a new Run Riot digital series created by Brian Canavan

A few months back,  I visited the Smithsonian’s archives to film a whale skeleton being delivered, and was awestruck by the immensity of their storage facility. There must be more stories hidden in here! I thought using video to bring amazing artifacts out of the vaults would be a great way for the Smithsonian Institution to share more of their collection with the public. And I’d get to see some really fascinating stuff too. That day inspired Light Talks – a “show and tell” series with Smithsonian curators bragging (briefly) on their favorite artifact/creature/what-have-you rarely seen by the visiting public.

I wanted to create a proof of concept for my idea and knew I’d have to find a way to make inanimate objects interesting. Because I wanted the series to have a visual style, I decided to use a small, white, seamless paper setup in my dining room as a test run. I got a roll of white easel paper, a large plastic bucket, my camera and some lighting gear, and proceeded to turn the place into a miniature studio.

And since one of my loves is cameras, I decided to do a test run with one of my antique cameras as the subject.

To up the ante on my idea, I decided to test-run a living object, considering one of the Smithsonian’s is full of them. There was only one problem: I wanted to use a frog for the sample episode, and I didn’t have one. So I called Petco. Turns out they have a 10 day return policy on live animals. So I basically rented fire belly toads, who spent a couple days as movie stars in my ad hoc setup (and who had a nice $100 toad studio, thanks to the good salesperson at Petco!). I had a 1x1 light panel under the upside down clear plastic container to give some glow from below, and another 2x1 fixture with diffusion lighting the setup from above.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all worked!

Check out my original proof of concept video here!

Feeling confident that I had an idea and sample worth sharing, I brought the concept to my friends at Run Riot Films and now we’re officially off to the races on the series with the Smithsonian Channel.

In preparation for our first official shoot (not on my dining room table!), I built a new light box. After two trips to home depot  and a day in my  friend’s backyard going at it with my power tools, I’m glad to report that I still have all my fingers and a new  5’x3’ frame that supports a piece of plexiglass 8” above the table. That way, I can place lights below the glass for a subtle glow on the paper. It’s designed to come apart for transportation, and it only takes a few minutes to assemble. 

I also switched out the lighting I was using under the glass. The 1x1 light panels created ‘hot spots’ on the white paper, and I needed even lighting across the surface. I have an old Kino Flo light that uses fluorescent tubes, and those can come out of the fixture and the light becomes a tangle of power cords and bulbs. The power cords were too short to lay the four bulbs out the way I wanted, so I cut a few of them, soldered in extensions, and voilà! Perfect lighting setup for under the light box.

We’re so excited to share the first batch of Light Talks videos with you soon!  

Brian Canavan
Director, Light Talks