Mac Millan’s Amazing DIY Raygun Props

I am so excited to bring this to the web!  I’m even more excited to put the work of a true DIY artisan out there to the world.  All I know is that you need to hire this guy if you have something that needs done like he can do.

I want you to meet Mac Millan – I met Mac at SETC 2011 in Atlanta this year when I was judging the Student Design competition.  I was so taken with Mac’s inventions that I asked for images and video so that the JimOnLight.com Community and the world could see the skill and mastery put into these devices that Mac built.

You might see these and say STEAMPUNK – I see them and say awesome.  Makers and DIY’ers, take notice!  These raygun props are electrified, illuminated, special effect pieces of genius.  Congratulations on a great project, Mac!

From the creator’s mouth:

Ok, let’s get this out of the way.

Steampunk.

Yes, these are steampunk as hell, and while I love the aesthetics of a lot of what comes out of the steampunk culture I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about zeppelins (unless we’re talking about the sandwich, I’m always thinking about the sandwich).

Anyway, back to the matter at hand: three steampunk-as-hell rayguns. These were all built almost entirely out of found objects I had already accumulated in my apartment (I’m a packrat with expensive taste). The initial inspiration came from the silver Thor power drill seen in the smallest of the three rayguns; I inherited a similar drill from my Grandfather, and from the second I saw it I couldn’t help envisioning an art deco pistol of some sort. I purchased a duplicate to avoid destroying an heirloom, glued a photo enlarger I found on the street to the end and filled it with LEDs and flash cannons.

The second model is the orange and brown number, built on a Thor-Nado electric jackhammer purchased off Ebay in high school paired with a photo enlarger. The third is an ellipsoidal stage light and a photo enlarger salvaged from my high school. See a pattern yet? Again, the major structural components for all three were things I had lying around, I just glued and bolted them together and added blinky lights.

On the how and why: I’m a very hands-on learner, and working with my hands is how I clear my head. I wanted to learn more about motors, LEDs, lights and mechanics, so I started making rayguns. A desire to actually use some of the hundreds of pounds of industrial detritus filling my apartment may also have been involved. Specifics are for another day, but let me just say there was a lot of wire and glue involved. A LOT of glue. And let me just say, gluing a nonporous material to a nonporous material SUCKS.

Check out this video – Mac’s rayguns light up, they have smoke effects built in, and one of them fires a magic flash!

Mac Millan’s Steampunk Rayguns from Jim Hutchison on Vimeo.

Here’s a gallery of all of Mac’s three rayguns.  Click on a thumbnail and a gallery view will open up for you!

Light and Optics Work Together to Make LCDTV Possible

My old (and still awesome) friend Derek Heckler sent me this video that you all have to watch – seriously, watch this video! Bill Hammack (from Engineer Guy, also a professor at the University of Illinois) made this video, and I have to say that it is one of the best videos on breaking down the internal working components of light and optics in LCD monitors!

Also, make sure to check out Bill’s videos on Youtube, too – hours and hours of awesome watching there!

The Anti-Laser – Scientists Discover How to Cancel Out a Laser Beam

Whoa – a laser story that doesn’t involve someone mounting a man-killing laser on top of some kind of vehicle?!  SAY IT AIN’T SO!

Professor Douglas Stone and his team of Yale scientists have discovered a way to get material to nearly completely absorb laser light.  They’ve developed this thing – more of a material, really – called a CPA, or Coherent Perfect Absorber.  What it seems the team has done is to take the Law of Conservation of Energy and used it to their advantage.  Do we all remember the Law of Conservation of Energy?

Energy can not be created or destroyed – it can only change form.

So what the scientists have done here, in layman’s terms, is that they’ve figured out a way to get laser light to basically be absorbed into a medium by waiting until that laser light bounces around this little silicon chamber until its energy changes forms to heat energy.  Stone and his team used a silicon structure to basically take beams of laser light and capture them in this silicon medium until they change form to heat energy.  Right now his team says that they can capture 99.4% of the light through absorption, but their Coherent Perfect Absorber will potentially be able to capture 99.99% of the laser light shone into the CPA.

Why this is significant is that silicon is already being used in the semiconductor industry in computers – this new technology from Yale and Douglas Stone’s team has potentially many, many uses in computing – the hope is that they’ll be able to use these tech as a way to make microswitches and other types of computer components.  Hey, using light instead of electrons?  Awesome!

Very cool!

Thanks CTV, BBC, PopSci, and NewScientist!

Daft Punk – A Visual History of Daft Punk’s Illuminated Helmets

Okay, this is just excellent.  I found this in a forum called The Daft Club – the creator’s name is Agent RayBans on that forum.  Great job, mang!

At the end of the post are the full-sized images.  Make sure to give credit where credit is due.

Agent RayBans, great work!

Here’s the first image, full size, and the second, full size.

The Technical Evolution of Automated Lighting – High End Systems’ Intellaspot XT-1 and PRG’s Bad Boy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about technical evolution – perhaps it’s just a desire to slimline my life and conglomerate all of the technology I use into some kind of a tight suite of autonomous gadgets that all speak some common language.  Or not.  Who knows.

Something I find interesting is the progression of automated lighting technology over the last decade.  If you look at the progression of fixtures and systems over that period, you might notice that comparatively there is not a lot of major evolution that has taken place in the last ten years.  A lot of people will probably disagree with that statement, and that’s fine (as I welcome it), but the general functioning of the moving light hasn’t really changed.  There has been a very significant amount of improvements and enhancements over the last bunch of years – motors have improved, speed has increased, output has grown in strength, and zoom optics have improved, and we’ve also had some technological advances in power supplies.  We haven’t really revolutionized the way that moving lights work.  Am I forgetting some things, or omitting them?  Probably.  It’s not the point, though.

I’ve talked a lot with my buddy Rick from InLight Gobos about the evolution of automated lighting (being that he was one of the original engineers of moving lights) and I’ve had a few conversations with Jim Bornhorst from PRG (and recipient of the 2010 Parnelli Lighting Visionary Award) about the history of automated fixtures.  It is excellent to hear from the sources of the history you’re writing about regarding the very thing in question.  My conclusion is that the renaissance of moving lights was with them, in their day, when developing the fixtures was important.  Nowadays it seems like most companies drive themselves to develop and research just to increase the bottom line.

I think there are two very large exceptions to this statement:  High End Systems’ Intellaspot XT-1, and PRG’s Bad Boy luminaire.  I think that these two fixtures are my two favorites that came out of the last handful of years.  More than anything, I feel that these two fixtures are on the top of the research and development ladder – something that I am a HUGE proponent of, especially when it comes to advancing the way that our industry revolves and breathes.

Let’s look at the Intellaspot XT-1:

The unit has some interesting features – two wheels of rotating dichroic gobos is a big plus, as is the prism effect that splits the beam into two functioning beams.  Oh, and let’s not forget the 850W lamp that puts out 20,000 lumens on 120V.  I mean, it is an impressive fixture, both functionally and aesthetically.  What blows my mind about the unit is the increase in usability that Richard Belliveau and his team of awesome geeks have put into the Intellaspot XT-1.  USABILITY.  Say it with me, everybody:

USABILITY!

What the hell am I talking about here with the Intellaspot XT-1 and usability?  Well, for starters, the fixture is BALANCED.  When you go grab it off of a lighting position and get ready to stick it in the case, it is amazingly easy to manipulate.  Richard Belliveau and I had a great session before the fixture was released where we just took the unit out of the case and put it back in several times.  It was exhilarating.    There are a LOT of major market fixtures that are a NIGHTMARE to get in and out of their cases.  Not the Intellaspot XT-1.

IT’S MODULAR!  Power supply go bad?  You pull it out and replace it.  Color wheel stop working?  You take the bulkhead out and replace it.  MODULAR.  Screws in the fixture lids are captive, so that when you’re dangling by your bunk sock on a piece of truss trying to repair a fixture, and inevitably every unit goes down, you can do so without bouncing screws and hardware off of the stage floor.  There are bumpers on the front of the head so that when a stagehand or electrician drags the fixture across the floor, the lens and optics don’t get all screwed up.  The handles on the sides are comfortable and not shaped like hand breakers that just smash your phalanges when you put the weight of the unit on your hand.

Doesn’t it seem like all of this stuff should be a great idea?  High End thinks so.

Let’s look at PRG’s Bad Boy:

PRG’s Bad Boy is my other favorite fixture right now – besides the 48,000 lumens coming from its 1200W lamp, it’s a massive bright beast that is fast, steady, has some amazing – no, stunning – features (like split beamgobo morphing and tri-split colors).  If you’ve seen it, you know how beautiful its photons really are.

What tickles me about the fixture is again in the realm of usability.  Bad Boy’s lenses (all eleventeen of them) have a subroutine in the brain of the unit that opens up the lens train, lens at a time, so that they can be cleaned.  GO FIGURE.  The fixture has a big ol’ bright LED that tells you whether the unit has communication (green LED) or no data (red LED).  Have you seen the interface for the unit?  It’s like HAL from 2001 – I’m sorry Dave, but YES THE FIXTURE CAN REMEMBER WHAT WENT WRONG.  Reports, error logs, test sequences, and all kinds of other user-driven tidbits come from PRG’s excellent user experience.  I know the kinds of folks working over at PRG – one of the guys I know and am fond of, Adam DeWitt, is a smart freaking cookie – when you have people like that working on a fixture, then it gets done right.

Research and Development time and money is worth it, lighting companies across the world.  Please believe me.  Stop putting out crap when you could put out something respectable like the two units above.

I think this is a general message for the future of moving light technology in general.  Lighting companies – when you make something, make it so that it is usable.  Not just usable to designers, but usable to the people who keep the show looking as amazing as you envisioned it when you first developed the cool visual features that the fixture can make.  Follow Richard Belliveau and Jim Bornhorst’s leads when you’re in the research room – the people who work on your gear want it to be an awesome experience.

Hall and Connolly Carbon Arc Spotlight, Restored by Rick Hutton

Have you ever heard of the old lighting company Hall and Connolly, Inc?  They made spotlights – reflector-less carbon arc spotlights, that were huge and, well, new then, old now! Hall and Connolly, Inc, from what I can find through research, became part of the Sperry Corporation and the Sperry Corporation’s holdings at some point in the WAY early 1900’s.  The Sperry Corporation made big wartime spotlights and other World War II-era gear.

The IATSE #354 website had some awesome information on these spots, including a manual!  I posted the pics of the manual pages after the gallery, check them out!

Check out this Hall and Connolly spotlight – Rick Hutton from InLight Gobos restored this puppy (Spot #322) from dilapidated rustiness to a state of beauty:

This is what it looked like before:

Look through this gallery of shots – click on a thumbnail, a gallery view will open, and you’ll be able to see them all full-sized!

Hall and Connolly Spotlight Manual pages:

Thanks Rick for letting me shoot the spot, and thanks to IATSE #354 for the pics of the manual!

My Rockstars. Who are YOUR Rockstars?

This is perhaps one of my favorite times of year.

This is a time where students and student designers (especially LIGHTING designers) are getting back into the swing of things in the University environment, and concepts are grabbing hold.  Brains are being developed.  The next generation of rockstar lighting people are being trained.  This is all very exciting to me.

Something that I find relatively disturbing is the answer to the following question that I have asked many high school and college age people:

Who do you look up to in lighting?  Who are your “rockstars?”

I have always been a nerd on the Nth degree – I looked up to people like Westinghouse and Edison, Niels Bohr and Robert Oppenheimer.  Yeah, I am a nerd.  Nerd is the new “passionate.”  But when you look at the things that Michael Faraday, Georg Ohm, Alessandro Volta, Francis Robbins Upton, and people like them of their times accomplished and discovered, it’s hard to call people like Brittany Spears and Taylor Swift “rockstars.”

At least to me.

The people who are getting into light and lighting now are the people who are going to lead the technological development of it tomorrow.  It’s so important to me that we not forget the work that the rockstars of today are doing (and STILL doing) to keep our industry progressing at a rapid, uncontrolled pace.  When politics and money get in the way of technological process, it still, to this day, blows my mind.  Our world LIGHT problems, like creating sustainable energy, figuring out how to better utilize incandescent light and arc sources, integrating dichroic glass into the world outside of entertainment, and the like are not problems solvable by policy and politics.  These are technological issues.  We need more technically interested people, and not policy makers to solve the issues.  Jacques Fresco, a social designer and engineer, said that we don’t need more law, we need more technological solutions.  If you’re driving down the road drunk, your car needs some sort of a system that feels the car oscillate and brings it to the side of the road to a stop – not a law that people constantly ignore, which causes death and destruction.

I found an article a while ago that sparked my feelings on this subject – Wired Magazine had an article about how the lack of nerds and geeks in our midst from the emerging young population is a national security risk.  Whereas you all know how I feel about military uses of light, I tend to agree with this assessment of the shortage of people passionate about their future.  Has the emerging population on average lost sight of the drive associated with work ethic?  Is studying for a math exam less important nowadays than seeing what’s up on Facebook?

It certainly seems like it, doesn’t it.

I had the absolute pleasure over the Memorial Day weekend to meet a man named John Covington while I was hanging out with Rick Hutton from InLight Gobos over that weekend.  John Covington is a guy who, along with Rick, was one of the initial ShowCo/Vari*Lite people from back in the 70’s and 80’s who developed a lot of the things we use in the lighting industry today, as well as, you know, the FIRST MOVING LIGHTS.  John Covington works for PRG now – he’s the guru of all things analog.

I am in Nerd Heaven when I have those excellent conversations with Rick and John about things like lasers, laser ablation (which Rick was the first to do for gobos in our industry, which is why his gobos are so damned good), the first digital programmable ballast and power supply (which, by the way, JOHN was the first to invent, like two decades ago), and other amazing technological discussions.  Hearing stories about the development of the VL1 and VL2 series, the VL5, laser gobo etching, and all that kind of stuff really, really makes me excited to be in this industry.

I look up to people all over the industries, because our industries are full of very rich and interesting history.  You also learn a thing or two when you observe a master at work.  Hell, I learned more about dance lighting design from Steve Shelley than I ever would have on my own.  I also learned ridiculous amounts of things from Richard Cadena, who is just a smart fella full of excellent insight and information.  I learned how to program a Hog from Benny Kirkham, who is one of the coolest cats I’ve ever met.  The first programming book I ever read?  A manual on lighting programming by Brad Schiller.  I saw several Metallica shows as well – products of Brad Schiller’s creativity and prowess behind the desk.  I learned from Richard Belliveau as well – I have spent more time inside of Intellabeams, Studio Spots, and Studio Colors studying the systems and figuring out what made them tick than I’d like to remember!

(Brad also helps me become more diverse when I write boring stories and post things that don’t necessarily interest the common good – thank you Brad!)

The list goes on and on.  What is important is that each and every one of these people who I look up to as a lighting professional are out there doing what they do because they love it.

You have to have heroes – rockstars – people you look up to, people that you learn from, people that you value.  When you realize that your career is more than just a job, I think that you are able to then figure out who really are your rockstars.  Most of them are very humble, and have done what they have done in the industry because, well, it is their career.  They don’t think they’re better than anyone, and they don’t have something to prove – they love their work.  Dedication to furthering a career is something that no one can give you.  You either have it or not.  I highly encourage you to find out about the people who have done the developing of your particular industry and get to know them.  You’re going to realize that you all have the same questions – and perhaps they have an answer or guidance that you would have never before realized.

If this is your industry, have respect – work hard at it.  Become a nerd about it.  It’s the only way to become the best.  The people who are currently the best want you to be the best, too.

I want to say thank you to the industry, and all of the people associated with the industry who get it.  Thank you for doing what you do, and being so damned great at it.

How It’s Made – Residential Load Centers (or Electrical Panels for the, uh, Normal Person)

Another installment for this week of the How It’s Made videos from the web that deal with lighting and electricity – electrical panels!  I’m sorry, I mean residential load centers.  *Ahem*

Yes, residential load centers.

Um – uh – yeah.

Cool video, check it:

How It’s Made – Electrical Wire!

Okay, this is WAY too awesome.  Once I started looking through those How It’s Made videos I posted a while ago, I found some new ones.  Check THIS out – how ELECTRICAL WIRE is made!

The insulation and testing parts are my favorite!  The first video wasn’t enough for me, so I found this one to supplement.  Check it out, ridiculously informative – which is what I love!

Dave Jones Talks About Thermal Design for Electronics

I’ve talked a lot about Dave Jones from time to time on JimOnLight.com – Dave is in Sydney, Australia, and he is one of my favorite nerds.  Like, way up there, near Collin Cunningham.  Yeah.  Dave knows his stuff.  It also doesn’t hurt that he’s a lot of fun to listen to, which makes me watch his spot regularly!

Dave just did another segment of his Electronics Engineering Video Blog – this time on some basic theory on calculating for thermal heatsinks for electronic gear – like LEDs and other opto-semiconductors.  Really, just put this on and go about your work.  I guarantee you’re gonna learn something awesome over your lunch hour.

Dave, you rock.  Next time I’m in Sydney, I’m SO buying you a pint, mate.