Lighting the Stop Motion Set

Lighting on a stop motion set or any set is not an area of expertise for me in the slightest! Luckily Sam Renton was ready to step in and help out with all of the lighting, grade and cinematography on the project. He’s also written a couple of posts for the site, the first being this one on the lighting for the film. Enjoy!

Sam Renton –

I was involved throughout the whole evolution of Billy, this allowed me to build a pretty good understanding of the characters personality and aim throughout the story.

After various discussions and brainstorming at the beginning we felt that a new take on film noire would be perfect for the lighting. This would involve using the extreme contrast in shadows and highlights to bring about an air of tension and mystery to the story aswell as allowing elements of the crime scene to become obvious.

After looking at iconic film noire scenes it was obvious that the focus was always directed to the main subject, using long shadows and distant light to emphasize harsh edges, weather it be on an item or person! But in this case its a detective cat!

Billy’s shadow outline is very distinct, I wanted to use this to my advantage. His eyes, and teeth also very contrasting to his fur, which could be great to emphasise particular expressions or reactions.

Although we wanted to integrate film noire techniques into modern day colour, I thought it best to trial a few tests with Billy using just black and white to see how he reacted in the light.

Once happy with tests, I moved onto the logistics for lighting the whole shed. The layout of the shed was something that was constructed with lighting in mind so it was a matter of making the light as stylised as possible whilst but being practical around an animation environment.  

Firstly I set up the key light. I used 1 x 800W ARRILite and 2 x 300W Sactlers both 3200K balanced , the reason I combined them was so I could spread the key light into particular locations of the shed, for example the back brick wall, under and on top of the table. All were put through a layer of diffusion to spread the harshness slightly.

Once the key was set in place I worked on a fill to accomodate the other shots in darker places of the shed. I used a bounced fill to imitate a window along the back. This used a Single Sactler 300W bounced off some angles foamex board.

To bring the overall exposure up to help the colouring in post, I hung up 2 x Homemade Chinese laterns in the middle of the shed that just used 25W incandescent light bulbs.

The final stage of the lighting involved mapping out where Billy would be moving around the shed, I wanted to make sure that all the lights were set up before animation started so it was a quick and efficient process. Once I had pin pointed these locations I used 6 x small halogen par cans with 3200K bulbs. I set them up to mainly to emphasise Billy.

Below are selection of my favourite final grabs from the film, enjoy!

James is the writer/director of Billy Whiskers, scribbling haphazardly on this website to document and share the experiences of making a stop motion animation.

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