Paint light like a master.

My wife and I saw Tim’s Vermeer movie this weekend, I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t boring like watching paint dry, it really made me think and gave me a couple of ideas.

Tim Jenison is not a painter, but he painted just like Vermeer, probably one of the most famous painters of all time in terms of creating an image very  photographic like. Vermeer’s paintings at the time 350 years ago and even today are amazing, the looked cinematic but no one knew how he did it. In the movie you watch Tim create this amazing painting that is just as good, I think better than Vermeer’s painting.

Tim built a room just like Vermeer’s and found the right mix of optics and mirrors to create an awesome looking image. In the movie he goes in to depth how he discovered this and how to do it. Now anyone can paint like Vermeer.

This got me thinking about movies, because I struggle trying to get a cinematic look.  What if I could create a way where I could accurately duplicate a movie scene that is truly cinematic? How awesome would that be for a learning tool!

Go see the movie just to see the carpet and the dress, the colors and the fall off of light are amazing. I must of said wow a dozen times.

What if I could create a system like Tim’s but do it for a famous movie scene, what if I could recreate the light exactly like that from a movie scene? I have a feeling that exercise would make me learn so much. Kind of like a master class from a master DP without even meeting the DP.

I am not sure if this could be done, I don’t know how I could do it, but if Tim could figure it out without an BTS footage from Vermeer, it can’t be as hard as that. If you guys have seen the movie and have any ideas how this could be done please share below!

In terms of the movie scene it would be fun to get permission to use it so I could show my seen side by side with the one I admire.

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  • Kodak released a few DVDs (Masterclass, I think they were called) of DPs trying to recreate lighting setups on well-known films.

    The American Cinematographer magazine is another great resource that breaks down some important lighting setups.

    What I’ve learned (the hard way) is that it really does take all those lights and people to achieve that look. I mean, you might be able to approximate simpler scenes but the challenge is to bring your vision to a set on demand.

    It’s not that hard to get some good shots over the course of a movie, say, but to maintain a unique vision over every shot in the movie takes a lot of resources.

  • Hi Dave,

    You might want to check out The Road to Perdition. The cinematography was so over-the-top cinematic, it all but ruined the story.

    Another movie that’s been analyzed to death is American Beauty. I remember a LOT of articles that discussed/reverse engineered the lighting for the scenes.

  • Sareesh – I love the idea of that Kodak DVD Masterclass. Thanks

    And Robert – I just recently found that magazine and web site very full of info and affordable for what you get.

    DAVE – You live in the mountains area. Why not the hillside scene from the Sound of Music? I think that era of color and cinema is very hard to match nowadays. It is the kind of look that demands your attention. See here….

    But there is also the Raiders of Last Ark Sceane with the replacing of the Gold Idol with a bag of sand. The color reflected on the face of Harrison Ford while still having a hat on is impressive.

    OR anything from Gone with the Wind would be tough.

    But my vote is for Something Classic from a Musical. That look is tried for in “Mad Men” and yet they just can not get it. I think part of it is the character of the lenses and the fact that it is film.

    PLUS I would use plenty of length on my lens choice. A distant shot like the S.O.M. hillside allows you to see the compression of the long lens even though it is a wide shot. So for me, part of the cinema look is large distance compressed to force your perspective to a mystery place. Hope that is helpful. I look forward to hearing more on this.

  • You think this guy is BETTER than Vermeer? Have you been sniffing paint fumes or something?

    No. Just no.

  • I love the idea, Dave. I don’t know if it’s still true today, but Boulder High School used to have a significant film studies and video production program my daughter was in, and they spent a lot of time trying to recreate specific shots (a lot of Hitchcock), though it was less about cinematography than trying to analyze and reverse-engineer pacing and edits. They produced some amazing work with very low budget gear.

    If you make a learning tool around something like this, I’d be very interested 🙂

    Thanks once again for all your work.

  • Robert – The reason the work from American Beauty and Road to Perdition has been so thoroughly covered in trades and BTS features is because they are both masterworks of one of the greatest DP’s in the history of cinema shooting at the pinnacle of his career.

    Connie Hall’s work was “so over-the-top cinematic it all but ruined the story”?

    Wow. Maybe you should have actually read some of those articles or watched the featurettes on the film more closely. Particularly the interviews with Sam Mendes who talks about the incredible POV Connie Hall brought to their collaborations.

    Not to mention, how could anyone interested in cinematography or cinema in general not be mesmerized by the impeccable work Hall did in both of those films. I think his Oscar for Road To Perdition is one of the most well-deserved in the history of the awards.

    Dave, if you want a master class in cinematography I would highly recommend you pick up the blu-ray of Road to Peridition and watch the BTS features.

    American Cinematographer has also been an invaluable source of knowledge for me over the course of my filmmaking career.

    I have actually worked on filmmaking exercises that attempted to recreate scenes from films while I was in film school. You can get a close approximation, but Shawn Wright makes a good point. There is something very specific about the time, place and tools used to create the images that is nearly impossible to recreate unless you have the exact same parameters to work with.

    Best of luck, and thanks for your thoughts on the film. I’ll be checking out Tim’s Vermeer this week 🙂

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