JMS: Ship of Tears: Lighting or FX?

B5JMS Poster b5jms-owner at
Wed May 8 06:18:47 EDT 1996

Subject: JMS: Ship of Tears: Lighting or FX?
 No. | DATE        |  FROM
+  1: May  6, 1996: jn at (J.Norris)
+  4: May  7, 1996: park at (Bill Park)
*  5: May  7, 1996: jmsatb5 at (Jms at B5)


From: jn at (J.Norris)
Lines: 4

   Loved the Sheridan/Starfury closeups where the lights from the ship's
controls and indicators reflect off his visor, slithering across the
planes of his face. Was that shot composed "real time" as a lighting
effect, or were the reflections added later as a computer effect?


From: park at (Bill Park)
Lines: 111

In article <TOM.96May6113400 at>
	Tom.Horsley at writes:
> > Loved the Sheridan/Starfury closeups where the lights from
> > the ship's controls and indicators reflect off his visor,
> > slithering across the planes of his face. Was that shot
> > composed "real time" as a lighting effect, or were the
> > reflections added later as a computer effect?
> Another classic example of totally unreal effects enhancing
> the entertainment even though they make no sense (like the
> enterprise "swooshing" past the screen).
> I'm fairly sure the effect was done by projecting the
> images onto Sheridan's face. There was probably nothing in
> the Starfury console except a hole with a projector behind
> it. In reality, anyone sitting in front of a console with
> lots of glowing controls would simply be illuminated by
> the glow, you wouldn't get sharp images of the controls.

Awlp! Bgawp! Sthhhp!  (Spills metaphorical decaf on keyboard.)

Sorry, but I must demur!  The perfectly *awful* cinematic
cliche' of projecting an image of a space ship's piloting
displays or of what is happening outside the viewport onto
the face of an actor is one of my bigtime bete' noirs, my
preeminent pet peeves, my ... my ... by Baal's balls, who
borrowed the batteries out of this blasted electronic

What I'm trying to say is that the B5 effects people did
*not* commit that cliche in that scene!

Mr. Horsley, you are perfectly correct in that any kind of
lamps, computer displays, backlit annunciators, or flashing
neon signs saying "Bloody Out of Fuel, Mate!"  on the
pilot's console would only illuminate the pilot's face
diffusely -- none of those kinds of display would form a
"real image" (as the optics/physics folks call it) on the
pilot's face -- one that would let *us* see those displays

Their job is, in fact, to form real (or virtual) images in
front of the pilot's face -- e.g., on the console -- where
he/she can see them.  Try looking into a running slide
projector.  Can you see anything?  Nope.  Other people might
see the image on your face, but from where you're standing
the lens buggers everything up.

So, why do I say Babylon 5 did it right?  Because Sheridan
was wearing his space suit helmet!  What we saw was a
correct-looking virtual image, a reflection of the console
displays off of the surface of the *visor*, not an image
projected onto Bruce's face.  Watch how they move as he
moves his head and helmet.  The smooth, partially
reflecting, transparent, approximately spherical visor of
the helmet would naturally form such an image, and we would
indeed be able to see it when we are looking towards
Sheridan's face.

Note that the visor is convex, bulging outward from his
face.  Thus, the visor acts like a mirror with a negative
curvature.  That means it should form images that appear
*smaller* than we would see in an ordinary flat mirror.  It
appears to do exactly that: The images of the displays
appear to cover an area on the surface of the visor that is
approximately an inch or so across.  If we assume that those
displays are large enough for Sheridan to read the text
scrolling across them, the displays themselves should be at
least ten inches across.  If Sheridan's visor were flat, the
virtual images would look like the displays (left-right
reversed, of course) at a distance equal to the distance
from our eye point to Sheridan's visor (perhaps two feet)
plus the distance from Sheridan's visor to the displays
(perhaps another two feet at most).  The reflection of the
displays in a flat visor would appear to be, oh, about five
times larger in width and height than the images we see on
Sheridan's spherical visor.  So the fact that they appear so
small is correct according to the principles of optics.

The shot might have been done as a practical effect by
simply setting up a couple of monitors in front of Bruce
where the camera could get a clear image of their reflection
in his visor.  On the other hand, this might have been
difficult due to the depth of field required to form a
clear image of Bruce's face and the (further away) displays
simultaneously.  The range of camera lenses, lighting, and
exposure times might not have permitted it.  In that case,
it might have been easier for the effects people to add the
display images in post production with computer graphic
imaging.  If so, the animators did a marvelous job of
tracking the motion of the helmet to keep the images in 
the positions in which we expect to see them.

So, a big "Hooray!" for The B5 production folks who flew in
the face of a long-standing annoying cinematic convention.
I think it goes all the way back to at least Stanley
Kubrick's 2001.  That film was otherwise a landmark of
realism in the science fiction film genre, but, as I recall,
you see Bowman playing movie projector screen whenever he is
flying around in one of the pods.

Bill Park

	"Late Night talk show host to broadcast from Babylon-5."
	_Universe Today_, Entertainment Section, p. 2.
	[ Links: (A) BabCom link to try out for "Stupid Alien Tricks" 
	  segment of Quordlepleen's show (please, no Pak' 'Ma 'Ra
	  this year). ]


From: jmsatb5 at (Jms at B5)
Lines: 5

The reflections you cite were all done real-time with an LCD projector.


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