Filmquip lights up Dubai’s desert with the Wendy

When one of Dubai’s leading real estate developers asked Filmworks to produce a commercial for it, it asked for the shoot to be done at night in the emirate’s desert. In an exclusive interview with Digital Studio, Anthony Smythe of Filmquip explains the challenges the crew faced in lighting up the desert at night.

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By  Vijaya Cherian Published  June 3, 2006

I|~|wen2.jpg|~|The Wendy light was mounted on a 50 tonne Johnston crane for the first scene.|~|Dubai-based production house, Filmworks, recently undertook the production of a rather challenging commercial for a major real estate developer in Dubai. The client had an unusual request. He wanted to shoot in the desert at night. “This brought with it a whole set of challenges,” says Anthony Smythe, managing director of Filmquip, the equipment rental arm of Filmworks. Smythe was also second camera operator for this project. “It meant that we’d have to get into the desert with all the equipment and as you know, the desert is a vast expanse of sand. Lighting it up meant requiring special equipment.” The director of photography, Mike Brierley, therefore, decided that the only way the team could light up the desert in the night appropriately would be with a Wendy light. “Normally, for shooting in the desert, we do not take big lights in. The generators required for lights weigh up to seven tonnes. So we generally rely on the sun for such shoots,” explains Smythe. The Wendy light, designed by David Watkins, a British DoP, is a bank of 650w globes attached to a frame. The single unit, which Filmquip had, had 196 globes with an output of 124,000 watts. The light required its own 200KVA generator. ||**||II|~|wen3.jpg|~|Filmquip mounted the Super Techno 30 camera crane on a 10 tonne 4x4 to get the camera around.|~|Moreover, camera equipment is relatively small compared to lighting and camera support equipment, so a normal 4x4 vehicle would not suffice for a project that was using the Wendy. So, the team turned to professionals for help. “AAA recovery services supplied us with large 4x4 trucks to get the equipment into the desert. We had three generators on set that were placed in various locations in the desert to get us sufficient power. As well as having lights suspended from cranes, we mounted the Wendy light on a 50 tonne Johnston crane for the first scene. This enabled us to get the light 40 metres into the sky,” says Smythe. But 40 ms was not enough to get the team far enough into the desert for the later scenes. So they mounted the light on a 10 tonne 4x4 truck that had its own crane mounted on it. “This prevented us from operating the light in a normal way,” explains Smythe. “The gaffer, Peter Du Plissés made an ingenious plan with a system of ropes and pulleys so we could operate the light from the ground. The light weighs nearly 500kg. By using a single source light, it actually made our life easier because once it was up we only had to operate one light. It also gave us enough luminance and spread than normal lights would have. The biggest source available in Dubai is a 20,000 watt light and we had two of those for this shoot,” he adds. The Wendy light has never previously been used in Dubai. On this job, it was supplied by AFM lighting from South Africa. “It has not commonly been in use here but seeing that there has been a flood of night filming in Dubai, we decided it was time to get a big source light in,” explains Smythe. Operation of the Wendy is quite simple. Although the power distribution system for the light is custom made, Smythe says it is easy to operate and requires no specialist intervention. “Once the light is up, it can be operated by one person but you need six men to get it up,” says Smythe. Lighting was the chief issue for this commercial. Filmquip had a total of 88,000 watts of lighting apart from the Wendy light (214,000 watts). “In order to get this powered, we had a 200KVA, 100KVA and a 75KVA generator. All these generators had to be on 4x4 vehicles. One of the generators was mounted on a tank type vehicle. We mounted a 20,000 watt light on this and sent it deep into the desert; this vehicle can go anywhere. ||**||III|~||~||~|The light was used to light some dunes way behind the Wendy,” explains Smythe. Rigging gaffer, Mark Sherman, is reported to have had a lot of fun driving the tank around. “I never had a chance to drive one in the army,” he says. Filmquip, which also recently purchased the Super Techno 30 camera crane, mounted it on a 10 tonne 4x4 to get the camera around. “This really helped Mike get some interesting night shots. The Super Techno proved to be a unique camera crane for this effort,” adds Smythe. Another big challenge in this project was getting power to all the lights. “The help that AAA and Johnson Cranes gave us was invaluable. Any time a vehicle had to move was difficult. Getting the cast to location was also a logistical nightmare. The production team at Filmworks got a huge grader in and made a road through the desert to help get the vehicles in. Of course, some got stuck so they basically towed the vehicles in using the grader,” explains Smythe. 40 crew members worked from 3 noon to 7 early morning to shoot the commercial. “We had a lot of fun getting the vehicles in and out of the desert,” says Smythe. The footage will be post produced at Condor Dubai, and crowd duplication scenes will be completed in Paris. ||**||

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