A Tale of Two ProductionsMovie / Television
Motion picture and tv gaffer Peter Walts of Labour Party Lighting is a busy man. He’s worked on numerous feature films and tv series, including Magic Mike, Contagion, Side Effects and more; his tool kit includes dimmers from RC4 Wireless. “In terms of finances, RC4 Wireless products work equally well in both the large budget and modest budget realms,” states Walts.
In 2014, Walts worked on the critically acclaimed Steven Soderbergh cable series The Knick. “It was a full budget feature with a full-time board op; we used [RC4 Magic] DMX4Dims and we used the Flkr Effects Engine; it’s the best flicker engine on the market,” Walts says. The Flkr Effects Engine is an integral part of the RC4 Harmonized Design platform and is a part of all RC4 Magic wireless dimmers. “Our RC4 Flkr Engine is my first US Patent, so it’s kind of special to me. I worked with top designers at Disney to create a general framework they really liked and then consulted with numerous other RC4 Wireless users to fine-tune it. The result is a parametric method of defining a huge range of effects. Each parameter is controlled by a DMX channel level, much the way channels control parameters in a complex moving light,” notes James D. Smith, Chief Product Developer at RC4 Wireless.
The Knick—and Soderbergh—also threw some curve balls at Walts. “The way Steven works, he shoots from the hip, so we didn’t pre-plan a lot of things. Steven would be editing at night, and then change his mind about the staging of a scene the next day. He’d suddenly want the actors to walk down a dark hallway; I always asked ‘are they holding a lantern?’ He’d want lanterns, so we’d turn them on and dial them on using the console or use it directly via the luminaire. With the Flkr Effects Engine, we had the ability to change a number of parameters and give our lights nuance; as a battery powered wireless dimmer, it’s perfect,” Walts says.
Walts also found himself in a graveyard with a single lantern during the run of The Knick. “He explains: “We built a four channel LED into the lantern and we created a beautiful effect with the RC4 unit; we could even change the nuances in the course of the dialogue if we wanted to. The actor then put the lantern down, and then there was a four-page scene, and the lantern was the only light.”
Fast forward to 2018 and Lizzie, a re-telling of the Lizzie Bordon tale directed by Craig Macneil. “I couldn’t hire a programmer for Lizzie, and used the DMX4dim directly with a luminaire, but I could still do it all myself. In fact, when we were working on Lizzy, there was no DMX except the RC4 equipment,” Walts explains.
Once again, Walts turned to RC4 Wireless dimmers and the Flkr Effects Engine; this time it was for a fire. Walts explains: “For the scene, we would be hand-held so I couldn’t have any cables; we took Litegear LiteRibbon x2, x4, and x6s, laid them on a 2×3 flag along with a battery and put it in a fireplace along with the RC4 dimmers to create the fire. I had my battery-powered LED flag with four channels of different glows, we could make it brighter, or turn it down and make it smoother. It was also the only light in the scene.” Smith adds: “The most powerful elements of the Flkr Effects Engine are the random-number-generators. You can set up a look you like, and then apply varying amount of randomness to select parameters. Since every unit is creating its own randomness, you can configure many devices with exactly the same set of parameter values and they will all look like the same effect but not synchronized. Design a fire in a barrel effect, then put it in multiple barrels all over the stage and they look totally realistic because of they all dance the way you want, but they all dance independently — just like real fires in barrels would. The RC4 Flkr engine is one of the most powerful effects systems out there, but it’s still easy to use and understand with a wide gamut of looks it can produce.”
As Walts looks towards the future, he sees… productions that are wireless. “More and more, we’re being asked to do high budget effects with lower budget means, and RC4 Wireless products are terrific for me. I could go full bore with the RC4 Wireless equipment and use it with a programmer, or use it alone, depending on the budget and the scope of the show,” he concludes.