The Science of Magic
Lock up your children – the Sanderson sisters are back! 30 years on from the original Hallowe’en classic, Disney’s wickedly funny trio of child-eating witches are back for another night of magical mayhem in “Hocus Pocus 2”.
It’s All Hallows’ Eve, and the moon is round. Three teenage girls accidentally light a mysterious Black Flame Candle, manifesting buck-toothed Winifred (Bette Midler), mooncalf Mary (Kathy Najimy) and seductress Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) into modern-day Salem. Their mission: harvest souls from the town’s children before sunrise, recapture their youth, and live forever.
The spooky location for witch-conjuring candle lighting is naturally a forbidden forest. To create the atmospheric location - not in historic Salem, but on a soundstage inside an old armory in Providence RI - Disney turned to some lighting science from Quasar Science Rainbow tubes and Litepanels Gemini panels to create the magic hour mood - and a moon on demand.
The soundstage location didn’t make creating a twilight-bathed forbidden forest any easier. A rounded structure, rather than a rectangular building with catwalks, presented some limitations on what the rigging gaffers could do in the space. “The first thing I knew we would have to do is put in a lot of softboxes,” says chief lighting technician, Jay Yowler.
“We have 16 softboxes up there and each one is 20x20 and five feet deep. They're surrounded with Ultrabounce, black on the outside for negative fill and white inside for a soft, even bounce without any hotspot.”
Inside each softbox, the light output is provided by 12 eight-foot Quasar Science Rainbow 2 (R2) tubes. At just under six pounds, the lightweight 100W tubes create vibrant saturated colors or intense white light via 48 individually controlled pixels to produce accurate light and realistic animation.
“On every big movie, you see soft boxes everywhere,” says rigging gaffer, David Cambria. “Back in the day, we did softboxes with space lights. They needed tons of power, and multiple feeds to each box, so they were very heavy.
“These are probably the lightest softboxes I've ever rigged. It's just 12 Rainbow tubes. It's all True1 connection, so it’s simple to daisy chain them."
"12 tubes, one multi cable and some Ethernet data and we have great output, and it's all full color. Once we put the Ultrabounce around it, we have a fully controllable light source that's a super soft and beautiful source of light”.
As wide as two football fields, the cavernous main hall of the armory played host to the huge “Hocus Pocus 2” set. Lighting such a large space properly and on budget is a careful balancing act. “I think most people would have put a lot more tubes in there,” says Jay.
“Everything we were shooting was magic hour, or night, so I knew that 12 R2 tubes in the 16 softboxes would give me everything I needed for the scene and would probably never even need to run them at full power.”
The unique spectral science color engine inside Rainbow fixtures delivers a choice of more than one billion colors but just as impressive is the white light output. With a CCT range of 1,750 to 10,000 degrees kelvin of highly accurate white light, R2s provide the most naturally believable output. “I have them set at 25% level and about 7,000 degrees kelvin for the magic hour look,” says Jay. “As time progresses into night in the storyline, I’m turning the kelvin to higher levels, up to 10,000.”
Elsewhere on the vast set, the ethereal ambiance of the forbidden forest is created with yet more Rainbow tubes. “In the background, aiming into the set, we have a nice atmospheric glow coming from a ring of the eight-foot R2 Quasar Science fixtures,” says David. “We use the Ossium Baby Pin on the Ossium Rail Slider. Super-easy, goes on a C-stand, plug it in, run some data and you got a beautiful glow, fully controllable, right around the set”.
The Ossium Slider and Ossium Rail form the core of the unique-to-Quasar Ossium Mounting System and are included with every RR and R2 fixture. The Slider is fitted to maneuver seamlessly along the Ossium Rail with a Baby Pin to mount to C-stands or other industry-standard hardware.
Wasn’t there a moon?
In a memorable spellbinding scene, magic fills the air of the wicked woodland. Lightning is all around before the scene plunges into darkness when the bright full moon seemingly disappears. On hand to create a moon on demand, Litepanels Gemini 1x1 Hard LED panels. “They’re punchy,” says Jay. “You would be hard-pressed to find another light that would work as well”. With an outstanding output of over 3000 lux at 10ft and a narrow 46-degree beam angle, Gemini Hard casts intense white or richly saturated color further than any other 1x1 LED panel. “The back is over 500 feet and I'm using just 30 Geminis to light the whole space, and also provide our moonlight,” he adds. “We also have a bunch of lightning strikes coming in when the witches appear.”
Lightning is just one of the 11 customizable special effects built into the Gemini fixture – together with 16 million colors and 300 industry-standard digital gels, the lightweight, powerful Gemini fixture has become one of Jay’s go-to lights on movie sets.
On another level
For cinematographer, Elliot Davis (Twilight, Lords of Dogtown), the advances in color control technology in the Quasar Science Rainbow tubes and Litepanels Gemini panels represent a new level in grading. “It’s like, level one, level two. If you miss it on the first level, you can fix it on the second,” he says. “It’s wonderful. I’m now able to put what used to be only possible in post-production into actual practice in production. It’s a reflection of the modern reality of the 21st century with the variation of color temperatures. And the mixture of lighting that you find in the real world. It’s like having a palette, like becoming a painter”.
“Hocus Pocus 2” launched globally on September 30th on Disney+. To date, it is the most streamed original movie launch in the platform’s history, thanks in no small part to the spooky atmospherics created by Yowler, Cambria, and Davis. Proof, if needed, that lighting and color science is not just a bunch of hocus pocus.