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Neon signage

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Todd Terry
Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 7:13:13 am

Hey kids...

I have a completely non-cinematic lighting issue here... but rather a residential one. Yet, I'm hoping there might be a solution that can be borrowed from our industry.

In my house, the basement is my combination Man Cave/Tiki Lounge/Bar/Pool Room.

As part of the decor, I have a pretty big neon sign on one wall, that looks like this....




The issue is, the rest of my in-progress lighting design down there is rather dim.... bunches of tiki torches with flicker bulbs, hollow totems with LED uplights in them, strings of colored lights that spiderweb through fishing nets that cover the ceiling (made out of M5-size LED Christmas lights in seamless ping pong balls), etc. The space is all rather dark wood tongue-and-groove plank paneling... so it's all quite dark and moody, which was my goal.

However, the neon sign is very bright. I mean, really bright. It's a real commercial storefront window-type sign, so it's fairly big and the output is pretty quite high... and it's just killing the vibe. It's supposed to be a lair... not an operating room.

I'm looking for a way to duck the output... obviously, since it's neon I can't just put a squeeze box on it or dim it in any conventional way. The tubes don't get hot (just barely barely warm), so I've thought of trying to gel them with some kind of wrap-around ND material, but haven't really run across anything that works (plus it would be pretty involved and a giant pain in the rear). I dont want to just hang ND in front of it either, which would spoil the look. I've thought of trying to lightly "mist" it with black spray paint... but am unsure of the results and don't want to risk screwing up a relatively expensive sign.

So... have any of you guys ever had need to dim the output of a neon sign? Maybe one that was a design element or prop on a set that was too bright? If so, how'd that go??

Wide open to suggestions here...

Much thanks, all!

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Scott Sheriff
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 8:22:01 am

We had a really big neon made for the lobby of a station I worked at and had the same issue. The sign company made a smoked plexiglass safety cover for it that was mounted on stand-offs so the 'glass had about a quarter inch clearance on the tubes. It probably knocked a couple of stops off the brightness.
I don't think your paint misting idea would hurt the tubes. It might be hard good coverage on the back of the tubes without removing them. If you decide to try it, the paint could be cleaned off (carefully) with 'goof-off' and #0000 steel wool and that you use to polish wood if you didn't like the result. Could be a real pain though.
I think I'd try the plexi cover, since it is pretty easy to work with, and you can get Lexan/Plexi in various amounts of tinting. If you go this route you might need to box in the sides also to further reduce the level.

Scott Sheriff
Director
SST Digital Media
http://www.sstdigitalmedia.com


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Michael Palmer
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:51:52 pm

Have you tried a neon dimmer? If you look hard I'm sure you'll find one


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Todd Terry
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 3:32:37 pm

Hey guys...

Thanks for the ideas. Yeah, I'd thought about ND in front of it (the plexi cover idea), but as I said I don't want anything hanging or suspended in front of it. I like the bare naked tubes visible/accessible. You're right, it might be hard to paint it evenly.

And no, Michael, I haven't looked for a neon dimmer. It didn't occur to me to look... I've never heard of such and didn't know such a thing even existed. I'll give it a hunt!

Thanks,
T2

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Todd Terry
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 4:02:22 pm

Just in case anyone else is interested, I have found a solution...

Seems there are two possible answers, a "plug in" neon dimmer, and replacing the transformer with a dimmable one. Each is just shy of 100 bucks.

The "plug in" type though will only dim about 20%.

But I found this transformer, and asked them some questions...

http://www.jantecneon.com/AC-08.html

The tech guy at this place says it will dim most signs down about 50% to 75%. He also said the plug-in type dimmers will eventually destroy the sign's original transformer if used for extended periods.

Thanks for the suggestion, Michael... as I said I hadn't thought to look for them, didn't know such a thing existed.

Live and learn...

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Dennis Size
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 4:59:41 pm

When I was lighting soap operas we used to air brush neon signs down all the time -- with great success. Obviously you need to be careful not to let the paint build up or "pool" in any spots; but it's quite effective. Usually we would use a brown, or midnight, or dark gray, depending on what we felt would work best for the sign's tonality. Black always seemed a little too stark.
In the early 80's (when the plug in neon dimmers came out) we started using them ... but were told they might damage the ballasts so we used them sparingly -- usually only on neons that were rented for a few days of shooting.
We had a disco set on a show (very popular in the '80's) that had a LOT of neon so we used the transformer dimmers on everything (since the air brushing was such a pain in the ___). They were very effective and we had no damage to any of the units.

Have fun in the man cave
DS



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Mark Suszko
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 5:56:21 pm

Your "man cave" sounds awesome, wish I could come over some time, as we seem to share a lot of the same questionable tastes:-)
I dream of building a similar room, had an existing one in my latest house when I bought it, for about four months... until a sewage flood totalled all the finished stuff. Carpeting, dark pine wallboard, studs, 70's fireplace with lava rock fascia...spare fridge for drinks.... all gone back to bare concrete, sigh. The rebuild will take me years.

Sounds like you found a digital neon squeezer that will work for you, though maybe you should stock up on a spare transformer just in case, while they're still easily available. Anyway it sounds more workable than my alternative method of exciting the phospors in the tubes to taste with a surplus microwave antenna across the room. Hey, it would keep the snack tray warm:-)

More seriously, I was going to suggest painting the front sides of the tubes with transparent gray paint or using ND gel strips and contact glue.

Will your tiki den have a puffer fish and hula lamp? Authentic period Hula lamps are DARNED expensive, but puffers from Thailand are cheap. More PETA-friendly simulated puffer lamps are reasonable as well.


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Todd Terry
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 6:30:01 pm

Awwww... Mark, that's a heartbreaking story.

Come on over to the lair any time. Yes, we have the same taste (or lack thereof). I don't have a hula lamp... yet. There's usually tons of them on eBay though, generally going for about $1C.

I've ordered the dimmable transformer... supposedly it's an easy swap for the tranformer already in the thing. The guy at the sign place said just test the new transformer first to make sure it works... as long as I don't cut the leads on it, they'll take it back if it doesn't work.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Mark Suszko
Re: Neon signage
on Jan 20, 2011 at 8:38:14 pm

"The Lair" as it is now, is mostly storage of too much worthless stuff I'm too impractically sentimental to part with, plus a small workshop bench for my RC hobbies (gliders, electric planes, and 1-meter sailboats) that's overgrown with 5-6 partially-completed models, models under repair or modification, and models still waiting to begin construction. Improved internet access at home has done nothing to help this situation! Mayhap this 50th spring will trigger a butterfly-like metamorphosis, something will snap, and I'll junk a 20x20 foot swath of the Lair to rebuild my own tiki getaway. My tiki mug collection needs a nature preserve to roam free in:-)

Just have to get the seepage stopped first: saving up to rip out concrete floors and install sump pumps. Sexy.

:-(


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