Aug. 16, 2021

DP Gao Pengyu relies on the new ARRI Orbiter for his work on “Emergency Rescue”

After filming several Chinese hit films, cinematographer Gao Pengyu takes the reigns with camera and lighting for his latest project. On “Emergency Rescue,” the ARRI Orbiter is able to convince Gao’s crew with its ease of use and power.

Aug. 16, 2021

Gao Pengyu graduated in 2006 from the Photography Department of the School of Film and Television Art at the Communication University of China. He is also a member of the Chinese Society of Film and Television Photographers (CNSC). His repertoire boasts of a number of Chinese films such as “Liu Haizhu,” “My Father Jiao Yulu,” “Arrows Willow White Ape,” and “Eighteen Cave Village.” In 2018, “Eighteen Cave Village” was nominated for Best Cinematography in the main competition of the Beijing International Film Festival. For his latest project, “Emergency Rescue,” in addition to overseeing the visual composition and camera work on the piece, Gao Pengyu spent a great deal of his time and energy on the light and color of the film. He felt that these elements allowed the audience to be more immersed in this exciting story.

How did you hear about the chance to participate in this project?

After filming the Chinese version of “Angry Scalper” starring Wu Yue and Dong Xuan at the end of 2020, I received a film contract for “Emergency Rescue,” which was to be directed by Chen Siming. Unlike the previous movie I worked on, which was mainly handheld camerawork, this one is more difficult. There are a lot of car chases, explosions, gun battles, and a series of events that allow us to convey heightened emotions between the characters. Both the camera and the composition need a cohesive sense of style. At the same time, our daily schedule is very tight. In this respect, the filming of “Emergency Rescue” reflects the film’s plot; they are challenging adventures.

Is there an overall concept for the lighting of this movie, and how do you discuss lighting and color with the production team?

The first thing to be mindful of is that the picture must complement the sound and editing rhythm. It must serve the director’s dramatic expression and reflect the inner rhythm of the script.

The visuals in “Emergency Rescue” need to strengthen the character’s personality by exaggerating the image and portraying a hot and humid, specific geographical environment in Southeast Asia. First, I discussed with the art director how to match the colors of the scene, always taking director’s approach of highlighting the various textures into consideration. Most of the scenes are real scenes, so the hot and humid texture requirements should also be reflected in the selection of locations. Second, in terms of character modeling, I really care about seeing the hair sticking to the forehead, the sweat dripping on the face, the sweat-drenched T-shirt, and the reflections on leather jackets due to the moisture. The image must highlight these textures. To sum up, the image needs to be unrestrained, which requires a lot of vibrant, diffused light.

What lights are used in this project?

In terms of lights, we are using conventional HMIs and tungsten. However, the rental house also provided us with two new ARRI Orbiter LEDs. The Orbiter’s accessories are a set of 15º, 30º, 60º open face optics. We also have a DoPchoice S lantern, matched with the widely used SkyPanel series S30, S60, S360 LED, plus a full-color LED tube with wireless signal transmitters. With these tools, we were able to build a small-scale DLT digital lighting system.

The protagonists and villains of this movie have very distinct personalities. How do you use lighting to shape these characters?

The character played by Jordan Chan used to be a gangster in a previous life. In this story, however, he tries to pursue a more stable and ordinary existence; this character’s state lies on a spectrum from plain to explosive. The villain, played by Sam Lee, wants to avenge his brother but also has obvious behavioral motives. The light quality is mostly diffused light. Overhead lighting is dominant to create shadows over the character’s eyes, to hide their gaze. At the same time, we follow the actor’s performances as they raise and lower their heads to find the most vivid expression of the characters.

Could you give an example of a lighting challenge you ran across while filming and how you were able to resolve it?

On the third day of shooting, there was a semi-enclosed scene with a window in the room. It was necessary to create a gloomy atmosphere but with the presence of sunlight. The scene was less affected by the sky, but it was not a completely enclosed interior. I installed a 30º reflector on the fixture so that the light could completely wrap the window. Orbiter’s direct light power surpassed the HMI; it provided a very directional base light for the scene. With the Orbiter as our base light, traditional light diffusion was possible. Whether it is soft light or direct light, Orbiter is able to provide strong directional illumination. At the same time, when the 15º reflector is replaced, the range of lighting is very small, saving time and the amount of equipment it took in the past to block light with various black flags. The menu in Orbiter’s controller is also available in Chinese, and the connection lines are long enough. You can quickly adjust the color temperature, color gel, and programming.

You are currently using Orbiter for the first time. How have you been using the fixture so far?

I mainly use the Orbiter for second-level lighting. It is most often the auxiliary fixture for big lights, but I also like to use it as the main light for smaller spaces without strong daylight. Once the extensive range of Orbiter accessories are delivered, making the Orbiter light even stronger, we won’t need to use the traditional HMI lights anymore.

When shooting the villain’s battle in the warehouse, 12K lights and 6K PAR lights were used for the three large windows, while the Orbiter was still used for the sunlight effect for one small window. In contrast, the brightness of the Orbiter is closer to the ARRI M18.

How have you been able to use Orbiter’s lighting effects? Do you have an example?

In one scene, after the shipyard exploded, the villain escaped from the wreckage of an overturned car. Many fire spots were placed around the periphery of the set, and CGI will create a sea of fire effect in post. When shooting close-up shots of this character, gaffer Zhou Junlei puts an S-sized lantern directly on the Orbiter, which quickly simulates the firelight effect through the controller. The Orbiter is light enough to be handheld and can be moved around together with the actors. Whether used as a multi-light array or single-light, Orbiter gives users more flexibility and more choices.

How does Orbiter perform in terms of color output? Is it used to illuminate character’s faces? 

When filming the scene in which Jordan Chan is looking for his daughter in a nightclub, I programmed the Orbiter with a 15º reflector and asked the lighting assistant to shake the lamphead manually. The two Orbiters created a rich, colorful, and dreamy flashing effect at the entrance of the nightclub. Together with the Nanguan charging lamp (continuously turned on for 1.5 hours of lighting), the Orbiters set the scene with a layer of cyberpunk-like base light while jointly creating a modern atmosphere. I also used Orbiter as a face-fill light. When shooting a car scene, I used the two Orbiters to shoot directly. The color temperature was set at 4300K, which is very convenient in providing the characters with main light and back light. It is worth mentioning that the scene was shot in an ancient town where the generator truck could not be used. The lighting unit needed to be connected to the civilian power supply from a nearby shop in order to operate the Orbiter. I think the Orbiter’s great brightness and low power consumption are very practical features.

Orbiter currently supports the function of adjusting the color gel based on the color temperature of 2000-20000W. Can you talk about how this aspect benefited your work?

This topic is actually very worthy of discussion. Digitalization, the integration of broadcasting, filming, and the stage, is a big trend in lighting. “Emergency Rescue” uses the CODE lighting console, which allows the gaffer to quickly change the color of the scene with a mobile tablet. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the general Orbiter protocol when shooting this movie, so the adjustment of the color gel has been done through the detachable panel. To shoot different scene atmospheres, I often set the camera’s color temperature at 4300K for night scenes and applied the pre-adjusted LUT for monitoring. However, this will cause the original standard hue to cast different colors. For example, the red color in the camera will be slightly magenta and pink. Using the Orbiter’s six-color light engine, which is based on the standard color gels, you can calibrate the color cast and give the light a richer, emotional quality to adjust for these subtle changes.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us about your experiences with the Orbiter?

In the end, equipment are merely tools. Their job is to capture the filmmaker’s inspiration and consciousness. How to better express the director’s central idea of the film, how to capture the most vivid and accurate performance of the characters, and how to create the most appropriate visual atmosphere is up to the filmmakers themselves.

I wasn’t able to try Orbiter’s automatic sensitivity compensation function and the contact function at the bayonet this time around. Still, I hope this function will be able to help with my film projects in the future.

I want to thank Mr. Lin from Beijing Starlight Rental for supporting me and providing the crew with as much support and service as possible within a limited budget. At the same time, the staff of Starlight Rental also exerted their creativity and prepared a variety of core equipment combinations to ensure the continuous and efficient work of the crew. Finally, to borrow a famous saying from Elon Musk: “Don’t be afraid of new arenas.”

Opening Image: © Gao Pengyu