What if the phone rang tomorrow and ….?
“Hi. We’ve got this little show coming up in 2012. It’s in East London and we’d like a bit of lighting to liven the place up.”
Where the **** do you start with an Olympic sized lighting design? Or any large scale lighting design for that matter?
From an image by Antmoose on Flickr
Well, you’re not Durham Marenghi – yet. Super scale lighting design, like an Olympic ceremony, is the domain of a handful of international lighting designers. However, specifying large rigs for complex shows is part of the daily grind of a working LD. This article looks at how the LD breaks down a seemingly complex design into manageable chunks and how changes in technology have opened up more possibilities.
It seems like you need a mountain of kit to light the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Hundreds of moving lights, all with their own mains supply, control signals and rigging. Thousands of individual components that need to be mustered into an equipment inventory.
Trouble is, the organisers want to budget. The equipment suppliers want to know how much kit they need to source and production are anxious to get the crew numbers to book hotels for. And they need to know by the end of the week.
You don’t know much about the show yet, either.
Lighting a school play, maybe you have six areas of general cover on stage. Each area needs 2 500w fresnels of front light, 1 backlight. That’s 18 fresnels to start. The stage is wide enough to need 6 3-cell Cyc lights, and you want 2 fresnels per side for sidelight. The director wants 4 profiles spots for specials and you want a gobo wash using 4 more.
So, you have an equipment inventory based on a series bite sized pieces – 6 stage areas, cyc, stage specials etc. etc. (Of course, the truth is that most small lighting designs are based on “what you have” rather than “what you need”). You get the idea.
A large scale lighting design is approached in the same way. “ I need N many of these HuugeBeemz ™ to cover an area of X at the brightness of Y. There are Z many areas in the arena, and each one also needs 2 WobbleBlasdz ™ ……” and so on. Before you know it, your kit list has 2700 moving lights. You turn your attention to power, rigging and other infrastructure. In the end, detailed cable inventories will all be created using the same approach. Scalable elements and symmetry.
Lighting Design Elements
From a design viewpoint, bits of a lighting design can be divided into two camps:
1 – Things you need
Every show has things you need from the lighting – I call them “jobs”, and they eat up your resources. Keylight, colour washes, cyc lighting and other “unexciting” things make up a large percentage of you equipment inventory. These mundane parts of a lighting design often take less “thinking about” as your decisions are based on practicalities – available positions, audience layout etc. It is usually the first stage of the design process and often your kit list is already straining under the weight of fixtures and power requirements.
The next stage of equipment allocation centres around other required elements. “ We need to highlight this area. This piece of set needs to change colour” etc.
So far, we have a list of “jobs” and lighting equipment to do those jobs. The spreadsheet is several pages long and it seems as if all of the “Lighting Designer decisions” have been made for us.
Don’t worry. With a small percentage of our resources left – it’s time to get creative.
2 – Things you want
The final parts of our grand lighting design to consider are things we, or the director/producer/government official, would really like. Media projection here, giant RGB floating balls there. This is the part where you get to “be an LD” and forget all those boring things like keylight and houselights.
But there’s only 3 rows left on our spreadsheet and we actually ran out of power halfway through specifying the working light for the backstage areas. “Will I ever get to make a real design decision?”
Modern lighting equipment to the rescue!
At drama school, our lighting tutor told us that every lantern had to do two jobs. At least. Modern intelligent lighting has given us the ability to turn a keylight into a media projection special and then into a colour wash.
This means that a large scale lighting design is no longer about allocating a fixture one specific function. Yes, a big project is broken into smaller chunks, but each of these chunks is now multi-dimensional. Eeek!
Modern lighting designers can use the “old” methods to help them make rational decisions about equipment and infrastructure. On a large lighting design, there is just more of everything.
How all the technology relates to an artistic vision of the spectacle is the real job of the Lighting Designer.
So, maybe not so much has changed after all.
If you have any comments or questions about specifying large lighting rigs or technology and lighting design, put them in the comments box below.