Solar Eclipse in China – Longest of the 21st Century

On July 22 of this year, China and part of Asia saw the longest solar eclipse of this century – six minutes and 39 seconds long.  The next longest solar eclipse?  I certainly won’t see it, as it’s supposed to take place in 2132.  Maybe Bernie Madoff can see it when he gets out of prison.

Boston.com’s The Big Picture blog has some absolutely stellar (bwahahaa) images of the eclipse – I posted 3 smaller ones, but the blog has such better shots, if I do say so myself.  Also check out a small video below.

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solar eclipse

solar eclipse

solar eclipse

The Universe Light from Metaconcrete

When I stumbled on the link to the metaconcrete site, my first thought was – “websites with frames still exist?”

Then I was wow’ed by the wonder of the Universe Light – a fixture with particular attention paid to the shade – and beautiful projections.  This light casts lighting texture all over the room – interesting, unique texture.  I love, love, love projection fixtures.  If my wife would let me do it, I’d have them all over the house.  Why paint texture on the walls when you can use the magic of projection to do it?

I LOVE this light.  The website could use some loving.  But the light totally makes up for it.

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universe light

universe light

Thanks, Designboom!

Aurora Borealis – Nature’s “Cue One, GO”

The Telegraph posted some images of Aurora Borealis – or as most refer to them, “The Northern Lights.”  I have never had the pleasure of seeing this phenomenon, but my wife and I have a goal to save up for an Alaska trip to see them in the Northern night sky at some point in our lives.

Every image I see of the aurora makes me wonder how Solar winds flowing past the Earth can show such beauty.  They remind me of the first time I ever saw a moonbow, standing in the below freezing temperatures in Macomb, IL in 1997.

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Primal Source at Santa Monica’s Glow 08

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Santa Monica city government and the Santa Monica Arts Foundation produced an even in Summer 2008 called Glow 08 – it was an evening to morning event featuring music, light, and art installations and projects.  From the website and other articles I’ve read, it was pretty fantastic.  One of the projects I ran across was a HUGE water screen with projections on it “governed” by the excitement of the crowd – depending on how the crowd responded to the installation, it would process video visualizations accordingly.  How cool is that?!

The installation was named “Primal Source,” and was created by Usman Haque of Haque Design and Research.  There’s a small bit of background information at the project website.  From that site:

Specially commissioned by the City of Santa Monica, California, for Glow 08, Primal Source was an all-night performance/installation brought to life through the active participation of festival-goers (estimated at approx. 200,000 over the course of the night).

Located on the beach near the Pier in an area that had been specifically landscaped over the course of several days, and making use of a large-scale outdoor waterscreen/mist projection system, the mirage-like installation glowed with colours and ebullient patterns created in response to the competing and collaborative voices, music and screams of people nearby.

Responding to sounds emanating from the crowd, the system’s modes changed every few minutes depending on how active the crowd participation was (more quickly when there was more noise). Each mode responded in a slightly different way to the individual voices and sounds picked up by 8 microphones distributed towards the front.

Some modes created “creatures” whose colour, shape and movement followed the frequency and amplitude dynamics of individual syllables and sentences picked up; other modes responded to wider collective phenomena, e.g. distorting a grid in response to the crowd volume, or creating a rush of wind through a wheat-field landscape.

Haque Design‘s specialization statement is pretty excellent – check it out:

Haque Design and Research specialises in the design and research of interactive architecture systems. Architecture is no longer considered something static and immutable; instead it is seen as dynamic, responsive and conversant. Our projects explore some of this territory.

Also check out the Processing and Pure Data websites, both products used in the creation and production of the installation.  Processing is an open source language that processes images, animations, and interaction – and Pure Data is a real-time graphical programming environment for audio, video, and graphical processing.  Both of these open source products are free.  Yes, free.

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Primal Source (video documentation) from haque d+r on Vimeo.

Thanks, Interactive Architecture!

Atmospherics and Safety: Is Haze Bad?

Being a lighting designer who LOVES atmospherics, especially haze, I would be prone to say “no, absolutely not, I need it!”  But as anyone who has worked with Equity and the other performers’ unions before, you’d know that there are limits.  Everything in moderation, I suppose.

Atmospheric products – ie, haze and fog – give shape to beams of light.  These terms, along with “smoke,” are often confused, misused, and abused when talking about the general category of atmospheric products.  Fog is thick – sometimes very thick – whereas haze is wispy, light, and you can generally see through it.  Haze gives beautiful, lovely shape to beams of light and turn templates shining through the air into three-dimensional works of art.  However, not everyone is a fan of haze.  Some people are irritated by haze, not in the attitudinal sense, but in the pulmonary sense.  There is also the “hypochondriac” element to consider – when you put something that people can see into the air and ask them to breathe it, you can expect that at least one in every ten people will start hacking and coughing, whether or not it irritates their breathing.

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A ceramic “heater cone,” used for Sal Ammoniac powder

Atmospheric products have taken up all shapes and sizes, and chemical compositions over the years.  An effective product that is horribly annoying to breathing is Sal Ammoniac – Ammonium Chloride (NH4Cl) – in a powdered form.  The powder was added to a “smoker cone” or just a pan and heated up.  The great thing about the product is that you need the powder, the heater cone, and an Edison base – that’s pretty much it.  It produced a “smoke” that was easy to spread throughout a venue, and really did wonderful things to beams of light.  It’s non-toxic, but widely known as an irritant.  It certainly makes some great beam effects!  What a shame, huh?  The original Catch-22.  I used this as recently as 1997 when designing a production in undergraduate school.  It’s a bit acrid to the nose – but it’s fantastic for lighting.

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The Diffusion DF-50 Cracked Oil Hazer

There’s also the big debate about cracked oil haze products versus water-based haze products.  Cracked oil products are, in my humble opinion, considerably superior to the water-based haze products – but the cracked oil products, like the DF-50 hazer‘s output, have a tendency to leave a thin film on everything.  If you’ve ever loaded in a rock and roll tour that’s using a cracked oil hazer, you know exactly what I mean – everything is slippery.  LCD projectors also don’t really appreciate cracked oil haze – quite the contrary, as they usually get ruined after some exposure, or at least experience a degradation in quality.  I will say that I have used the DF-50 in literally hundreds of shows, and I love it, no matter what.

Water-based haze products are a solution, and really are becoming a norm – one of my only gripes with cracked oil products is the “float” factor – I think it is more difficult to keep water-based haze in the air, and even.  Cracked oil has often very easy to regulate, dissipate, and just plain keep looking nice.

There are tons upon tons of haze machines in the water-based category.  Products like LeMaitre’s G-300, which is a hzer/fogger combo, is pretty popular, as is their Neutron XS hazer, which is pretty small and fairly cheap in price.  I’ve used the Neutron XS in all kinds of environments, and it’s great for small theatres, clubs, concert venues, etc.  My favorite product in the water-based haze category lately is the Unique 2 by Look Solutions USA.  I bought a Unique 2 at both of the last colleges I taught, and it’s a fantastic device.  You also don’t have to drain the fluid or really clean it- I left mine sitting for 3 months over a summer, and came back to the office and fired it right up.  Amazing.  It’s two channels – pump and fan – and DMX controlled.  It’s a solid device.

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The Unique 2 from Look Solutions

The Rolls Royce of hazers – at least from the people I know who use them – is the MDG hazer products.  They’re expensive like a Rolls, too!  They utilize a CO2 tank which needs to be filled on a regular basis – but the quality they put out is fantastic.  I toured in the UK on a show, and that was the go-to hazer.  Great stuff, a little high maintenance for my tastes – but that’s why they’re my tastes.

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An MDG “Atmosphere” Hazer

I responded to a post at Ask.Metafilter.com a few days ago – it made me want to write about atmospherics!

As for health aspects of atmospheric products like these – I had the pleasure of sitting in on a lecture with Monona Rossol a few years ago, and she told me things about atmospherics and the lungs that I never knew.  Monona is the author of The Artists’ Complete Health and Safety Guide.  MSDSs can be downloaded for every product that’s out there – it’s the law!  There are permissible exposure levels (PELs) for all of the products – and unions like Equity regulate how much exposure one of its union actors is allowed to have.  Casts have gone on strike because of the haze levels, and some people are sensitive to some products, it’s a fact.  My experience with atmospherics has been on several hundred shows across the globe; I have probably literally used hundreds of gallons of fog and haze fluid in several brands of machines, for better or for worse.  I also know that I just recently had a cancer screen done on my lungs – and I’m clear.  I’m sure the years of cigarettes didn’t help my lungs though.  Good thing I quit three years ago.

In short, a good amount of lighting designers like haze.  End of story.

The Actor’s Equity document list on atmospheric products is here.

Fog Screen at LDI

There’s a product called “Fogscreen.”  Fogscreen is basically a sheet of atmospheric that is jetted downwards so that a projector or other fixture can project onto the screen.  You can walk through it.  Great, right?

The thing is – this actually works really well.  I was amazed at how clear and bright the projected image was on the fog screen.  Check it out.  Also, check out Fog Screen (http://www.fogscreen.com).