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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
Lighting in The Hobbit trilogy


Sep 27 2013, 10:53am

Post #1 of 23 (888 views)
Lighting in The Hobbit trilogy Can't Post

Before I even begin, I'm sure I have a reputation of negativity around here. However, I usually preface my critiques of AUJ with this...

I enjoy AUJ. I watch it very often, and my respects go to PJ and CO. for creating the LOTR trilogy as well as giving us a new adaptation to look forward to for the next year.

So now that I've gotten that out of the way, it's time to talk about something I noticed during my latest viewing. Lighting is a BIG problem in this film. It might be the REDs. It might be the 48fps. It might be the 3D. It may even be a combination of all these techniques that hurt the film aesthetically.

I noticed it first in Bag End. There is literally light coming out of nowhere. It shines unnaturally onto the actors faces and gives the entire environment a very artificial feel. I noticed it a second time in Rivendell, and a third in Goblin Town. Now, what do all of these locations have in common? Sets.

I can't put my finger on what the main culprit is, but sets have not been kind to this trilogy so far. In outdoor environments, the problem simply melts away. This is obviously because the lighting is real as opposed to artificial. I also want to acknowledge that LOTR had the same problem...to an extent. It's very difficult to re-create natural lighting. Some scenes with Frodo and Sam in and around Mordor look a little on the "iffy" side. However, I feel that film was a lot kinder to the restraints of a studio environment. I felt the need to post about it because of how off putting I find it. It may be the worst lighting I've ever seen in a movie with a budget this high.

Any one else notice this? Theories on the main reason? Disagree?

Any and all comments welcome!

"You're love of the halflings leaf has clearly slowed your mind"


Sep 27 2013, 11:05am

Post #2 of 23 (551 views)
It's difficult to say that this aesthetic is intentional [In reply to] Can't Post

I'd accept the argument, but then why is this "intentional aesthetic" not present in the outdoor scenes?

Every outdoor shot feels like a completely different movie, it takes on a level of believably and realism almost on a par with LotR. But then we go back to a set or CG environment and the colours become over-saturated and badly lit again. It just doesn't feel consistent to me, which implies that perhaps the set shots just aren't supposed to look like that.


Sep 27 2013, 12:20pm

Post #3 of 23 (489 views)
My two cents [In reply to] Can't Post

First I want to appreciate the opening of your post - some months ago there was quite some tension between some "camps" on this board and thanks to balanced threads and posts like yours this has calmed down and almost all discussions here are back to rational and interesting :)

I do agree that the lightning in AUJ stood out... to me, however, more in an artistic way, not a bad way. Already in AUJ I had the feeling that PJ likes to use quite artistic (some might simply say artificial) lightning.

I agree that it is not balanced all the time and sometimes does not fit in with other more natural scenes, but I thought AUJ was more consistent about this than LotR. I remember some scenes in LotR (the Black Rider scene and the flight to the ferry; Minas Morgul; the orcs tearing down the gardens around Orthanc; some aspects of Helm's Deep etc.) that I found to be much "worse" in terms of lightning, although I always felt it was meant to look like that, not an "accident" or because of unprofessionalism, money-lack or something like that. In fact, looking at King Kong and especially The Lovely Bones, PJ seems to have a certain love for a) warm colours and b) very pronounced lightning (whether one calls it artistic or artificial, good or bad, is up to taste, I guess).

“A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Words of wisdom that should be remembered - both by critics, purists and anyone in between.

(This post was edited by Arannir on Sep 27 2013, 12:20pm)

Grey Havens

Sep 27 2013, 1:01pm

Post #4 of 23 (502 views)
Realism - what creates it? [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
Any one else notice this? Theories on the main reason? Disagree?

I'll start by confessing that my ignorance of the technical aspects of moviemaking is vast. Wink So I have only the vaguest idea of the consequences using RED cameras, or 48 FPS, or other technological innovations, might have for the look of a film.

My guess is that the difference in "look" between what you would like to see, and what you do see, in movie scenes shot on sets, may arise from a difference of opinion between you and the filmmakers, on what constitutes or is most important to, "realism" in a movie.I don't think anyone could argue that scenes shot outdoors in daylight looks "realistic" as long as makeup, costumes, etc. are of high enough quality, and in fact it seems you find these scenes to have the needed realism.

But I think in sets, the filmmakers felt that a sense of realism was conveyed through the depth of detail put into the design and dressing of the sets. To use Bag End as an example - I saw this film 5 times in theatres, probably another 5 times at home on DVD, and I watched the introduction of Bilbo and Bag End at the start (right after the Smaug attack prologue) several times in a row, pausing and reviewing frequently to try and catch interesting details I might have missed before (because I was leading a chapter discussion of that scene).

And there were details I still missed - someone pointed out to me that Bilbo apparently has a pinecone collection going in his home, for example. And I am sure I have not noticed every little carving or decoration or doodad in the place. That's the same kind of "real" I see when I look around my own room (except, Bilbo has a nicer house and keeps it a tad more orderly than I!)

I think this is how the filmmakers are thinking about it, because of their comments about 48 FPS. Jackson does specifically mention how much more costumes, sets, and props need to stand up to scrutiny, but how more "real" the HFR makes the movie look. I saw the film in 3D HFR presentation once, and really did feel this difference, that there was so much more to see than I recalled from the 24 FPS showings I saw. Like looking at the world of Middle Earth through a window is a description I have seen elsewhere for the effect, and it matches my own experience well.

What does this have to do with lighting? In dim light, perhaps these details would not be visible. In a scene like Bag End more "realistic" lighting from a few candles and not more than one window per room would leave us able to follow the action and characters, but we'd miss out on the objects in shadowy corners of the room. In a scene like "Riddles", we'd see very little at all of the actors' physical performances/the animation of Gollum. I htink it may be a tradeoff - showing off more of the reality-suggesting depth of the design, vs. having lighting that is "real".

For me, the look of the film as it stands, works. I don't find myself asking, for example, why I can see corners of Bag End at night with such limited light sources, I find myself, when I notice some new detail because of this lighting, amazed at how real the set itself seems.


Sep 27 2013, 1:23pm

Post #5 of 23 (457 views)
The Candle Light of Bag End [In reply to] Can't Post

Interesting that I had the opposite opinion about Bag End and An Unexpected Party. I thought that the lighting was one of the true highlights of the scene (no pun intended). I'll try to explain why and illustrate it with a few screencaps.

First, if you move slowly through the scene, you notice that candles are everywhere. The main hall chandelier has 6 candles, there are never fewer than 6 candles lit in the dining room, and all the little alcoves in Bag End have lit candles. If you go through the scene shot by shot, you see candles in the background everywhere. And the candles are real; you see the smoke, the flickering, and the shadows cast where they should be. In areas where there should be no candlelight, the characters are usually in shadow. I'll illustrate what I mean with a few examples:

Light and shadow in the dining room; brightly lit hallway behind.

The dining room from the other perspective.

Gandalf in the shadows; Bilbo under the chandelier.

Single main middle ground light source: note Gandalf's shadow on the ceiling.

I suppose everyone sees things a little differently. Did you notice all the candlelight in this scene, or did it still look artificial to you?

I noticed it first in Bag End. There is literally light coming out of nowhere. It shines unnaturally onto the actors faces and gives the entire environment a very artificial feel.

Don't mess with my favorite female elf.


Sep 27 2013, 2:00pm

Post #6 of 23 (438 views)
What "bugs" me [In reply to] Can't Post

Is the nighttime shots, especially of the sky. The sky looks too light out to be considered night. Just a little thing I always notice when I watch AUJ.

Lover of Medieval Fantasy
"I know what I must do. It's just... I'm afraid to do it."


Sep 27 2013, 2:17pm

Post #7 of 23 (423 views)
It's an interesting question... [In reply to] Can't Post

I think I know what you mean. Most of all, the scenes in the doorway of Bag End, as Bilbo opens the door on his visitors. The lighting on them, against the dark sky, doesn't seem to be exactly natural - though even writing this, I'm thinking that of course they would be brightly lit from the doorway. But maybe not so brightly....

For me, though, it isn't a problem because I like it. I'd call it a more conscious lighting - it gives a kind of picture-book effect, which steadily becomes more realistic as the film works its way through the fire and candle lit interiors of Bag End and on into the outdoor scenes. After that I don't remember thinking about the lighting, just get lost in the story.


Sep 27 2013, 2:34pm

Post #8 of 23 (424 views)
"It's sunlight and bright day, right enough," [In reply to] Can't Post

It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever. He saw no colour but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant, as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring. No blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lórien there was no stain.
He turned and saw that Sam was now standing beside him, looking round with a puzzled expression, and rubbing his eyes as if he was not sure that he was awake. `It's sunlight and bright day, right enough,' he said. `I thought that Elves were all for moon and stars: but this is more elvish than anything I ever heard tell of. I feel as if I was inside a song. if you take my meaning.'

-FOTR, Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlórien

Ah, the wondrous glimpse of Faerie.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Sometime hours and hours hence:
In The Green Dragon two ales could buy
And drank the one less filling I
And that has made all the difference.
- The Ale Less Filling, by Robert Frostymug

(This post was edited by Darkstone on Sep 27 2013, 2:36pm)


Sep 27 2013, 2:36pm

Post #9 of 23 (396 views)
Yes, that! // [In reply to] Can't Post



Sep 27 2013, 3:25pm

Post #10 of 23 (385 views)
i 100 percent agree with the original post [In reply to] Can't Post

the hobbit's colors/lighting feel very artificial compared to the naturalistic aesthetic in LotR. This is a combination of a few things. First, the REDS DO pick up color differently, remember the production blogs where the crew stated that they had to alter the color of Mirkwood trees/dwarf noses because of the RED cameras' color rendering.

Second, this is a decision by PJ. One he is consciously making. He is doing things the easy way. He has stated that he prefers shooting in studios rather than on location because of logistics/weather. He has said that if he were to do LotR today, the battles would be almost entirely CGI (cut down on the use of extras). He is not concerned with naturalistic rendering of middle earth; the only reason LOTR turned out that way was because of technology limitations/budget constraints.

It's sad, to me. I think there is also something about the production blogs that make known the artificiality of the whole production. We see so many green screens, so many computer-animated figures; surely that makes it harder for us to suspend our disbelief and for us to view the film (lighting/color/CGI) through a "natural" lens?

"the road goes ever on and on..."


Sep 27 2013, 4:07pm

Post #11 of 23 (368 views)
Do you? Fair enough [In reply to] Can't Post

You're absolutely right about the cameras - I remember them saying that on one of the production videos. But then, surely the films are colour graded by computer afterwards, so whatever raw data comes from the cameras can be altered and corrected afterwards? At least, that's how I understand it, maybe I'm wrong.

But I think there is a conscious choice - an artistic choice - going on when it comes to the colour and the lighting. There was before: I remember Peter Jackson talking about wanting to achieve a 'watercolour' look in the LotR films, to match Alan Lee's illustrations. In AUJ too, I can see individual shots that very clearly echo existing illustrations in books of The Hobbit, but this time the colours are less 'watercolour' - much brighter and sharper.

Of course, the danger of any artistic choice is that it won't appeal to everyone. If it doesn't appeal to you, that's a pity. But I think you might be being a bit hasty in writing it all off as a choice on PJ's part to make the films the easy way, no matter what it looks like. Strikes me he's somone who does things the hard way, and he does care very much about his work, even if people don't always care for the result.


Sep 27 2013, 4:36pm

Post #12 of 23 (355 views)
Once again, Bomby TOTALLY agrees with dormouse [In reply to] Can't Post

PJ, Andrew Lesnie, with his team
are pushin' the envelope into
Undiscovered Territory.

There are magazines,
for example?
INDUSTRY articles on-line
you may want to consult?
before pronouncing Judgement.

Red Camera has a site, look there?
WE are seeing the Future
and Bomby likes it alot.


Sep 27 2013, 4:45pm

Post #13 of 23 (357 views)
I can't say I've ever particularly noticed ... but ... [In reply to] Can't Post

Isn't it a problem in all movies? I mean, a nighttime scene is never pitch black, for obvious reasons. I would've liked Gollum's cave to be darker, but then you risk loosing detail. I suppose it's better to go for lighter (to bring out the details), than go darker (and lose the details). Rivendell looked very fresh and crisp to me.



Sep 27 2013, 4:50pm

Post #14 of 23 (358 views)
An example of such in FOTR. [In reply to] Can't Post


Some liked it, some didn't.

I liked the fey nature of the light and color myself.

I met a Balrog on the stair,
He had some wings that weren't there.
They weren't there again today,
I wish he would just fly away.

(This post was edited by Darkstone on Sep 27 2013, 4:51pm)


Sep 27 2013, 5:41pm

Post #15 of 23 (325 views)
Good topic here. [In reply to] Can't Post

Having seen a decent amount of raw RED footage myself, I can attest--as well as others here too--that there are differences in the color reception. RED eats away a lot, as we've been shown with the prod. design process being worked on by Hennah and his crew.

I can't imagine going through all of the skin tone, costuming, set design, and all other kinds of 'test footage' they had to do for these films. If it's any positive to take from this it's this: what we're seeing as the finished product is an incredible, at many times jaw-dropping effort for using such sensitive technology systems.

But yes, like you, some of the shots bother me. I agree, there are times when light pours in from the sides and gives it a more 'artificial' feeling. If I wanted to, I could do a lot of analysis on the lighting, for the good and the...questionable choices.

However, on the whole, to me this art/design team has done an amazing job, especially when considering the fact that they are truly breaking new ground with the technical aspects of these films. They're been heavily watched by people in the industry, whether or not the Internet has bashed them. James Cameron isn't blinking during AUJ. He's studying it, and taking notes on how he will film the Avatar sequels.

But this is a great topic, so don't think I'm saying you are wrong for bringing it up, or anything like that. (The pine cones scene still makes me scratch my head, at times).

The Grey Wanderer

Sep 27 2013, 5:43pm

Post #16 of 23 (323 views)
I love discussions like this even though I have nothing to add! [In reply to] Can't Post

I am generally oblivious to what the lighting does/doesn't do & reading differing viewpoints of those who are sensitive to such things gives me an idea of what to look for next time I watch the movie(s) so that I can perhaps tell why I like some scenes better than others!


Sep 27 2013, 6:09pm

Post #17 of 23 (318 views)
Unexpected journey... [In reply to] Can't Post

Definitely has a more artificial and different look than the LOTR trilogy between the use of more CGI, the use of digital filmmaking over standard film, the 48 fps, the orange and teal color grading, etc.

The RED is pretty nice and pretty film-like in its imagery, but it still doesn't quite have the exact look of film. Personally I thought the Bag End scenes weren't so bad and looked pretty similar to the ones in FELLOWSHIP. It's the Goblin Town and Riddles in the Dark scenes that bother me the most, they definitely seem a little strangely lit and the orange and teal aesthetic is all over them. Both scenes are too colorful and not as dark and murky as they should be.

(This post was edited by Ataahua on Sep 27 2013, 7:50pm)

Superuser / Moderator

Sep 27 2013, 7:52pm

Post #18 of 23 (290 views)
This reminds me of a FOTR appendix [In reply to] Can't Post

on the making of the movie. Outside the West Gate of Moria the crew are talking about the shot and one asks where the lighting is coming from - and another pipes up: "The same place as the music."


Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.

Ataahua's stories


Sep 27 2013, 8:26pm

Post #19 of 23 (281 views)
Exactly [In reply to] Can't Post

Just like there is diegetic and non-diegetic sound there is diegetic and non-diegetic light. For example, non-diegetic light is often used in horror films, like when it's supposed to be pitch black as far as the on-screen character is concerned, but the scene is lit enough so the audience can see what's happening.

Note early films avoided non-diegetic music because studios feared the audience would be distracted trying to figure out where the orchestra music was coming from. Luckily the studios realized they were wrong and we now have the lush, fantastic sountracks of Howard Shore and other brilliant composers.

I met a Balrog on the stair,
He had some wings that weren't there.
They weren't there again today,
I wish he would just fly away.

(This post was edited by Darkstone on Sep 27 2013, 8:29pm)

Tol Eressea

Sep 28 2013, 3:34am

Post #20 of 23 (227 views)
doorway lighting [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't know if you noticed, but Bilbo's front porch was very well lit, especially with the very bright lantern just above the door.

That could explain why the dwarves in the doorway were so bright when all behind them was dark-the lantern lit them up.

Race is meaningless. We all bleed red-no matter who or what we are. What matters is the heart. For each race has those with good hearts and those with bad hearts. You have a good heart. You do not deserve to die.


Sep 28 2013, 8:02am

Post #21 of 23 (213 views)
Yes, you're right... [In reply to] Can't Post

You probably noticed that I was re-thinking that even as I was typing it. It's so easy to say 'that's wrong' as a snap judgement of all sorts of things in these films, but when you stop and think about it, they plan and analyse it all so carefully that even things that do seem odd at first do have a rationale behind them.

Tol Eressea

Sep 28 2013, 3:48pm

Post #22 of 23 (203 views)
Its all simply explained by jackson [In reply to] Can't Post

in an interview he gave, paraphrasing here :

" but then again, i am not trying to emulate film"

My sympathies Wink

Vous commencez ŕ m'ennuyer avec le port!!!


Sep 29 2013, 8:21am

Post #23 of 23 (171 views)
It doesn't look as real [In reply to] Can't Post

But i think this is clearly a choice that PJ et al made to make it more fairy/childish etc. For me it didn't work, looks worse than LOTR in terms of lighting - it's too simplistic but for others they prefer the tone and brightness of the colours.

It's hard to say though what the last film will look like, i am still hoping the colours, lighting etc will gradually change to that of the LOTR or something approaching that so its not so jarring if watching the films back to back in that order and just because i personally prefer the look of LOTR movies. For me the look of the movies was pretty much the best part of the movies, lol.

'What's the matter with you?' - J.R.R. Tolkien


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