In this new series of DoP to DoP talks – Mikołaj Krawczunas, a DoP passionately interested in the latest technology, invites various cinematographers to share insights into their work. This episode features Radu Stefan Fulga, who is known as a man of many talents and the most technically skilled cinematographer in Romania.
First of all, can’t resist that question, you’re a cinematographer, VFX supervisor, Motion Control operator, colorist – the list is very impressive. How do you find time to do all of these, very often at the same time?
This list of attributes stems from my background in VFX before becoming a DOP and later a Motion Control Operator.
To fully realize and faithfully reproduce your vision as a cinematographer on-screen, I believe you require a deep understanding of the ever-changing landscape of technologies and modern cinematic techniques. This understanding then loops back into your creativity, you realize that specific techniques could elevate your work as a cinematographer, and you can approach challenging ideas with confidence and ease. I love demanding projects, and I like to think things through. Finding solutions to seemingly impossible requests is what makes me tick.
Finding the time is relatively easy because I apply what else I know on projects where I am DOP since it is my main job.
How would you describe your lighting approach?
I believe that the creative side of a cinematographer’s work should be done at home, with pen and paper. That’s your chance to be an artist.
While on set, on the other hand, you are an art fitter; you should know exactly what you are doing and think things through to the point where changing your mind becomes next to impossible.
This approach has made me very quick and efficient on set, my equipment list always has precisely what I know I will use, and technical teams appreciate it because they know that what I ask for has been thought through. They can confidently spend time taking care of all the minor details instead of being prepared for unforeseen changes.
When it comes to the actual process of lighting a scene, I think of something other than the lighting approach in classic terms like key light, edge light, backlight, fill light, and so on.
I work by motivating each light, and if the subject is lit, the light should have a reason to exist, and it should come from somewhere, either from a source that is in frame, or a source that is suggested from outside of it.
If we never see a particular corner of the set, that becomes my imaginary window, and I use that to motivate light, and the spectator will never be the wiser. If the light is a faithful reproduction of the natural world, that light source becomes as believable as what is actually in the frame.
What is your favorite tabletop commercial you’ve worked on so far on and why?
My favorite commercial by far was the commercial we made for Spornic. We had the rare opportunity to have our creative input heard. We put our heads together, talked to the director, and decided: let’s go crazy with it, make it one shot, use as many SFX rigs as we can fit, and use two motion control robots.
We had to plan everything out to perfection since we had only one shooting day for everything, and the geek in me was having a field day with this project because the director’s cut would be entirely under my control from every aspect.
As I mentioned earlier, if it’s difficult, I’m happy. 🙂
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What was the biggest challenge when shooting Lidl Romania project?
This was one of those projects where you could easily lose sleep over. We had one test day and three shooting days. But here’s the twist, what you set up on test day, it being a combination of live action and stop motion for one continuous, uninterrupted shot, those decisions you made then and there, you’d have to stick with them. Finding a problem on day three and starting over was an option that could not exist. Everything needed to be thought through to perfection and work flawlessly for all 600 passes of the shot.
So the short answer to your question is: everything. But if I’m to pick one, it’s triggers. We had to trigger lights, SFX, the main camera robot, and the slave model mover robot for each move. Each would have its own delay. So we would get good timing only one way. Running the move backward (back run) would get a massive time offset and wouldn’t match due to the DMX and slave robot delays. This would quickly become an enormous problem since some of the stop motion cutouts would be in the camera’s path, and it would tip them over, so we needed to do back runs for some of the stop motion instances.
We timed the back runs such that there would be no lighting changes or slave robot moves in those areas. This way, we could run the motion control move in reverse, tip over the stop-motion cutouts, reverse the takes in editing, and have them match the rest of the forward runs. We made our lives easy by holding the stop-motion cutouts in place with small stacks of neodymium magnets so that there would be no damage to the periscope mirror on impact. We glued small pieces of metal to the anchor points of each and every one of the 600 pieces of stop-motion cutouts so that the magnets would have a reliable attachment point. Overkill, we know, but it did the job flawlessly.
Another fun bit is that since we shot this for three days, all the food on the table went bad by the time we finished, so we just masked out the fresh food from the very first take onto the final thing. If you would see the first edit, you’d see how all the food would go bad in timelapse throughout the shoot, horror movie vibes, and we didn’t dare touch anything until we were done, so we wouldn’t need to start over.
For extra information, you can read the case study done by Mark Roberts Motion Control.
The hardest tabletop scene to be lit so far was …
It’s difficult for me to pinpoint one exact shot. On the other hand, I can talk about how things have become incomparably simpler with the help of LED technology.
I’ve not worked as a DOP as long as some of my other colleagues, but even for me, not so long ago, highspeed shoots were no short of literal torture to shoot. Massive 10k and 20k, extremely inefficient fresnel lights; if you had food in the shot, it would be fully cooked and ready to eat after the second take. Out of a 10k light, you would lose 60% in heat, 10% in wiring, and only 30% out of that electrical current would be converted into actual usable light. The whole thing was a nightmare if you ask me. Turning off the lights to cool down the set was a regular occurrence.
Since we’re talking about tabletop, it usually involves transparent liquids, glass bottles, and other shiny, refractive surfaces. So the approach wouldn’t necessarily be that you are actually “lighting” the object, but rather giving that object something to reflect and refract.
If you want a clean falloff and an elegant gradient, the light source it reflects would need to have those characteristics. 10% of the time would be actually lighting it, and the remaining 90% would be flagging and hiding those massive lights so you wouldn’t see them reflected in the bottle or whatever else you might be shooting. Not to mention that the Phantom camera generally sees 3200k fresnel lights as pinkish, so you’d have to correct that as well.
Now we have LED lights. It has become so simple to light for high speed it’s almost shameful. They run cold, are color accurate, fully controllable, cheaper, compact, and the list goes on. I am incredibly grateful to live in a time when this technology exists.
If you were stuck on an island, what lens set would you take with you?
It depends. If I were on that island to keep myself busy and do something creative, I would choose a vintage Lomo Anamorphic Rehoused lens set; if there were actual jobs to be done on said island, I would choose the Cooke S7 for their look and versatility.
Is the Laowa lens truly cinema lens? What do you think about using “toy” lens along with high end cinema lenses.
This is a tricky question to answer for me because I have a genuine love/hate relationship with the Laowa Probe.
First of all, what is an actual cinema lens? How would you define it? Does it mean that the footage it creates has to look “cinematic”? What does that even mean? How can you truly determine what “cinematic” looks like? Because it’s affordable, should we refer to it as a toy? How expensive should it be to no longer be considered a toy but more of a tool?
So yes, it’s cheap, its focus and iris rings are all over the place, it’s f14 wide open, not exceptionally sturdy and resilient, and optical quality isn’t something to write home about… but at a price point where it could almost be considered disposable, and here’s the thing: What you can do with it can not be done with any other conventional lens. It is a tool in the swiss army knife of the cinematographer. You need many skills to use this tool successfully, but it is well worth the effort.
If you use the Laowa Probe for a shot, it’s evident that you need it because you couldn’t do it with anything else. Does it match well with classic prime lenses? No, absolutely not, that’s not even the purpose of this lens, but as a cinematographer, you must find a solution; you use light and color grading and make it work.
On the other hand, when the director gives me a shot on motion control with the Laowa Probe, on Phantom, and then asks for 2k fps slow motion… at f14, let’s say it’s a difficult lens to love. 🙂
The biggest inspiration for your work…
As a cinematographer, I have my own thing going, my personal approach and personal tastes, tastes that evolve with experience. Although there are countless cinematographers that I admire, too many to name, my mindset is such that I never aspire to imitate but to learn by observing excellence and use that to rethink, analyze and improve so that I may become the best version of myself.
When working in advertising, though, you have to be adaptable, you work with countless directors, and each has their own unique vision that you must mold yourself to, adapt and overcome, and hopefully add a little extra quirk to your style after benefiting from the experience of seeing things from that new perspective.
Who is your favorite director, outside the tabletop world, and why?
My favorite director outside the tabletop world is Denis Villeneuve. He is a masterful storyteller and visual artist, and his films are known for their thought-provoking themes and stunning cinematography. He has a unique ability to create tense and immersive worlds that pull the audience in and leave a lasting impression. I also admire his ability to handle complex and multi-layered stories and his ability to elicit powerful performances from his actors. Overall, I think Villeneuve is one of the most talented and accomplished directors working today.
Is virtual production the future of cinematography?
As a cinematographer, I believe that virtual production is like a superhero sidekick, it’s not the main hero, but it’s definitely a powerful tool in the film industry.
However, virtual production is still a relatively new technology, and it will take time for it to be widely adopted. Traditional film production methods will still be used for many projects, and it’s not a replacement for conventional filmmaking. It’s just another tool in the toolbox for the filmmakers.
Overall, virtual production has the potential to significantly change the way that cinematography is done, but it’s still a developing field, and it’s not sure if it will be the future of cinematography.
It will likely continue to evolve and be used in conjunction with traditional film production methods to create new and exciting opportunities for filmmakers.
What do you think about AI technology? As tech geek for sure you’re following trends carefully 🙂
I have to admit that I am a fan of AI, and I do not feel threatened by its emerging existence in the slightest. I will shamelessly use Chat GPT to write complicated explanations and save me valuable time. Whenever I receive a shooting list for a project, I will copy those shot descriptions into Midjourney to get some inspiration. If I need a clean plate for VFX, I will use DALL-E 2 to create it. If I need voiceover or music for a personal project, my go-to place is AI.
AI image generation is here, but AI video generation is not far away, maybe a year, maybe two. You can already confidently use AI to create spectacular still images of whatever you can imagine, to the point where classical photography can be an afterthought or a crutch to add those finishing touches to your work.
The same thing will happen to tabletop commercials, and there is enough material out there for training an AI to generate spectacular footage to the point where a classical shooting day becomes an arrogant waste of money.
That is where things start to become interesting. AI can only imitate things it has seen in the past and combine them to create new things.
So we, as a creative industry, will be forced to think and create unique, never before seen ideas. We will suddenly be forced to be original to survive, and we will have to dazzle them with our imagination and amaze them with our technical prowess. Make sure that the AI has definitely never seen that before and that the client can’t get it with a text prompt and a 30-dollar monthly subscription.
Radu Stefan Fulga, a Cinematographer, Motion Control Operator, VFX Supervisor, and Colorist, was born in Bucharest, Romania, in 1989 but spent his early childhood in Paris, France. He majored in cinematography at UNATC and has since built a successful career as a Director of Photography and in Post-Production. Radu is known for his passion for science and technology and his expertise in operating complex robotic camera systems and acting as VFX supervisor on shoots. He is considered the most technical DOP in Romania due to his extensive knowledge of the process, from film or digital camera sensors to the finished product.
Director of Photography Reel
Motion Control Operator Reel