Invented in the 1920s in Germany, the lighting balloon was first patented on October 26, 1924 (patent #427894). Until the 1990s, several patents were issued, although the application was utilized very little. Lighting balloons can be used for highlighting events, the motion picture industry, nightworks, rescue, safety, and architectural enhancement, or any place that requests light and can not accept regular lighting systems.
In 1994, Pierre Chabert and Benoit Beylier, founder of Airstar, a French company based in Grenoble (Isère), created a balloon light, a self-supporting spacelight suspended in a helium inflated balloon. It is ideal for interiors or exteriors where rigging is a problem. One of the first movies ever lit with this kind of system, which was supplied by Airlight Industries, was Titanic, directed by James Cameron. Later they were used in the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, the lighting set for Pirates of the Caribbean, Avatar, Singapore Grand Prix and the Vancouver Olympics.
Airstar, Airlight, Available Light, Sourcemaker, and the film industry
Airstar is the reference of the industry worldwide. After it has sold products to rental houses it has created a new market for technicians and rental companies providing balloon lighting to the film industry. Airstar has industrial facilities in Europe, Asia and manufactures in the US. The company has also successfully established its technology for construction, rescue, events, architecture markets. Airstar has competition of small companies in Film and Television lighting but have always led the way forward in innovative concept, especially the air or helium daylight balloon, halogen and hybrids. Airstar has offices all around the world and distributors in most local markets. The company is always establishing new standards of creativity respecting electrical safety standards. Airstar is the world leader of lighting balloons. Airstar was awarded a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences in 2003, for the introduction of balloon and color corrector technology in the industry. In the US Airstar has a specific film department established in LA, Orlando, Texas and NY.
In 1995, entrepreneur Julian Del Valle of Newport Beach, California discovered AIRSTAR lighting balloons at a private event demonstration in Los Angeles. He created Airlight Industries to become the first distributor of Airstar lighting balloons in the United States with the intent of using them in the film industry. Del Valle represented Airlight Industries with Airstar products at Show Biz Expo 1995. At the show, he met director of photography and gaffer Tony Nakonechnyj, and supplied him with AIRSTAR balloons for Disturbing the Peace. That was the first use of a lighting balloon on a motion picture set in the United States. It was immediately followed by supplying all lighting balloons on the set of Titanic, aiding Russell Carpenter  in winning the Academy Award for Cinematography.
In 1996, Available Light www.alny.net becomes the first company to introduce lighting balloons to the film and television market on the East Coast of the US. Available Light also decided to require operators for their balloons, becoming the first company in the United States to do this. In making this decision, Available Light created the category of Lighting Balloon Technician. They choose Airstar balloons, and introduce them to the East Coast market in film, television and commercials. The business is a perfect compliment to the company that is an industry leader in specialized lighting for these markets.
Peter Girolami purchased Airlight Industries in 2001 and reopened as Sourcemaker, Inc with the goal of creating custom lighting balloons for the film industry. Girolami rented the purchased lighting balloons but experienced difficulties purchasing replacement parts from Airstar because of bad payments. Girolami then began to manufacture his own replacement parts. He researched new materials and laminates to create a softer quality of light that is UV protected to prevent yellowing of the balloon envelopes. He also developed the cube and rectangle-shaped lighting balloons with new durable materials and the first helium-tight internal reflector to help control ambiance on film sets. The new shape allowed the cinematographer and gaffer to black out any side by attaching lightweight materials. Gaffer Russ Engels used the first cube-shaped lighting balloon.
- Spherical and near-spherical is the most common variety. The shape of the units demonstrate wind resistance
- Cubic - cuboid balloons with rigging points at the corners, "Diamond series by Airstar", "Ceilair by Airstar", useful for cutting the light with reflector panels.
- Tube - cylindrical shape, with a more "directed" light. AIRSTAR.
- Cloud - Grip balloon, low profile tuboid. Intended to semi-block the sun. Used by grips.
Alternative lighting sources
In 2005, Sourcemaker developed the first helium-filled, floating metal halide lighting balloon for gaffer John Velez and director of photography Matthew Libatique on the feature Inside Man. The main location was dominated by industrial lighting sources.
Sourcemaker developed the first sodium vapor lighting balloon for director of photography Ross Berryman on the TV pilot "Twenty Questions", shooting in Baltimore and Washington D.C. in 2006. Sourcemaker also supplied the first sodium lighting balloons on the feature film The Brave One under the instruction of director of photography Philippe Rousselot.