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Lighting “The Expanse”

“The Expanse” © Amazon Studios. Shots courtesy of Mavericks VFX and Rocket Science VFX. No ownership claimed or implied.

When I worked at Mavericks with James Minett and Josh Clark, I had the privilege of working on a really great science fiction show called “The Expanse” which airs on Amazon Prime. Specifically, I worked on lighting sections of the vast Moonbase, primarily visible through the windows of the lounge area and also contributed to a wide shot which needed all the little spaceships and runabouts lit, that was my bit. I was strictly a senior lighter, however I did get to observe how Josh carefully dealt with running a team. I didn’t even know he was my boss for the first three weeks, which is the best kind of boss to have. I also contributed to some earthside apocalypse shots, set extension for the UN star chamber and a few shots in Baltimore. As a big fan of the books, it was fun to follow along in print as we built the show. I did get one shot of PVC cannons firing when I worked at Rocket Science, so I’ve tagged that onto the reel (I was too busy with this other space opera at the time).

At first, we attempted to cover all of the moonscape with fully rendered lights. As the render times ballooned, I proposed we use light emitting shaders on simple polygons, which are more economical, especially if you don’t generate tiny shadows maps. I was using this idea from the old space 1999 series where the practical effects team put reflective bike tape onto their moon base to represent the windows rather than feeding fibre optics to every single port (like I did when I built the AMT kit ). Brian Johnson would be proud.

Matching the camera rig to the onset camera was difficult. Parallax wavered constantly  because of the virtual distance from the bar countertop to the mountains kilometers away. Finally we tweaked layout and cameras as well as doing the lighting design for these shots.

The directors wanted to see specific things through the lunar lounge windows. Some creative allowance was taken in the camera placements and asset layout. Aversala is one of my fave characters, right behind Miller and Amos, and hey – isn’t that the Colombian warlord from “Barry” behind the bar?  
I have a special place in my heart for moon bases and space stations. I guess the idea of humans living off world has always appealed to the romantic explorer in me. The light pouring into the room gave the whole sequence a Ridley Scott, Jordan Cronenweth Blade Runner look.

The light … gave the whole sequence a Ridley Scott, Jordan Cronenweth Blade Runner look.