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Film LD Matt Ardine Uses VL4000 Spots to Simulate SWAT Helicopter Searchlight

PLSN Staff • News • July 13, 2015

LOS ANGELES — When the script calls for a SWAT searchlight in the city’s night sky, you can pay big bucks to hire a full-sized helicopter and invite the wrath of angry neighbors complaining about the noise as it flies overhead for repeated takes. Or you could find an alternate solution, like film LD Matt Ardine, who used Philips Vari-Lite’s 1200W VL4000 Spot fixture to simulate the SWAT copter’s beam for a recent three-day video shoot in Los Angeles.

More details from Philips Vari-Lite (

Film LD Matt Ardine Uses VL4000 Spots to Simulate SWAT Helicopter Searchlight DALLAS — On a film shoot, the lighting effects seen are often created out of elements that are not necessarily what the viewer believes them to be. Different tricks can be used to disguise the lighting instruments without any hint of what is actually up the designers’ proverbial sleeve. When lighting designer Matt Ardine was asked to create the effect of a helicopter flying overhead with a searchlight, he needed to find a high-powered luminaire to make his shots believable, so he chose the VL4000 Spot luminaire from Philips Vari-Lite.

“The setting of the video was a hostage scene in a 5th floor apartment where we would be doing both interior and exterior shots mimicking a SWAT team helicopter flying overhead with a searchlight,” began Ardine. “Showcasing how a SWAT team works, the searchlight needed to light both the street and the window of the apartment, so in this application, we needed to have a bright spot fixture with plenty of power and a hard edge beam. The VL4000 Spot luminaire was a perfect fit.”

Knowing that renting an actual helicopter for the entirety of the 3-day shoot would not be possible for a number of reasons, Ardine and the team conceived a plan to create the effect using a crane and a VL4000 Spot luminaire.Knowing that renting an actual helicopter for the entirety of the 3-day shoot would not be possible for a number of reasons, Ardine and the team conceived a plan to create the effect using a crane and a VL4000 Spot luminaire.

He explained further, “If we were to rent a real SWAT helicopter with an actual searchlight, it would have cost thousands of dollars per day, plus all the residents within a ten block radius would have had to live with a helicopter flying overhead during the shoot. Most Directors of Photography would simply put a 10k beam projector in a condor crane and have an electrician wiggle it for hours, but our DP Larkin Seiple is always open to trying new technology. He’s a great DP to work with and he agreed with my idea to put an automated Spot fixture in the air as it would be much easier to dim (without kelvin shift), zoom, iris, and do repeatable moves with timing. So our solution was to rent a 125-foot condor crane and then attach the VL4000 Spot with truss underneath the carriage.”

The VL4000 Spot from Philips Vari-Lite includes all the tools needed to create dynamic and useful lighting as every aspect of the luminaire has been designed with performance in mind. The 1200W VL4000 Spot boasts 33,000 lumens as well as a quiet Studio mode which outputs 25,000 lumens. Its high resolution optics ensure remarkable center-to-edge focusing and an unprecedented contrast ratio while a 5:1 zoom covers an amazing 9 to 47 degrees without sacrificing output or clarity.

“For the apartment shots, I had the VL4000 Spot dimmed to 30% in open white and for the streets shots we had it dimmed to 75%,” added Ardine. “The fixture gave us plenty of power and we never even had to crank it to full strength. There was one shot where the camera was inside the apartment and we had the POV of looking at the window. In the shot, the camera looks up at the VL4000 Spot from 40 feet away and the flare of the light in the camera truly looked like a helicopter searchlight.”

Along with the mechanical iris of the VL4000 Spot, its beam can be further modified via the precise four-blade shutter system, independent prism with divergence control, and the variable frost. The Infinity Color Mix System offers CYM color mixing along with variable CTO color temperature correction and dual five-position color wheels. The VL4000 Spot luminaire also features dual rotating gobo wheels with a remarkable new collection of optimized gobo patterns for both aerial and projected imagery, and its dual animation wheels provide dynamic motion effects such as the chromatically tuned Dichro*Fusion effect.

Ardine continued, “Our ground shots trimmed at about 120 feet and the apartment window shots had a throw distance of about 40 feet. For the window shots, I had the zoom dialed in to 10 degrees, and when we moved to the street shots I zoomed down to 5 degrees and added an effect with the iris and pan/tilt to give the beam a wobble movement for the realism of a helicopter searchlight overhead.”

On an outdoor video shoot, a number of factors can cause the lighting elements to fail, but during this 3-day shoot, the VL4000 Spot was ready to perform every time the director called for action.

“Over the entirety of the outdoor shoot reliability of the VL4000 Spot was never an issue,” Ardine went on the state. “We had the light attached to the bottom of the crane all day and the luminaire easily handled the jostling of moving around the set from location to location. The crane doesn’t necessarily move smoothly, and we probably moved it four times each day to different positions and it struck every time.”

Versatility of the lighting instruments is also a big advantage to a lighting designer on location during a shoot. If a single light can offer multiple capabilities, the designer can then rely upon that light for the shot needed and that’s exactly what the VL4000 Spot did for Ardine.

He concluded, “The VL4000 Spot worked perfect because it has a tremendous output, a broad zoom range and the iris. A lot of times what we need in film shoots is a bright light that is very functional with the option of an iris and framing shutters, but not too large. The VL4000 Spot gives you all of this and more.”

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