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  • Writer's pictureJohn Christian Rosenlund

The Emigrant light

building Emigrants LED at Softlights in Paris

Since the very first day of preproduction on the Swedish feature film "The Emigrants", Director Erik Poppe and I have planned to shoot every scene in pure natural light. Our goal is to try and give the project a strong naturalistic and authentic look. The film takes place in Sweden and USA, set between the years 1850-60. The only light-source available for poor people at the time was daylight, candles, wood fire and oil lamps.

Natural light means practicals and fire as the only source at night, pure daylight in day time, and no HMI´s. In the search for practicals, because of safety issues with fire and oil, we realized that in some important scenes, we could not use real oil/paraffin lamps.

A strong high quality light that could burn for long period of time

We needed to modify our practicals with a safe light-source. The classic way would have had been to rebuild practicals with Halogen and dim them down. But we need the lights to be hand-held, they have to deliver a strong high quality light that can burn for a long period of time - and we need to be sure we get enough light. Halogen needs a lot of batteries to keep going and it is not possible to use them in smaller light units as there is no space inside the unit to hide the power supply.

We started looking at the possibility to replace the light-source with LED.

But creating a" fire LED" was more complicated than I could ever have imagined!.

the very first Softlights LED test

Developing a completely new LED

For the last 3 months , Henrik Moseid at the French company Softlights has been fast forward developing a completely new LED source and electronics dedicated to our movie. Softlights is famous for creating "impossible" light sources for films, such as the award winning and beautiful "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" and Luc Besson´s Valerian.

It is easy enough to create a LED light, but hard to make a light that simulates real fire. Most modern LED film light produces a rather good light within the 3200-6000 Kelvin range. But when you try and create lower Kelvin light, like simulating Candle light, they often go green or magenta and they have a lack of color spectrum, missing color depth and saturation. If you only use those LED light, it is possible to fix some of it in post. But in our movie, LED sources will be blended among real candle and Paraffin light sources. Our goal is a perfect match.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

We could had gone the easy route, starting with one single strong LED and then adding yellow filter to create a "flame Kelvin". But by adding color, you reduce the color spectrum of the source . The result is a poor and limited spectrum of light, and lack of saturation on skin tones. At one point, we discussed repeating what Softlights did for "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", by blending their own 2200K LED with Halogen light for the lower color spectrum. Those light gives an excellent warm colored light. But because of the limited size of our practicals, we had to skip this idea. We decided to develop a completely new PCB with a blend of 4 different types of LED;

Softlights own 2200K, deep red, amber and Lime.

Testing the new PCB with 4 different types of LED

SMALL Fire LED (without the strips)
BIG Fire LED (without the strips)

The first batch was tested at Storyline Studio, supervised by Senior Colorist

and Colour Workflow Supervisor Christian Wieberg-Nielsen at Storyline. We used an Alexa LF, "developed" at Storylines grading suite trough an ACES / Baselight workflow.

Our goal has not been to create the best possible Color Rendering Index (CRI). CRI is not a good tool for measuring the lower part of the Kelvin range. The interesting thing is how the camera reads the light. Our focus in the development of a new LED is purely to get the best possible skin tone on the digital "camera negative" . The first batch of LED was good but not perfect.

Henrik went back to the drawing board and created a new LED with more yellow.

We then did a 2. Test.

A LED revolution

Senior Colorist Christian Wieberg-Nielsen analyzing the LED

When looking at the new test in the grading suite at Storyline, I asked Christian if he could describe how he experience the new LED; "The colors of traditional very warm LEDS gives skin-tones with a limited hue, giving the appearance of one flat and dull tone. They often have a green or magenta cast and none of the color definition you would need to render good skin-tone.

I have never seen a LED that performs this well in 1800-2000K as the the new Flame LED from Softlights .It matches candle and paraffin light perfectly. The new Flame LED is a LED revolution".

First unit ready to go!

The lights will be named "The Emigrants Flame Light". The Electronics are flicker free (20.000 hz) with a voltage regulator that makes it possible to feed it constantly with 11.9V with constant voltage power from 5-30 V. Each light is remote controlled through Blue Tooth MESH with a very easy to use 4 channel IOS/Android app. The app is free and available in 25 languages.

If you would like to try "The Emigrants Flame Light", they will soon be available from Softlights. Go to (, or mail directly.

tiny flicker free electronics

The Emigrant starts shooting in week 37. If time allow, I will try and give an update on how the lights perform in a real environment. Stay tuned.

John Chr / DP on The Emigrants

and shareholder in Softlights.

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