I’m in one of my final VFX sessions for an episode of HBO’s “Bored To Death.” We’re working on finishing touches for a scene shot in a cemetery during the day that’s meant to eventually look like night.
When I first heard we were going to shoot the scene “Day for Night,” I had my own personal reservations, having to do with childhood memories of fighting cowboys and a fake night sky. (See my blog “Day For Night”)
Vanja, our Director of Photography, had wanted to shoot the scene this way because it would allow us to shoot deeper into the cemetery where it would have been difficult to station enough proper lighting. And of course, I want Vanja to be able to have what he wants, so I agreed to go with it. (Collaboration often requires little leaps of faith!)
After our Color Correct sessions, we were well on our way to converting our daytime-shot scene into a moon-drenched night. George, my VFX artist, was now creating a complex combination of matte composites in order to eliminate the few remaining bright background patches that were piercing our nocturnal illusion.
The “Day for Night” Cemetery scene was starting to look great, but unfortunately, the shooting schedule had necessitated shooting the preceding scene at the Cemetery Gate during actual night, which of course looked completely different!
We had also shot footage of a full moon to be used as a transition between the two looks, but unfortunately, when I saw it cut into the sequence, it looked fairly static and didn’t create the visual transition I was hoping for.
We looked for footage we could license of a rising moon, but none of the available shots quite did what I wanted them to. One of the better clips featured a beautiful moon emerging from behind a dark cloud, but it was surrounded by a black, barren sky. Another shot featured some nice clouds that I knew we could light up in color correct, but the clip was of poor resolution. I ended up licensing them both in the hope that I could find a way to combine each of their better traits.
The next day in my VFX session, George said he thought he could grab the clouds from the lower resolution clip and clean them up a bit. Next he constructed some tracking mattes around the clouds so we could compose the way they would part to reveal the moon.
Soon I had exactly what I’d envisioned, a full, beautiful moon rising out of the clouds, lighting up the sky around it. Now we had a transition that would help us sell our Cemetery scene as being lit by the moon!
I know I’m lucky to have a job that constantly demands inventing solutions to problems beyond the horizon. But in those times when I can make a moon rise the way I want, I get the bonus of growth, accompanied by a moon-drenched night’s worth of satisfaction.