Alien Resurrection: The God Light

Leading from


The Auriga

a) Rick Fichter and Darius Khondji first connect
When Rick Fichter and Darius Khondji first met, and started talking, the way Darius displayed how greater his understanding of photography was what lead Rick to be concerned about being brought in.

After they started discussing the writing style of the film script and Rick thought it was quite daring.

b) Problems with photography in space
In a typical way, they would do their outer space photography, where there would be the sun over here and then they would bash the model with that light, there was a sort of rudeness in photography that they began to discuss. 

However what Darius was talking about with Jean-Pierre Jeunet was a kind of lighting that one would see in deep space, where there wasn't the sun to rely on, so wherever the light came from becomes very important. 

c) The word "God Light" was spoken
It was a form of omnidirectional lighting, and so Darius with Rick started talking in terms of "God light", and this would have no particular source, it would be a directionless non-existent light.  

Even at night, in their own every day world, they would have a source, and a directionality of light,  whereas in deep space which Darius saw as an absence of light, it would just be enveloped by this very low key lighting and this omnidirectional light. 

So they talk about that in detail and how they wanted it to look, as if it were very brooding, very dark, very mysterious. 

They knew what they were talking about although at the same time it was hard to describe. 

Rick found himself working on another project some years earlier where the film makers were discussing the same concept (The Right Stuff?), but when they started going off in that direction back then, they became frightened and back off.

The Betty soars through deep space toward the brooding
Auriga space station. The mosquito-like scout craft was 

fashioned as 5' model and photographed by Fichter using 
light bounced from Black Wrap-covered boards
d) Looking for the ethereal illumination
Rick found that from the standpoint of physics, those complicated, shiny surfaces made it almost impossible to create the very diffused lighting that they wanted. 

To solve the problem they built these very large fluorescent banks which we felt would be a very soft, omnidirectional lighting source. 

But while they came in very handy with much of the miniature work, these banks weren't the answer.

e) Looking back to Rick's jewelry lighting days
Then Rick tried a trick that he learned years earlier in his commercial work. 

When lighting jewelry, they would build a black fabric tent out from the lens and then bathe the jewelry with this omnidirectional lighting, which made it look very full-bodied. 

But when they experimented with that approach on the Alien models, the directionality made the surfaces kick and gave them this very high-key look, which was exactly the opposite of what we were looking for.  

He did a test early on to show Darius and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet that the shiny model surfaces were not conducive to their  lighting approach. Meanwhile, everyone was saying, 'We need to get shots in the can.' 

Darius was very supportive and kept pushing them to give Rick some time to figure out how they were going to light this. 

To solve the problem, they built very large fluorescent banks which they felt would be very soft omnidirectional lighting source. But while they came in very handy with much of the miniature work, those banks were not the answer.

f) An accidental solution
And so a solution to the problem would come purely by accident.  

A grip carrying a piece of black foamcore walked in front of a certain very powerful light and Rick saw the light they were talking about. 

Negative sources were nothing new and had  been used to take light away and cancel out certain types of light, but this was different. 

g) Negative light
So with this deep space light that was "negative light" while everything out there was black. 

Here they had a very powerful light bouncing off a black surface, which had the quality of being there without as it were "being" there. Another dilemma was finding a bounce material that could create the proper effect yet withstand the intense heat. 

They tried throwing black silks in front of their  lights, but found that the effect only worked when white light was bounced into a reflective black surface.  

After considering several bounce materials  one of which involved anodized pieces of aluminium, Fichter finally hit upon a novel and cost effective solution involved making 20' x 12' x 6' surfaces covered with Black Wrap, and then pounded their lights into that. And with that very large fixtures had to be used. 

The Betty coming into landing



Source Quotes
  1. Khondji encouraged Fichter to take a lighting approach that the effects cinematographer had long wanted to try.(https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)
  2. Rick Fichter: But Darius, when I met him we started talking. He just had a lot more breadth of understanding of photography. I was a bit concerned about being brought in, but in our conversation we discussed the writing style and it was a bit daring. 'Cause in a typical way we do our outer space photography, you always have the sun over here and you just bash the model with that light - there's a kind of rudeness in the photography that we got into.  But what Darius and Jean-Pierre were talking about was this kind of lighting that you would see in deep space, where you didn't have this sun to rely on, so wherever your light came from becomes very important. We discussed this omnidirectional type of lighting, and we started talking in terms of god light, that there was no particular source. Even at night, in our own, everyday world, we have a source, and a directionality of light - whereas in deep space, it would just be enveloped by this low, low, kind of light - low key lighting and this omnidirectional light. So we talked about that in great detail. And how they wanted it to look, like it was very brooding, very dark, very mysterious.(Alienresurrection.com)
  3. Rick Fichter:  So, talking with him, in the aesthetics of the lighting was the main thing, I would go over the set every once in a while, I would show him tests and the kind of directions I was going in. And he would offer suggestions and tell me what direction he liked us to go. There's an affinity there with him. I just took to Darius very quickly, I respected him, I liked his whole style, it was a chemical type of thing. So the kind of lighting was exactly the type of thing that became challenging, and something that I was really drawn to. So, did we have a lot of time together.? No. He was very busy and I was very busy. But our times together were just, it as like "click", and it was a very nice feeling. To not even have to speak, and know that the other person was thinking. It was a very nice feeling.(Alienresurrection.com)
  4. Rick Fichter: Darius described deep space as this absence of light, and yet, there's also this absolute 'God-like' light a directionless and non-existent light. Years ago, I was working on another picture and the filmmakers had described that, but when we started to go in that direction, they got very frightened and backed off. But Darius kept talking about this God-light look. We both knew what we were talking about, although it was difficult to describe.
    (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm) ('Alien Effects Techniques adds realism p44)
  5. Despite a theoretical understanding, Fichter didn't know how to achieve this ethereal illumination, especially considering the unique characteristics of Alien Resurrection's miniature spacecraft. Both the Betty (a small, light-colored, mosquito-like ship)and the Auriga (a dark, brooding, cigar-shaped space station) had highly detailed surfaces which kicked light right back to its source. (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)
  6. Rick Fichter:  From the standpoint of physics, those complicated, shiny surfaces made it almost impossible to create the very diffused lighting we wanted. [To solve the problem], we built these very large fluorescent banks which we felt would be a very soft, omnidirectional lighting source. But while they came in very handy with much of the miniature work, these banks weren't the answer. (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)
  7. Rick Fichter: I then tried a trick I learned years ago in my commercial work. When lighting jewelry, we would build a black fabric tent out from the lens and then bathe the jewelry with this omnidirectional lighting, which made it look very full-bodied. But when we experimented with that approach on our Alien models, the directionality made the surfaces kick and gave them this very high-key look, which was exactly the opposite of what we were looking for. (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)
  8. Rick Fichter: I did a test early on to show Darius and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet that the model surfaces were not conducive to our lighting approach. Meanwhile, everyone was saying, 'We need to get shots in the can.' But Darius was very supportive and kept pushing them to give me some time to figure out how we were going to light this.  (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)
  9. Fichter's solution to the lighting problem occurred purely by accident.  (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)
  10. Rick Fichter: A grip carrying a piece of black foamcore walked in front of this very powerful light and I saw the light we were talking about. Negative sources are nothing new and have been used to take light away and cancel out certain types of light, but this was different.There is light in deep space, but it's negative light and everything out there is black. Here we had a very powerful light bouncing off a black surface, which had the quality of being there without 'being' there. We tried throwing black silks in front of our lights, but found that the effect only worked when white light was bounced into a reflective black surface."(https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienF
  11. But Fichter's negative-lighting approach also produced a unique and paradoxical challenge: how to bounce sufficient illumination off a black surface that was also absorbing a large amount of light. The simple answer was to use very large fixtures (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm
  12. Rick Fichter: In miniature photography, we normally use small lights to work with the scale of the miniatures. But here we were using 20Ks and Maxi-Brutes in order to get enough bounce, and we had a lot of problems with the heat created by all of these huge lamps inside the black tent that covered the shooting stage. (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm) 
  13. A secondary dilemma was finding a bounce material that could create the proper effect yet withstand the intense heat. After considering several bounce materials, one of which involved anodized pieces of aluminum, Fichter finally hit upon a novel and cost-effective solution:" (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)
  14. Rick Fichter: We eventually made 20' x 12' x 6' surfaces covered with Black Wrap, then pounded our lights into that. (https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov97/alienFX/pg2.htm)

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