Jeffrey M Hamel discusses the exciting new Active Diffusion technology from Zylight, distributed exclusively through Chimera

As a consultant for Zylight for more than ten years as well as one of the patent holders on the brand new, electronically-controllable Active Diffusion panels, available through Chimera, Jeffrey M. Hamel has been a fixture, so to speak, in the burgeoning LED revolution since the very early days of its inception. Centered in Boston, for the last thirty years his consistency and excellency in commercial and video lighting work has led to a portfolio of Fortune 500 clients, national television productions and numerous political debates. An omnipresent figure in the world of lighting, his lighting design has even gone so far as to win him a New England Emmy Award for his work in 2015 for set design.

operators can instantaneously dial in the diffusion from 0-100%

Built as a flexible, electronically-controllable LCD screen that can be utilized with fluorescents or any other cool lights, like LEDs, Zylight’s Active Diffusion panel will affix to gel frames or precisely-sized Chimera softboxes. Available in a variety of dimensions, Active Diffusion is a boon for cinematographers, video professionals and photographers. The adjustable opacity of the Active Diffusion panel eliminates the need for an assistant as operators can instantaneously dial in the diffusion from 0-100% through remote-control handsets. Zylight and Chimera are joining forces on the new technology, with distribution available wherever professional Chimera products are available.

 You’ve won an Emmy for your lighting design, what was the project, and what was that experience like for you?

I won the Emmy as the lighting designer for a studio redesign at NBC Universal. It was a top-to-bottom makeover with new sets for new shows, using new cameras and 100% LED lighting fixtures. The challenge was selecting LED components to be built into the physical sets and LED fixtures that play well together to light the on-camera personalities. All LED fixtures are not equal! There are binned, doped and lensed LEDs. Manufacturers have their own drivers, software, menus, PWM (pulse-width-modulation) and various white light color temperatures.

Features

  • Worlds Only Variable Diffusion Panel
  • Palm Sized Controller
  • Continually Adjustable Diffusion
  • Long Life – More than 1 Mil. on/off Switches
  • Flexible for Easy Portability
  • Low Voltage Requirements – 9V
  • Many Uses

Benefits

  • No Diffusion Sheets to buy or Carry
  • Reusable- No Waste
  • Saves Time
  • Low Maintenance Cost & Downtime
  • Quick Set Up reduces OT

I had a dozen or so different brands of LED fixtures shipped in. Then I brought the fixtures to one of the studios at NBC Universal and did a shootout using their cameras, monitors, charts and a Sekonic Spectromaster C-700 color temperature meter. Management, production, creative and engineering were all present for the day-long process of evaluating and testing these fixtures. We ultimately chose the Source Four LED daylight ETC Lekos along with Zylight F8 100-LED daylight Fresnels for the main on-camera light sources. The choices for set lighting was Chauvet, and for built-in accents, LED Neon-Flex rope lights. The opportunity to collaborate with such a great team of people and to win an Emmy for it was an awesome experience.

How have you seen LED technology change over the last few years to the point where it is now accepted as a mainstream lighting solution?

In the beginning, there was a lot of resistance to LEDs, especially from the older, established DoPs.  Moving away from full-spectrum sources created a lot of trepidation, though they had been using fluorescent fixtures mixed with tungsten and HMIs for years. In some ways, the technology has come full circle. Zylight arrived on the scene in 2003 and introduced the Z50 at NAB in 2005. At the time, no one had adjustable color temperature, +/- green, wireless control and PWM built into an LED fixture. Zylight forever changed lighting for broadcast, ENG, and commercial production. 

   Early RGB technology limited the overall light output compared to a single-color LED fixture. Most early manufacturers of LED fixtures opted for higher light output over purity. As LED technology improved, bi-color fixtures started to flood the market. It took until 2013 for manufactures to do what Zylight had developed in 2003, introduced in 2005, and expanded upon in 2009 with their IS3 panel. Zylight set the bar for LED lighting in what has now become a very crowded field. In the past couple of years, with the exception of movies, LED lighting has become the choice for DoPs, lighting designers, and gaffers.
 In addition to work for major networks and national commercial productions, as a director and gaffer, you’ve worked with a number of luminaries in the world of politics, including former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Are there any extra pressures when working under such restrictive security conditions?
There are so many moving parts for any live broadcast that the probability of something going down is always looming. Fixtures, power distribution, consoles, generators and electronics…. what could possibly go wrong? The added pressure when working under the high security for presidential events is knowing that if any equipment failure happens during the actual broadcast, you better have already planned ahead. You’re certainly not flying truss in to replace a fixture, or bad power cable or power supply, etc.

I recall a re-election event at Nashua North High School in New Hampshire for President George W. Bush. The stage was set “in the round”, which required a “ring of fire” for 360-degree lighting. A 50’ x 40’ truss box was rigged using 1200W HMI Pars with ballasts mounted on the truss. The rig needs to be brought in before the event so the ballasts can be struck. I had two fixtures hung with ballasts for each area of lighting. The day before the event, the senior campaign advisor came to me and said “Hamel, I have never seen so many f…ing HMIs in my life. Why do you have so many?”

I replied, “George, you tell me which fixtures will come on before the truss is flown out for the event, and I will remove the other ones.” Getting new gear in once the president is on is not going to happen. Redundancy is your friend.

 In an article you penned for the July 2006 print edition of Student Filmmakers magazine, you mention that “You light with the lights you have, not the lights you wish you had.” Is this new diffusion system from Chimera and Zylight one of the lights you’ve always wished you had?
 ‘Good, fast, cheap…. pick any two’, is one of a gaffer’s oft-used sayings in the production world. The comment, “you light with the lights you have, not the lights you with you had”, is in response to all of the production limitations; budget, time, crew size, power, etc., that need to be taken into account when deciding on light fixtures. This new diffusion system developed by Zylight and marketed by Chimera will revolutionize lighting for location, studio and live broadcast events. This innovation in diffusion technology is the first to allow changes to the density and quality of a light source in real time.
 What are your “musts” for lighting design? What are the tools that you often find are most effective in working with the lights available to you?
When shooting on location, I always try to utilize available light, like sunlight, or background and foreground fixtures that are already part of the environment. These sources need to be shaped, cut, reduced or redirected. My “must-haves” are hard light sources. My favorites are the Zylight daylight F8 200 LED Fresnel, F8 100 Fresnel, and the 1’ x 4’ Aladdin Bi-Flex4 bi-color LED panel. A soft light will always be a soft light, but a Fresnel gives you the ability to use it as a hard or a soft source, with bounce or diffusion.
How will you be using this new diffusion system from Chimera and Zylight? What does the technology give you that was not previously available in a diffusion system?
Chimera’s new Active Diffusion used with Zylight’s F8 Fresnels, for example, allows you to change from a hard to a soft source immediately, in real time. The ability to change light levels, quality and wraparound without changing diffusion frames will make this a must-have for every shoot. The technology is lighting’s first “follow focus”.