson's chief lighting technician was David Morton, who had previously collaborated with the DP on second-unit work for Batman & Robin--a film that made unprecedented use of theatrical lighting. And, as it happens, Morton had just opened a new company, Design Lighting Group Inc., with partners Nevitt and designer Christian Hibbard. Design Lighting Group's mandate, says Morton, is to specialize in "theatrical lighting with an application to motion pictures and television."
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas is actually a prequel to the earlier film: Here, Fred (Mark Addy) is a young roue who's courting a virginal Wilma (Kristen Johnston); Barney (Stephen Baldwin) and Betty (Jane Krakowski) join them in a romp to the vacation spot of the title. "Dave and Jamie called me up and said, 'This might be a really good start for the company,'" Nevitt recalls. "'We want to have Vegas-type lighting for this Rock Vegas lounge act, but of course we can't see any of the lights.'" Adds Morton, "Everything in the movie had to be manufactured, because there's no prop house to rent Stone Age set pieces. In order to bring it to life, to give it the glitz and sizzle of Las Vegas, everything had to be lit externally. There's no neon, and no light bulbs. I thought it was the ideal opportunity to incorporate automated lighting, because you could cast gobo patterns, do color-changing and color-mixing and other things you can't do with conventional lighting. Plus, we could build a program for the show two days before we came in to shoot, so the director and DP could see what we had, make changes, and be ready to start rolling cameras the morning of, instead of having a five-hour lighting setup to get things focused." The nascent company put together a presentation that soon expanded from a lighting package for the Jungle Room to one for the exterior Rock Vegas Strip, as well as a few other key scenes.
One hurdle to get over was expense. "What I've found in a lot of these features is, we're coming on late in the process," says Nevitt. "Most of the budgets have been set. I asked for several hundred thousand dollars, which they didn't have budgeted. But I guess we did a good enough job selling the producers on the importance of this lighting to their movie that they went out and found some more money for us. They found about half of what we felt we needed to do it, but we were still able to light it effectively. And Jamie basically gave me license to light the scene."
The Jungle Room set, designed by Chris Burian-Mohr, is dominated by faux bamboo soaring to the top of the stage. "I wanted to project a lot of jungle-y patterns all over those trees, and all we needed to achieve that was Source Fours with gobos right out of the GAM and Rosco catalogs," says Nevitt. "One reason I chose the Source Fours was budget; I put my money where I needed it, in the VL7s and Studio Colors. The Studio Colors were an obvious choice for full color-mixing and crossfading. Having the ability to dial in a color is very important, because the DP may say, 'That's a little too saturated.' If you're stuck to a color wheel, you're limited by what you choose at the beginning. With the Studio Colors, we could mix the CTO in basically any shade we wanted. A lot of it was corrected, because we used them for key and backlighting: We would bring in a backlight Studio Color in magenta, say, and then key light with a Studio Color from across the room in a half-CTO. [Key lights were motivated by flame lamps on the lounge tables.] With the Wholehog, we built in a huge range of CTOs in variations of saturation.
"Then, for the hard-edged stuff, I decided to go with VL7s, because of their incredible zoom range," Nevitt continues. "Since my trusses were fixed, I needed the ability to shoot a light across the room and zoom it down, or use it as a key light without it spilling too much." Nevitt also programmed High End Technobeams(TM) to shoot through the trees and pick up the smoke in the air, and installed MR-16s as footlights on the stage. "The stage is a huge seashell that opens up," he says, "and Fred comes up through a trap door dressed up like Mick Jagged [played by Alan Cumming]. We had smoke and lights coming up and rotating gobos on the outside of the shell, and we had color-changing and lights sweeping by and ballyhooing, all the typical concert effects. Fred is lit in Studio Spots. Then the Rockette dancers come out, and Fred and Barney dress up as two girls and get in the kick line. So we needed to backlight the seashell and other parts of the stage. My first choice was to put the Studio Colors in the back, but budget really clamped down at that point, so I ended up using rows of PAR bars with Morpheus ColorFaders."
Very little augmentation with conventional film lights was necessary in the Jungle Room--just a few fresnels on stands for close shots of the characters down on the floor--but Anderson needed to adjust his film stock to the automated lighting output. "Most of the picture was shot on Kodak's 200ASA 5274 stock, which is a really beautiful, smooth, fine-grained film," says the DP. "But those lights just don't give you enough light to shoot at that speed, so we used the 500ASA 5279 stock in the Jungle Room. We were just about always at f2.8 for the scene, and those lights just don't put out enough stop at any distance. After all, they're originally designed for the human eye. They keep making them bigger and bigger, though they have a problem with cooling once they get too big, and then the fans get loud, and that's another problem."
The 5279 stock was also used on the Rock Vegas Strip exterior, shot at dusk in the Sun Valley rock quarry, which has hosted sets for both Flintstones movies. "Again, that posed the problem of how to light the Strip without a bunch of chaser lights, and still have it look glitzy," says Nevitt. "We decided to theatrically light the fronts of the signs, and make some signs translucent so we could backlight them with Studio Colors. Fortunately, we were able to have input while the art department was still designing it. We put Kino Flos in the 'Welcome to Rock Vegas' sign, and we were actually able to chase them. Then all around the outer part of the sign, they had what looked like icicles, and we put an MR-16 in every one of those, and chased them. At the end of the Strip is the Tardust casino, with huge spirals coming up, and there are other buildings and signs as you come down the Strip. In the main scene, the four of them are driving into Rock Vegas in a convertible, and you see each sign light up as they drive down the Strip. We cued it so the signs would light one on the right, one on the left, and finally the Tardust--that lit up last with some ballyhooing lights on the front. The signs had rotating gobos from Studio Spots(TM), Studio Colors on them changing colors, and some traditional 2k fresnels with color.
"At that point," Nevitt adds, "we really had to let go. We didn't see any light bulbs, and we didn't have chaser lights on the fronts of the signs, just internally lighting the signs. You could dwell on it forever trying to justify it. But this is also the show where they drive a car with their feet."
Unlike the Jungle Room set, the Rock Vegas Strip exterior was also lit by conventional film units. "We had 10 Condors out there, with 18k HMIs and 20k tungsten lamps for crowd washes and things like that," says Morton. "Maybe six of the 80' Condors had 7k Xenotech xenons, which we used with color for ballyhooing. I think we had a million watts of various types of lighting on that street." But Anderson says, "all the architecture and signs were lit with the rock-and-roll lighting. They kept cutting the budget for the set, which meant the signs were going to have to be lit from the ground. We thought this was the only way to create anything colorful and have that kind of control and automation on the signs to make them look interesting."
Design Lighting Group was involved in two other Viva Rock Vegas settings. Inside the characters' hotel suite, "we used two VL7s for a rotating gobo water effect on the Jacuzzi," says Nevitt. "It was a big circular seashell, which Barney slides down into the water." Finally, for the interior of the Tardust casino, "we wanted to do a lot of Studio Colors to get the walls animated and the floor rotating," the designer says. "But it was at the end of the shoot, and this is where the budget kicked in. We ended up with PAR cans with ColorFaders on them, and a bunch of Source Fours with rotating gobos playing straight down on the gaming tables."
In the end, says Morton, "I don't think we could have done what we did on The Flintstones without the automated lighting. It would have been so labor-intensive and impractical to use conventional scaffolding and to send somebody up to adjust every time we did a turnaround. With the automated lighting, we were able to do what we do in the film business, which is look one direction, then turn around and do coverage the other way. We were able to remotely focus, change colors, and do all the things we needed to do." Says Anderson of the theatrical lights, "They're not perfect, you can't use them in every situation, and they're expensive, so you have to justify their use. In our case, we certainly saved a lot of time and money using them, even though it looks like an added expense at the beginning."
Nevitt believes that as more people are exposed to the advantages of theatrical lighting in motion pictures, Design Lighting Group's business will grow. The company just finished working on How the Grinch Stole Christmas, an even bigger project than The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. "It's an educational process, not only for DPs, but for the unit production managers who are handling the money," says Nevitt. "It'll be great if a UPM comes on board, and says, 'OK, I know what these lights do, I know why we're spending $200,000 or $300,000 on them.' When we did The Grinch, we were able to get in earlier in the process, and not go begging for money that was already allocated elsewhere. We want people to recognize that they have a scene that requires this, and to call us."
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY Jamie Anderson
CHIEF LIGHTING TECHNICIAN David Morton
THEATRICAL LIGHTING DESIGNER Michael Nevitt
WHOLEHOG II PROGRAMMER Christian Hibbard
MAIN LIGHTING CONTRACTOR Design Lighting Group, Inc.
ADDITIONAL LIGHTING Vari*Lite Production Services
THEATRICAL LIGHTING EQUIPMENT Jungle Room (16) High End Systems Studio Colors (6) High End Systems Studio Spots (6) High End Systems Technobeams (18) Morpheus ColorFaders (15) Vari*Lite VL7s (29) ETC Source Fours 19 degrees (18) ETC Source Fours 26 degrees (8) ETC Source Fours 32 degrees (26) PAR-64s NSP (single can) (12) PAR-64s MFL (single can) (3) PAR-64s NSP (6-lamp bar) (15) Strand two-cell far-cyc units (20) Strand single-cell cyc units (4) ACL bars (2) Lycian long-throw followspots (20) Rosco patterns (30) GAM Products patterns (1) Strand CD80 96x2.4kW dimmer rack (1) Strand CD80 48x2.4kW dimmer rack (2) Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles (1) WYSIWYG 2000 computer system
Rock Vegas Strip (20) High End Studio Colors (20) High End Studio Spots (30) 1k baby fresnels (22) 2k senior fresnels (18) Morpheus ColorFaders (30) PAR-64s NSP (single can) (12) PAR-64s MFL (single can) (8) Rosco and GAM Products gobo rotators (8) GAM Products patterns (8) ETC Source Fours 36 degrees (2) Flying Pig Wholehog II consoles (2) Strand CD80 48x2.4kW dimmer racks
Tardust Casino (24) Rosco and GAM Products gobo rotators (24) ETC Source Fours 26 degrees (22) ETC Source Fours 36 degrees (12) Morpheus ColorFaders (12) PAR-64s MFL (single can) (4) PAR-64s NSP (6-lamp bar) (1) ETC Express 250 (1) Strand CD80 48x2.4kW dimmer rack
Tardust Suite (Jacuzzi scene) (2) Vari*Lite VL7s (1) Flying Pig Wholehog II console