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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Recently I posed a question to a group of fellow professionals involved in video production: “What are your top five most valuable video tools (hardware, software or otherwise) that you use for setting up and running a show?” I wasn’t interested in just the laundry list — I also wanted to know “why” a particular tool was indispensable. It’s interesting to see the general consensus, particularly with a group of technicians whose main job is to get the show running as quickly as possible, and solve as many problems as possible backstage. The key is “armed and ready,” plus a healthy dose of experience on the road. You’ll need light, multi-tools, every video adapter known to mankind, your trusty laptop and a smartphone, plenty of documentation — not to mention over-the-counter headache remedies, a comfy chair and a sarcastic sense of humor.
—For the full list of responses, see Paul Berliner’s “Video World,” PLSN, Feb. 2013.
A true professional must be prepared and know how to make the best of situations where there is little or no programming time before an event. For starters, you must ensure that the lights are properly hung, cabled, addressed and powered. For any automated lighting console, you’ll also need to patch the fixtures so that you can select and communicate commands to them. This means that you will need to enter in the fixtures’ DMX start addresses and designate the proper DMX lines to the proper fixtures, and to assign user/channel/fixture numbers to the fixtures, and you’ll need five minutes to ensure that all fixtures are working from their individual controls. After that, if you have any time at all, you should create some basic groups and build six to 10 position palette/presets with all fixtures pointing at the stage, audience, backdrop, drums, singer or podium. Once the doors are open, hopefully you have a few minutes to continue working in blind mode to build palette/presets and throw together some essential playbacks. It is amazing what can be achieved with no pre-programming and just good timing and skills. Above all else, have fun and keep it simple.
—From “Feeding the Machines,” PLSN, Feb. 2013