July 15, 2012

Shane Hurlbut Shows You How to Mimic Fire Light With His DIY Creation

Shane Hurlbut --that never-ending font of cinematography knowledge-- has another great DIY solution on offer. This time he tackles the simulation of fire light. In the past, Hurlbut had used various approaches to creating fire-like lighting, but none gave him the realism that he wanted to achieve. So for The Greatest Game Ever Played he dreamt up a better way: The Medusa.


Using the Medusa for a candlelit scene


A scene from The Greatest Game Ever Played. Skip to 1:05 to see the Medusa at work.


Granted this will take a few people to operate and some practice will be required to get the right look, but overall the Medusa looks like a cost-effective way to get an impressive result. The full breakdown on how to build a Medusa is on Hurlbut's website, but there's a bit in the instructions that needs a little clarification. The way it's worded, it sounds like you need to buy 15 stage mics to get the 19-inch goosenecks and table mounts you need, which is not the case. You can get the goosenecks here and the table mounts here.

What do you think of the lighting produced by the Medusa? And what solutions have you come up with for simulating fire and candlelight?

Link: Hurlblog - Building Medusa: The Perfect DIY Fire Light

Your Comment


I've achieved a pretty realistic fire light effect in a much easier way...

Shine a spotted light on a gold-surfaced pop-out reflector and 'shimmer' it. By wobbling the reflector at the right pace it creates a nice flickery and fairly controllable fire light simulation. Honest.

July 15, 2012 at 9:54AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

Stu Mannion

Glad to see that some people are still doing it this way. Way back in the 1970s we were doing this with a piece of Mylar stretched across a 4x4 frame with short coil springs. You tapped it with your finger tips to get the flicker effect.

July 15, 2012 at 2:37PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Seconded. I typically just use a tungsten with a white bounce, looks very realistic. Ingenious the way Shane's worked this out, though.

July 15, 2012 at 7:29PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


It looks more like blinking lights than fire to me... not very natural. It gets too dark between flickers. There should be a 'base' glow with slightly brighter, random flickers of light.

July 15, 2012 at 10:25AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Doesn't look convincing to me, especially on the "Greatest Game" clip. Looks just like what it is: lights that flicker.

July 15, 2012 at 11:21AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


His GGEP clip was to indicate a method he used and did not like, and has nightmares about. It was just one light flickering, not the 'medusa' rig.

July 19, 2012 at 4:34PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


While I like the idea of positionable sources in order to create the shifting shadows of a proper fire, I find the actual blinking sequences used in the above examples to be unrealistic and uninspired. Rather than depending on five electricians with hand squeezers, to magically deliver a convincing effect, one might consider a DMX dimmer pack and pre-designed sequences to run the effect.

As it happens, I'll be doing something very similar for the feature "The Last Light" this coming month. As gaffer, I'm bringing a DIY 16-channel DMX dimmer setup that operates via wireless from my laptop to drive an array of "budget buster" clip-on lights directed at talent. The effect will simulate a sparkling vision he is witnessing.

July 15, 2012 at 11:38AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


I think the best of this clips is the focus rack on the last clip qhen the man pockets the ball.

But I agree with the other comments. I think it's too dark between flickering, it should never get to be that dark, it sohuld vary the shades of red, but never be dark. And it should have a quicker pace. But it's just minor adjustments to be made. Other than that it's a great DIY.

July 15, 2012 at 11:54AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Get several of those electric fireplace logs, hook up reflectors behind it and make sure the sprinkler systems work.

July 15, 2012 at 3:17PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


Should have created a simple PWM circuit with some solid state relays. Then have the PWM circuit multiplex each light with a random PWM value.

July 15, 2012 at 6:39PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

Strawberry Cow

Why dont you just use a real fire? and have a PA with a bucket of water right next to it in case shit goes down?

July 16, 2012 at 1:34AM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

john jeffreys

It might not be bright enough, and you couldn't control/direct it.

July 16, 2012 at 12:19PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

Strawberry Cow

John, often DP's will use propane fueled fire wands to supplement or replace firelight. Of course it looks great because it's real. One can usually crank the flames up high enough for proper exposure as long as the subject isn't too far away. However, a few negatives in addition to the safety issue you brought up. The biggest issue is the hiss that it creates can ruin a soundtrack if the actor is speaking close to the fire wand. Two, it can add excess heat to a room.

I think that Shane's rig is very clever because it duplicates the random and moving pattern of real fire. However, I agree with the commenters who said that it got too dark between flickers. A low level "base" light would resolve this. Also, a random flicker generator would eliminate extra electricians. Although the size of his rig helps with the realism, it would be difficult to hide in situations where the fireplace is visible in the shot. Those types of shots are always the most challenging to supplement the natural firelight.

July 18, 2012 at 7:48PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

Randolph Sellars
Director of Photography

What about the Kick Light that you also feature in this week's newsletter update!
Seems like it could be the perfect answer to this kind of effect and a whole load more. Especially look at 1' 41" into the promo, where it specifically shows the video of an actual fire being visually sampled to produce the control info/data to create the corresponding flickering brightness, hue and saturation of the LED panel. Looks pretty convincing and promising to me - it can sample any selection of colours from any sort of video - lightning, sun reflecting off water, neon signs etc etc. Just have multiple panels and I'm sure that they'll easily scale it up to different sizes of panel in the future. Good luck with the project guys.

July 19, 2012 at 7:08PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


For a shot like this where the flame is close to the actor (I'm talking about the shot with the pool table in the bg), I like a real flame...not a flame bar, but an oil lamp with aluminum foil around the back half which more or less doubles the light output. You can dial up the wick to make the flame burn brighter, as well as taller, which fits the oval shape of a person's face. Up close, it works well as a key at 320asa or faster, but from a distance it gives you that general flicker, warmth, and motion, as well as a great eyelight. The wick of an oil lamp is really wide, so it will amaze most people how much light these put out...it is what I use off camera when a character is holding a candle or match. The trick is to keep it off the walls if you're not stopped down very much.

July 24, 2012 at 3:58PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

Daniel Mimura

I have used actual candles just held slightly out of frame to add light to candle-lit scenes. Obviously this doesn't work in every situation but with a fast enough lens any of the good DSLR's pick it up nicely. See how I did here towards the end the close-ups:

July 25, 2012 at 2:51PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM


I haven't tried this, but what about using a large LCD monitor and a looping fire video?

January 21, 2013 at 4:27PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

Bill Fay