Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Router Speed Control??

One of the most important things, when crafting an image,
is control of the lighting.  But when you aren't in a studio,
don't have money for a one Ton grip truck, and you have to
shoot on location, by yourself, what can you do?  One of
my best purchases (relative to money spent) has been a few
little items from Harbor Freight called 'router speed controllers.'
They look like this and cost about $20 each.

Now these allow you to plug any light into them, flip the switch to
'variable' (VAR) and then use the dial to vary the intensity of the light....
like a proper dimmer!  It's not perfect, as the color temperature of the light
will change as you use the makeshift 'dimmer'.  However you just dial
in the intensity of the light that you want to use, and only then do you perform
the white balance.  And you can plug any light up to a 1K into
shop lights or whatever.  This really adds a new level of control, to say, an
interview setup.  Throw one of these on the key light, fill light, hair light, and
background light and tweak how they balance against each scrim needed!

However, it gets even better.  I found a new use for this underrated piece of gear a
couple years ago.  I was hired to DP a 'Docudrama'.  The film was about 'first contact'
between Russian fur traders and Alaska Natives.  Some of the scenes were to be shot
in sod houses at the Alaska Native Heritage center, and many of them called for the
scenes to be shot by firelight.  One problem.  The Alaska Native Heritage center would
not allow us to actually light a fire.  So we needed to stage something where it would
be bright enough to see all the great costumes that our actors had.....but looked like
authentic firelight so as to fit the period.  The director was thinking about using a
reflector and having someone 'wiggle' it back and forth near a light.  Then suddenly
an idea came to me.  What I proposed, was taking a couple 1K lights and setting them
down into the fire pit (an area which is goes down into the floor and is about a foot and
a half lower than ground level.) . Then I suggested that we clamp on some orange
gels in front of the give them the correct look of 'firelight.'  Finally, I
pulled out my 'dimmers' and hooked one to each light.  Then we tasked a crewmember
to sit at the controls of the dimmers, and 'flicker' the knob up and down in an erratic
way.....low budget simulated firelight.  It wasn't perfect but for a low budget indie
film, it was acceptable.  I cut together some random scenes so you could see how
it looked.  This is NOT an edited piece, I just grabbed some scenes and slapped them
together so you could see if this technique looked realistic enough to use when your
own films call for a fire lit scene.

Not bad for something known as a 'router speed control'....

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema

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