Lighting Plasma

February 21, 2016
Stray Light Optical

Movie stars have every right to be ticked off at the current state of the art in on-set lighting. Studios looking to save on utility bills often switch from hot, energy-sucking incandescent bulbs to more efficient LEDs and fluorescents. But those lights cast a muddied, unnatural glow. “If you're in the business of making famous people look beautiful, ” says cinematographer Jon Miller, “the quality of light really matters.” So for the upcoming superhero flick Max Steel, Miller's company is providing a more flattering solution: plasma lighting.

Originating with Nikola Tesla's experiments in the late 1800s, plasma is a filmmaker's dream: flicker-free and full-spectrum. The lamps used to require bulky generators, but now small transmitters like those used in cell towers can do the same job, generating radio waves that excite a capsule of noble gas and metal salts to create light. Adjusting the voltage changes the color, down for blue tones and up for a warmer look—so a single lamp can replicate the glow of sunset or the blaze of high noon. Best of all, plasma is more energy-efficient than fluorescent without the sallow-making glow.

Lights from Miller's company, Hive, have already caught on in the biz, illuminating TV shows like The Good Wife and movies like Divergent—along with red carpets at festivals like this month's SXSW in Austin. Instead of using a hefty generator, every light will run off a single extension cord snaking from the box office window. The stars will look gorgeous, no matter who they're wearing.

Slide: 1 of 4 .

Caption: The lights being used at the 5600K white light on a green screen stage for a Reese's cereal commercial Courtesy of Hive Lighting

Slide: 2 of 4 .

Caption: Two of the Wasp Pars being used at two different color temps on a Chevy Volt Commercial Courtesy of Hive Lighting,

Slide: 3 of 4 .

Caption: Scene from a film shot at the Langham hotel in London using the warmest color temperature Courtesy of Hive Lighting,

Slide: 4 of 4 .

Caption: Scene from the same film shot at the Langham hotel in London using the coolest color temperature Courtesy of Hive Lighting,

Slide: 1 of 4

Caption: The lights being used at the 5600K white light on a green screen stage for a Reese's cereal commercial Courtesy of Hive Lighting

Slide: 2 of 4

Caption: Two of the Wasp Pars being used at two different color temps on a Chevy Volt Commercial Courtesy of Hive Lighting,

Slide: 3 of 4

Caption: Scene from a film shot at the Langham hotel in London using the warmest color temperature Courtesy of Hive Lighting,

Slide: 4 of 4

Caption: Scene from the same film shot at the Langham hotel in London using the coolest color temperature Courtesy of Hive Lighting,
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