LENS FLARES OF THE THIRD KIND

For the 40th anniversary of Stephen Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, I set out to look at the visceral and narrative use of lens flares in the film, simulating the effects of 80’s-era Panavision lenses popular in this and later sci-fi's like BLADE RUNNER and LOGAN'S RUN. 

In CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, Spielberg, director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond (DEER HUNTER, THE CROSSING GUARD) and visual effects photographer Robert Hall (BLADE RUNNER, THE FLY) use lens flares to cue to the presence of aliens — both directly and though more subtle means, like adding flares to flashlights and spotlights when aliens are nearby or the topic of conversation. 

Loud and eclectic but not gratuitous, the flares in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS are an integral character in the film and are almost singlehandedly responsible for its unique visual design — a look that has since become standard sci-fi language. 

This video is an homage to the lens work of Zsigmond and Hall, and a study of the properties of their flares in the film, recreated here digitally using Knoll Light Factory

All 46 custom Knoll presets inspired by the film can be purchased here:

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KNOLL LIGHT FACTORY PRESETS

ORIGINAL FILM STILLS

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ORIGINAL TRAILER