Bitbanger Labs founders Duncan Frazier and Steve McGuigan met in high school, but it would be a few years of traveling their own paths before they reunited to invent devices that would help redefine the way we think about shooting photos and video. During that time, Frazier became a successful stock-media artist, even boasting one of the all-time best-selling clips on Pond5.
As Bitbanger Labs, the duo started out with an electronic sleep mask called Remee, but it was their light-painting device, Pixelstick, that really started making waves (literally). Pixelstick generated a huge fanbase for the duo, meaning there was a lot of anticipation when they announced their new product, Colorspike — and if you’re shooting video or photo, it could be your new best friend. We caught up with Frazier and McGuigan at their Brooklyn studio to learn more about the product and get a firsthand look at what it could do. Check out our exclusive video interview with the pair, then read on for more.
A Kickstarter-Founded Company
Frazier and McGuigan are the first to admit that Bitbanger Labs probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Kickstarter. The two launched their first project through the platform when it was still relatively new, and have been able to use its crowdfunded model to grow their business and develop newer and bigger ideas. Colorspike is Bitbanger’s third Kickstarter project, and with a little more than a week to go in funding, they’re already more than doubled their goal. Watch their Kickstarter pitch video for Colorspike below, and click through to the campaign page if you’re interested in getting in on the discounted preorder for the device.
A Business Inspired by Stock Media
“I would say it’s very much because I was shooting stock that Bitbanger started, because I was starting to build timelapse rigs myself to try and get new shots,” explains Frazier. “Once I started doing that kind of stuff, we were like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’ We could build essentially anything we want, given enough time. And from that, we pushed into the actual product design.”
“Both of us had a strong computer-science background, but neither of us had any product design experience or anything like that,” reveals McGuigan. “Most of it came from Duncan building equipment for his photography freelance business, sliders, and spinners and stuff like that. That’s how we laid down the groundwork of doing our own electronics, and then writing software for them.”
After launching their sleep mask in 2012, the duo found enough success to go straight to work on Pixelstick, which launched late the following year to major success. Colorspike has been in development for two years now, and where Pixelstick was a tool to dazzle people with unique and whimsical results, this time the goal was for something much more practical.
“It’s for film, it’s for video, it’s for still, it’s for tabletop, it’s for location,” says Frazier. “That’s our crossover. We’re bringing in all of the video world now, whereas Pixelstick is still-only. We’re seeing a lot of people who do movies and video come in for a Colorspike, because we designed it to be able to be in their kit bag for essentially any situation.”
Learning to Build From Scratch
Having two successful launches under their belts, Frazier and McGuigan may not have started out with product-design expertise, but they certainly have it now. “In terms of the industrial design for Colorspike, we took a lot of lessons from Pixelstick to avoid taking risks on things that can fail in mass production,” explains McGuigan. “Keep it simple, make sure it feels good, solid quality. Don’t make any assumptions that things are always going to work the way you expect them to when it’s time to put something together in a factory.”
“We looked at a lot of lights that were Bluetooth-connected and our first big takeaway was that they all had an app,” says Frazier. “And in almost every case, the app was just terrible. So one of the most important things for us right off the bat was, there’s no point in doing any of this if we can’t make an app that makes this easy to use as a system. We approached the design that way — that it’s full featured, but it’s not confusing. Everybody can access every level of the functionality without running into any problems.”
The Power of Flexibility Plus Portability
“Having shot photography and footage for so long, I already had this thought that it would have been nice if I had this or that piece of gear when I was working,” says Frazier. “Colorspike is absolutely from that world, where Monday I’m shooting tabletop, Tuesday I’m on location, and Wednesday I’m shooting still product shots. There was this need to be able to be really flexible when I was shooting, and Colorspike was designed to answer a lot of the questions that I personally had as shooter, that we feel a lot of shooters do.”
“The initial idea was mainly as a video effects light,” adds McGuigan. “Then we thought, wouldn’t it be great if, in addition to all those great effects with this really cool, robust system, we could also link multiple units together, to create a multi-point lighting system you can control from your phone without having to get up or swap anything out. You don’t have to move from behind the camera. You can dial up whatever patterns or colors you need and do things more quickly. It just makes you more productive.”
It also gives you a lot more options on the fly. “You might have your LED panel that’s white. You can put Colorspike next to it and essentially gel your existing lights,” explains Frazier. “Maybe it’ll replace your gel wall to start. And then, if you carry around some random little lights in case you wanted to do sirens or fire, those get replaced. So it will work its way in with your other lights at first, I think. But the fact that you just throw it in your bag and it’s so portable is really convenient, because you never have to go, ‘Do I need to lug this around or not?’ It just always comes with you.”
An Expandable Lighting System With Countless Options
Since Colorspike is designed to work as either a standalone unit or part of a larger array, the pair are already working on mounting solutions for when the product ships next year, which will enable you to position multiple Colorspikes together in different configurations. “The light itself is a great piece of kit,” says Frazier. “But the app and the way they function together otherwise is just as important, because that gives you the ability to extend from one light to four lights to eight lights, and build out a really cool set of effects in one place.”
“You start with one light and you build and add,” he continues. “It’s very straightforward. Pick a shape, pick a color, apply motion to it if you want. After that, you connect another light if you want. Whatever you made on the first stick, it can go right onto the second stick. Control them in tandem, or you can control them separately. So the idea is that you can dive right in and you can start getting results immediately. But use it a little bit more and the full functionality will begin to reveal itself.”
Meanwhile, despite all of the creative and complex effects you can achieve with one or more Colorspikes, McGuigan remains impressed by the basics. “The simple color fields are really satisfying,” he admits. “You can just sit there and light a scene and then go and take that light down to pink and a little blue or green and just creatively noodle around with the lighting setup. You have this ability to kind of freestyle with your light, which has made everything just a little more fluid as far as getting a lot of different results quickly.”
It’s also a great way to save time and capture things you may not have thought to film on set. “Just because you want to get that cutaway you missed of someone holding their phone and there’s supposed to be police around, doesn’t mean you’re going to rent a police car and put the siren on,” says Frazier. “So there’s this ability to get your detailed shots, get your punch-ins, later on. As far as that kind of flexibility, it’s huge. And those are the situations where you won’t necessarily know you’re going to need it until they arise.”
The Kickstarter campaign for Colorspike runs until November 17, 2017, so there’s still time to back the project and get on the list to receive one of the first units when they ship next year (the current estimate is March 2018). In the meantime, the Bitbanger founders are already anxious to see what people will create with their latest invention. “Like Pixelstick before, we were just excited to build something that we could put into people’s hands,” says McGuigan. “And we’re really excited to see what they can do with it, and not just what we can do with it.”