Tips & Tricks

The Big Picture

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I appreciate a lighting tech that goes out of his way to send the house guys up to the spot perches to fire and fine tune the local spotlights at every venue. It’s a thankless task that easily takes an hour of your day. Most lighting crew chiefs hate this and cannot be bothered with the task. I’ve actually had a touring tech tell me that if I wanted good spots everyday, I should’ve rented them and another tech from his lighting company. The majority of shows I do are at the mercy of the local house or rental companies’ inventory. And if I wait until show time to find out that half of the lights are dim and useless, I’m in trouble. That’s why I can’t always depend on the crew chief sent to me by a lighting vendor. It’s why LDs often request that rental companies use their personal electricians on certain gigs. Because we need guys who care about all the lights on the show.

—From “LD at Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, May, 2013

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Two Pieces of Advice for TV Lighting

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Television lighting designer Ted Wells has been honing his craft since the early 1970s. PLSN contributor Michael S. Eddy asked him about career advice. Here’s Wells’ reply: “I got two pieces of advice, and I count both of them equally in their value. One was to be available, be helpful, and have a good work ethic, because attitude and desire will take you a long way. You can be extremely talented, but if you don’t have the other qualities, it doesn’t matter who you are; ever.

"The most valuable piece of advice in terms of lighting was, it’s about the face. The television medium is about close-ups. I think that’s why people watch TV — to see those close shots of the faces of the performer or actor. It’s about being in close with them, so it is important to make sure you always get the face right. The background will always take care of itself. The background is just painting. Don’t take away from who the performer is — it’s okay to bring huge energy to the moment with lighting, but don’t overpower the performer.”

—From “PLSN Interview” by Michael S. Eddy, PLSN, April, 2013, page 42.

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Optimizing the Big Screen at Caesars Palace

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Shania Twain’s new show, Still the One, began its two-year, 110-show residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on Dec. 1, 2012. A key issue for show director Raj Kapoor and production designer Michael Cotton was how to make use of the venue’s huge LED screen in a manner where it would not marginalize the talent performing in front of it. As video designer Bob Bonniol related to PLSN’s Vickie Claiborne, “their idea was to go in the opposite direction. Make the media more environmental, and the audience reacts to it not as a facet of the design, but as a whole... In blending the show with the venue and making it totally environmental, it allows Shania to be a center of it all, as opposed to “her vs. the screen.” It works. It’s brilliant.”

—From “Video Interview” by Vickie Claiborne, PLSN, April 2013

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Lighting the Burj Khalifa: A Tall Order

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Sydney-based Mandylights lighting designers Richard Neville and Alex Grierson were part of the international creative team that lit the world’s tallest building – the 2,722-foot-hight Burj Khalifa in Dubai — for New Year’s and the month of January. The sheer scale of the project was a challenge, with the need to light scores of performers on 15 stages across a vast swath of land and water for an on-site audience of 1.7 million. Another challenge was in making the show work as a unified whole, coordinating the dynamic aspects of 350 intelligent lights, video projection, flame projectors and thousands of water fountains. “I love to use strong lines of light in my designs, so I approached this show in the same way,” says Neville. “I put long lines of ACL fixtures in across the tops of the various screens so we could suggestively extend the color and content of the video out from the screen surfaces and then made sure we programmed with a lot of detail to keep the lighting true to the video,” he adds. “My associate, Alex Grierson, and I split the rig up into parts and programmed separate cue lists so that we could each pay more attention to specific parts of the rig. In some sequences, I’d have a couple of cues while Alex would be madly programming moving lights to follow each step of performers on the lake stages, while at other times I was frantically programming reactive cues to the 210-meter-long (689-foot-long) screen while Alex would have time for a coffee.”

—From “Designer Watch” by Debi Moen, PLSN, April, 2013.

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Set in a Bag

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Each year, I get a few calls from bands looking for a set or lighting design for their tour. For Imagine Dragons, there was one stipulation — whatever I designed had to fit in a 16-foot trailer towed behind a bus.  I thought about something my friend Jonathan Smeeton described on Facebook. He developed a “set in the bag” concept for one of his artists. Some simple cloth sails made of stretchy silk-like material that one attaches to a skeleton frame of aluminum. I was thinking tent pole style nylon sails. But once I drew my idea on paper and sent them to my artist, I realized they were a lot bigger than what I originally thought of. I had envisioned a little freestanding half moon shape behind the drummer. Once drawn, it turned out to be 15 feet high by 32 feet wide. Then I asked for two smaller shapes that could go downstage on the sides of the half moon. My artist Chris Tousey came up with some shark fin-shaped sails that added to the depth of the stage. In front of these sails I designed four aluminum trees. — 14 feet tall by about eight feet wide. Complete with faux leaves. The trees looked totally 3D and curved like old fruit trees. I hung three Martin MAC 101 LED movers and three homemade lanterns from each tree. Joe Gallagher built the entire set for a fair price, and it fit on top of lighting cases. The whole set was huge, but took up four feet of truck space.

—From “LD-at-Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, April, 2013, page 60.

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Mixing Fixtures and Matching Colors

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Every automated lighting fixture manufacturer selects the wavelengths their color mixing system will produce, and therefore it can be difficult to get different fixture types to match when color mixing.  Some manufacturers will use more saturated colors than others.  Their lights may appear brighter as you color mix, but you might have trouble getting deep reds and greens. Unfortunately, your console cannot help you with these physical limitations, but sometimes there are offsets you can adjust in the desk.  In addition, with the use of palettes or presets, you can store different values for different fixtures in the same location.  This lets you then simply select your “purple” palette and feel comfortable that all the fixtures will go to the same purple color (assuming you made them all match when you created the palette).

—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, April, 2013, page 56

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Top 40 Rules of the Road, Continued…

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04. If you experience any problems on the road, personal or technical, please call the home office first, immediately—regardless of the day or time. It’s better to wake us up in the middle of the night so we can help you solve it than to have us wake up in the morning to find out we’ve lost a member of the crew, a show, or heaven help you, the tour.

11. Take care of the equipment as if it’s your responsibility—it is. Saving 30 seconds on a load-out is not worth two hours the next day to fix a piece of gear, or $500 in Fed Ex charges to send you a replacement.

16. If you are the designated crew chief, it’s an acknowledgement of leadership, responsibility, and respect, not an elevation in job title. There is no extra pay in it. Someone’s gotta do it. Would you rather have some other idiot telling you what to do?

17. Speaking of idiots, be sure you do an “idiot” check at the end of every load out—this is in addition to staring at yourself in the mirror for an hour wondering why you agreed to do this gig. Do not assume the local crew gives a damn about the gear only you know is yours. If you leave something behind, you’ll know it before we do, so get it back immediately or your name will replace the word idiot above (See #4 and #11).

—From “The Official 2013 Edition,” by Bob Higgins. For the other 36 Top 40 Rules of the Road, read the feature reprinted from the original 2003 article in PLSN, March 2013, page 44.

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Top 40 Rules of the Road

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Top 40 Rules of the Road

01. Think about what the system needs while you’re in rehearsal–not the day of the first show. We really find no pleasure in shipping tons of cable a thousand miles overnight, unless you’re going to ship your butt back in the same case…

10. In every situation, please try and remember these two somewhat metaphorical tenets for a successful operation; they also work for relationships and other emergencies:

a. Clearly establish and respect your chain of command, lines of communication and plan of attack before you embark on your mission.

b. Secure your base, establish your coordinates and guarantee an escape route. (In other words, figure out the best location for your equipment placement, find the safest and cleanest route for all signal paths, and lay it all down for the most efficient load-out.)

38. These rules are numbered for reference—not priority. Whichever one you screw up first automatically becomes #1. Do not see this as a challenge for how many infractions you can accumulate in the length of the tour. You will not last that long.

40. Be nice, be great, and have fun.

—From “The Official 2013 Edition,” by Bob Higgins. For the other Top 40 Rules of the Road, read the reprinted version of the original 2003 article in PLSN, March 2013, page 44.

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Making the Most of Vectorworks Spotlight

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Event planners may not be aware that a series of commands and interactive objects make it simple to document commercial events, such as business meetings, in a straightforward manner. This functionality includes tracing out and scaling the venue from an imported image or PDF, creating the stage, populating it with video screens and lecterns and creating various seating layouts. This is topped off by an automatic command to create plans, side and front views and a perspective of the entire event. Vectorworks has two-way database worksheets that capture the information from the light plot that is necessary to produce all the standard lighting paperwork documentation that lighting designers need. The software also lets users visit the default content that comes with Vectorworks Spotlight to add interactive versions of the paperwork worksheets as favorites in the Resource Browser. In addition to these functions within the software, users can take advantage of several third-party products, such as pre-visualization tools and interactive lighting paperwork management on top of the onboard paperwork functionality mentioned earlier. Examples include ESP Vision, Lightwright, Cinema 4D and Light Converse.

—From “Focus on Fundamentals” by Nemetschek Vectorworks’ Frank Brault, PLSN, March 2013, page 54.

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Automated Fixtures: Smooth Movement vs. Speed

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Automated lighting fixtures are extremely sophisticated, including movement of pan/tilt or other features. Fixtures and consoles provide a multitude of methods to ensure that these movements are either perfectly smooth or extremely quick… Once programmed into the console, the rate of changing DMX values becomes consistent during a programmed crossfade, and thus the fixture software can better anticipate the changes and move in a very smooth manner… Fixture designers also provide us with tools to change the behavior of the fixture and allow it to move differently. The most common method is to provide a DMX value to “turn off” the smoothing algorithm. Several manufacturers accomplish this by providing a “toggle” within the fixture’s movement timing channel. With a DMX value of 255, for example, the fixture will move smoothly, but not as fast as possible…There is yet another piece of the puzzle involved. Your lighting console will typically use a fixture library (or profile), which defines default values for each and every DMX parameter used by the fixture. If your console defaults the particular movement timing channel to DMX zero, then your fixtures are going to move quickly, but may not be smooth. On the other hand, if the console defaults your timing channel to DMX 255, then the fixture will move smoothly, but not as fast as physically possible. It is essential that you understand the timing channel options and how they are defaulted within your console’s fixture library

—From Brad Schiller, “Feeding the Machines,” PLSN, March 2013

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