Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 16, 2010

Behind the Scenes: Lighting

As we prepare to stage the company’s big annual events, I hope you will find it interesting to know some of what goes into making a show happen. This is the second in the series. Scroll down to see yesterday’s entry on the Load-In.

Lighting instruments on truss

Lighting instruments on truss

Lighting for a show can range from almost nothing other than what’s already installed in the facility (“house” lighting) to enormous structures that are suspended above a gigantic stadium stage (see “Bon Jovi,” “Rolling Stones”). Our show is somewhere in the middle. We want to create some dramatic lighting effects both for the speakers onstage as well as on the set itself. We want our audience to have a sense that they’re in a special place at an extraordinary event that is an experience beyond what they normally know. We don’t have Bon Jovi’s budget — or his audience.

Without doing something special in the way of lighting, a hotel ballroom is just another big cube of space with garish carpet and ugly chandeliers. But, with the right lighting equipment and some creative lighting design, the space becomes a world of its own, lit to brilliant clarity or swimming in rich hues that create moods of somber seriousness, deep reflection or high hilarity.

Adjusting lighting

Adjusting lighting

In the previous entry, we saw some of the equipment being mounted on the lighting trusses. Let’s pick up the process after the trusses have been raised up to their ceiling height, the cables all connected into the system, and the lighting designer at work.

Instruments on the truss

Instruments on the truss

Although there are still uses for traditional fixed lights that cast a single beam of a specific color at a fixed spot, the majority of lighting instruments now are motorized units that can tilt and spin, can throw an entire rainbow of colors, and even cast the light in patterns of wheels, circles, waves, bubbles and a wide variety of other effects. This means that not only can lighting colors and intensities vary with the press of a button, but the lighting can actually be moving — fast or slow — in a choreographed program. A comment from Theatre Kate in Merrie Olde reminds me to add a mention that these moving lights are called “intellibeams,” which was originally a brand name, but has come to refer generically to all motorized robotic lights. “Intels” for short.

Lighting cable chase

Lighting cable chase

Here, backstage, the cables connect all the lighting instruments into the busses that provide the controls.

As you might guess, this aggregation of lights and control motors suck up a lot of electricity. As the production company plans the show, they have to be aware of exactly how much power the facility is able to provide, and what sort of power it is: single-phase, double-phase, etc. If there’s not enough, then we have to add our own generator to provide power. That’s the case here. That adds another element of complexity and cost to the operation that we’d rather not have, but it’s not a perfect world. From here, cables run out to the front of the house where the lighting director sits to program and run the show.

As we rehearse the show, the lighting designer is working through the script, designing lighting effects, including colors, patterns, all cued to the action that will occur: speakers entering or talking from the stage, special effects for award ceremonies, and so forth.

Lighting Control

Lighting Control

The designer uses a specialized piece of equipment to program all the cues in the show. This console can control scores of lights, colors, movements, patterns, and light levels, all stored in memory to be recalled as needed.

Magenta look

Magenta look

Blue look

Blue look

Here are just two examples of thousands of combinations that can change with a single punch of a button, once the lighting director has spent many hours programming the instruments hanging on those trusses. There are special lighting effects for awards ceremonies, the banquets, question-and-answer sessions, and so on.

Looks like fun to me.

Next: We make some noise with audio.

I thank my friends from 2XD Productions for providing the skill and the gear. For bodacious photos of their awesome shows around the world, click on the link.

© 21013 Brad Nixon

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Responses

  1. Great photos! I really like this feature of your blog. Good mix of the writing and the visual.

    Like

  2. Our theatre got its first “intels” for our big musical last year, and we were all very excited. Nothing like moving, changing lights to make your show look really spiffy!

    Like

    • Katie, that reminded me to add a line explaining that these moving lights are “intellibeams,” originally a brand of light, but now widely used to denote any controllable motorized light instrument. Thanks.

      Like


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