Some very massive digital backdrops designed for Bloomberg Go


My latest designs, for a set of digital backdrops for Bloomberg TV’s new, New York studios went live yesterday. The architectural scene in the backdrops is based upon Bloomberg’s own headquarters building in New York and is displayed in a set of massive LED screens. Often, with such large screens I tend to find that the pitch of the LED’s is coarse, but these have a luxurious 1.9mm pitch – by way of comparison, the screen we prepared at Lightwell, for TV4 News in Sweden is of a similar size, but has a 12mm pitch.


The finer pitch resolution has meant that we’ve had to adjust our approach in a number of ways. Previously, we would avoid fine detail and focus on lighting across large areas, and establishing strong contrast within the imagery to counteract the effect of the diffusion screens that would be required in front of the LED’s. The superior resolution of the Bloomberg installation means that no diffusion screen is required, and so we now need to focus on finer details, particularly within the mid-shots, in a way that would have been a wasted effort on previous projects. The absence of a diffusion screen also means that we get better colour fidelity. LED screens tend to be excellent at re-producing colour anyway, but by removing the diffusion layer in the project, we have been able to achieve better blacks, and can be confident that what the viewer will see upon their screens, is the closest to what we see here in the studio that we have experienced.


Another factor that we have had to adapt to on this project, like no other, is that extra pixels mean much larger file sizes. We’ve had to adapt to working with 12k composites, and the logistics of delivering and playing 8k video. This is a challenge that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future, but is one that I welcome, not least because it makes my work look infinitely better with each new technological advance.

This is a bold investment in technology by Bloomberg, one that I applaud. They have been a fantastic client.




A big fat “Hurrah!” for CG from Rocket Jump Film School

I spotted this short paean to computer generated visual effects on Twitter earlier today. It’s premise is that CGI visual effects are actually good for movies, and that it’s only considered to be a bad thing, because we only tend to notice bad CGI, whilst most CGI, the good stuff, is invisible – there are some overdue nods to superlative digital environments in there, including those for TV.

I’ve been generating CGI since 1995, which is a bit like the time in the middle ages, at the cusp of the renaissance in the context of computer graphics history. Back then I was constantly having to argue the toss and justify whether what I was doing was art/design/creative/valid, and we are still fighting similar battles now. I too get frustrated with the bad and unnecessary CGI, but equally, I still love to see the good stuff – particularly so when I don’t spot it until it’s pointed out to me later on by the likes of Cinefex, or via VFX breakdowns on the web.

This visual essay makes the point that CGI is great for some things e.g. environments, crowds, vehicles, etc, but not (yet) great for others – digital characters are still something of a work in progress. It also rightly asserts that many films and TV shows wouldn’t have happened without superb, affordable CGI. A good example being Game of Thrones. All tools have their place and value, whether they are practical or digital. So, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Rocket Jump Film School for articulating what I believe, so passionately, and far more eloquently than I am able in this short video.

Virtual sets designed by Lightwell for RFERL Farda

Virtual sets designed by Lightwell for RFERL Farda from Lightwell on Vimeo.

I designed, and prepared these virtual sets between March and June 2015. The studio and desk were already in place, but cameras and lights were being set-up as the design progressed.

The brief was to provide a design for a news studio within a newsroom. The client expressed an interest in some of my previous backdrop designs, and so I set about adapting these ideas into a three dimensional solution.

My initial concepts were for a predominantly white, high-key set, based upon the Radio Free Europe logo. Although they liked this look, the client already had a set for another show with a similar palette and wanted to differentiate between the two by employing a different colour scheme, as well as a different design. Taking my cue from the titles, I switched to a deep blue colour scheme, offset by orange detailing. Although I am pleased with the final colour scheme, I can’t help but ponder how great it might have been to explore that white/orange/grey palette that I used in the initial concepts.

The finished digital sets were prepared for use with the Newtek Tricaster, and accommodate both desk based, and standing presenter shots. Out of a relatively modest studio space, RFERL are now able to record news bulletins set within a generously proportioned set, and surrounded by a large, modern, newsroom space. A nice client to work with, and a fun project to design.

Great book – The Wizard of MGM: Memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie


Terrible cover, great book – The memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie

I recently finished reading through this brilliant look at mattes and miniatures. Don’t be put of by the cover, this book is an excellent memoir from MGM’s head of effects during Hollywood’s golden age. The manuscript, that Gillespie penned in the sixties, has only recently been published, and so it does suffer from slightly below par photographic illustrations, but this is amply compensated for by their quantity, coverage and the privileges of the authors extensive access.


Miniature effects scene from Thirty Second Over Tokyo

Penned decades before the pre-digital era, the focus of the book is made up of practical and optical effects, mostly by miniatures and matte paintings. The language verges a little towards lines that sound like they came out of Mad Men at times, but not too much. Gillespie can definitely tell a good story, loves a tangent, and goes into he kind of in-depth details that will make Cinefex jealous.

Fascinating and brilliant, can’t recommend it enough!

Available from Amazon

* I borrowed this shot from one of the best miniatures resources on the web, the blog of Kiwi, NZ Pete (can’t find his real name) – Matte Shot – a tribute to Golden Era special fx

Spectre – the new trailer has just been released.

The latest trailer for Spectre has just been released this morning. There isn’t much new material in terms of sets or design being revealed, but it does expand on what we have seen in the earlier trailers, and in photos from the set. I definitely want to see more of that Spectre conference space that James Bond has snuck into. It’s not quite Ken Adam, but has great qualities, all of it’s own.

I know that there are some pretty impressive backdrops by Rutters in the film, and with production design by Dennis Gassner, and cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, I am eagerly looking forward to it’s release in October.

RFEL Farda virtual set just went live.


The Radio Free Europe’s Farsi news re-launched today, from a brand new virtual set, designed and prepared by Lightwell.

The resolution isn’t ideal, but I have been promised grabs and clips. The broadcasts are recorded in a greenscreen studio equipped with the Newtek Tricaster. The only real, physical elements within the space are the desk, and the rostra (designed by others).

The sets were prepared in 3DS Max, and rendered with V-Ray, but the level of finish within the design isn’t really apparent from this video. Once I have the stills from the recording, I will be able to post these here and illustrate the quality of the lighting and materials.