I had the pleasure of collaborating with Morton Hjerde and Pauric O’Callaghan recently, the team behind a little startup named Rift Labs, based out of London, UK and Natick, MA. I helped shoot and edit a video they were producing to help launch a crowd-sourcing project for the Kick, a new kind of portable LED light for photography and video.

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At first glance, the potential may not seem obvious, but there were two things I found most intriguing for video applications. One was the ability to control multiple lights directly from an iPhone app via WiFi, making your iPhone the hub of your lighting kit, and the second was the ability to emit any static or live color stream.

Wireless Control

Now of course, for big budget productions, these aren’t going to replace your HMI and Fresnel kits, but for small scale productions, or productions on a budget, the Kick offers potential and convenience for all those 1-person crews out there. Imagine setting up a few of these lights around an interview subject, getting the desired directionality for each light positioned, and then stepping behind the camera to wirelessly configure the contrast ratio of your key and fill light, maybe change the mood of the scene by altering the color of your background light. No messing with gels, scrims, lugging switch boxes, wrangling nasty long electric cables, etc. While I don’t expect the first batch of these Kicks to completely enable a scenario like this 100%, I can see this little invention opening the door for this kind of production-on-a-budget!

Color Control

While there are other portable LEDs that allow you to control the color emitted, what is unique about the Kick is the ease and simplicity it offers. It makes color selection intuitive and user friendly via an iOS app. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to stop and think, “ok, I want the light to be warmer (i.e. more orange)…now, does that mean I need to dial the color temperature up or down?…up right, oh no wait, it’s down…the lower the temperature, the warmer the light, and vice versa”. Very intuitive and accessible, right! Well, I’ve internalized this by now, but why should people be required to perform mental gymnastics to simply make the light more orange. How about I just select the shade of orange I want! The pretentious side of me might argue anyone serious about video should be able to recite 3200K off the top of their head if they want warm light, but seriously, is that really necessary?

The sweetest feature though that really differentiates the Kick from other lights is the ability to select a live color stream directly off a video clip you play through the Kick’s app. No longer is your light source limited to a static color. With the Kick, your light source can emit a dynamic stream of light to create various effects. I can envision presets that not only allow you to add textures and shadows to your light (minimizing the need for cookies in front of lights), but also controlling the movement of those textures and shadows dynamically from your iPhone without having to have an additional pair of hands on-set to gently “shake” the cookie in front of the light to simulate something like leaves blowing in the wind.

Hollywood'ing a cookie

Closing Thoughts

Again, given the size and intensity of these little lights, they won’t be replacing much of the lighting gear on any sizable production, but for close ups and medium shots, or 1-person production crews, the Kick shows promise of enabling hobbyists and video enthusiasts, as well as some professional videographers, to introduce some professional looking lighting setups without breaking the bank or having to lug around a bunch of equipment. And with a user friendly app available on the iPhone, you don’t need to learn a lot of lighting theory to get up and running.

While the purist in me might cringe at the notion of every average Joe suddenly arming themselves with a Kick and calling themselves a “DP”, I am an advocate for the democratization of video production. Yea, it can (and often) means a lot of amateur video, but as a beneficiar of this very wave of democratization, I’m all for making video production accessible to anyone with a creative spark inside them.

In order for the Kick to become a reality, Rift Labs is looking to raise $115,000 by July 18th, 2012. In it’s first day of funding, the Kick has already raised close to $25,000, with online buzz in Engadget, Lighting Rumors, and NoFilmSchool. To learn more and offer your support, visit Rift Labs’ Kickstarter project page.

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