Controlling The Eye By Relighting With Motivated Power Windows

September 14, 2022

Building on a Cullen Kelly Insight, colorist Patrick Inhofer demos leveling up the concept of a 'motivated vignette' for scene relighting.


Building on the concept of ‘Motivated Vignettes’

Cullen Kelly’s Insight about ‘Motivated Vignettes’ is a terrific exploration of creating naturalistic vignettes. As this topic usually does with professional colorists, that Insight also has a good discussion of Mixing Light members sharing their thoughts on the subject. In particular, this comment caught my attention:

“The first consideration, in my opinion, should be looking at where the light is entering the frame. I think with such a strong light on the cupboards and the counter in front of what looks like a window – that maybe that should be dealt with first to lessen the light ratio, then add the vignette to make the view look at the person.”

Jim Robinson

In my reading of this comment, Jim is talking about moving beyond the vignette – which is about ‘pushing back’ the edges of the screen – and moving into the realm of relighting a scene.

After mastering ‘motivated vignettes’, the next step is tackling ‘motivated Power Windows’

In my practice, I think of ‘motivated Power Windows’ as custom-shaped vignettes. The shape of this custom vignette is driven by sources of light. Sometimes the light source is obvious, motivated by a practical or natural source within the scene. Sometimes it’s an implied light source, where the fixture is outside the frame.

In this Insight, I share my favorite technique for creating motivated Power Windows.

I’ve shared these techniques several times across the history of Mixing Light – but it’s been a few years, and this Insight pulls those ideas together into a single place. I’m also adding this Insight to Cullen’s Flexing Fundamentals series since it’s a natural extension of his thoughts on this topic.

Comments? Questions? Want to share your results?

After watching this Insight, if you want to try your hand at either of the shots I’ve used in this example then you can download them here:

If you’re new to this concept, feel free to give these techniques a shot, upload them to your YouTube or Vimeo account, and embed them in the comments.

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    • Jim Robinson

      Patrick – excellent insight to follow Cullen’s excellent insight. I think the way you did it was really good. I have seen quite a few tutorials where the tracking was tracking the person. Which I commented on Cullen’s that it starts to resemble a follow spot, and rarely do we have a follow spot operator following us around our kitchen.
      This is a good example of how a colorist can improves footage without dominating it or stepping on the DP’s work.
      Thanks for this.
      I also like the Dado example using parallel nodes on the bottom side of a stacked layer node and setting the composite to only affect power windows that are above or below middle grey- then feeding a mix of them – you can really subtly shape the light.
      Nice follow up- enjoyed it.

      • Patrick Inhofer

        Jim – I’ll have to hunt down Dado’s approach to using composite nodes with stacked Power Windows. I also agree, it’s a huge mistake if your power window is NOT invisible.

        When doing relighting, I know I’m on the right track when the client (or DP) asks if we can add a Window – then I toggle what I’ve already done and their response is: “Oh! Holy cow. Nice job. No worries.”

    • andi winter

      hi patrick!

      to be honest i think power windows tend to destroy the orignal photography. if they are motivated they might be acceptable, but i really hate them most of the time. therefore i use them less and less and i seldom miss them. just my two cents. colorists should make the photography shine. oftentimes colorists “shape” an image with power windows and the picture breaks apart. maybe i just have seen to many bad power windows…

      • Jim Robinson

        Valid points andi – but I think that anything we do, can fall into that scenario. I have always felt that if I notice something obvious in a film that is distracting me from the story, that it is probably overdone. Anything we do is stepping on the photography to a point. The on set photography sometimes has mistakes, and when there is a long or mid shot where the subject has to be lit from a distance, can change drastically when the scene is relit for a close-up.
        Our job in my opinion would then be to give that consistency between the cuts. On set they may not see it in sequence pf the edit and it can be subtle enough change that the DP seeing it in context might agree.
        We should enhance not change – so I do agree. But you may have watched thousands of films that the colorist did it correctly and if they did, you might not have noticed it.
        I think direction of the viewers eyes, can be done to enhance the story and not be obvious even to the point of subliminal suggestion.

      • Patrick Inhofer

        Andi –

        I can definitively state: I use far fewer windows today than I did 10 years ago – because I generally agree with you. Mostly, it’s too easy to destroy an image with a poorly implemented shape. Plus, as you move up in the size of budgets you’re working on, you’re more likely to get images that don’t really need them. This is especially true of single-camera narratives with good budgets.

        Also, windows are almost always the last thing I do after balancing, shot matching, and laying in a look. Then, if I do use one, it needs to be motivated by *something*. The light I’m adding (or subtracting) has to be based on some sort of internal logic.

        I have *definitely* seen too many bad power windows, even on tentpole series for the major streamers.

        I think it’s important if you’re going to do relighting that you need to check your work on a large format display. I’ll frequently turn and re-watch a scene on the client 55″ OLED, because that’ll reveal artifacts that aren’t obvious on a smaller 24″ reference display or (even worse) on the UI display inside the software.

        As I said: this is an age-old conversation with lots of differing opinions and approaches 🙂

    • Rajab Y

      Hello pat, i was wondering if you are doing some collourgrading, would you do your windows upstream or downstream ?

      • Patrick Inhofer

        I don’t have a hard & fast rule for Power Windows since there are so many uses for them.

        I usually do ‘controlling the eye’ Power Windows (as discussed in this Insight) after my main balancing and shot matching. If I’m using LUTs or a Color Space Transform in the node tree, I usually place those nodes before the ‘controlling the eye’ Power Windows.

        If I’m using a Power Window as a corrective/fix, then I like to do those before the LUT/Color Space Transform. But I don’t have a militant opinion on this and will frequently change up the placement of my LUT/Color Space Transform node on a per-project basis – just to test and see if I like those results better.

        Sometimes I’ll test two or three different node trees, with the placement of all these nodes in a different order, at the start of a project to see which results I like best and then commit to that node structure for that project.

        Did I answer your question?

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