Thursday, 3 March 2016

Arri M18 HMI Knockoff

DISCLAIMER: I am a freelance cinematographer, I do not work for and or represent any retail or manufacturing company. If you have ever been curious about buying a knockoff HMI this is my experience with mine. If you choose to buy one yourself and it doesn't work, that is the risk you take, not my responsibility. All that said here is my story, and I'd love to hear yours - 

IMPORTANT NOTE: For safety and legal reasons it is very important to have all electronic items imported into Canada (including items purchased in the USA), to be approved and tagged by the CSA. In fact it is the law in Canada. This item will be assessed by a CSA representative and tagged before it is used on set. 

As a cinematographer I not only love camera gear I also love lights, dolly track, cranes, stands, and sand bags. I like gear so much I had to upgrade my poor old gear trailer this year. I had been over loading the old 12' single axel covered trailer so much, that a tire blew-up on the 401 on my way to London. Destroying the fender and ripping it off the trailer at full on highway speed. I knew it was time to finally upgrade to a tandem axel trailer, that was not only bigger, but was also much lighter. The old trailer weighed somewhere around 3000lbs and could carry something like 1200lbs, I was probably over filling the tailer with about 2000lbs, so you can see the problem. The new trailer I ordered custom made, is entirely made of aluminium, weighing in around 1500lbs even though it is 14' plus the V-nose so significantly bigger. It can hold somewhere around 7000lbs, so I am in no risk of ever filling it that full, I don't have enough gear. 

With the new trailer now fully loaded with all the old and new gear from this years productions I am back in action. However there was one thing missing, there is always one thing missing. I was still running a package without a big light, and everyone needs at least one big light, right? Here's the problem with big lights, for those of you who have ever considered buying a big light, you would know how silly expensive they are, and accounting for the crappy Canadian dollar this winter of 2016, it is no joke. One quote for the big light I wanted (an Arri M18) came in around $18,000 Canadian (including the bulbs), so there was no way I could have my big light, and I was disappointed. Suddenly I discovered the solution. On eBay they must have used M18s right? Well yes they do, but not very often and they are still expensive. It was then I discovered the Chinese knockoffs. I should have known, they make knockoff Canada Goose jackets (filled with chicken feathers don't buy them), so why not over priced German HMI lights? It was a big risk, but I took it anyway. Coming in around $4,500 that is a big drop in price. 

This is how I justified it in my head. I was having trouble finding any solid reviews or write ups about peoples experiences buying these specific lights (which is partially why I am writing this), so all I had to go on was a few reviews from 2002 and the eBay feedback section on that specific sellers account. The reviews from several years ago more or less showed that it was a hit and or miss scenario. The biggest difference in the price is largely to do with the quality control and care in assembly, something the Chinese knockoffs don't have. Thus they either work just fine or not at all. My next concern was if the lamp doesn't work can I return it for my money back, or am I left in the lurch? If there is one thing these knockoff companies really value it is good feedback, they really don't want to get a negative review. Of the nearly 1000 transactions on my sellers account there was only one negative comment, so I read through the positive ones. l felt like they were likely to honour their 14 day money back return (not a lot of time to get something back to Hong Kong). I also heard anecdotal stories that suggested other companies like this will go out of their way to make sure you don't leave negative feedback. All that being said I felt relatively safe in my purchase, so I went ahead with it. 

Within a week they had shipped the item (free shipping by the way), and 3 days later it made it all the way around the world to my front door in Paris Ontario. The box looked a little rough and upon opening it I discovered the most bizarre packing job I had ever seen. The ballast had a plastic bag and foam caps that looked like they were made for it, the barn doors and yoke were wrapped in different types of plastic and bubble wrap, and the rest of the box was filled with totally random pieces of cardboard and soft and hard foams broken and ripped by hand from other products packaging. There was even one of those little felt dividers with the velcro on them for camera bags tucked in amongst the other padding. (ps the knife in the picture didn't come in the box, that was what I used to open it). 

The lamp itself is relatively well built, there is some machining marks and sloppy workmanship on the machine screws that hold the parts together, but otherwise it looked great out of the box and the barn doors and flood/spot worked just fine. The glass and parabolic reflector weren't cracked or broken either. 

Next came the head cable and ballast, they also looked fine, all the controls were there that it promised and they even put on the 110v U-ground plug for North American outlets.

So here came the big test. I had purchased an OSRAM 1200 watt bulb, which was a little cheaper than the 1800 watt bulb just in case this thing did't work and blew up the bulb. $250 was a little easier to swallow than $400 for this experiment. The moment of truth came, I plugged it in, flipped the breaker, and..... nothing..... nothing happened, no green light indicating power, no bzzt sound of the HMI kicking into life. My heart sank. Before I had a chance to worry or throw anything, as I was expecting a few hiccups, I pulled the plug from the wall and as I did so I saw the green light flicker, so I knew where the problem was. Sure enough I popped open the U-ground plug they added and found one of the leads was not attached and there was not a pressure plate to old the lead anyway inside the plug, so it was no good. I was relieved, although a little concerned, seeing as this simple part was badly put together, so what else is not going to work. I swapped the plug, flipped the switch and bzzt the HMI slowly glowed into intensely bright life. 

I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared myself for fixing the next issue. Before I plugged the ballast in I obviously installed the bulb itself. This immediately demonstrated the issues that come with sloppy workmanship and no quality control. While all the parts were solid the person who assembled the lamp holder did not adjust the clamping mechanism to the correct tightness. You can only turn the lamp lock 180 degree and that did not clamp down hard enough on the lamp to hold it in. It made enough contact to at least test it, but not enough contact to hold it in the lamp tightly so it wouldn't fall out. For anyone who has ever tried taking apart an Arri style lamp-head they know how much of a pain in the ass it is, not impossible, but a pain in the ass. Seeing as this one wasn't built with the same machined tolerances I didn't want to risk stripping parts or messing the entire thing up by taking it apart. I managed to remove the reflector and two heat shields (seen still in place in the following picture) and remove the machine screw holding the tightening nut in place, using a pair of needle nose pliers, and turn the nut a single rotation to bring the locking mechanism into a safe range to hold the lamp tightly. 

I powered it up and ran the lamp for about a half hour in my furnace room in the middle of the night, and everything worked fine. I am yet to take it out on set, so we shall see if it holds up. My only concerns going forward are if the glass on the front of the lamp really is UV glass and if the ballast lasts. Ultimately if the ballast fails and I purchased another 3rd party, but better built ballast for around $3000 I am still saving a good chunk of cash. If it works and is stable it is a good 1200/1800 HMI for a savings of around $13,000 at todays exchange rate, not bad for a big light. 

Monday, 6 July 2015

Definitive Films

Introducing Definitive Films, the pop-culture phenomenon documentary company. Mark Hussey, Randall Lobb, and myself joined forces back in 2009 to produce Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now over 6 years later we are back at it again with not one, but two films at the same time. 

It was early last fall that we decided to take that step and get moving on our next self made pop-culture documentary project. This time we decided to go with Conan! That's right, Conan the Barbarian, or I guess Conan the Cimmerian would be the more scholarly acceptable term. In January we hit the road for 3 weeks capturing the bulk of the content for the up coming release, followed by a week in Texas in June. We are currently preparing to hit the road again this month for California and hopefully capture the last of the interviews for Conan, and some more content for our other new film.

Adam Sipione approached FauxPop to help him produce his documentary on Shenmue (an adventure style RPG for the Sega Dreamcast and Xbox). As things heated up with the brand and the doc started to sprout legs we decided to join forces in full and make part of the Definitive brand as well.

Follow both films on Facebook and check out the Process Teasers bellow:

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Turtle Power Interview

I was kickin around the interwebs the other day and was surprised to find there was a new board game caffe that just opened up in Brantford (next town over from mine). Excited to finally meet some like minded folk in this new neck of the woods my wife and I call home, I decided to drop them a line. Turned out they also record a podcast about many things geek culture live out of their establishment. On Tuesday night this week I sat down with them for a quick chat about our experiences filming Turtle Power. The short chat turned into a long chat that went in many different directions, but in the end it was a lot of fun and I think worth a listen if you're interested in hearing a bit about our process making the film. 

Check out the podcast and poke around their site here:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Barbarian Workshop - Gaming Table

Table-top gaming, one of my new/old hobbies. I was a big fan of Warhammer when I was a kid. If memory serves, it was probably right before I went to school for the first time in grade 6, roughly 12 years old when I first got into the hobby. Goderich (a town near my home) had just opened a Microplay store, and for what ever reason this location sold Warhammer, as well as used video games. I am yet to see a current Microplay sell Warhammer, maybe it was a short lived thing. I was very much into Epic Fantasy at the time (still am), having just read the Hobbit and feebly attempting to read the Lord of the Rings. The box art and idea of having a miniature fantasy army on a table and battling it out over cool crafted terrain was a pretty awesome idea to me. As it would turn out, I never really grasped the rules very well and I couldn't convince any of my friends to buy into the incredibly over priced figures.

Fastforward 18 years and my then 2 year old brother is now turning 20. He has been collecting and building Warhammer armies for almost 5 years now. He has finally got me back into the idea of playing this game I wanted to play so much as a young boy. I also have recently fell in love with RPG table top games. I picked up an old 1989 copy of HeroQuest and played a couple rounds with friends and family. I am hooked, I picked up Decent and a few other games, dungeon crawler board games are now my thing.

Last year at San Diego ComicCon I came across a booth called "GeekChic", a company specializing in fine furniture that double as game tables. Basically adapting the idea of removable leaf tables, but instead of making the table bigger they reveal a hidden game surface where the game can be set up and left to play again later. These kitchen tables and coffee tables are all made custom out of hardwood, very nice, very expensive, not something I was about to invest in. I also only had space for a coffee table, but wanted a surface that could handle Warhammer battles as well as normal boardgames.

What if the coffee table could transform in 3 ways, I thought, instead of just 2. Position 1: a normal coffee table. Position 2: a hideaway board-game surface. Position 3: an expanded larger surface for miniature war-gaming.    I set to work on a rough concept and brought the idea to my father. The first set of plans had the table-top opening like a fishing-tackle box. We quickly decided that the tackle box style was less efficient and might be a little wobbly, that said I'd still like to try this design at some point. We settled on a sliding drawer idea where both halves of the table-top could pull out and the coffee table surface could flip and become the middle of the larger table. Since this was going to be a prototype and not really made to sell, we went with old re-claimed lumber and built it "a little rough".

The lower unit could accommodate long drawers for game storage which pull out the ends of the table so they are still accessible when the table is in full size mode. 

After staining and varnishing I added the fabric to the gaming surface. In this case I chose a thin flannel fabric for it's interesting design. Because the flannel is so thin and the wood surface is very rough I laid down a stiff foam backing first to even out the surface. Since this was my first ever attempt at this type of thing, it is a little rough around the edges. I think next time I will either stretch the fabric on the foam first, or chose something that is nice and thick to start with, like felt. 

The final dimensions are a 5x2.5' coffee table/gaming table that expands to an almost 5x5' war-gaming table. I was a little worried it wouldn't fit in my basement office, but it wasn't to bad. This is a rough prototype and I think with a little care and effort I could get one of these looking pretty nice, maybe hardwood is the next step, now that we know it works. Welcome to "Barbarian Workshops" home of the transforming coffee table. 


Thursday, 16 April 2015

New Demo Reel

We are moving the i.Productions website over to merge with our partners at FauxPop Media, lots of things are changing. This blog will be my main outlet to post what I am doing as a Cinematographer, my art and collection hobbies, as well as other random things I am working on. I just posted a new Demo Reel over in that section on this site, so here it is on the blog feed as well.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Binders and Collections

I have been buying binders lately, lots of binders. I have also been learning about different types of binders, and how Walmart stocks those binders.

The magazine display in the museum hides a storage area where all the back issues of the larger format books I collect are stored. This is mostly made up of the entire run of Heavy Metal from April 1977 to today. Somewhere in the vicinity of 275 books or so. The issue was that I had, up until now, been stacking them directly on the shelf with no plastic covers.

This is neither a safe way to store the books or an easy was to access any of them individually. Over time the book on the bottom will start to stick to the paint on the shelf and ruin the back cover. I finally bit the bullet and started buying binders from Walmart (the cheapest place I could find them). The annoying thing is there are two types of the same binder, and as far as I can tell the only difference is the little black plastic tag placed over the opener things you push to open the rings. This "heavy duty" upgrade apparently equals a 2 to 3 dollar retail increase in the quality of the binder. I keep buying out the different Walmarts I come across, and some of them don't have many or any binders at all... I know right? SUPER annoying and important problem in life....

Anyways, I will continue to find these binders and organize the old collection into these nice plastic sleeves. Makes for easy archiving and organization. I also picked up these small binders to finally do something with all these collector cards I had in storage as well, will have to come up with some cool covers or something for these binders. 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

"A Guy Learning How to Draw" - Episode 2 - BASICS

Back again for another episode of me learning how to draw better. This time I mainly focus on the basics of drawing, drawing tools, and a little bit of technique, so if you're an experienced artist already, it might not be super exciting. I do however share a few tips I have picked up from people I have interviewed for various film projects over the years. This is something I am likely to do in these video podcasts, as I have collected and will continue to collect many interviews with artists and people in and around the world of comics and popular culture. These people, tips, and maybe even footage will appear from time to time. One such tip involves some cool original animation cells from the 1987 TMNT cartoon, watch and see how it relates to the world of drawing comics.

Here is a quick shot from the warm-up sketch I was doing in this episode. Not at all a finished piece, just a rough outline.