Illuminating balloons

Large inflatable lights hovering over film shoots are gaining in popularity, according to Michael St. Eve, president of Toronto manufacturer Airstar Canada.

Large inflatable lights hovering over film shoots are gaining in popularity, according to Michael St. Eve, president of Toronto manufacturer Airstar Canada.

Lighting balloons are now used at special events, concerts, rescue operations and even crime scenes, although they were invented for making movies.

In 2003, Airstar received the Academy Award for technical achievement for introducing balloons with internal light sources to provide set lighting.

‘He’s an inventor type of guy,’ says St. Eve of lighting balloon creator Pierre Chabert.

‘A friend of [Chabert's] in the film industry was having some difficulties with lighting. Pierre played around with some ideas, designed something, and it snowballed into a business.’

Chabert’s idea involves a light source inserted into a balloon. The balloon can then be filled with helium and floated into position, or filled with air and affixed over the subject to be illuminated.

Available in a range of shapes and sizes, space lighting balloons have external controls. There’s no scaffolding, and only small wires are visible after setup. ‘It means 360-degree shots are possible because you can float [the balloons] up to the ceiling,’ says Mike Harwood, national rental manager with supplier William F. White. Airstar balloons are available from Airstar and now exclusively at WFW.

The balloons offer a soft light with no glare and few shadows; setup is fast and they are easy to maneuver, according to Harwood. ‘They take half an hour to an hour to set up, depending on the location,’ he says, noting it’s actually the helium filling that takes the most time.

Harwood also says space lighting balloons are ideal for illuminating both large open spaces and tight spots like stairwells. He says the lighting device was designed with film in mind.

‘The sausage shape was designed specifically for the film industry,’ says Harwood, ‘allowing us to even further direct the light.’

Waterproof and snow-proof, the balloons are available in HMI (daylight) or Tungsten (twilight or interior) versions and run on minimal power.

A trained operator comes with the balloon, notes Harwood. WFW has four operators on staff; Airstar has three.

‘We’ve also trained numerous electric guys at NABET and IATSE, so there’s lots of balloon techies out there,’ says St. Eve.

The lighting devices have been used on Hollywood films including the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Cinderella Man and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.