The Hot, Dangerous Birth of Neon Lights

The Hot, Dangerous Birth of Neon Lights


There’s an inherent attraction
to light and being human, and I think on a very
deep psychological level, light is this way in which we experience the energy surrounding us
in a very personal manner. My name is Matt Dilling. I’m the the founder of
Lite Brite Neon studio, and we manufacture, produce, and restore neon works of art and design. (neon sizzling) Origins of the creative content of a lot of the work at Lite Brite comes from a variety of sources. Sometimes people come
with a napkin sketch. Some people come with an
Adobe Illustrator file. And we have a whole design team, who then we kind of work together to help create layouts of
what it might look like. Scale it up and create a paper
template using a pen plotter. And that paper template
actually becomes our guide for what we’re going to bend the neon to. We take from the office
into the glass shop. We pick out the right size tubing, with the right color, for
the right size project. (switches clicking) (lighter flicking) From there, we heat up the glass tubing. (flame whooshing) The torches heat the glass
well in excess of 1,000 degrees in order for it to get
into its molten state. We heat up and bend the glass
tubing to match the template. One of our chandeliers has
over 100 different bends in it, so each one of those
bends has to be marked for a heated-up bend. We also have to allow the
glass to cool between the bends so that the next area can
be worked on and heated up in its own unique fashion. It turns into spaghetti, and then we have to make
sure that that spaghetti lines back up and cools to the template. We use a blow hose to
connect our mouth to the tube to create a volume that’s closed, and we can control the pressure
in there with our mouth. There’s just a variety of
challenges that come up inherently in working with glass. Glass can crack due to stress, and sometimes you’ll just have a batch that all it wants to do when
it gets near a torch is crack. After we’ve bent various components, we have to go in using the
cross-fire or the hand torch, and actually weld all of
those pieces together. The last step on that is then to weld on electrodes onto either end. Each one of those steps
is very, very specific. I draw inspiration from so
many different experiences. It’s hard to come up with
one thing that’s particular, but one of the ways that I really am able to connect with the creative is to float. Floating is a similar
experience to meditation, to psychedelics. Going into a blackened room and laying out in a body of water and salt that’s heated to your body temperature, and it allows for all sort of external
stimulation to fall away, and your internal world
really begins to bubble up and manifest. You really get to experience a different relationship to your mind. (flames whooshing) I think I work with neon because
I can’t not work with it. It’s so challenging and so rewarding, and those things are so intertwined that there’s no way of separating it out. I have learned so much, and continue to learn so
much by working with it. I find so much inspiration
in working with it, and I just continue to experience
new and different things through the medium. It’s that close to me at this point. Once the neon tube is completed, we have to hook it up to
our manifold for bombarding. The manifold is opened, a vacuum is drawn, we check the tube for
leaks with our Tesla coil, we close the tube back off, and we heat it up using a very large and
powerful transformer. As the tube is heated up, it releases anything that’s
not inert inside the tube, and we evacuate that out. We introduce the gas into it, and we seal the tube off, sealing into that tube whatever
gas we introduced into it. I think my favorite part
of making a neon light is when I see it lit
up for the first time. Different gases, when electrified, emit different wavelengths of light. Neon gas is this very bright
orange, fiery red color. Argon gas creates a very intense blue, but that light output that is produced can then be expressed in
a different wavelength by coating the inside of the
tubes with a phosphor coating that takes that one wavelength of light and emits a different wavelength. We bring it over to the aging table, where we hook it up to
an aging transformer and allow it to settle, age the gas in that
we’ve introduced to it. There’s always a stray
particle of something left inside the tube, but that time that the oxide coating can act to scrub whatever
is left inside the tube while things are getting
settled into place. (neon buzzing) Once the tubes are aged in, we move on to our process of assembling two halves of the fixture
together in a jig, gluing up the center of
the fixture to its spindle. Once the adhesive dried, we would connect the wires
from the fixture together into a transformer, and we turn on power, and it lights up. Part of what we love about what we do here is that we try and put out into the world the kind of things that we’d like to see. I still am surprised when it lights up. I’m still excited when I
get to see it illuminated. There’s an ineffable quality to it. To me, it’s this insight into the inner workings of the universe. It literally is. It’s a way of looking at
what is surrounding us in the cosmos in a new light. (tinkling)


60 thoughts on “The Hot, Dangerous Birth of Neon Lights

  1. Some music too loud. Also liked the video but it amazed me with all the people working with glass and now safety glasses.?

  2. Put up real current event or crypto news stories , not old hippies blowing glass /swimming in warm salt water in tent at home lol , what’s all that about?!? That’s not financial information, thats not Bloomberg

  3. Did anyone tell this guy neon is dangerous inefficient and bad for the environment, it contains mercury. Does he knows that LEDs are a lot easier to work with and less risk of injury and environmental impact, is this guy still living in the 60s?

  4. What a beautiful piece! Wonderful film and a fascinating subject. Feel like I need to cherish every neon sign I see now.

  5. where the fuck is the ZEN stuff coming from out of the blue……….. yeah neon really zen really THE thing i think of when thinking Yoga and zen crap. …. oh no not really

  6. SoNev's Sin City has a fuckass museum that's all about nuttin' but Ne! World's brightest museum! Way brighter than hell!

  7. At one point during my 'search' for a career, I thought I would apprentice with a neon sign maker. I found a shop, made arrangements for partial support with a government retraining program and then all that was needed was to have the shop owner sign the paperwork. When he found out that he would have to pay me minimum wage he balked because in his words: "Why should I have to pay you when it's my time, my glass, and my gas?" And that was the end of my nascent glass blowing career but I never forgot that phrase, "…my time, my glass, and my gas."

  8. I wish there was like one documentary that actually talked more about the concept of neon lights and their history and what they mean to society blah blah blah and all that.

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