Exclusive Q&A with Cineo Lighting: Leader in Lighting Systems

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Exclusive Q&A with Cineo Lighting: Leader in Lighting Systems

ProductionHUB Q&A: Chuck Edwards, CTO, Cineo

Cineo Lighting has become one of the most well-known leaders in the production of lighting systems today, offering the highest-quality lighting solutions for set, studio, field, and location applications. CTO, Chuck Edwards, answered a few questions about the brand, new technology and more. Check out the full interview below. 

PH: How did Cineo get its start building lighting instruments? What instrument was the most challenging to build technically? Why?

ABOUT CINEO LIGHTING’S START

Chuck Edwards: The Cineo team was first to create a high-power LED studio fixture with the quality that motion picture and television professionals demand. By pioneering cutting-edge technologies, Cineo creates high-output, compact light sources for image capture, in all power ranges, which exceed the capabilities of traditional lighting tools.

I was Vice President of Product Development at Intematix, a leading LED materials company.  There, my team had pioneered development of remote phosphor technology. I was approached by Rich Pierceall, the founder and CEO of Cineo, to collaborate on high quality LED lighting specifically for film and broadcast. Together, we developed the HS TrueColor featuring remote phosphor technology. Still the highest CRI LED light available (at true 98CRI), the HS series has been an ongoing success since 2012. Following the release of HS TrueColor, I joined Cineo as CTO.

MOST CHALLENGING PRODUCT

Cineo just announced a new LightBlade Ladder in cooperation with NBCUniversal.  This 5 color (27, 65, R,G,B), modular system was a unique challenge. The individual 4ft x 2in LightBlades also work as stand-alone DMX, Full Gamut Color fixtures.  The modular LightBlades are configurable into flexible, 14ft high, hanging Ladder arrays.  Unlike previous Ladders, the LightBlade Ladders feature Full Gamut Color with six independent color zones so we can simulate sunset and other zonal special effects, all with full independent color control – pretty tricky.  It’s a lot more than just a hanging backlight.

PH: What has the response been for the wireless DMX? Was that a common customer request? Was there a certain unknown when going into wireless DMX?

WIRELESS – NO LONGER OPTIONAL

Chuck Edwards: Last year, wireless lighting turned a corner and now it is required.  We design all of our products with wireless support.  Picking a standard to follow was a complex decision. We went with LumenRadio simply because we saw they had the largest installed-base of customers in the United States motion picture and television markets.

PH: How much work went into building a color-tunable fixture? What were customers asking for (in particular) that type of feature?

BI-COLOR FIXTURES – HARD WAY OR EASY WAY?

Chuck Edwards: There are so many general lighting LED products that it’s easy to build basic bi-color “knock offs” with “off the shelf” parts. Just Google these products – they are all over.  But it’s quite hard to build quality custom fixtures truly optimized for film and television imaging.  At Cineo Lighting, we focus on the following technical differentiation needed by our industry:

1. LED color quality – I have 25 years of experience working in color theory. At Cineo, designing the spectral shape of the light is a KEY focus.  For every LED color, we design the spectrum specifically for digital image capture. We get involved in the details of the individual phosphor selection, LED die and LED packaging.  These are truly custom designed spectrums and devices.

Anyone can buy high CRI LEDs “off the shelf”.  CRI score is useful, but there is more to designing light that creates truly beautiful images on camera.

2.Power without fans – Designing LED lights has been called “A thermal engineering problem with some optics thrown in.”  We don’t believe that less light is OK just because cameras are getting faster.  There are only three ways to handle heat in a large LED fixture:

  • Big lights with low power per area (not Cineo).  This is a REALLY common approach today.  Avoid heat by avoiding power. To compare lights, we suggest looking at the total watts consumed by the fixture (not the Foot Candles).  Watts is the best indicator of raw power.  Foot Candles can be misleading because many companies will put focusing optics on the LED lights to get higher FC scores. But as soon as these lights are diffused there is no real power.
  • Fans with thermal sensors (not Cineo) – Several companies add fans with optional switches to turn them off, and thermal protection circuits.  It makes it easier to design LED light fixtures with fans, but we feel fans are just bad and are always potential noisemakers on set.
  • Cineo approach –Cineo is all about punch – high power, no fans.  But high power requires integrated heat sink/chassis design.  All Cineo lights have extensive thermal design invested into development of the passive heat sink chassis.  Our integrated designs use the fixture body as the acting heat sink. It’s more work but we believe it makes a better light. Cineo offers the most high power lighting products (>400 watts) in our industry with six products >400Watts and three of those >900Watts+. Cineo is also unique because NONE of our lights use fans or active cooling. 
  • Cineo seems to have a deep focus on lighting technology and longevity of color stability.

PH: What kind of life span can customers expect from Cineo instruments?

THE TRUTH ABOUT LED LIFESPAN

Chuck Edwards: Two things fail on LED lights. And the leading cause is not well known.  The first thing that fails is the driver electronics (ballasts). Statistically, the electronics are most likely the failure point, so solid power supply design and EE controls are CRITICAL. Second, is LED materials.  LEDs themselves are semi-conductor chips, meaning they don’t burn out.  But when the materials within the LED degrade (phosphors, silicone, packaging material), there can be a color shift and drop in performance. This is usually the issue, causing dull, sometimes green looking light in old LED fixtures.  LED specification becomes a case of careful materials selection.  There are a huge variety of LED phosphors. Selecting them for color stability as well as color quality is critical during product development to insure reliability. Keeping the LEDs cool with good thermal design is critical.  With the right LED materials and solid power supply, there is no reason a well-designed LED fixture can’t have a 20-year active lifespan.

PH: How would you describe the quality control that goes into producing a large array of instruments? Is every instrument bench tested?

QUALITY CONTROL AT EVERY STEP

Chuck Edwards: QC is done on every assembly step.  At Cineo, every LED is individually tested and color binned before it is assembled into the product.  Next we select matched LED bins to insure the most accurate color at the fixture level. Then we test the individual LED PCBs before they go into the fixture.  Similarly, we separately qualify the power supplies. Finally, we test the completed fixtures and perform a burn in.

PH: Be honest. Do you have a lighting instrument that is a personal favorite? What instrument do you believe is the most popular?

Chuck Edwards: The LightBlades – the Lego modularity and color makes them really fun.  I plan to put them in my house.

PH: Describe the feeling of going onto a set and seeing your lights on that set. Do you ever get calls to go on set for technical assistance or consultations?

ON-SET SUPPORT

Chuck Edwards: We are passionate about the art of film making.  I love having the chance to go on set and learn from DPs and gaffers how we can improve our product.  We do frequent set visits but often more important are the emergency “gotta have it now” calls.  We know we have to be available 24/7 to solve any problem. If a fixture is down and threatens to impact production, we don’t ask about warranty, or if it was dropped, how it will be paid for, etc. We fix the problem immediately, we send out whatever is needed instantly and we keep the show running no matter what! Sometimes that means set visits or more often it means panicked phone calls and overnight shipping if needed.  But that is the nature of our business.  We appreciate it and it is a great privilege to be selected for a production. We do whatever we can to be a reliable and responsive partner to our customers.

PH: What do you think some of the more challenging requests you have had from customers?

CUSTOMERS NOW WANT COLOR AND CONTROLS

Chuck Edwards: Previously DPs and gaffers were primarily concerned about white light quality and light output of LEDs. We feel we have that nailed.  But now it is shifting to creative controls, and Full Gamut Colors while preserving the white light quality (that’s the tricky part).  Gel frames will be replaced by instant color controls on the fixture. Smartlight features within our products are becoming more and more complex. We have increased the capacity of our microprocessor core, with software development becoming the single largest engineering task when developing our next generation Smartlights. We have also moved to 5 color channels (2700, 6500, R, G, B). This way our white light is uncompromised, while our RGB light components are designed for maximum color gamut.  It’s cheaper to make an RGB or RGBW light where the RGB LEDs make both white and color light. Consider us white light purists – compare the results and we think you will see why.

PH: Can we expect any more new products from Cineo this year?

Chuck Edwards: Yes. I have a pet project I hope will come out in Q4.

PH: What is the process when talking to lighting directors about their needs? Is it a long process matching up the right product or is it they already know what they want. How do you get them to try something new?

THE BEST IDEAS COME FROM GAFFERS AND BEST BOYS

Chuck Edwards: Cineo is fortunate to have a strong network of close friends and partners ranging from studio execs, rental houses, DPs, gaffers and best boys.  Gaffers and best boys are the best because they actually touch the fixtures and know what works on set. Before we build any new product, we do a detailed specification review with our industry partners.  We also develop OEM products where our partner (a major studio or rental house) will collaborate with us on the design features and specifications they need. The OEM projects like Quantum and LightBlade have been very effective for us because it insures we build exactly what the DPs and gaffers really want, not just something we speculate they will like.   

PH: Lastly, what would you want people to know about yourself or Cineo that they might not know?

MY FAVORITE JOB EVER

Chuck Edwards: I started as a hardware engineer at Intel and have been fortunate to direct advanced development at several exceptional hi-tech companies, but Cineo is by far the most fun.  We are avid film junkies and tech nerds.  We are passionate about creating beautiful light that enhances images and provides new creative controls for film makers. And – on a side note, I think the sequel to the Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is long overdue.

Image is from Cineo Lighting website. You can find out more about Cineo Lighting here

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