"Lighting& Sound America"
June 2007

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Lighting& Sound America

Television Lighting: “The Case of the Orange Faces”.

by Bill Klages

A few weeks ago, I visited a local television station in a Top 40 market. I had been asked to improve the lighting of the studio portion of their live news broadcasts. The set filled a medium-sized studio and not only contained a typical main anchor area with its four-place desk, but a weather set, an interview area, a chroma key area and an RP stand-up area. The set was a little more than a year old.

Before arriving at the station, I had viewed an air-check of each broadcast within the very extensive daily program schedule. At the outset it was apparent why the station’s personnel − from General Manager to the cleaning staff − were disappointed with the on-the-air picture quality.

The lighting designer who devised the lighting scheme during the installation of the set, had fallen victim to the CTO/Diffusion lighting method (CDLM). Applying the principles of this method is a sure-fire way to achieve an unnecessarily complicated set-up (bad) and increase the sales of the local theatrical gel dealer (good). As far as creating pleasant pictures of attractive news personnel, it is never successful.

If you asked for my simple description of what I saw, I would reply “Unnatural, one dimensional, orange faces”.

Where did this method come from anyway? I’m not sure. But the explanation and justification always includes the words “warm,” “soft,” “beautiful,” “natural,” etc. These words are intoned in a very poetic litany with teary eyes staring off into space. Unfortunately, “pleasing” never seems to be part of it and certainly doesn’t apply. “Pasted on the background” is more appropriate. And what is the motivation for the orange correction - an offstage roaring fireplace?

Doesn’t anyone look at the monitor?

Let me describe the method. Buy two rolls (at least) of one-quarter CTO. Or better still, one-half CTO, which makes you a true advocate. Buy two rolls (at least) of your favorite diffusion. “Opal” has a wonderfully distinctive ring particularly when echoed across the studio when visitors wander through. Warning: It may not be diffuse enough for the method.

The next step is very essential. Make up “Soft Boxes” and claim they are of your proprietary design. The pyramid shape is the easiest to construct and has the benefit of suggesting something mysterious. The closer the boxes are to the size of the Great Pyramids of Giza, the more striking they will be. Make at least sixteen of these. They will be more obvious to a casual visitor if they are made from foam core which is white on both sides, and they will show better against the dark studio ceiling. Don’t hurry this process. Take at least two eight-hour days to do this job and strew all the materials around the studio to make passage impossible. Or better still, incur overtime which will make this operation gain further importance. Attach these boxes to the best, most current fixtures in the studio’s inventory so that it is impossible to use them for the task for which they had been designed. Then, for the magic of CDLM to begin, the front of the boxes should be covered with one layer of CTO and one layer of diffusion.

Next step is to diaper (a current lighting term used in the professional arena) EVERY fixture in the studio with the same formula: CTO plus diffusion.

We now are ready to “LIGHT”!

Point all the instruments into the areas that they are supposed to light. Let’s say that you wish to light Chair Number 2 at the anchor desk with a Fresnel spotlight from the camera angle. Remove diaper and put the hot spot on the face of someone seated in the chair. Replace the diaper. Repeat this for every focus area. Then, add the Pyramids of Light. There is absolutely no need to use your light meter, because at the conclusion of this operation, the light level will be constant throughout. This is the idea.

This method provides absolutely no control of the light. Every surface gets equal treatment, and no isolation is really possible unless you use light baffles which, at their smallest, are the size of standard 4 x 8 foot black foam core. Just keeping the incident light off a rear projection screen can test the patience of the most stable lighting man. There may be some difficulty in the placement of these baffles, because in a studio packed with sets there can be a lot of conflict and interference between the lighting of one set and the lighting of an adjacent set. But this is advantageous in that it can result in much confusion, and readjustment and tension. Again, this will only emphasize importance of the method by incurring more overtime.

Now, let’s look at the end result! We have successfully created a scene that not only has little contrast but offers no assistance as to the location of any elements of our scene. We have successfully plastered our talent on our background. I forgot to mention that no highlights are possible because the method does not allow them. Even a simple backlight on an anchor just can’t get through the ambient light, particularly since it also has the CTO/Diffusion sandwich. Oh, and wonderful dimensional shadows that could be part of the composition are nonexistent. When there are shadows, they appear as a group of annoying soft penumbras.

Of course, to complete the set-up, the cameras are white balanced under a “white” light with no gels to insure that our camera sees orange faces. (Note: I realize that you who are in the know are saying, “Why not just ‘paint’ the cameras orange?” True, but we are talking “Emperor’s New Clothes” here!). This is really a shame since it has literally taken decades for the camera manufacturers and their designers to create a device that is very stable and is sensitive to much of the CIE Color Space.

I did forget to mention another rule. All the lights should be positioned so that their elevation is at least 45 degrees, so that the talent is properly “modeled” − modeled to look like the studio’s overhead cleaning lights have been inadvertently left on.

Incidentally, even if you have a wall painted blue, still use the CTO/Diffusion combo. Nobody will be perceptive enough to ask, “Why?” If you are asked to create a sunrise (or sunset), just talk them into a cloudy day. Be sure to use the terms “soft” and “more creative.” Moonlight is a little bit easier, but (horrors!) you may have to take the CTO off the “moon” source. I actually observed a tinted blue translucent ceiling lighted with the CTO/Diffusion sandwich. This is difficult to explain.

So, what’s the solution to all of this? Moving Lights or LEDs are not the answer. I suggest going back to the basics. For example, review the methods suggested by Gerald Millerson in his standard text on television lighting. Even though the first edition was published in the ancient times of the 1970s and reflects the practice of the BBC at that time, the book is still very relevant today. Use diffusion and color correction sparingly and only for applications for which they were intended. Keep your set-up simple and uncomplicated. Think of it as portraiture. .. AND, please look at the monitor!