Hi, I'm in the process of setting up a semi-professional workspace for animating, in the spare room of a rental apartment. Hoping for advice about lighting options and blocking out windows and stuff? My previous experience at Uni was with professional film equipment, way out of my price range, so I'm hoping you guys know of some ways to get decent results without the multi-thousand dollar price tag. I'm in Australia, if that makes any difference to your suggestions. Thanks in advance for any help, this is something I've been wanting to do for a long time.

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I fully understand trying to avoid the multi-thousand dollar price tag, but where is your new goal? Under one thousand, under one hundred, etc?

The cheapest way I've found to black out windows is via black plastic sheeting found at any hardware store. For under $10, you should be able to find (at least) 3.5mil 10x25ft (3x7.62m) black sheeting.

For lights, I contacted a few local professional lighting rental shops. With the advent and changeover to LEDs, I was able to purchase plenty of their older fixtures for far lower than cost. That said, a basic light set-up shouldn't cost too much.

C-Stands and various other equipment... it's back to the hardware store, this time int he either the plumbing or electrical departments (depending on weight requirements). I've found that EMT Conduit is extremely inexpensive, easy to work with, has plenty of fittings, and can support a good deal. If something significantly stronger is needed, 1/2" steel pipe and plumbing fixtures.

There are plenty of pages and YouTube channels devoted to DIY stage equipment. Depending on your needs, I'd recommend searching and watching a few different tutorials and going from there.

For me, I've found that it's an open mind and always being on the lookout for how something could be used as something else... but that seems to describe most of my experience in stop motion.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to reading any other ideas or cheats people could recommend.

Wardrobe rail makes good small diameter bars for hanging lightweight lights from.

I found the brackets sold for mounting 2" diameter tube quite expensive. But you can get U brackets designed for car exhausts very cheaply and just fit them to a block of wood and/or some plywood.

"...always being on the lookout for how something could be used as something else... but that seems to describe most of my experience in stop motion."   Yep, Sean, I reckon that's all of us!

I'm in Australia too.

I got some brackets that are usually used for hanging lights from 50mm scaffolding pipe, from a disco lighting supplier.  They were cheap, but now seem to cost $16.95 with shipping from DJ City in Sydney or Melbourne.   Ouch.  http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Prostand-GC50B-50mm-Hook-G-Clamp-Black-/...

Then I used 48mm pvc pipe from Bunnings (or maybe Reeces) to hang the lights from.  (That's 48mm external diameter, it's actually sold by internal diameter which is smaller, so I had to measure).   However, I was able to hang the pipe from the ceiling, drilling holes through to the timber trusses, and I don't see that being an option in an apartment!  Supported by a bolt every metre, the pvc pipe is fine, even for bigger lights, but if you had a 3 metre length of it just supported by a stand at each end, it would sag in the middle.

Some of my lights sit on light stands. They are fine, although they can get in the way if you have to put them too close.  I couldn't find the things to attach lights to the tops of the stands, so I made them out of blocks of wood.  A 1/2"  hole 3/4 of the way through to fit over the top of the light stand, then a smaller hole with a coach bolt going up through it, so the threads stick out the top.  Then I put the light onto that thread, with a wingnut to tighten it.

There are less expensive light stands around.   A bit lightweight but they work.  You can also make something up out of timber or all sorts of materials, but the ones you buy fold up, which is good.  These are $22.89, with free shipping:   http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Photo-Studio-2x-210cm-Tall-Light-Stand-T...

Or, you can get this kit which appears to be 2 lightstands and a rail that goes from one to the other, so you could hang lights in the middle without having the lightstands in shot.  $29.80 seems cheap for that.  http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Photography-Studio-Background-Support-Ba...  

Most of my lights are 50 watt halogens, with one 300 watt halogen.  But LEDs are replacing those and coming down in price.  Actually, I just looked on eBay, and all I saw was LEDs, and they all seemed to be fancy strobing, flashing, colour changing laser thingies, not basic stage lighting at all.  I need to do some more looking.  I have never had the budget for the super expensive lighting like Dedo lights, many of mine were made from 12v halogen downlight kits with transformers that i mounted on some board and fitted with brackets that could tilt.  As they get old I've been replacing them with the little PAR lights that run off 240v AC mains power, but now those seem harder to find.  Could be I've got too far behind the times and the stuff I use is no longer on the market.

Ok this might not work for you, but in my studio I have built a false ceiling with wooden framing and ply top. This acts as a shelf for wood pieces and as a place for hanging lights etc. If you can get the lights off the floor, avoiding stands, it will give you more room to operate. Needs a decent ceiling height though.

Use magic arms for suspending the lights. They are quite cheap unless you go for the Manfrotto version.

Thanks for the black sheeting tip, I have the nightmare of blocking out a full bay window and this will make it much easier! I aiming for the sub $1000 for lights, I know if I want a semi-decent set-up I'll need to fork out a bit. I think I might have missed the boat on picking up older stage lights, as none of the companies I've looked at seem to have them anymore, even in their ex-rental clearance sections. Do you have any other suggestions for lights? Do the new LED ones work, or does the multi-LED thing cause weird lighting effects? Also, do they cause flicker?

Sean O'Hara said:

I fully understand trying to avoid the multi-thousand dollar price tag, but where is your new goal? Under one thousand, under one hundred, etc?

The cheapest way I've found to black out windows is via black plastic sheeting found at any hardware store. For under $10, you should be able to find (at least) 3.5mil 10x25ft (3x7.62m) black sheeting.

For lights, I contacted a few local professional lighting rental shops. With the advent and changeover to LEDs, I was able to purchase plenty of their older fixtures for far lower than cost. That said, a basic light set-up shouldn't cost too much.

C-Stands and various other equipment... it's back to the hardware store, this time int he either the plumbing or electrical departments (depending on weight requirements). I've found that EMT Conduit is extremely inexpensive, easy to work with, has plenty of fittings, and can support a good deal. If something significantly stronger is needed, 1/2" steel pipe and plumbing fixtures.

There are plenty of pages and YouTube channels devoted to DIY stage equipment. Depending on your needs, I'd recommend searching and watching a few different tutorials and going from there.

For me, I've found that it's an open mind and always being on the lookout for how something could be used as something else... but that seems to describe most of my experience in stop motion.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to reading any other ideas or cheats people could recommend.

Thanks for all the tips on MacGuyvering together a rig for hanging my lighting on, but I'm still a bit lost as to where to find the actual lights? Are LED lights a feasable option? I'm also concerned about flickering caused by the fluctuations of mains power, but is there any way around it without spending thousands on something to regulate the voltage? 

StopmoNick said:

"...always being on the lookout for how something could be used as something else... but that seems to describe most of my experience in stop motion."   Yep, Sean, I reckon that's all of us!

I'm in Australia too.

I got some brackets that are usually used for hanging lights from 50mm scaffolding pipe, from a disco lighting supplier.  They were cheap, but now seem to cost $16.95 with shipping from DJ City in Sydney or Melbourne.   Ouch.  http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Prostand-GC50B-50mm-Hook-G-Clamp-Black-/...

Then I used 48mm pvc pipe from Bunnings (or maybe Reeces) to hang the lights from.  (That's 48mm external diameter, it's actually sold by internal diameter which is smaller, so I had to measure).   However, I was able to hang the pipe from the ceiling, drilling holes through to the timber trusses, and I don't see that being an option in an apartment!  Supported by a bolt every metre, the pvc pipe is fine, even for bigger lights, but if you had a 3 metre length of it just supported by a stand at each end, it would sag in the middle.

Some of my lights sit on light stands. They are fine, although they can get in the way if you have to put them too close.  I couldn't find the things to attach lights to the tops of the stands, so I made them out of blocks of wood.  A 1/2"  hole 3/4 of the way through to fit over the top of the light stand, then a smaller hole with a coach bolt going up through it, so the threads stick out the top.  Then I put the light onto that thread, with a wingnut to tighten it.

There are less expensive light stands around.   A bit lightweight but they work.  You can also make something up out of timber or all sorts of materials, but the ones you buy fold up, which is good.  These are $22.89, with free shipping:   http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Photo-Studio-2x-210cm-Tall-Light-Stand-T...

Or, you can get this kit which appears to be 2 lightstands and a rail that goes from one to the other, so you could hang lights in the middle without having the lightstands in shot.  $29.80 seems cheap for that.  http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Photography-Studio-Background-Support-Ba...  

Most of my lights are 50 watt halogens, with one 300 watt halogen.  But LEDs are replacing those and coming down in price.  Actually, I just looked on eBay, and all I saw was LEDs, and they all seemed to be fancy strobing, flashing, colour changing laser thingies, not basic stage lighting at all.  I need to do some more looking.  I have never had the budget for the super expensive lighting like Dedo lights, many of mine were made from 12v halogen downlight kits with transformers that i mounted on some board and fitted with brackets that could tilt.  As they get old I've been replacing them with the little PAR lights that run off 240v AC mains power, but now those seem harder to find.  Could be I've got too far behind the times and the stuff I use is no longer on the market.

That's the sort of thing I was seeing,lights with different coloured LEDs in them, and able to do all sorts of fancy tricks.  Possibly you could get white light by having all the colours on at once, and in theory you could vary the colour by having say, more blue LEDs on than red or green, instead of using blue lighting gels - but I can't tell if you can actually do that.  What they are selling is big obvious changes from red to green to blue light, and strobing and other party tricks.  So at best you are paying for things you don't want to use.

There is a DJ lighting place nearby,  here in Oakleigh Vic, so I will go and see what they have in stock and what might be suitable.

The most useful lights I've bought in the past are little PAR lights which take 50 watt dichroic reflector globes in them, and you can use LED replacements in those, though they aren't really as bright.  And 6 volt 30 watt pinspots, which cast a bright barrow beam, good for backlighting a puppet without spreading light all around the set.  They take a big sealed reflector globe.  I will see if there is an LED replacement, and if the lamp housings are still sold.  They were used in discos to aim light at the mirror ball so it would bounce off and reflect around the room.

Flicker might be an issue.  These lights don't cause flicker, but they don't prevent it, either.  If the mains power fluctuates, as mine does, they will get brighter and darker.  I have an expensive double-conversion UPS to smooth out the voltage.  But a much cheaper solution could be to go with compact fluoro lighting.   Normally it does not respond to small changes in voltage - you can't use a dimmer - it either stays the same, or if you dial the voltage really low it flickers and then cuts out altogether.  I've just had 3 different setups that needed to look like soft diffused light on a cloudy day, and I used all fluoro lighting.  I had the general working lights -  long tubes in the ceiling -  on for some general fill light, unfiltered by my UPS, but they don't flicker.  The rest was compact fluoro spiral globes in round reflectors, aimed at the ceiling to bounce the light off it.   They were actually a kit for product lighting, that came with a translucent white cube - you put the product inside, and light from outside, so it's all soft and bright all over.  The kit was cheap at the Salvos op shop.   Aimed directly at the set you would get more defined and directional lighting, though fluoros tend to be a bit softer than halogens because they are a larger light source, not a small bright point of light that will cast sharper shadows.

I'll get back to you when I've checked out the shop.

That's the cheapest LED unit at the lighting shop.   Having all the colours on at once does produce white light, and it can do that without being connected to a DMX controller.  So it could be used, but it is a fairly large circle, about 200mm diameter I would guess.  That makes shadows soft-edged, because the light is coming from a wide area.

The fluoro lights I've got set at the moment look like this:

The same globe could be put into a desklamp for the same effect as far as lighting is concerned.  The globes stick out so much from the reflectors you can't really restrict where the light goes, so while they are useful for some general soft light, they aren't for everything.

These are the sort of thing I use for most of my lighting, but they don't seem to be available any more:

Hanging from the pipes near the ceiling:

So that makes the DJ lighting stuff not really the answer.  And when my halogen globes burn out, I may not be able to get any more.  There must be proper stage, film, and TV lighting around, but the trick is finding something that is not super expensive, and small enough to work well in the miniature scale sets we usually shoot on.  

I do also use some flood lighting from Bunnings, haven't checked lately to see if they still sell that.  They use double ended halogen globes.

I've found that there are LED pinspots, with white LEDs.  Most are only 3 watt which might be a bit feeble,  probably more equivalent to 12 or 15 watts in a halogen than the 30 watt pinspots I'm used to, but I'm ordering one (for $15) to try out.  I'll post about it when I get it.  There are also some 10 watt versions, costing more. Very useful, but still for specialised use, so not the answer for main lighting.  Here's what I'm getting to test:  http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/3W-White-Beam-LED-Pinspot-Moonflower-Sta...

Still looking for a more general light.

Looked under Video Lighting, found 60 watt and 30 watt LED lights that looked pretty good, but at professional prices.  The 30 watt one:  http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/CN-30F-30W-LED-Fresnel-Light-CRI-95-Spot...

Still cheaper than this Dedolight, which at $555 does not even include the power supply, barn doors, or cable:  https://www.videocraft.com.au/dedolight-dlh4-100w-150w-tungsten-lig...

Just an update: I've managed to block out my bay window with black plastic sheeting (double layers were needed as it wasn't very thick). I've also managed to find a couple of par 56 short can lights which I should be getting my hands on soon. Also, I've written the script for my short film, and am currently moving towards planning the layouts of the sets and storyboarding. It feels good to make progress!

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