Off the Grid

Exploring new territories with LED lighting vendors and users

LEDs are no longer the new kids on the block. They are standard elements in lighting packages on major features and television series, and used regularly by documentary shooters, as well commercial and music video DPs and gaffers.

But it doesn’t stop there. Users and makers of these “energy sippers” have expanded their horizons to non-traditional places, and non-traditional shapes. Sure, there are the panels and squares and round lights. But, did you know there’s also everything from tiny cards or dots to modular Lego-style hook ups? There are infrareds and even lights that have been tabbed “bullets” not only because of their use – but also their throw.

Ribbon LED units from IATSE Local 728 gaffer Al DeMayo’s firm, LiteGear, are a prime example. They’ve been showing up in multiple applications in what DeMayo describes as, “all sorts of calls for help,” he laughs. “A gaffer friend needed a way to allow an actor to reach above his head, grab hold of ‘the Sun’, and throw it. So we worked with Props and made a cylinder of LED LiteRibbon wrapped around a battery pack and then sealed into a clear sphere.

“On The Master, a significant portion of the shoot was on a moving practical ship with ceilings at about seven feet,” DeMayo continues. “They needed to simulate window and ceiling openings where there were none. Enter our Hybrid LiteRibbon, attached with magnets – day, magic hour and night – all in one package.”

All hands on deck! LiteGear’s LED LiteRibbon at sea for The Master

DeMayo says his favorite non-traditional LED application was for a recent commercial where light had to emanate from a mobile phone. “That one was easy for our LED LiteCard. It is just millimeters thick and only needs 12V DC. We’re anything but normal and we love that.”

LEDs are also taking up residence in locations more associated with high-wattage fixed elements, like multi-camera television shows and broadcast studios. Multi-camera comedies are traditionally lit from beds or pipes above the set to facilitate actor and camera movement during live-before-an-audience shooting.

“When Litepanels® ‘infected’ our stage and workflow, we found that they simply did things better and more efficiently for many applications,” reports Happily Divorced cinematographer George Mooradian, ASC. “I’ve now got everything from their Sola 4s to their Bi-Color 1x1s and their little ‘bricks’ as a permanent part of my lighting package. And, I’ll follow each evolution, adding LEDs like the new Inca 6 that was introduced at NAB to my kit.

“For some reason, a television is always on in a multi-camera show,” Mooradian adds. “This complicates lighting placement without reflections, and cameras stumbling all over your lighting effect without having to put the light in the rafters, out of the way, often meaning the light comes from the wrong direction. Then there are color temperature issues, like cool to warm tones that could require two or more lights. LEDs, like Litepanels Bi-Color, are a perfect solution. The look is right for an electron, the pixel tone that can dance to the best programs on the boob tube.”

Sam Houston University Broadcast Facility refurbished with ikan id500/1000’s with DMX

Mooradian says multi-camera cinematographers need to broaden their perspective beyond traditional lighting and show “the powers-that-be” how bringing in LEDs can increase creativity and smooth out workflow. “Just because it’s always been done one way with the old school doesn’t mean it has to always be that way,” he insists.

The production staff at Sam Houston State University echoed Mooradian’s approach for a complete overhaul of their news production studios. Mitchell Loper of Kahunas USA, production manager/designer, opted for non-traditional lighting (from Texas-based LED vendor ikan) for the facility refresh for a host of reasons.

“LEDs are physically lighter, don’t burn at hot temperatures, and have a smoother quality,” Loper explains. “We’ve even used them on location with the RED camera. Our choice: ikan id500s and 1000s with DMX.”

Loper says there are plans to expand the use of ikan LED units at Sam Houston because of the positive reaction from faculty, pros, and students. Broadcast major Jordan Bontke says the switchover has impacted him in several different ways. As a freshman, he recalls the first time he went on-camera at the sports desk.

“I was nervous as it was, but when those lights kicked on, the nerves went up a few notches,” Bontke recalls. “Add to that the heat – and by the time I finished my sports report, I was literally melting in front of the camera. With LEDs, everyone is cooler physically, and calmer because of their low profile. They help the learning process, not to mention the students’ ability to be more professional. The added bonus is we can drop the name of the LEDs we’ve worked with on job interviews, showing the future employer we know what we’re talking about.”

Drop and cover! AAdyn Technology’s™ Eco Bullet LED unit on ballistics shoot

“What’s important about bringing LEDs into a traditionally tungsten set up like Sam Houston’s studios,” Loper continues, “is that we no longer need to spend thirty to one hundred thousand dollars on dimmer port set ups – no need for dimmers with LEDs.”

LED’s are cool, to be sure, but for the people at Sam Houston, one of the “coolest” things was when news icon Dan Rather came in, just after the studio refresh was finished. His kudos to the team for thinking out-of-the-box meant everything to both faculty and students alike.

Users aren’t the only ones expanding LED horizons. Manufacturers have been quick to jump “off the grid” when they catch wind of a production niche. Like Florida-based AAdyn Technology, which was approached by John Stalowy of Northwest Eco Lighting after he discovered that shooting ballistics at over 25,000 frames-per-second engendered flicker (tungsten light cycles at around 22,000 cycles per second).

“That was unacceptable to the client,” Stalowy recalls, “and I needed something else. I was introduced to Marc Kaye, founder of AAdyn, and he took an interest in this very niche area of the market. AAdyn was designing a new LED lighting source to serve the Event and Motion Picture industry.

Stalowy says Kaye shipped him a modified Eco Bullet light that was equivalent in power to an HMI 2500 with no flicker. “Not only did the light work at film speeds of 25,000 frames per second but also performed at up to 2000,000 frames per second – flicker free,” Stalowy recounts. “It was exactly what I needed. And Bullet is currently being developed to perform at speeds up to 1 million frames-per-second.”

FlexAray™ from Bulbtronics®

Dedolight is another traditional vendor thinking out-of-the-box. The company introduced a new light at NAB that President Paul Tepper says is designed for niche markets, like security/surveillance and nature photography.

“It’s the 890 NM (IR-AO infrared LED on-board – light head we call iredZILLA,” Tepper explains. “Our company prides itself on filling needs for all areas of production. This new light is specific for cameras (night shots) or surveillance systems. The focus range and narrow beam angle allows for shooting through trees without disturbing reflections.”

One of the most interesting non-traditional LED applications coming down the pike (also introduced at NAB) is the FlexAray from Bulbtronics®.

“It’s been designed with an interconnecting feature that allows the user to build the amount of power needed for the shot but using more lights clustered together,” explains President Lee Vestrich. “Designed for live events, television studios and film sets – and just about any other venue that needs a different kind of LED technology, we expect this light to become a new star – behind the camera and in front – because its unique configuration can be eye candy for a creative designer.”

By Pauline Rogers