building a reusable chinese or china ball lantern for use in film and video lighting that's safer than paper lenterns

Making a simple, reusable Chinese Lantern (China Ball)

Cinematographers and their gaffers have known of and used Chinese Lanterns (aka China Balls) in their film lighting work for many years. Chinese or China Ball lanterns are widely used today in movies and television when the Director of Photography calls for a soft, positionable light source that can be rigged and adjusted quickly. The unique ability of the Chinese Lantern to throw a soft, diffused light in almost all directions allows it to work in many lighting situations no other instrument would be as capable of handling. The real paper Chinese Lanterns do have one serious drawback, however. As their name sake implies, they are made of paper... and paper, as it turns out, burns. They are also rather flimsy and they tear or get torn or damaged very easily, especially during the rigors of filmmaking. Rather than look for trouble I decided to see if I could find a better and safer alternative to the paper lanterns that would also be cost effective and relatively easy to construct.

You can, after all, purchase a fireproof fabric version China Ball from companies like Chimera for around $200 or you can follow these simple instructions and make one for yourself for less than $30 and a little effort.

DISCLAIMER: This project involves electrical wiring to eventually be connected to the AC mains. While it has been brought to my attention that I have not included any mention of properly providing an earth ground to the metal components of the lighting fixture, this does not in any way suggest that I am in favor of violating local electrical laws. Please make certain your completed project is wired to meet the electrical code of your own area. I accept no responsibility for the use or misuse of this project.

My "Chinese Lantern" project was constructed in under 2 hours using less chinese lantern for film lighting usethan $30 in parts. It is based on a 12" acrylic plexi- glass "light post" globe available from Home Depot or other home improvement stores or electrical supply companies for around $16.00. It uses a standard 250 or 300 watt photoflood lamp available from any camera or photo store for between $3 and $6. The China Ball is supported by hanging from a standard lighting "C" stand and grip (gobo) head giving it a very adaptable means of positioning. It is the perfect addition to any film or video lighting package and you may find yourself using it more than you think. If you know how to use basic tools, have access to a drill or drill press and can wire a light socket you can build this little project, yourself.

The following article will detail the construction of my reusable Chinese Lantern. I have been rather liberal with the photos in the hope these may help you in the details and, perhaps, give you some ideas you can improve upon in your own China Ball design. Happy Lighting!

You will need the following items, purchasable frochinese paper lanterns, commercial outdoor lighting, photo and movie lightingm your local Home Depot, Lowes or other local home building supply store:

(1) 12" white acrylic globe, the Model P0112WA, made by Imperial Lighting.
(1) porcelain lamp socket w/threaded base
(1) 3.5" section of threaded lamp rod
(2) locking nuts for above rod
(3) 3" long X 1/4-20 eye hooks
(3) 1/4-20 self locking nuts
(1) 15' of 18/2 lamp cord (switch is optional)
(1) 4" metal electrical box cover or any approx. 4" round 1/8" thick metal disc 

Using a china lanter for movie making and filmmaking Prepare the 4" electrical box cover by first drilling a 7/16" hole through the center to accept the threaded rod.

Next, drill (3) 5/16" holes 1/4" from the edge at equally spaced intervals around the rim of the cover. (see the holes marked by the "X")

Finally, perforate the remaining space in the cover with 1/2" holes to allow heat from the lamp to pass through.

Assemble the lamp fixture assembly as follows:

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1) wire the porcelain socket using the 18/2 wire
2) insert the threaded rod into the base of the socket until flush with the inside of the base and tighten the set screw.
3) install one of the rod locking nuts against the base of the socket.
4) install the cover plate (now drilled per above) next and follow with the remaining rod locking nut.

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Prepare the (3) eye hooks by opening the closed eyelets until they appear as in the photo, seen here. A vise and a strong pair of pliers will be needed, as these are made from 1/4" material.



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Preparation of the China Ball plexiglass globe involves drilling (3) 5/16" holes, 5/8" in from the edge of the opening at equal intervals. These holes will accept the open eye hooks to allow the globe to hang down from the fixture.

IMPORTANT:  The globe is made of acrylic plastic that, although it will not break all that easily, could crack if you drill the holes too fast. The correct way to do this would be to start off with a much smaller drill bit. Begin with a 1/8" starter bit and follow that up with something like a 1/4". Your last pass will be with the final size 5/16" drill bit going slow and easy!


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