Hog 4 Control Leapfrogs The Paranormal On Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Date Posted: 12/15/2021
Released in November 2021, supernatural comedy Ghostbusters: Afterlife continues the beloved spooky story line of the first two classic movies. Directed by Jason Reitman and set in Oklahoma, the film was shot in various locations and sound stages across the Province of Alberta, Canada in the months before the pandemic from July to October 2019.
The crew traveled to Calgary and neighboring communities, also working in Crossfield, Beiseker, and Drumheller over several months of principal photography. To handle the fast-paced needs of the production, Set Lighting Programmer Benoit Richard used an extensive Hog 4 control system to network the production.
As a Ghostbusters fan, Benoit is quick to thank Gaffer Michael Ambrose for getting him this gig. “Nothing would have been possible without Michael calling and offering one of the jobs of a lifetime. I was a teenager when the original came out in 1984 – when he asked, of course I said yes! Manhattan Beach Studio Equipment filled a truck with Arri SkyPanels and a bunch of other lights that we couldn’t get in Canada, and I sent my usual package at the time - four Rack Hogs, my Full Boar 4, and we also brought a Road Hog for our Canadian rigging programmer, Erin Nelligan, to use when preparing sets for us.”
According to Benoit, the prep was quite short, and the crew went straight into a camera test as soon as he arrived. Simultaneously, he was teaching the Canadian rigging crew the ways of Hog control. “With Ghostbusters, we turned some heads on how to do modern lighting control for movie sets,” he says. “The show was scheduled as very location front heavy, which meant that out of the 14 weeks of shooting, we were going on the road for the first eight weeks. Shooting on location for that long gave the rigging crew more time to prep the three sound stages, which were turned over to different sets a few times throughout filming.”
For the location work, Benoit’s Rack Hogs leapfrogged from one location to another. “We always had a point for our big location rigs to be fed from the Rack Hogs, like the Spinners Diner, the Sheriff's Office and the Rust City Refinery where the kids meet Muncher for the first time.”
“We ran dual Gigabit networks to feed sACN to DMX nodes at all the distros, and then we ran HogNet as a separate network so I could connect my Full Boar anywhere on set. The same networking concept was used at the stages. Most productions love to do ‘splinter shooting’, where they ask for the ‘C’ camera to go to stage 2 to get a quick insert, while we are still shooting on Stage 1. In my little room, I was able to have a separate console logged into the server on the other stage, and could control both sets at the same time.”
In addition to SkyPanels and other film lighting fixtures, several SolaFrame Theatre fixtures were used on stage. Benoit says, “their low noise was certainly one of the main intentions for their use – as it made our sound mixer very happy! They were primarily used as back lights on the actors, or to front light the Farm House. When there was paranormal activity going on, we strobed the SolaFrame as well, which was great. They were also used on the famous Gozer Staircase set as back lights, and to create motion for the all the Ecto-1 driving process work. The SolaFrame’s quick repositioning was very important, especially in the middle of a stage that didn’t have perms (overhead walkways that are common on Hollywood stages). Since we couldn’t send someone up to focus lights and couldn't bring in lifts on a dirt/grass floor, using movers was a very handy tool to have in our arsenal.”
Director of Photography Eric Steelberg communicated his lighting wishes to Gaffer Mike Ambrose, who would then relay instructions to Benoit. Additionally, an onset earpiece system and monitors allowed the programmer to listen and watch the actors' performances and trigger any dialog or action-based cues.
Asked why he prefers the Hog 4 platform for film programming work, Benoit says, “I think one of the most important concepts of the Hog hierarchy is the port number system, which allows multiple servers to be interconnected. Let’s say that on Stage 1, the server port number is 6601, then on stage two the other server is on port 6602, etc. Here’s the cool thing – if you’re all connected – especially at these movie lots that have dark fiber lines, we can interconnect HogNet between stages that can be far apart from each other, and that way, whenever a rigging crew is setting up a new rig on another stage, the rigging programmer can setup in a central office and use a Road Hog on Port 6601 and Hog4PC on Port 6602 to control multiple stages at the same time – it’s the same thing for the main unit programmer, with a splinter camera heading over to a different stage for a 'quick pop' … for me, that capability is amazing!”
“And with this concept, every show file remains independent, which means you can start at Channel 1 on every stage. I think it's way better to have multiple servers that are independent but are still able to communicate with the lighting console because of the port system.”
Benoit picks the Full Boar over the full-sized Hog 4 because ‘he can pick it up himself’. He also uses a 22” Elo monitor as his third screen, always showing the output window or the plot view. “On the Full Boar 4, my left window has the cue list on the top half and the bottom half is the programmer. And on the right side I’ve got groups on the left, colors on the right and intensities on the bottom. We don’t really deal with beams that much, but sometimes I’ll bring up the beam directory when needed. It’s laid out essentially the same way I would for a rock show.”
In closing, Benoit says, “For me, whether we were doing special lighting gags to represent paranormal ghost activity or enhancing the iconic Proton Packs on the back of the original Ghostbusters, it was so cool; I’m just very proud and happy to have worked on this show. We had such a great team, made some great new friends and my seven-year old daughter loved the show so much that we saw it twice!”
Director: Jason Reitman
Cinematographer: Eric Steelberg
Chief Lighting Technician: Michael Ambrose
Key Lighting Programmer: Benoit Richard
Rigging Chief Lighting Technician: Todd Turner
Rigging Lighting Programmer: Erin ‘Nelly’ Nelligan
2nd Unit Programmer: Marc-Antoine Daunais
Canadian Set Lighting Technician: Peter Markowski
Photography courtesy of Benoit Richard and Peter Markowski