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Carbon Arc Lamps


Nick Flowers
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While I recall them being in more common use on big shoots when I was starting out (and welcomed the breaks for recarboning or trimming), they seem to have been supplanted by HMIs within just a few years.    A little later I worked with a few DPs and gaffers who owned their own arcs, it was kind of their "look" in a time long after they had disappeared from most location shoots.  By that time i had a better understanding of what I was seeing, and have to say that compared to early-generation HMIs they were pretty great.  I have not seen one on a job in at least 20 years now, though.

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I've only seen them once on a movie I did Mid 90's. DP used as many as 6 at once for big exteriors. I remember each light had an electrician to adjust the arc as it burned and a grip to provide ladder and stability. Little smoke stack out the top. I'm sure there are others here that can provided better stories about their experiences. Carfbon Arc "technology" was also used for search lights and Film Projectors.

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I think there were 3 used on "Mr Lawrence" that I recorded in 1992

 

Australian gaffer Warren Mearns, very exxperienced and laid back.

 

It was the biggest lighting rig to leave Australia complete with DC generator

 

The director Nagisa Oshima tried to explain to Warren how he wanted a night exterior

of a house lit ! Warren answered "Do you really want it like that or done my way?"

 

Oshima San conceded "Your way!"

 

A very interesting experience all round!

 

mike

 

 

Mike&Oshima.bmp

Mike&Oshima.bmp

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  • 2 weeks later...

At the time it seemed not to be too much trouble. On location you could power 4 Brutes off a 1000 Amp mobile generator - so that accounts for 5 sparks; one to each lamp and one to the genny. Plus of course all the other sparks you needed for the other requirements. There was the delightfully titled 'Practical Sparks', who would be in charge of all the domestic lamps in shot -  to me it implied that all the other sparks were IMpractical; hopeless dreamers probably walking aimlessly around in circles spouting Keats and Shelley - rather far from actuality! *

But this was in the days of four man sound crews and strong unions - overmanning was an indelicate subject to raise.

 

*To quote Stephen Potter: "Petrification of the implied opposite."^#

^ An example of "L'esprit de l'escalier"#

# Two examples of showing off. Why do I do it?

Edited by Nick Flowers
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In my time as a stand-in projectionist, before Xenon lamps became common, arcs were the only light source. I first met them as hand-adjusted versions in the follow-spots in the big theatre in my home town and then again in the projection room of the first arts centre I worked in as a jack of all trades. Those projectors used a system called auto-arc, where an opto switch supposedly checked that the gap was correct and fed the carbon in when it got too large. They never really worked properly, so one had to keep a constant lookout for the picture colour balance. Too blue or too yellow and the arc needed adjusting by hand.

 

Mind you, the early Xenon lamps chucked Ozone out at an alarming rate and were a bit of a pain to change when they failed, with protective gloves and eye-protection needed.

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10 hours ago, Philip Perkins said:

Like the man in the video says--no HMI looks like an arc.  Those lights make a scene look like you're making a movie.

 

Oh, I'm getting all teary-eyed.  Early wireless mics, Sony BVH500 1" video recorders, and arc lamps.  Next you'll be talking about Panavision Platinum cameras.  God, I adored those cameras.  Just the sexiest machines this side of a Porsche 356.

 

I'm SO old. :):)

 

D.

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  • 1 year later...

As a seventeen-year old I was able to sneak on the set of David Wolper's 'Devil's Brigade' when they were shooting night exteriors. The shot involved a truck full of rowdy soldiers (probably 'impaired'😉) pulling into frame from some distance and coming to a stop. Several brute arcs were being used,  with their chimneys, operators and ladders. I don't think I ever saw that much arc power on a set since then.

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