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Shafts of light on a budget


David Calson
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Plenty, cheap as chips PAR cans do the jobs beautifully. But what you actually need for shafts of light is a haze machine - atmospherics on set to catch and refract the beams so that you can actually see them.

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Any light will give you a beam. Pars and punchier, especially VNSP PAR 64s, which are dirt cheap, but a Fresnel will also give you a shaft. You could even wrap a normal light in tinfoil and poke a hole in it to get a shaft of light out-- all depends on what you're doing.

You will need a hazer or a smoke machine of some kind to actually show the shafts of light and will need to be careful about any fire systems where you shoot-- some of them will go off with just a hazer.

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Last time I bought them, with a VNSP bulb and a TVMP adapter (baby and junoir) it was like $130ish for the whole set up per light. BulbAmerica, on EBAY, I think still sells the NSI ones as a 4 pack of heads, then some VNSP bulbs, and the TVMP from BH. I also get lock washers from home depot. The heads take a beating, and are super lightweight. I also will tend to re-wire them with a longer than 3' plug when I'm not being lasy.

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The problem with beams of light is not the light, it's the smoke, and it isn't even an issue of creating the smoke - it's an issue of keeping it even and consistent between takes and setups.

 

It's generally easier to use haze machines than smoke machines, as the latter will require someone to beat it out into a fine mist with a big piece of cardboard or something. The hazers can have the same issue, just less so. Keeping it even is surprisingly tricky, and you will almost certainly need to have someone constantly assigned to releasing smoke and beating it up.

 

P

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You can also get smoke in a can. It's a good option for smaller rooms. I usually have a few cans of that along with the machine in case the machine is setting off a lot of alarms or if it's pulling too much electricity. The smoke doesn't last as long but for quick shots in small spaces it's a nice alternative to have handy.

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Lekos are also a good option - they're a little pricier than PARs, but you'd be hard pressed to find a cheap, plug-in-and-go type light that produces a cleaner, stronger beam. They're also extremely versatile if you have a good lens selection to determine your spread, and can be shaped even further with the leaves or a gobo - these things are punchy, on a cloudy night with a bit of black wrap you can make a bat signal.

Depending on your needs you could also use a Dedo - much smaller, but very easy to use light weight fixtures with barndoors, flood/spot controls, etc. - some of kits even come with projectors to sharpen the beam even further. PARs are great because they're punchy and cheap, but they're basically point-and-shoot lights, control-wise you can't do much to them that doesn't involve grippery.

But Adrian is right, any light will give a beam if you know how to get it - I recently worked on a show where we did shafts of light with zip lights...if you get the position and the angle right, shoot it through a window and it's perfect. It all depends on what you want.

And yeah, you'll totally want some haze.

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Oh; I've never thought to try a Zip! Or even seen a Zip in awhile, sadly Kino has seemingly eclipsed them.

Lekos are a good choice as well.

 

If you do go par; take some tin foil with you or preferably black wrap; but it's all the same; so you can throw some over the front of the par and cut a bit into it to control a little bit of the beam.

Closer in you're need flags and the like-- though normally when I'm using them, I station them outside a window, let's say, and either use a light diff or position them so the beam fills the window to spill into a room-- Or they're back-lights in which case I let them go a bit.

 

RedHeads are also pretty cheap and basically the same idea; only with barndoors.

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Slide projectors are fun. Put interesting slides in them for interesting beam patterns. Or video projectors. Simulate trees waving in the breeze. Watch out for flicker, though.

 

Intelligent lighting can be quite nice for it too, sometimes offering gobos, defocussing, motion, and other novel effects. Again, the ballasts may be intended for night clubs and therefore flickery.

 

P

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