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Film-making with Flare

Film-making with Flare

“Since the days of Alien, Bladerunner and the early Star Trek features, science fiction has become CG-dominated. There are notable exceptions, such as Moon but largely the green screen has taken over from the miniature, the model and the practical effect.” Says new director, Chris Reading.

Shooting on a Red Scarlet and an Epic hired from VMI, Reading set out to create a new style of sci-fi where the production is not dictated by computer effects and where budgets can be as stratospheric as the action.

The Somnus Track is a claustrophobic, tense drama based in space. Thematically it follows the genre closely: computers with a dark personality and hidden agendas, thrilling extra terrestrial chase scenes and nerve-racking rescue sequences.

“We want to show that some of the things that made Alien great – practical effects, excellent camera work and a certain mood – are available to low-budget makers that have imagination and resourcefulness.” Notes Reading.

A key part of DOP Richard Jones’ armoury were VMI’s Zeiss ZF uncoated lenses. These are very different from today’s lenses whose modern coatings reduce flare and increase the transmission of contrast and therefore by extension, definition and perceived sharpness. With uncoated glass, all the reflection-controlling optical technology of the last half-century is removed.

“We thought it would create the look we wanted but we were worried that they’d be a real pain to use.” Reading continues.

However, the reality was very different. With some experimenting with lighting, the crew quickly learnt how to control lens effects with excellent results:

"We were using strong directional spot LED units into the lenses with a 2mm PV Blue Streak and 1/8 PV Black Pro Mist. The streak counteracted a lot of the flare but the lenses gave it a soft beautiful look when combined with the black pro mist filters. The results are exactly what we wanted."

The use of the filters and the lenses helped the crew change the look of everyday objects and make mundane settings appear filmic. Locations included the cockpit of RAF Nimrod and Vulcan aeroplanes and new-style bedroom pods. Space scenes are now being shot, using miniature models and tanks filled with dyed water.

“We created a very special look with the uncoated lenses, a style that is synonymous with sci-fi. It also allowed us to use conventional CP2 lenses as a strikingly clean contrast: the change between the types of lenses has a jarring effect that we used to great effect.”

The Somnus Track will be released to film festivals in 2014.

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