By Mauricio Van Hasselt
At Aaron Sims Creative (ASC) we’re continually pushing the boundaries of cinematic visual effects, and our team is behind some of today’s most memorable movie monsters. Our otherworldly creatures and settings have brought chills and thrills to a broad range of high-profile projects, including current hits like the Netflix science fiction-horror drama “Stranger Things” and the Walt Disney Pictures movie “A Wrinkle in Time.” As a full-service creative boutique, we pride ourselves on a design-first approach to developing iconic characters and worlds that takes a project all the way from script concept to on-screen debut.
Lighting plays a critical role in our work, enabling us to add real-world components to our computer-generated visual effects for added realism. For instance, we can use the light to generate on-set muzzle flashes that the actors and environment can react to, making the scene much more realistic than if the effect were added later in postproduction. We’ve also used Gemini to generate interactive lighting on location that will later be motivated by sources created in CG.
For applications like this, we need highly versatile lighting tools that are not only dependable but offer fine-tuned control. That’s why we were excited to come across Gemini, a 2x1 soft panel from Litepanels. Launched to much industry buzz at last fall’s IBC show in Amsterdam, Gemini produces true, full-spectrum white light and offers an extensive choice of control options for just about any lighting application the ASC VFX team might dream up.
Several of my colleagues in the industry were raving about Gemini when it launched, so I was already somewhat aware of it when I was invited to a hands-on demo by the Filmtools shop in Hollywood. After getting to see Gemini for myself, I felt it could be the “all-purpose utility knife” we needed for lighting our projects. And since I’m no stranger to Litepanels – their Astra LED panels have been my mainstay lighting kit for many years – I knew I could count on the product’s durability, performance, and outstanding light quality.
There’s always an excitement factor when we bring in a new piece of gear, along a bit of concern that it will live up to its hype and perform as expected. We put Gemini into service right away on an active project without any real time for testing, and instantly we could see how versatile it is and how many new possibilities it might open up. Gemini delivers flicker-free light for any frame rate, shutter angle, or intensity, making it perfect for high-speed photography, with smooth dimming from 100 percent down to .1 percent for the smallest glint of light. In CCT Mode, we’re able to set Gemini’s correlated color temperature (CCT) anywhere from 2,700K to 6,000K to get accurate color rendition, and in HSI Mode, we can create and select virtually any color in the different color modes from the 360-degree color wheel. In RGBW Mode, we can create specialty colors by controlling red, green, blue, and white independently at the turn of a dial. Plus, with a new firmware release announced at this year’s NAB Show, Gemini offers an incredible array of dynamic special effects ranging from emergency lights, lightning, and fire to pulsing, square, and strobe, just to name a few.
These capabilities came in handy on that first project with Gemini, a scene with a laser beam. The project’s director appreciated our ability to change the color of the laser in an instant as he tried different scenarios for the scene. It’s a micro example of Gemini’s flexibility and how readily it supports a director’s ability to make on-the-fly decisions in support of his or her specific creative vision.
One Gemini feature that struck us right away, especially compared with other comparable panels on the market, is its extreme light weight. Since Gemini has a built-in power supply, no heavy external ballast is required, and it can also provide full output from battery power alone. I can carry the light with me to any location, and we can easily mount the panel on a boom, a phenomenal advantage when dealing with tricky top-lighting situations.
Another huge advantage of Gemini is its highly intuitive and easy-to-use control interface. For a bright flash like one that might occur with an explosion, we can achieve the desired effect almost instantly, and we can save the flash as a preset that can be triggered any number of times with the touch of a button. In fact, we’ve been able to save multiple USB presets for a variety of different looks, such as action or horror. An added convenience is the Bluetooth interface and the control app, which allows us to control the light using our mobile devices. Even the location of interface on the light is well-thought-out, giving comfortable and ready access to the controls.
Visual effects are not always top-of-mind for filmmakers as they plan their objectives for a shooting day, which means our team often has very limited time to get into the scene, set up, and create the desired effect. This is especially tricky for lighting, which traditionally has required multiple specialized fixtures and complex electrical connections. But with Gemini, a single lightweight piece of equipment gives us greater flexibility than we’ve ever had before, with a wider range of solutions and easier access. It means we’re able to focus on creating amazing visual effects rather than setup, and the light’s exceptional color and realistic skin tones virtually eliminate the need for color correction, saving our clients time and money in postproduction.
Mauricio van Hasselt is production manager for Aaron Sims Creative, based in Los Angeles.
We put Gemini into service right away on an active project without any real time for testing, and instantly we could see how versatile it is and how many new possibilities it might open up.Mauricio Van Hasselt