Motion picture and tv gaffer Peter Walts of Labour Party Lighting is a busy man. He’s worked on numerous feature films and tv series, including Magic Mike, Contagion, Side Effects and more; his tool kit includes dimmers from RC4 Wireless. “In terms of finances, RC4 Wireless products work equally well in both the large budget and modest budget realms,” states Walts. In 2014, Walts worked on the critically acclaimed Steven Soderbergh cable series The Knick. “It was a full budget feature with a full-time board op; we used [RC4 Magic] DMX4Dims and we used the Flkr Effects Engine; it’s the best flicker engine on the market,” Walts says. The Flkr Effects Engine is an integral part of the RC4 Harmonized Design platform and is a part of all RC4 Magic wireless dimmers. “Our RC4 Flkr Engine is my first US Patent, so it’s kind of special to me. I worked with top designers at Disney to create a general framework they really liked and then consulted with numerous other RC4 Wireless users to fine-tune it. The result is a parametric method of defining a huge range of effects. Each parameter is controlled by a DMX channel level, much the way channels control parameters in a complex moving light,” notes James D. Smith, Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless. The Knick—and Soderbergh—also threw some curve balls at Walts. “The way Steven works, he shoots from the hip, so we didn’t pre-plan a lot of things. Steven would be editing at night, and then change his mind about the staging of a scene the next day. He’d suddenly want the actors to walk down a dark hallway; I always asked ‘are they holding a lantern?’ He’d want lanterns, so we’d turn them on and dial them on using the console or use it directly via the luminaire. With the Flkr Effects Engine, we had the ability to change a number of parameters and give our lights nuance; as a battery powered wireless dimmer, it’s perfect,” Walts says. Walts also found himself in a graveyard with a single lantern during the run of The Knick. “He explains: “We built a four channel LED into the lantern and we created a beautiful effect with the RC4 unit; we could even change the nuances in the course of the dialogue if we wanted to. The actor then put the lantern down, and then there was a four-page scene, and the lantern was the only light.” Fast forward to 2018 and Lizzie, a re-telling of the Lizzie Bordon tale directed by Craig Macneil. “I couldn’t hire a programmer for Lizzie, and used the DMX4dim directly with a luminaire, but I could still do it all myself. In fact, when we were working on Lizzy, there was no DMX except the RC4 equipment,” Walts explains. Once again, Walts turned to RC4 Wireless dimmers and the Flkr Effects Engine; this time it was for a fire. Walts explains: “For the scene, we would be hand-held so I couldn’t have any cables; we took Litegear LiteRibbon x2, x4, and x6s, laid them on a 2×3 flag along with a battery and put it in a fireplace along with the RC4 dimmers to create the fire. I had my battery-powered LED flag with four channels of different glows, we could make it brighter, or turn it down and make it smoother. It was also the only light in the scene.” Smith adds: “The most powerful elements of the Flkr Effects Engine are the random-number-generators. You can set up a look you like, and then apply varying amount of randomness to select parameters. Since every unit is creating its own randomness, you can configure many devices with exactly the same set of parameter values and they will all look like the same effect but not synchronized. Design a fire in a barrel effect, then put it in multiple barrels all over the stage and they look totally realistic because of they all dance the way you want, but they all dance independently — just like real fires in barrels would. The RC4 Flkr engine is one of the most powerful effects systems out there, but it’s still easy to use and understand with a wide gamut of looks it can produce.” As Walts looks towards the future, he sees… productions that are wireless. “More and more, we’re being asked to do high budget effects with lower budget means, and RC4 Wireless products are terrific for me. I could go full bore with the RC4 Wireless equipment and use it with a programmer, or use it alone, depending on the budget and the scope of the show,” he concludes.
Tony Kushner’s epic two-part drama Angels in America was first seen at Britain’s National Theatre back in 1992. Now to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, the plays have returned to the National, in a new production directed by Marianne Elliott and with lighting by Paule Constable (a duo whose previous collaborations have included War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), alongside scenic design by Ian MacNeil and costume design by Nicky Gillibrand, whose work together has included Billy Elliot.
From the earliest model showings Laurie Clayton, the lighting supervisor for the National’s Lyttelton Theatre where the show was to be performed, knew that it would present a number of challenges. In particular, there was a desire to include lighting in elements of scenery carried on the show’s three revolves plus separate rim revolve yet there was no depth in those revolves to incorporate slip rings to power that lighting. And there were many practicals that would either travel on stage as part of moving scenery or be carried on stage by the cast and set on the revolves or other areas of the set, which spread across every inch of the Lyttelton’s stage and beyond.
But Clayton already knew the solution to these challenges: RC4 wireless dimming. And not only did he know the solution, but he had quite a stock of RC4 products already available in-house to implement that solution.
“I think the first time we used RC4 products was on One Man, Two Guvnors back in 2011, when we bought one transmitter and six two-way dimmer modules. We used the same set-up on the tour, and they worked flawlessly,” he explains. “Since then we’ve added to our stock as we’ve needed to for productions such as Curious Incident and Great Britain, so we have a pretty good stock of RC4’s products in-house now. But the demands for Angels in America were so great that even with that stock, we had to do some shopping, adding a further ten dimmer modules of various types.” The additional units were quickly delivered by RC4’s UK distributor, Lamp & Pencil.
Angels in America’s RC4 kit list features 10 RC4Magic DMX4dim four-way dimmer modules, two RC4Magic DMX4dim-500 high-capacity dimmer modules, and 20 RC4Magic DMX2dim two-way dimmer modules. Some are mounted to scenery, some hidden in stand-alone furniture, and some concealed in individual practical light fittings: as well as a good stock of RC4 dimmer modules, the National also has a healthy stock of batteries and battery chargers to power everything. During the tech period, the National’s lighting team found good LED substitutes for the tungsten lamps originally fitted in some of these practicals, which presented no problems to the RC4 dimmers and dramatically extended the working life of the batteries. “Plus the RC4s great control of LEDs meant we had no problems at all when the TV cameras came in for the NT Live world-wide broadcast of the shows,” Laurie Clayton notes. He also comments particularly on the compact dimensions of the RC4 units, which lets them be hidden away in even the smallest of props or tightest of spaces: “no-one else makes anything as small.”
All of the receivers are fed by one RC4Magic DMXio transmitter, mounted behind the proscenium on one side of the stage. “The signal from that gets everywhere; we have had no problems at all with coverage, which is pretty impressive given that we’re using the full width and depth not just of the stage but of the scene docks behind and next to the stage!” However, the RC4 system’s unique ID ensures that there is no chance of interference with RC4 systems in use in the National’s other two auditoria.
While most of the RC4 units are used very traditionally, as wireless dimmers, one is used for a more complex effect: a telephone switchboard has a Raspberry Pi computer hidden inside to detect which buttons on it are pushed by the actor. This information is transmitted via WiFi to the sound control computer to trigger the relevant sound effect; the sound desk then triggers the ETC Gio lighting console via the OSC protocol, which then turns on the appropriate light in the switchboard via RC4 dimmers.
Though Angels in America is now approaching the end of its National Theatre run, the National’s RC4 stock will be kept busy with uses already lined up on the company’s next two productions. “They’re a great product,” Laurie Clayton notes, “tiny, versatile, reliable, do just what they promise, and with great support from the manufacturer and their distributor here on the odd occasion when something does go wrong or, more likely, when you need to make the dimmers do something no-one’s ever made them do before.”
Written by Rob Halliday.
There are many variations of extreme sports, and they fascinate fans all over the globe. However, there’s another facet to this industry and that’s the individuals that actually film these athletes in some of the most inhospitable environments.
Such is the case for Darklight, a film by director Mike Brown and producer Zac Ramras of Sweetgrass Productions; in their quest to film professional mountain biking they traveled to the most remote Ewok forests of Oregon and the moonscapes of Utah. “These projects are just logistical nightmares; there’s always so much that can go wrong. And things will go wrong and you just have to be ready for them and make the best of every day. Consequently, you just can’t bring any light out there, you just can’t bring any equipment out there because it’s just not going to work,” explains Lighting Designer and Gaffer Mark Stuen.
To make sure their vision was captured correctly on film, Stuen chose the RC4Magic-900 wireless system to accompany them on their filmic quest. “The build quality, the stability and the reliability is unsurpassed; they are the best,” says Stuen.
The production took the team into the deserts of Utah and into the deepest forests of Oregon; typically they would off-road for about an hour to their chosen locations. “We were shooting in desert and we were shooting in the forest. During the day were well over 100 degrees, but we were shooting at night for most of it so it was a little better then, but still about 87 degrees. All of our gear had to be prepped and ready to work in this environment- the dirt in Oregon and the sand in Utah; there was always a risk of flash floods,” the lighting designer explains.
Once the production arrived at a location, they would call on a team of trail builders to create a series of ramps for jumps that were integrated into the natural landscape. Stuen says, “The night before, we would talk to the riders and find out how they’re feeling; each area had a different intensity to it, so if they were feeling a little tired, you didn’t want to have them doing massive jumps or doing backflips or things like that. Then, that next morning, the builders would go out for the day, and get that site ready. We would roll in about three hours before sunset and start moving gear into that location and roughing in where our lighting plan would be. Once it was dark, we could start turning pieces on. Then we would fine tune and shoot all night.”
The trail runs themselves were long, and that’s where RC4 came into the picture. “For this project, using RC4 was the only way to go. Anything less wasn’t going to operate over the distances that we were talking about. Inexpensive wireless starts to get funky around 100’, while the midrange stuff is good between 100’ to 600’,” notes Stuen.
For Darklight, Stuen chose the RC4Magic-900 as the backbone of the wireless rig. “We’d put the RC4Magic-900 DMXio Transceivers in the middle of a run– with just an onboard antenna, that gave us about 800’ to 1000’ in both directions. Then somewhere along that 800’ in both directions, we would put another little tower that had an RC4 RC4M-900 DMX4dim 4-Channel Wireless Dimmer. Then we would have lower grade transceivers, and those would go to the lights that were around them. RC4 had to be our backbone because of the distance,” the lighting designer states.
The RC4Magic-900 is one of the firm’s newer products in the RC4 product family. “RC4Magic wireless DMX and dimming systems have always provided every user and project with unique digital IDs that belong only to them. RC4Magic-900 builds on this with additional data security enhancements, including optional AES encryption. RC4Magic-900 dimmers provide super-smooth LED dimming, RC4 Digital Persistence to emulate the thermal decay of incandescent lamps, the RC4 Flkr Engine for fire, welding spark, and other effects, ColorMatch to optimize color rendering of LEDs, HSL for hue/saturation/level control, servo motor positioning, and much more,” explains James D. Smith, President and Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless.
The battery-operated RC4Magic-900 runs in the 902-928 MHz RF band with certification for use in Canada, USA, Australia, Brazil, and Singapore. Smith adds, “Just like 2.4GHz, 902-928MHz is an ISM band, which stands for Industrial/Scientific/Medical. ISM bands do not require end-users to obtain radio operator licenses. The internationally harmonized 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz bands get more and more crowded every year because corporate investment in new designs in those bands results in products that can be sold worldwide; designing a product that works only in limited markets isn’t popular in corporate boardrooms. But the FCC in the United States allows higher RF power at 900MHz than they allow at 2.4GHz, which increases range. Lower frequencies propagate better – they travel further and pass through objects for effectively. All of this combined is why RC4Magic-900 delivers about four times the range of RC4Magic Series 3 at 2.4GHz. And, by the very nature of how 900MHz works, we’re beating all the other 2.4GHz wireless DMX products, too.”
Superior signal propagation was critical for Sweetgrass. “Compared to the other wireless equipment we had on site, the RC4 equipment had no problem with line of sight. When we were in the trees in Oregon, it didn’t matter if we were line of sight or not. You could hike 1200 feet through the bushes and you’d still have signal with the RC4 equipment. With the inexpensive gear, you’d go around a couple trees and you’d have absolutely nothing at all,” he notes.
Another benefit of the RC4Magic-900 was the complete lack of stutter. Stuen says, “With other wireless systems, if you’re continuously changing a light, you’ll have stutter. After that initial connection, you’d hope that there was no more stutter, smooth fades and better transitions.” However that wasn’t the case with the other equipment on site and the stutter persisted, which brought on another issue. If we’re dealing with turning on and off lights as riders are flying around, that timing is very precise; we can’t have stutter for safety reasons. If we didn’t have a stable product, it physically could have put the riders at risk.”
Stutter also would cause problems with the physical aspects of filming. Stuen says, “We were shooting really slow motion and now all of a sudden, an 1/8 of a second or a ¼ second delay is the whole shot. It’s so much more pronounced.” These problems were eliminated by using RC4Magic-900 as the backbone of the wireless system.
Stuen and the team at Sweetgrass considered various different ways to utilize RC4 systems for Darklight. “We were going to run many multi universes of RC4 wireless for pixel control of the LEDs that we were going to put on the riders clothes,” the lighting designer explains. Technologically, the RC4 gear was a perfect fit for the concept. However, in practice, there were aesthetic issues involved. “It was interesting to look at but it wasn’t what we wanted. It was looking comical instead of wow.”
RC4 was the right choice for Darklight from the very beginning. Stuen confides, “RC4 has a very interactive and hands on support and tech department, which helped me even before I bought anything. They helped me troubleshoot and test some of my conditions and hypotheses. That’s obviously worth real production money and real money to me because it allows me to come informed when it’s time to actually purchase equipment to take out into the middle of nowhere. That kind of support system is very important for what I do.”
Darklight premiered online on Tuesday, October, 21 2015; Sweetgrass has more films in the works as well. Sean Dane, Sales Director and Application Specialist at RC4 Wireless concludes, “Our motto at RC4 Wireless is ’Live Life Untethered.’ The team at Sweetgrass Productions exemplifies what that means in all that they do. We’re thrilled to be part of it now and we look forward to the challenges they’ll bring next, as they push the boundaries of wireless lighting with their unique flavor of exhilarating and eye-catching films.
What’s at the heart of Iron Man and generates eight Gigajoules of power? The Arc Reactor or Repulsor Transmitter (RT) of course. What’s at the heart of the RT? That’s the RC4Magic DMXio and the RC4Magic DMX2dim. When the folks at Marvel Studios started planning the Iron Man movies, they teamed with Al DeMayo at LiteGear to construct the RT unit for the films. Al has been part of some of the biggest blockbusters to come out of Hollywood and was the perfect candidate for this project. The RT unit had to be controlled in real time, be portable and be wireless. Al has been an RC4 Wireless distributor for many years. He knew that the tiny size of the RC4Magic DMX2dim would allow him to satisfy the demands of this special project. By taking the RC4Magic DMX2dim out of its case he was able to build the dimmer into the RT unit. RC4 Digital Persistence allowed for the smooth, step free dimming of the LEDs built into the RT. Because most movies today are shot on high speed video vs 24 fps film; a higher resolution dimmer was required. Working with Al and LiteGear, RC4 developed a 6k/Video version of our standard DMX2dim and DMX4dim. Working at 6k heartz ensured that he would avoid the frame buffering that can often be problematic with LEDs and video.
For more information on Al DeMayo and LiteGear visit their site here: www.litegear.com
For more information about Marvel Comics and Iron Man visit their site here: marvel.com/movies