Monday, January 5, 2009

Day for Night Sketching

“Day for night” is moviemaking technique where a night scene is shot during the day. The film image is darkened and tinted with blue to appear as though the scene were shot at night.

It was used so often in B-movies and westerns that it has become known in France as nuit américaine ("American night").

Is it possible to do a daytime drawing that suggests moonlight?

In a previous post, we looked at the depiction of moonlight in terms of color, exploring why moonlight appears blue.

Moonlight has another important quality: simplicity and softness. In limited light, the eyes shift to what is known as scotopic vision, where the photoreceptors in the retina can only perceive simple, large areas of tone, with uncertain boundaries. You can see this for yourself when you try to make out individual twigs or stones on a moonlit night. Only the most generalized shapes in the dark areas are visible, and what details are apparent tend to be in the lightest areas.

You can suggest these qualities even in a daytime drawing by consciously suppressing detail and softening edges in the darker areas. In the drawing of the Williams College Chapel in Williamstown, Massachusetts, I looked at the scene and tried to suppress detail in the shadows, grouping them together into a simple, soft mass.
Wikipedia “day for night,” link

Movie still courtesy film art website, link.


Kellie Marian Hill said...

wow, I do so love reading your blog.... always something to learn :) that is fascinating, though, I had wondered why it looked like that in those movies, and it even has a name! "nuit américaine"... that's all, just stopping in to say thank you and say how much I look forward to your posts!

Unknown said...

Hmm... so squinting your eyes to suppress detail and generalize tones may be a help in "day for night" sketching.

Two things that they always do in day for night shots in films is to avoid a shot with the sun (obviously), and to shoot in open shade if possible to avoid the contrast of direct sunlight. I am guessing that the latter would apply in this type of sketching as well?

Unknown said...

You are better than a 3rd year course in college. Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

I find this whole subject of drawing and painting night scenes very fascinating - the challenge of depicting something where little is actually seen. One artist who has dealt with this challenge in numerous pictures is Ken Marschall. He is best known for his numerous paintings of the Titanic. The sinking took place on a moonless night, and Marschall's paintings are interesting exercises in exaggeration of what little light there is and "inventing" some that isn't - and still make it look like night. Even more so, when it comes to his paintings of the wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean where there is no light whatsoever.

Allan Cavanagh said...

Is that film still The Searchers?

Julia Lundman said...

part of the reason john singer sargent is considered among many painters to be so fabulous is because he was a master of values. he tended to use only two values in the shadows rather than more, subsequently concentrating his wider range of values in the lighter areas.

if you think about it, it makes sense. our eyes are drawn to the light rather than the dark. when we are scanning an image, we are looking for cues in the light areas to tell us what this object is, not the dark areas.

i guess it is up to the artist whether or not to add more in the dark areas. if the artist chooses to leave those areas simple, the image still seems to work. that is just really cool!