THE LAST JEDI: Steve Yedlin ASC on SkyPanels

From massive stages to location work, the production reportedly utilized 1,000 SkyPanels over the course of the shoot.

The critics and viewers are unanimous: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is an unqualified hit, or as Los Angeles Times film critic Justin Chang says, the movie is “the series’ eighth official episode and easily its most exciting iteration in decades – the first flat-out terrific “STAR WARS movie since 1980’s THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.” The movie was yet another feature collaboration between director Rian Johnson and cinematographer Steve Yedlin, ASC. Previously, the two have worked together on LOOPER, THE BROTHERS BLOOM and BRICK. THE LAST JEDI takes place against the backdrop of the Resistance preparing to do battle with the First Order. Rey, under Luke Skywalker’s guidance, develops abilities whose strength unsettles him.

Cinematographer Steve Yedlin ASC. Photo: ARRI.

What also makes the movie stand out is Yedlin’s innovative use of ARRI SkyPanel LED soft lights. Yedlin notes that SkyPanels were used in a variety of ways on STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. “The primary use was in very large arrays of different kinds, such as the complete ceiling of a stage covered with diffusion,” he says. “Whether it was a dome, or a big rectangle hanging from a crane, we would use them in large arrays and we were able to change the colors and even play scenes mathematically.”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Behind The Scenes

Go behind the scenes of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, directed by Rian Johnson and shot by Steve Yedlin ASC. Illuminated with ARRI SkyPanels.

Production shot for several months at Pinewood Studios in London, with additional locations in Ireland, Croatia and Bolivia. Compared to THE FORCE AWAKENS, the number of sets and lighting schemes were far greater on THE LAST JEDI. Yedlin shot the movie in a combination of four formats: primarily anamorphic 35mm but also spherical 35mm, spherical and anamorphic ARRI ALEXA cameras from Panavision, IMAX 15-perf 65mm film, as well as the ALEXA 65 from ARRI Rental. His first ARRI ALEXA feature was the 2012 GIRL MOST LIKELY.

Photo: David James ©2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

From the massive stages to location work, the production reportedly utilized 1,000 SkyPanels over the course of the shoot. SkyPanels are fully tunable, with correlated color temperatures adjustable between 2,800K and 10,000K with accurate color rendition across the entire range.

Yedlin says he consistently used the ARRI SkyPanels in HSI (Hue, Saturation, Intensity) mode, for several reasons. “In HSI mode, the chromaticity tracks almost perfectly,” he says. “If you set it to its chromaticity coordinates for hue and saturation and then you turn the brightness up and down, you have unbelievable solid tracking of the color. The thing that is amazing about HSI mode is that you can get to any color that the SkyPanel can make with only three channels of DMX data. The fact that we can get to any color with only three channels and that the chroma tracks really well as we brighten it and darken it, is why we used HSI.” 

Photo: David James ©2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Yedlin had created interactive lighting schemes before, but this was his first time doing so with LEDs. “That’s what allowed us to do unbelievably complex stuff,” he says. “We could have light changing faster and in more complex ways then we ever could have before. It was also possible to re-program faster. We did a lot of work to make sure I had scripts written, but I could also very quickly render completely new versions. For example, if we had a barrel roll, a hemisphere where half is black and half is white, but aesthetically it doesn’t look right and I want to really feel it spinning, I can re-render in one minute to make it a lot of blades rather than the hemispheres.”

We could have light changing faster and in more complex ways then we ever could have before.

The ease and efficiency of making changes allowed the crew freedom to do things they were not able to do before, like replacing colors in specific directions. “For example, if you’ve got an orange explosion light that’s trying to overpower the other lights, the SkyPanel itself can change from the other color to the orange so nothing is overpowering. We were able to get changes of complexity and intensity that we usually just cannot get conventionally – and make those changes on the fly in pretty easy ways.”   

X,Y Mode (also called Mode 18) was not available in the SkyPanel at the time of the shoot. Using the familiar CIE 1931 color space chromaticity diagram, this protocol allows users to select x and y coordinates to produce a particular color within that color space. Says the DP, “We did the movie before the SkyPanels had X,Y Mode. If Mode 18 had existed at that time, we would have used that instead of HSI, it has all the advantage and more of HSI. It’s got all the great things about HSI plus two additional advantages: it would have made our R&D more streamlined (since the chromaticity coordinates are tied to a universal standard instead of just to an internal single-use unit of measure) and it allows for simple crossfading between colors (as opposed to taking a circuitous route) for the colors to not pop en route from the start to finish color.”

Prep played an important role in making the lighting work so smoothly, says Yedlin, who says “continuous prep” lasted for five or six months, after an on-again, off-again period of several months. “THE LAST JEDI had the most useful prep of any movie I have ever done,” he says. “Everything from being able to talk to the production designer Rick Heinrichs and his set designers about where the lights would be in the set…That was especially important because we were going to be in a completely closed set where you can see all the walls, so we couldn’t have something in the ceiling, for example. The shape of the lights had to be designed with the set designer.” 

Photos: Lucasfilm Ltd. © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Such a long prep time gave Yedlin the time he needed to “correctly map out the SkyPanels. “I had an ALEXA, a SkyPanel, a media server, my computer and a lot of gels in my office for weeks,” he says. “I had time to plan things with the gaffer David Smith, and I also did a lot of work with [additional cinematographer] Jaron Presant, to do such things as match gels for example. We were able to map the chromaticity coordinates for the SkyPanels, and do it properly with the prep time we had.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is in theaters everywhere. 

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