Jun. 7, 2021

For Jimmy Huang, ARRI’s Orbiter was “definitely a great help” for a smartphone commercial

Gaffer Jimmy Huang shares insights on working with Orbiter and other ARRI lighting fixtures for a major brand’s commercial which was shot entirely on a smartphone.

Jun. 7, 2021

To demonstrate the outstanding image quality of the camera of its latest smartphone generation, a major brand captured a short film for the Chinese market entirely on its new devices. More state-of-the-art technology was used for the lighting, including ARRI's Orbiter, SkyPanel, and Daylight. Gaffer Jimmy Huang shares insights on the work behind the scenes of this very special commercial.

How were you brought on board for this commercial?

I worked with the production company Lunar Films a few times before, and we had good experiences together. I also was the gaffer for their project last year. Because of that, I got to know the technical differences between shooting with a smartphone and shooting with a film camera. I’m honored to be part of this year’s shoot.

Can you briefly explain how you were able to ensure the quality of lighting and how the lighting style was established for this shoot?

This time, besides showing the flexibility of shooting with a smartphone, the client also wanted to demonstrate how great the night mode is after the lens upgrade, so we added many night scenes with low-key lighting. The DP, Liwei Yu, has experience shooting with smartphones. After our discussion, we decided to set up enough ambiance lighting to catch all the details on the smartphone. Then we wanted to create some stylish lighting and add contrast according to each scene. We wanted the image to look natural with some contrast in lighting.

The interior night scene has a lot of contrast, but the lighting effects have smooth transitions. How did you achieve that?

In this video, to showcase the improvement of the smartphone’s night function, most interior scenes are night scenes. We had high-color temperature light as ambiance light, and our set designer added low-color temperature practicals. Our lighting department enhanced these so we could achieve realistic lighting with depth. It was exactly what we planned to have. By using a Dome as diffusion in front of an ARRI 650 W Fresnel and a different bounce board by the light bridge to create soft moonlight together with light tubes with all kinds of accessories, we achieved the ideal lighting in the limited space we had.

How did you use ARRI’s Orbiter for interior night scenes?

After ARRI expert Martin Ma explained Orbiter’s function and how to use it, we had a better understanding of ARRI and how they always keep improving on their products. Orbiter covers an even wider color gamut range than SkyPanel. It also can be used with all kinds of optical accessories—this time, I chose to use a Dome. Thanks to Orbiter and the Dome, I had more and accurate options to create moonlight coming through windows.

With all the functions Orbiter has, which of them has helped you solve problems on set quickly?

Orbiter has a very impressive new function: the color sensor. It can tell you the overall color temperature on set by its small sensor and adjust itself to the right color temperature to make the lighting looks harmonious. This is definitely a great help since it’s all about efficiency nowadays. Also, the wireless DMX can control color temperature, brightness, and special lighting effects, which saves lots of time adjusting lights and gives you time to create better shots.

For the exterior cave scene, how did you manage the exposure and key light to enhance the subject in the image?

For this shoot, we wanted it to look realistic, so all the scenes are shot on location. This became one of the obstacles for all the technical departments, especially for the cave scene. We had to walk almost 1,000 meters of road through the mountains to get to the cave. For the electrical department, the first issue was electricity. Most traditional lights need a lot of electricity, which was impossible to get in the cave. Thanks to new technology, lighting equipment is now very different from how it used to be. I chose all LED lights. The Dome is still my first choice for soft ambient light inside the cave. In this low-key lighting situation, I added the SkyPanel with an Octagon Softbox to light up and emphasize the subject’s face. To add some depth to the shot, we created two highlights as the sun shone through the little holes overhead.

How did you use lighting to solve the visual perspective relationship when shooting with smartphones?

We wanted to have more space for camera movements, so we first decided on the light source for ambient lighting, then we used some practicals or other smaller lights for face light, such as light tubes or bounce boards. To create a visual relationship perspective, we added fireworks, red lanterns, and firecrackers according to the story in medium and close-up shots with shallow depth of field. This way, the audience can feel the subjects are related to the scenes while still obtaining the perspectives.

What was the difference in using Orbiter for this shoot compared to traditional LED lamps?

Orbiter is more user-friendly and straightforward in terms of user interface. It can achieve many different lighting effects because there are many optical accessories one can use with it. Different from SkyPanel, which only provides soft lighting, Orbiter provides more choices. My personal habit is to use Fresnel light with a bounce board. You can add optics to Orbiter to make it into a Fresnel. In the past, you could only adjust the color temperature with hard light, but now this applies to color light as well. I believe that there will soon be more accessories that will provide more choices for gaffers to create more interesting scenes.

To watch the final commercial please go to YouTube

Photos: Jimmy Studio Photography