DP Martín Sapia: “With ARRI Orbiter, I rediscovered playing with light”

ARRI Orbiter empowered Argentinean cinematographer Martín Sapia ADF’s artistic vision to use lighting creatively on “Los MacAnimals” for Disney+.

Aug. 25, 2023

Film sets are usually not the most appropriate places to experiment with light. Time is pressing, and there is not always room for play and improvisation in search of finding the best creative approach that benefits the story. The ARRI Orbiter is changing this reality, at least in the eyes of Argentinean cinematographer Martín Sapia ADF. The DP often seeks playfulness and exploration with light and categorizes the Orbiter as a powerful, versatile tool.

In his 25-year career, Sapia has specialized in television dramas, miniseries, single-story episodes, and soap operas in Argentina, as well as film and advertising projects in Spain and Central America. For his most recent work “Los MacAnimals,” a 10-episode series created for Disney+ and currently in post-production, Sapia used the ARRI Orbiter for the first time. Sitting down with ARRI, he talks about the importance of light in cinematographic work—and how the Orbiter supported his vision for “Los MacAnimals” technically and creatively.


DP Martín Sapia ADF seeks playfulness and exploration with light in his work

How would you describe your way of working?

I work with light in every aspect. I believe that any object that emits or modifies light can be used if it helps to tell the story. I don't strictly adhere to using lights manufactured for the film industry. Many times, when working in the studio and with large-scale lighting setups, I create my own light sources adapted to a set's shape. This not only adds uniqueness to the space but often leads to greater productivity, all while preserving the “plasticity of the light.”

There is an artistic aspect of film that transcends the tools that are manufactured. I believe that a significant part of a cinematographer's work involves weaving together technique, plasticity, and workflow. In this context, the ARRI Orbiter is a powerful tool that, I must admit, dazzled me.


I work with light in every aspect. I believe that a significant part of a cinematographer’s work involves weaving together technique, plasticity, and the workflow.

Martín Sapia ADF


Why? How does the ARRI Orbiter fit into your working dynamic?

In photography, we always manipulate the attributes of light in terms of its shape, texture, intensity, and color. We are equally interested in the nature of light sources and how they change when they bounce off objects and surfaces or pass through different materials. These attributes make up the aesthetics of light, which is vital for cinematographers. It is one of the pillars that give uniqueness to a story, alongside composition, camera work, and color grading. Working with light affects the storytelling, aesthetics, and how we perceive what we see on screen. It can have a significant emotional impact on the viewer, much like music.

We have a variety of light sources designed for different purposes (Fresnel, PAR, LED panel, tubes, etc.) and also filters, diffusers, reflective elements, and much more. However, the design of the ARRI Orbiter and its accessory integration system allows us to combine these attributes over a much broader range in a single light source. With the Orbiter, we can achieve sharp shadows, even at close distances, as well as soft and ambient lighting, with a wide range of intermediate instances. Its light beam can be shaped with different optics, transforming it into various types of existing fixtures like Fresnels or Open Face optics. It offers control over intensity, color, saturation, and the ability to program changes in all these variables. With ARRI Orbiter, I rediscovered playing with light. It offers great versatility in shaping light creatively.


The ARRI Orbiter on set of Disney+ series “Los MacAnimals”

What have been the major challenges during the filming of the Disney+ series “Los MacAnimals,” and how has the Orbiter been beneficial? 

The plot of “Los MacAnimals” revolves around a 13-year-old girl who manages to activate a forgotten machine in her parents’ laboratory, which has the power to transform animals into humans. Throughout the story, various animals undergo such transformations. Part of the complexity of the project lay in filming with a light source that served multiple purposes simultaneously: it had to be easily movable and portable (even when handheld), capable of changing intensity and very specific colors, and be synchronized with other light sources. Additionally, it needed to shine brightly enough to compete with various lighting environments, even in real indoor settings during the day, slow-motion shots, low ISO settings, and so on. Gathering all these aspects at once with conventional lights would have been very challenging. The ARRI Orbiter allowed us to solve the equation and adapt to specific filming situations, not only technically but also creatively. I was able to program it to have its fluctuations perceived as a kind of “personality” for that fantastic element that would later be integrated into the VFX.

For this effect, I created custom lights, concealing them in a special way so that they could be removed from the image later. However, without the Orbiter, I wouldn't have been able to achieve the effect in all filming contexts. In other words, the feasibility of the effect in the series relied on this light source.


The cast and crew of “Los MacAnimals,” produced for Disney+

How was your experience with the Orbiter in terms of color?

Visually, the series uses VFX and luminous elements embedded in post-production, following a specific color pattern chosen by the client, which becomes distinctive for the series. The Orbiter played a crucial role because it allowed me to create a complex effect where the light had to rapidly fluctuate between specific colors and varying intensities at a pace that would serve VFX to integrate a very particular luminous element, which would change shape and move continuously within the sets and among the characters. I had to coordinate with VFX the rhythm, color, fluctuation, incidence area, speed, and direction of light movement so that the digitally inserted effect would organically integrate into the scene.

For what type of productions would you recommend using the ARRI Orbiter, and why?

When I first heard about the Orbiter, I thought it was a wonderful idea, but I believed it would be justified mainly in projects with a highly stylized, dynamic, theatrical, and ultimately sophisticated aesthetic. I still think that it has tremendous potential when utilized in complex or extreme setups. However, after using it, I realized that I was wrong about its specificity of application. I find it to be a highly adaptable tool that makes sense in various scenarios. You can always benefit from it, even if you don't use all its functions. The advantages of a lighting tool are not solely defined by the light it produces. Many times, it's about how much easier it makes your work and how much time it saves. In those areas of productivity, effort, budget, and limitations, it's sometimes where the real value of a product lies. And whenever I can achieve that drop of uniqueness, having a resource like this becomes worthwhile.

In scenes with a more “everyday” aesthetic, the Orbiter has helped me achieve finer adjustments more quickly and allowed me to discover opportunities for unique effects that arose spontaneously. As a compositional element, the Orbiter is of great assistance, because it allows me to control the color within a wide spectrum on a hard and intense light source. It is also very practical that the light's color adapts to the changing color temperature of the environment through a sensor.


The Orbiter allows you to create natural light environments by changing the color from scene to scene

Which Orbiter attributes did you like most? Can you share an example of its usage that surprised you?

Some of the attributes that I liked most were the classic RGBW features, such as the multiple paths to achieve color. From emulating filters with a base color temperature to using HSI values and even RGB values. However, what stands out for me is the wide color gamut that this LED fixture achieves. I found the user interface to be very user-friendly and comfortable. The accessory “mounting” system was a real find. When combined with domes of different sizes, I believe it becomes a powerful tool. Combining dome sizes allowed me to adapt to different spaces and replicate the same lighting effect for VFX along with other more artisanal techniques.

With the Orbiter, I could navigate the set amongst the characters with a light that not only fulfilled the technical requirements, the complexities of VFX, and the client's requests. It also allowed me to work relatively easily with something as intangible as the “personality or behavioral trait” of a fantastical element that would later be digitally added to the image and play a leading role in the series. Before the Orbiter, it might not have been as easy, and I might not have been able to solve it without further constraining the shooting process.

While it is an artifact of sophisticated technology, what I appreciate is that it has a design that not only performs excellently but also offers multiple configurations. Usually, these two aspects do not go hand in hand. As a cinematographer, what I find most valuable about the ARRI Orbiter is that it is an extremely versatile and malleable light source that allows me to arrange and combine light attributes as I wish.