A Discussion with Blue Beetle Fixtures Foreman Joshua Earles-Bennett (Shazam! Fury of the Gods, Red Notice, The Outsider, Thunderforce)
From a fixtures approach, how did you approach creating the right ambiance for Blue Beetle? Were there any unique challenges you encountered?
The ambiance was set by the Production Designer (Jon Billington) and Cinematographer (Pawel Pogorzelski), and my task was to make sure we could achieve it. Blue Beetle was a fixtures heavy show, and we encountered a lot of challenges along the way.
The Bug Ship in the movie has this retro neon look integrated into all aspects of the aircraft and most of it was 3 side-by-side rows of neon. Pawel wanted each row to be able to be any color, but he also wanted to achieve a lemon-yellow color, which we had a hard time creating with just LiteRibbon Chroma Cine-Five or LiteRibbon Chroma Cine-Six because the yellow he wanted was a deep vibrant yellow. So, we tried different things, like painting the silicone, but then it would lose the ability to hit other colors, so we tried gelling the LiteRibbon inside the silicone, which created the same issue. Finally, I found a yellow LED ribbon that we were able to add to the LiteRibbon Chroma Cine-Five that we put in the silicone molding.
It was tough because the yellow LED was about 3mm wide, and we had to stick it on top of the LiteRibbon Chroma Cine-Five and then place all of that into the LED Neon silicone mold. Some of the bends we had to do with the LED Neon was not helping the LiteRibbon, so there was a lot of trial and error. I believe I had my Fixture Techs, Ralphie Villani and Aaron Bennett, working on that part for about 2 weeks, before I had the rest of the crew join them to help finish.
We did make life a little easier on ourselves because Sean Roberts, an LA based Fixtures Foreman, had told me beforehand that the best way to add LiteRibbon to that LED Neon is to just slice the back of the silicone instead of trying to pull the ribbon through the molding, which would have totally ripped the yellow ribbon off.
The other obstacle we faced was adding LED Neon to the swimming pool at the mansion. I had never worked with underwater LED Neon before, but the stuff I bought came in 32 ft sections and came with some waterproof end caps for when we cut them shorter. We cut all our pieces and put waterproof silicone on the ends and then capped them and tied them off with rescue tape.
Everything seemed fine when we put them in the pool and turned them on. Then we went home for the night and came back the next morning only to find that the water had seeped into the silicone mold and damaged the ribbon. So, we had to tear it all out and instead kept the 32’ pieces uncut and just did the long parts of the pool instead of doing the entire perimeter. It still looked great, but I learned a big lesson that day on letting the waterproof silicone dry for a longer period to make sure it hardened.
What are some of the essential fixtures and set elements you were responsible for on Blue Beetle?
The essential fixtures and set elements we handled were the Bug Ship and the Blue Beetle Lair. Those two sets had fixture elements everywhere. Art Department and Set Dec went all out on those sets, and I can’t wait to see them in the movie.
I remember one of the Set Dec Gang bosses, Erik Polczwartek, would bring elements over and ask us if there was anything we could do to light up this furniture piece or wall decoration and we would find some extra LED in the shop and do it. It was a very fun set to work on. The best part is once all the elements were in and then lit up, it just enhanced the great design and creative touch that the Art Department and Set Dec did to those sets.
How did you collaborate with other departments to ensure seamless integration of fixtures and set design?
Luckily for me, Art Department and Set Dec were waiting for me to start because they designed a lot of the set pieces with LED Neon. On day one I was meeting with Set Dec to talk about the look that they were going for, which was a neon detail throughout the sets. Art Department was similar and there was a lot of communication with me and the handful of Art Directors to make sure the LED Neon we were using could be integrated into set pieces.
The Gaffer, Stephen Grum, and I worked with Costumes to build a reference light suit in lieu of putting lights in the Blue Beetle and Carapax suits. They built us some mesh vests and gauntlets that we could slide LiteRibbon Chroma Cine-Five into. It worked out pretty great.
The bus that gets split in half is a real bus that SPFX and Picture Cars had to make, so we had to work with them to figure out how we could make the lights in the bus work even when it was split apart. Which we used LiteRibbon Cinema Hybrid in faux flo tubes and powered everything with some BLUETTI battery systems.
We also couldn’t just place the battery systems anywhere we wanted on the bus-halves because it would cause a balance issue while driving each half. So SPFX had to figure out where the best place was to put the battery systems, that we could also access to put them in, pull them out, and swap the batteries during shooting.
I made a lot of new friends on Blue Beetle because Fixtures basically was interacting with almost every department.
Did you have to overcome any unexpected hurdles during the production? How did you handle them?
My biggest hurdles were the constant schedule changes due to COVID-19 and having to travel to shoot. We shot in Puerto Rico for about 6 weeks, and the day I left for PR we got a new one-liner that pulls up a lot of sets and shortens the prep time we have for our first set.
I’ve found the best way to handle this is to just be flexible and to have a crew that understands that the schedule changes and to just go with the flow. I really appreciate the crew I had and I would like to thank Ralphie Villani, Justin White, Andy Lohrenz, Stephanie Ruppel, Kallen Gardner, Aaron Bennett, Emma Labbe, and Stuart Bicknell for being good at their jobs and having a great attitude, when the show was tough.
How does the type of fixtures work on Blue Beetle compare to some of the other movies/shows you worked on?
Blue Beetle takes place in a city that has this synthwave look to it, so we used a lot of LED Neon. I had a little experience with LED Neon, but not in this quantity. I got to use a bunch of different brands and I have a better sense of what LED neon is more suited for film and TV.
Were there any memorable moments or experiences from your time on the set of Blue Beetle that stand out to you?
The entire show was a very memorable experience. It was my first time working with Gaffer, Stephen Grum, and Rigging Gaffer, Eric Cunningham, and we got along very well and I feel like they always had my back. It was my first show where we had to travel for the second half of the show and I had to learn how to plan, pack, and ship equipment. Puerto Rico is a beautiful island with great vegan food. At the end of it all, I was glad we were able to light really beautiful sets and locations.