Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Reinventing the wheel

Although there have been some stunning innovations in lighting in the past 50 years (HMI lamps, color-corrected flourescent tubes, moving lights, LED technology), most of the basic types of lights we use haven’t changed in a very long time, and there’s a reason why.

But sometimes, someone gets bored, gets a degree, and tries to take a good design and make it, well, design-ier.

Sometimes, this can yield good results, but usually just ends up making my day more difficult.

Meet the Mole 2k soft light, familiarly known as the zip light:

Zip Light

Zip light, photo courtesy of Mole Richardson

The design of this light hasn’t changed since back in the day when movies still had title cards, because said design works really well – it puts out a good amount of nice soft light so your actors look young and fresh, it doesn’t weigh very much, and it’s only 20 amps so you can plug it into a wall outlet if you’re really desperate and have a supply of those illegal (in California) and obsolete fuses.

Somethings that’s worked so well for so long really needs a re-vamp, right? Of course it does.

Enter the Germans.

This is the new, improved and extra awesome (or something) Arri 2k soft light.:

Photo courtesy of Arri Lighting

Please note that despite the sexy black paint job, it’s pretty much exactly the same fucking design as the Mole product, only with some some weird aluminum venting system (not pictured) which one would presume is there for a good reason, but actually just makes the head incredibly heavy and unbelivably hot. Any attempt on the part of a lamp operator to go anywhere near the lamp to, say, adjust it as per the gaffer’s instructions results in unsuccessful attempts to stifle screams as one’s  flesh starts to burn.

I normally like Arri’s lighting products (except the open face heads, which have way too much plastic on them. Plastic, as you will recall from elementary school science, melts when it gets really hot), but for the soft lights, I say stick with the original. It may be an ugly color, but it works.

Once the soft light debacle was over, we trudged over to our other stage to hang some spacelights.

Spacelights are a good example of a successful reimagination of an existing product.

The light they replaced was called a chicken coop:

Chicken Coop

Chicken coops are a colossal pain in the ass. They’re a big metal box filled with giant extra-fragile light bulbs (that aren’t made any longer, so you’re fucked if you break one):

Giant Light Bulb

Chicken coops are heavy, unwieldy, difficult to transport and store, don’t really put out all that much light for how huge they are, and just suck balls in general.

So some person figured out what they really did and made a better light that did the same thing. The Spacelight:

Image courtesy of Kaye Lites

They’re still a pain in the ass to transport and store, but they’re much smaller, use the same globes as the Mole 2k soft lights, they don’t weigh anything and they’re reliable. Except when someone tries to make the current model better, stronger and faster.

The problem with the original design was that the light itself was just a hoop of steel, so it would warp from the heat of the globes (and 6,000 watts does put out a lot of heat), and then the safety screen that has to go underneath the globes (globes don’t explode very often, but when they do, it’s a shower of molten hot glass which is funny, but very, very bad) wouldn’t fit and then one would have to break out the baling wire, make it fit as best as it would and pray that no one all that important was standing under the lamp if the globe blew.

In the photo above, you see the redesign of the original light – it’s structurally sound, vents heat (as well as one can expect), and is sort of heavy, but it’s not unmanageable.

Note: Any lamp, no matter if it’s in your living room or hanging on a stage, must have some sort of venting at the top so that heat, which rises, can escape. No venting and there will be a loud bang followed by darkness.

The spacelights we got today were an attempt to redesign the redesign. They had enough venting on the top, but the safety screens were bolted on, so changing globes was next to impossible.

Of course, the heads we had delivered had bad globes and we spent an hour trying to figure out how to get the damn things open to change the globes.

Eventually, we figured it out, but please, people. Sometimes the wheel is fine just the way it is.

Filed under: hazardous, studio lots, Uncategorized, Work, , , , , , ,

6 Responses

  1. boskolives says:

    As a sound mixer, my boom op and I be lovin’ the soft lights long time, especially after doing a feature with a gaffer (not to be named here) whose idea of “we’re lit” was to put a 9-lite on each side of the camera. This lighting method calls for the use of “How do I light thee? Let me count the shadows”, fast yes, but as fugly lighting as you can get.

  2. Amen to that. There’s often room for improvement, but If it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it. The problem, I suspect, is the quest to be different from whatever the long-accepted norm has been, and thus appear more attractive in the marketplace — but different is not always better.

    In general, Mole does a pretty good job with their design of lamps. Still, MR ain’t perfect, exhibit A being the Inky. The only thing worse than an Inky is a goddamned Pepper — yet another attempted improvement…

  3. all i have to say is try being the guy who has to figure out how to repair and keep ahead of you guys breaking this stuff in new and interesting ways
    –how they bust stuff on set sometime makes me look like a curious dog when i see this stuff with my head all tilted to one side with one ear up and eyes all wide!!!

  4. Start up a blog, Robert — tell us those tales of wonder and woe at the repair bench. Maybe a mutually beneficial dialog could result?

    Peggy sez: Yes, Robert… do tell!

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’ve always been very ignorant, lighting-wise, it’s my main weakness — so always great to read intriguing bite-sized posts like this :)

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