It started out as an offer to help manage a studio and turned into a major studio refit. When Producer, Brian Cole, and Engineer Kirk Baggot took on running the North American Mission Board’s studio in Alpharetta, Ga, they quickly realized that a major overhaul of lighting was needed. With some help from Litepanels lighting designers, and a fleet of powerful Gemini 1x1 Hard panels, the comfort of on-screen talent in the studio is improved, and operating costs drastically reduced.
Brian and Kirk have been working together for 20 years on various films and live event productions. When the 2020 global pandemic forced many companies to shut down their in-person events, they combined their experience with streaming technology and virtual events to form Plaid Turtle. The company produces virtual, in-person or hybrid events for clients such as Chick-fil-A, Barna, and Lifeway.
New lamps for old
Kirk had been providing crews and some consultancy work to the North American Mission Board at their studio. When the studio manager left, Kirk offered to take on managing the studio for the organization. “I probably should have looked at the building first,” says Kirk. “It’s an incredible space, but it was built a long time ago. Some of the lights must have been there since they built it – all traditional, incandescent fixtures.” Despite the age, the team could work with the setup. They thought.
“We would wrap up a shoot in the studio and then he next time we came in, three lights would need new bulbs and the color temperatures had all shifted, it was crazy,” says Kirk. “You could literally see a color shift from one end of the set to the other. Even though it was all the same lights, all new light bulbs. It was awful - something we were constantly fighting.” Fortunately, as the end of the year approached, the Board had funds available from a canceled project. “I told them you really need new lights.” The Board agreed, so Kirk and Brian began the task of removing over 70 traditional lighting fixtures from the studio and drawing up plans to replace them with LED fixtures.
“We had done an event with Retro8 films for Chick-fil-A. They had brought a 20 x 20 muslin and used a Litepanels Gemini 2x1 Soft and some other fixtures to blast a ceiling of beautiful light over the set that we had built,” says Brian. “Kirk recalled that the set that was about the same size as the individual sets we were building. So, he suggested we try a similar lighting setup in the studio.”
Having experienced the quality and output of the Gemini 2x1 in action, Kirk and Brian contacted Litepanels for some advice on how to light their space. Litepanels co-founder and Gaffer, Pat Grosswendt, took up the challenge. “When we started talking to Pat, we weren't sure how many lights we would need,” says Kirk. “We had a plan, we had all the specifications, and we knew basically what we were getting, but we weren't positive of what the result was going to be. Pat was incredibly helpful and enthusiastic.” As with any studio project, there were also budget considerations. “We had decided the budget would allow us to get 20 super powerful Gemini 1x1 Hard panels,” says Brian. “We had planned to fix 16 up in the air, running eight on each 20x20. That would leave us with four to serve as our front light, but we would need to figure out something to do with the windows that are behind the set,” he says. “Pat suggested that we could achieve the look we wanted with five lights on each 20x20, and we said, do you really think so?”
Gemini 1x1 Hard panels produce an outstanding 3000 lux @10ft/3m of naturally accurate white light, or richly saturated color. Without diffusion, the incredibly bright raw light is 20% more powerful than a 200W HMI.
“We got the first five up in the air without the diffusion and turned one on,” says Brian.
“One of the guys doing the installation said, ‘wow that’s bright, is it 100%?’, we said no, it’s 25%. We cranked them up to full power and it was incredible.”Brian ColeProducer
With ample output from each Gemini unit, the budget for 20 fixtures could now light each set completely. Five above each set diffused through a 20x20, two butterflied as key lights with 8x8 diffusion, one for each of the five set windows, and three on rolling stands to use wherever some fill is needed.
DMX marks the spot
Although Kirk and Brian are often on-hand to manage production on the set, the studio also needs to offer a turnkey solution for other occasions. That means simple controllability. “It’s pretty much the same look each time, sometimes there are two people on the set, sometimes three and we might adjust the front lights – usually the windows and overhead lights stay the same,” says Kirk.” says Kirk. “Sometimes there might be just one video editor on staff who will use the studio to shoot their founder or president, just presenting two minutes direct to camera. They need to be able to just press a button and have all the lights just work. So, it was important for us to be able to group and control the lights with DMX.”
“It’s also important for those CEOs or executives that the lighting is comfortable,” says Brian. “Professional presenters get in front of people on stage, and they're blinded by light, and they are just used to it. We have folks that aren't like that. They're coming in to do an interview and if they're not comfortable in their environment, it comes across on screen.
“We are amazed at how the lights are so bright and yet feel so comfortable.”Brian ColeProducer
With the switch from conventional fixtures to LED panels, the days of consistent bulb changing and shifting color temperatures are over. “We now also have the benefit of confidence,” says Brian. “When we walk on the set, we know we can turn on lights and they're all going to come on and it's going to look the way it did when we left last time.”
The heat is off
One of the environmental benefits of LEDs over tungsten lights most often noticed is the reduction in heat, making sets much more comfortable for everyone. But one unforeseen benefit of the switch out to LED was an abundance of silence. “We didn't even realize how loud it was in that room with all those conventional lights running until we got in there with none of them on,” says Kirk. “It was so quiet, we were hearing things that we had never heard before because the conventional fixtures created almost a white noise level.”
In addition to a reduction in noise and heat, the Gemini panels deliver a huge saving in energy consumption. Despite its impressive light output, the 13.25lb (6kg) 1x1 panel has a nominal power draw of just 200W. “We were in talks with the power company about how to reduce the power draw of the building because it was so significant,” says Kirk. “We had a lot of light and were drawing over 70,000 watts to do a shoot. Even shooting just eight to ten days a month, that’s still a lot of power.” Today, running 20 Gemini 1x1 Hard lights produces all the light they need while only drawing 4,000 watts.
“The low power draw and the amount of output is incredible, so bright, but we can still get the soft look by putting the dome on. It really is an incredibly flexible solution for us.”Kirk BaggottEngineer