Re-Creating 17th Century Illumination For Versailles With SL1 SWITCH
Anton Mertens, SBC is a Belgian cinematographer who has worked on a myriad of domestic and foreign films and television series – including season three of the blockbuster historical drama Versailles. Below, Mertens describes how he used the versatile SL1 SWITCH lights to reproduce the interior lighting of Versailles Palace inside Bry sur Marne Studios.
Versailles is a television show set in 1667 France when King Louis XIV built a lavish palace to house his court and rule over France. As the title suggests, most of the show’s action takes place inside the vast confines of Versailles Palace with its exquisitely decorated corridors, bedchambers, staterooms, and ballrooms. While the production gained access to shoot inside the actual palace, we only had a limited number of days on location. So, shooting the bulk of the scenes on a soundstage was the way to go. Interior sets of the palace were built on two stages at Bry sur Marne Studios near Paris. In order to meet the production schedule, all of the sets needed to be pre-lit and ready to go during the four-month shoot.
SL1 SWITCH lights featuring SnapBags and SnapGrids illuminate the court of King Louis.
On one of my previous jobs, I had come across the SL1 SWITCH lights and was immediately a fan of their form factor. I love how their thin housing makes them easy to rig and hide in a set. If you hang them up against the ceiling, they don’t take up too much space, leaving you with enough headroom to frame the actors. Being able to battery operate them is also a big plus because it saves time not having to hide power cables. And being able to control them remotely and change the colour temperature on the fly is a game-changer. On a television schedule, saving time is of the essence. The SL1 SWITCH lights enable me to easily adjust depending on what look I want for the scene without having to wait for color correction gels to be put on.
SL1 SWITCH lights create a warm candlelit scene.
I suggested using the SL1 SWITCH as the main light source for lighting the Versailles studio sets. However, we needed a large number of these LED lights, and that cost raised some eyebrows with the producers. Traditionally, these kinds of sets are lit using large tungsten sources, like 5Ks, 10Ks, or nine lights as a cost-effective solution. Though having a beautiful quality to them, these tungsten lights generate a lot of heat and use a lot of power. I pointed out that one advantage of going LED would be that our cast – all of whom were wearing wigs and heavy period clothing – would feel more comfortable in a cooler set environment. Plus, the makeup team would have fewer retouches in-between takes. On the production side, a calculation was done on the power savings using LEDs compared to traditional tungsten lighting. This also resulted in a favourable result for switching to LEDs.
A view from above shows the lights rigged above each room of the palace set.
Gaffer Christophe Dural rigged eight SL1 SWITCH lights inside every one of the ten small rooms, and around twenty fixtures in every large room of the palace set. All of them had SnapBags and SnapGrids attached to them. This setup enabled me to shoot in every direction of the set quickly by bringing lights up or down on the dimmer board. We also used the SL1 SWITCH lights to create sunrise shots. We placed them outside the windows and programmed a slow fade-time on the dimmer board to slowly bring the lights up throughout the scene.
One disadvantage of having lights hanging high up in the ceiling on a period piece is that the angle of the light can sometimes reveal the seam of the wigs. So, we had several SL1 SWITCH fixtures on stands to add in light at eye level. This not only helped reduce the visibility of the wig seams, but that sort of fill light was also more attractive on the cast. In the end, we had an easy-to-use rig that properly lit the actors. The setup enabled us to shoot without any long stops for lighting setups or makeup retouches, and the actors and crew weren’t hindered by too many stands on the floor.
We thank Anton Mertens for sharing this wonderful story with us. If you’d like to see the results of his lighting setups, you can stream season three of Versailles on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Visit www.antonmertens.com and follow @anton.mertens to explore his prolific work and stay up to date on his current projects.
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