How to Create a Fire Effect on an Actor’s Face with Film Lights2 min read

woman holding candle using film lights to make flame
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We’ve all seen it…an actor’s face lit by a dancing flame. The flame flickers a warm, soft glow. But is it really a flame doing the work? Not necessarily.

As we mentioned in our Ultimate Guide to Film Lights, you can use candles or a fire as a practical light in a scene.

More commonly, the effect is done with film lights.

Using film lights to replicate a flame

There are a few ways this can be achieved.

The old school, low budget way

You could get 3 small tungsten sources on 3 separate dimmers with someone controlling the dimmers. You could gel them at different warmer color temperatures to get some shift in temp.

Fire is generally a harder source, but you can soften it to fit the look you’re going for. You could also choose to have a mix of harder and softer sources. You could also take two harder sources and bounce them. You’d get a nice variation in shadows and flicker rates.

The old school, higher budget way

You could rent a flicker box and use it on multiple tungsten sources. You just plug your tungstens in and the flicker box does the work for you.

The new school way

Rent LED fixtures with FX built into them such as an ARRI SkyPanel or an Astera Titan Tube. These LEDs actually come with a “fire” look programmed. You just fire up the app, link it to the light, and choose the flame look, and you’re all set.

Final Thoughts

Depending on your budget, you have a lot of options for lighting a scene that you want to appear to be lit by a flame. Our best advice is work with what you have, and with what you can afford, and experiment. One of the coolest flame techniques I’ve seen on set was a hard light being turned off and on and being bounced off of a white t-shirt.

Have you achieved this look a different way than mentioned? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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