I went to an arts and crafts store to find something to use for the red glow in the sky effect. I went in thinking of a sheer scarf material or something like it. I didn't find that but kept my mind open as I looked at various arts and crafts materials. My goal was to find something that can be shaped and that can be moved, as in blowing on the scarf material to make it shimmer, and I wanted something that can mimic the look of a flat cloud of gas or a smoky glow in the sky. I'd already done some images of the red elf lightning images using smoke against a black background and then changing the colors of the smoke and that came out well for the stills but wouldn't capture the flat cloud effect I wanted for the three glow scenes.
A man in the arts and crafts store directed me to what he said were red cotton balls which, within the package looked great. I'd never seen bright read cotton balls before and it gave me the idea of using cotton and spreading it out, which might seem like an obvious material to use for clouds but this effect is not about billowy clouds, its about a flat glow, a streak across the sky in one scene and is a giant red halo in other scenes. This glow is more like a layer of oil spread flat on top of water. I did think of using a fish tank type process similar to what Spielberg had done in films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Poltergeist but that, again, is more about the billowy clouds.
I liked the look of the cotton balls in the packaging and decided to buy them and in the car I opened them up so that I can see what the red cotton looked like as I pulled it apart and thinned it out flat but then felt cheated when I found that these were more poof-balls made of cotton, not cotton balls as in make-up applicator cotton balls. However, in the end, I did pull apart the poof ball and found it was make up of thin fiber of two inches in length fastened together in the middle. I wasn't sure at first how to form it into the glow cloud or how to photograph it so that it moves so I figured I would just move the lights that lit it up. Then I got the idea of setting up a black cloth and laying out the cotton fiber flat and into a circle shape and then set up the camera so that it captures this circle from an angle in more of a halo effect and I lit it up with an incandescent lamp and a flashlight with a bluish colored LED lamp. I set it up so that the cloth was attached to the wall and swooped down toward the camera and could be lifted and dropped or shaken quickly to create little waves and vibrations that ripple and in the end will bring the red glow more alive with movement.
I was excited to see if this might achieve something that I was hoping for and so put the footage into the computer and then looked for the right landscape backdrop footage to have the glow appear. I have a folder (bin) in my editing software that I labeled "Suburbia". This folder contains video and still shots I had captured of scenes in the suburbs; the backyards, trees, telephone poles, clouds and other shots from the street or of power line towers etc. I found a good shot from my backyard that had a lot of sky and another from the front yard. Both of these shots were taken on a windy day, which I like because windy days bring the trees alive and any movement like this is welcome when it comes to landscapes that will be used for effects. If it was a still day, for example, the stillness of the background along with the special effect can give the effect that the landscape shot is merely a photograph rather than a moving image and then the effect would stand out too much. It’s been fun to use the RGB (red green blue) color correction filter to bring all the colors down so that the image goes from a daytime scene with white sky to a night sky. In movies, it is called day-for-night to shoot something during the day with sunlight, underexposed so that the shot is dark or underexpose it in the printing and the darker scene would mimic the nighttime. The sunlight and its cast shadows would become moonlight, especially if blue filters were added.
I placed the red halo into the sky and worked with the transparency and image masks and it looked great. The impression of "weird glow in the sky" was immediately there. With further work it would be better and so I went to task slowing it down or speeding it up then adding motion blur to give it that aurora borealis refracting and shimmering electrical light effect. I think what I am most happy about is that I used the process Finding the Image rather than deciding on a technique ahead of time and sticking to it and trying to make it work.
Making an Impression
When I see an image at some stage and an impression is made that clicks and inspires me to say, "Yes, I've seen that before," as in out in the world, then I am on the right path. If it feels like an effect that I've seen others do in other films, it's comforting but less exciting. If it achieves the basics of the story but doesn't inspire any part of my imagination then I start feeling like a textbook illustrator rather than a fine artist. Looking at these final shots and seeing how the cloud hangs in the sky and captures the light in a certain way and the colors blend and contrast with the sky, I get the feeling of some large, natural phenomenon then something in my memory, my soul really (mind body and spirit) is triggered. What gets triggered for me is that earlier time when I was a child in the front yard seeing that green glow in the western skies with my family. It also triggers those feelings I get when I see a cloud in the sky and the play of light and color leave me with a sense of beauty and wonder. I sometimes call these types of wispy and hanging clouds Debussy Clouds for their haunting beauty.