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Lighting in 2021: Orbiter, SkyPanel, Daylight, Tungsten, trends, and new solutions

One year ago, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the entertainment industry and the infrastructure that supports it. ARRI checked in with three of their clients—Maccam, Pacific Backlot, and B&H—to learn what they experienced with the shutdown, how business is recovering, and what lighting trends they see for 2021.

For MACCAM, based in Los Angeles, California, catering specifically to gaffers, COVID-19 has been a roller coaster. “In March, we had to scale down because we didn’t know what the future would hold,” says Michael McDonald, Maccam’s President. “But thankfully in June, commercials started to pick up for us, and by Q4, business was back to its pre-COVID numbers; 2021 is shaping up to be even better.”

The latest ARRI fixture, Orbiter, drove demand for lights at the end of 2020. “Everyone was chomping at the bit,” says McDonald. “My customers absolutely love the color science and the technology that a small matrix of LEDs opens up; it offers so many optic solutions.” He continues, “we’d love to see smaller and bigger optics sizes” adding that his customers are especially looking forward to more accessories like the Projection optics.

Even though the demand for LED sources is booming, HMI and Tungsten—especially the larger units, like ARRI’s M40 and T12, remain essential. “HMIs and large Tungsten won’t go away any time soon,” assures McDonald.

The gaffers his company supports, all of whom are involved in top studio projects, are “looking for versatile fixtures that can replace two or more units from their trucks as they scale to five tons and sprinters. If you can get a fixture like the Orbiter that can lower your footprint, that’s ergonomic.” When asked what trends he might see for 2021, McDonald comments, “The biggest trends for new fixtures coming to the market are harder light and more optics—and our customers are delighted. New fun and creative projects will be coming soon!” 

At Pacific Backlot, a subsidiary of Vancouver Film Studios, General Manager Derek Hall reports his company serves the many clients that come through the studios’ 12 stages, facilitating lighting and grip needs. Last March, when COVID-19 hit, production came to a halt at

Vancouver Film Studios and Pacific Backlot. “During that period, we used the time to improve the facilities,” Hall remembers. In October, productions came roaring back. “We’re a 40-show town,” he says, referring to Vancouver. He continues: “In October, 60 productions started up. We had more work the last three months of the year than we’ve ever had. With the number of simultaneous productions, the demand for lights was quite high. I brought in gear from other places to help facilitate the needs of our customers.” Hall also notes changes in the lighting world: “The demand for LEDs is growing year by year. It’s not a trend anymore—it’s becoming the norm.”

At Pacific Backlot, Hall reports that they have purchased ARRI LED and Tungsten fixtures over the years to meet the lighting needs on Vancouver Film Studios’ stages. “This year, we diversified,” he says. “We want to be able to serve our customers off the lot, when they go on location. To do that, we additionally purchased a lot of HMIs last year and this year and we’ll be purchasing more.” Another fixture that will go out on location is the ARRI Orbiter. “It’s a versatile light,” says Hall. “One of the main features we all want is the Leko adapter. With that, we see it as an LED joker light.”

With the growing popularity of LEDs, Hall sees Tungsten lights as “dying dinosaurs.” “Three years ago, they were a no-brainer,” he says. “That’s changed. But Tungsten will always be needed, especially the bigger fixtures—just not in the same quantities.”

Today, all 12 operating stages at Vancouver Film Studios are full of productions from Apple, Warner Bros., and Freeform Disney. Hall predicts that productions will continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols. “But it isn’t a big hassle anymore,” he says. “There was a learning curve and the productions have it dialed in now. It’s not going to stop anything in Vancouver.”

According to General Manager Michel Suissa, The Studio at B&H largely serves institutional, non-traditional productions, from a wide range of sectors. “Everyone is bringing production inhouse, from internal communications to training the sales force,” he comments. “Non-traditional spaces are being turned into studios, like transforming a conference room into an insert stage.” With regard to lighting, anything that enables remote control is big. “We’ve seen new markets emerge in ways we haven’t seen in the past because the opportunity and the need were presented to these communities due to the pandemic.”

Production Sales Engineer Danielo Garcia reports that at the beginning of 2020, some projects went cold, but B&H was able to continue to work remotely: “After the first dip, dormant projects came back on and new projects we weren’t expecting came online. We needed more equipment and more locations to make things happen, and that drove a boom in lighting.” Suissa reveals that virtual production has been a new development in the industry—and it calls for LED lighting. “It’s a good alternative to green screen and it means that lighting on set becomes more sophisticated,” he says. “It’s been driving a renewed request for lighting in general.”

In terms of trends in lighting, both Suissa and Garcia say that “LED is the flavor.” “That’s where everyone wants to go,” says Garcia. “There’s still going to be a need for HMI, but people are gravitating to the ARRI SkyPanel and Orbiter.” Suissa says that customer feedback on the Orbiter “is slowly coming to us—It’s still relatively new,” he adds. “Lots of people are still figuring out what applications it’s best for. It’s an intriguing new product and its versatility will make it a success in the marketplace.” Garcia agrees, saying “we want to get it in front of our customers.”

When COVID-19 is no longer a pressing concern, both Suissa and Garcia believe it will take some time to attain a new normal. “There will still be a hybrid need for some social distancing and some remote control,” says Garcia. Suissa notes that economics are a driving force: “The new reality, remote production, has the potential to be very much a cost savings paradigm for production. I think it will drive the new momentum.”

One trend Suissa sees is that non-traditional customers are eager to up their game by adopting premium brands like ARRI in cameras and lighting. “If you have ARRI lights, you know you’re in a certain market—and that’s appealing to them,” he says. “There’s a demand in the marketplace for a higher level of quality.”

Contributors to the article:

MACCAM – Studio Lighting
Los Angeles, California
maccam.tv

Pacific Backlot
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
pacificbacklot.com

The Studio at B&H
New York, New York
bhphotovideo.com

Photo Credits:
Opening image: William F. White
Final image: Lighting Designer Andrew Schmedake