We've got a new and far superior studio space we're setting up, and I've renewed my war on flicker in our shots. I just purchased a voltage regulator, which I had hoped would bring a final death blow to my enemy, and it arrived this morning. So far I'm confused and disappointed. It seems to serve little purpose other than to act as a meter to tell me that indeed my voltage is fluctuating, but it has no dial to readjust the voltage after the fact, For example if we turn on the space heater in the garage the needle on the meter jumps up, but then there's no way to bring it back down, which I had thought was one of the primary purposes of the device, aside from converting voltage as well. We could not use the heater or other appliances in our unit while I'm animating, but we are one of six town homes in a building. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that what is happening in the other units will effect our voltage levels as well? This is the brand and model...
...I've got the AR-4000. I had noticed at the time that the lower wattage models had a dial on the front, and the higher wattage models(like the one I may have foolishly purchased)did not, but I assumed that the dial existed in the back of the unit, or wasn't necessary for some reason. Has anyone else purchased this regulator, or have some insights to share? I saw on a stop motion magazine video with Justin and Shel Rasch that they had a separate device wired to their regulator that gave an exact digital readout of their voltage level, but they still had a dial they turned to re-adjust their levels. I feel like I may have bought a crappy regulator.

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I live in a free-standing house on it's own block, but power use elsewhere in the neighbourhood most certainly did change the voltage and cause my lighting to vary.  So did turning on my own foam latex oven, which was handy when I wanted to test the voltage and lighting levels.  Flicker was terrible, except between 1 and 4 AM when the factories in the next block and most of the houses were dark.

Your voltage regulator says it is automatic, so I would guess that it is meant to stabilise the voltage, and keep it at that level, with no manual adjustments.  

So, not just the voltage going in to the regulator, but the voltage coming out, is still fluctuating? That can't be what it is meant to do.  If it's a "regulator", either it regulates the voltage itself, or allows you to regulate it by adjusting with a dial.  It sounds more like a voltage meter.

It it is only showing the voltage going IN to it, then that would still vary, that's not a problem.  If it is telling you what it's output voltage is and that is not stable, it has to be faulty.  

One alternative is to not use a voltage regulator at all, but a thing like a dimmer where you adjust the voltage manually. (Can't think of the brand name....somebody, probably Strider, will know...)  That's what Miles has used on Wombok Forest for years, and I think it may be what the Rasches are using.   By attaching a meter to the output from the dimmer, you can see what the voltage is.  If it drops you turn up the dial a little to get back to the voltage you want to output.  If it goes up, you turn the dial down.  You set a figure that is a little lower than the lowest mains voltage you are likely to get, so you always have room for adjustment.  

What I got was a more complicated (and expensive) device.  It's called a Double Conversion UPS.   http://www.nps.com.au/ups-solutions-Online   It takes the mains voltage (220 to 240 volts AC, 50 cycles in my country) and converts it to DC, and charges a battery.  Then it converts back to AC.  It loses a couple of volts in the process, but remains stable.  It does not have a dial to adjust the voltage.  A 1500 VA unit that plugs in will handle about 1100 watts I think (more at 110 volts), and costs around $1500 here in Australia.   The one I got is 5000 VA (good for up to 4000 watts of lighting) and is hard wired into the mains power by an electrician, because I already had a dedicated circuit with power points in the ceiling for my film lighting.  Then I found the voltage was not stable, and had to search frantically for a solution.  I got it from a place that is an agent for Eaton Powerware, a US company.  They were great, they loaned me a smaller unit for 3 days so I cojuld test it and be sure it actually did what I needed - and it did.   The big one cost around $4400 plus installation which took it to $5000, ouch!  But that was better than being stuck with a studio that cost far more than that to build, and was useless for stop motion!


Because there is a battery, it also functions like a normal UPS and maintain power for a while even if there is a blackout.  But a normal UPS, which I stupidly bought for $100 before I found it, is only designed to cut in and provide backup power when there is a power failure, it does not smooth out the variations in the voltage.  I think the double conversion UPS must be providing power from the battery while simultaneously recharging it.


StopmoNick said:

One alternative is to not use a voltage regulator at all, but a thing like a dimmer where you adjust the voltage manually. (Can't think of the brand name....somebody, probably Strider, will know...) 

Would that be a Variac? If not, then the only other thing coming to mind is Power Conditioner (sounds like a cream rinse you use in your hair.. )

To the original thread poster - it seems like what you need to do is run a test - just set up your camera to take a shot at regular intervals and see if you get any flicker, or if you have a voltage meter you could also plug that in and set it in front of the camera to see if it fluctuates. 

Yeah, Variac!  Knew I could count on you Strider!

Thank you both very much as always. We seem to have yet again made the mistake of purchasing an automatic device for a stop motion project. The control that comes with a Variac(which I've realized is also what Justin Rasch had in the video I saw) accompanied with whatever that digital meter they had would be the ideal scenario. The other system Nick suggested sounds great, but financially unfeasible at this point Im afraid. We played around some more today and found that running certain appliances in the garage mess with the voltage level, and it's frustrating not to be able to manually adjust it back ourselves. However, without other appliances turned on I've been running a time lapse through Dragonframe every ten minutes for the last few hours, and the flicker has significantly reduced in comparison to what I was seeing before. While there are still minor variations from frame to frame, I'm not getting any of the big pops or noticeable lighting shifts anymore. I'm going to let the time lapse run the rest of the night, and decide tomorrow whether to spend more on a new regulator and metr, or use what I've got and be sure not to animate while the heat gun is being used, It may depend on whether or not anyone on Craigslist wants a voltage regulator or not.

There's one more issue I would like to bend your ears on while I'm at it. We keep having the fuse blow in the garage while we're working. We can always head upstairs and flip it again, but it's frustrating to be animating and have all the lights suddenly go out and the computer shut off etc. I had hoped the regulator would help prevent this, but I don't know if it will. Any thoughts?
Again, many thanks.

When the fuse blows, does everything in the garage go out? I guess what I'm trying to say - is all your animation stuff plugged into just a single circuit? And does anything in the house go out at the same time? You might be using a circuit that also powers some big appliance in the house or something and can't handle the added load of your animation gear.

Possibly there's another circuit running to the garage too that you could plug some of the stuff into to relieve the load. If you have several outlets in the garage try to spread the electrical load across them. Possibly you could run an extension cord from the house from an outlet that's definitly on a different circuit (one that doesn't shut off when that fuse blows). 

You must be using some powerful lights? I've just got a bunch of 50 watters and I use longer exposure times to make that as bright as I want. Easy for me to say though, the film I'm working on takes place entirely in a dark interior setting! 

You could always get an electrician out to run another circuit into the garage, preferably one that doesn't also power any appliances in the house. 

About the time lapse test - doing it at night might not be very helpful, unless that's when you'll be animating too. You'll probably get better results at night than in the day when the circuits are more heavily loaded. If it were me, I think I'd set it for an exposure every minute or two to more closely approximate animation (unless you're doing pretty complicated animation with a lot of puppets or something) - you'd get a lot more data a lot faster that way. 

It does seem weird that a voltage regulator wouldn't put out an even power level - maybe it's because the circuit you're on is already so overloaded? Possibly if it was a separate circuit that only runs to the garage and that you only use for the animation stuff you wouldn't have that problem? (just guessing here - I'm not an electrician and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn last night either or ever play one on TV). 

Holiday Inn? I'm misssing a cultural reference here...
Seems to me, if a voltage regulator doesn't regulate the voltage, it is not fit for purpose and should be returnable. I didn't see much info or specific claims on the website though, all the info was about the voltage converters and nothing about the regulators.
When I tested, I put my old analog multimeter in front of the camera, and took a shot at about one every second, for an hour. Then I switched my oven on for a frame, then off, to make certain I was going to make the voltage drop on cue. Running lights directly off mains current, I saw the frame get darker and the needle on the meter go down on the same frame. Putting the meter on the borrowed regulator output showed a steady current, and the lights stayed steady as well.
What is the total watts of all your lights on at once? I seem to have less than 1000 watts maximum going while animating, more often around 300 watts by using 50 watt halogens.

Maybe this will bring you and other non-Americans up to date culturally:


(Hope these will play for you out-of-towners )

"When the fuse blows, does everything in the garage go out?"
Yes, but only in the garage. We have two power strips running out of two outlets.
"About the time lapse test - doing it at night might not be very helpful, unless that's when you'll be animating too. You'll probably get better results at night than in the day when the circuits are more heavily loaded."

I ran the time lapse from 7:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. I'm seeing a small amount of flicker, but I have to really look for it, and the integrity of my lighting set up is being maintained when I run the high res playback. I think if the characters were performing it would be even less noticeable. My potential animating hours are more like 10am-2am, and I didnt choose the best times to run the lapse, but I feel like I covered enough of the day to feel confident that the serious fluctuations we're seeing are being caused by our garage circuit and not outside influences. We'll definitely take your advice about running an extension chord from upstairs for all non-animation related appliances.

"What is the total watts of all your lights on at once?"
We have 4 150 watt lights and one 330 watt flourescent ballast. There's only a few shots that require all the lights though. Right now I've got the flo light and one of the 150's on set, and another 150 I'm using as a bash light. Ironically, most of our animating is done in a low light as well, but occasionally we have to go very bright. I pulled a real bonehead maneuver buying a 4000 watt regulator. I knew the flo light was 330 watts, but I wasn't sure if that was per lamp or in total, I also wasnt sure how much wattage the computer used, so I played it safe. Of course after I spent the money I took two seconds to check the website and of course the 330 watts is the total of 6 55 watt lamps. A 2000 watt regulator, like the Variac, would have been more than capable. It's embarrassing, but oh well.
I assumed it wouldn't make a difference, but should the camera be plugged into the regulator as well? I have 3 110 volt outlets which are all occupied by lights at the moment. Do you think it would work if I plugged a power strip into the regulator and ran other stuff from that, or do they need to be plugged directly into the regulator to be effected? Sorry! One answer just leads to another question. Thank you both so much!

I see no reason you can't plug a power strip into the regulator - in fact I'd think you'd need to in order to get all your lights 'regulated'. I don't *THINK* the camera is affeced by voltage fluctuations, but then I've never even thought about it before. But just to make sure you might as well run it off the regulated power too. With the computer, it's recommended to plug them into a regulated power supply anyway to prevent blowing out electronic components in case of a power surge, so I'd plug it all into the regulator. Seems like it has the capacity.

Strider said:

Maybe this will bring you and other non-Americans up to date culturally:

(Hope these will play for you out-of-towners )


Strider, I bet you LIVE in a Holiday Inn Express!

I wonder if a copier machine regulator would work.  Have to check the specs, probably better to bite the bullet and get something more apt.  Fortunately my best friend for forever worked in the AF in electronics on fighter jets.  He would know what to get!

Thanks again guys. I just finished my first shot with the new set up, and it's the cleanest consecutive five seconds I've gotten so far, and without any blown fuses as well.
Much appreciated!

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