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Blacklights & Their Effects
Paul Shillinger, Jr.

A simple and effective special lighting effect, the blacklight has been with us for years. The surreal effects that these lights produce are familiar to anyone who's ever been to a nightclub or novelty store. If you're considering using blacklight for a show, concert or party, here's a few hints to help you get better results.

The blacklight effect can be easily overpowered by ambient lighting. If you're hoping to achieve a blacklit look, try to keep all other sources of light as dim as possible. Any lighting that can safely be turned off, should be. On stage, this means bringing the stage lighting down as far as possible.

One spectacular effect that can be achieved this way is the "invisible man" illusion. Costume several actors all in black, including black hoods and gloves. Use white accessories including gloves (over the black gloves), bow ties, etc. Bring the stage lighting completely out and turn on the blacklights. As the actors come onstage, all the audience will see is the white accessories glowing under the blacklight. For an added surreal touch, use velcro to attach fluorescent-colored "features" (noses, eyebrows, etc) to the hoods. As the actors dance and move on stage, they can remove their gloves, accessories and features until they "disappear" entirely! I've seen this type of act used as an interlude during a Halloween variety show.

Another consideration when using blacklights is the distance from the light source to the subject (the thing that you want blacklit). In general, the closer you can get the blacklight to the subject, the stronger the effect will be. In the above example, we mounted the blacklights on a pipe about 20' above the stage and just a few feet in front of the actors. If you're using blacklight in a standard room (10-12' ceilings) then ceiling-mounted fixtures should work fine.

Finally, remember that a single blacklight fixture or lamp may not offer enough coverage for you. This is especially true when lighting a stage or nightclub. For the "invisible man," illusion on our stage we used six 48" fluorescent blacklight fixtures hung on 4'-0" centers. This offered fairly even coverage across our 40'-0" stage, although we did end up bringing all of the fixtures a little closer to center to "punch up" the effect at center stage, where most of the action occurred. Nightclubs that have existing fluorescent lights will frequently use blacklight tubes in half of the fixtures. This works well, provided those fixtures can be controlled separately from the standards.



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