Crossing the Line

We’ve been hearing about convergence in our industry for quite a few years now. Indeed, in recent years, some of the most significant changes in the structure and ownership of the industry have been undertaken in the name of media convergence.
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(click thumbnail)There has been a flurry of activity on the architectural lighting front.We’ve been hearing about convergence in our industry for quite a few years now. Indeed, in recent years, some of the most significant changes in the structure and ownership of the industry have been undertaken in the name of media convergence. Whether or not this is a good thing continues to be the topic of lively discussions in many a coffee shop or bar.

Meanwhile there has been a convergence of another kind going on in studios and stages throughout the world of lighting.

Until recently, each area of lighting has had its own tools, practices and – often – even its own language. A couple of decades ago (during one of those enforced coffee breaks, taken whilst waiting for a half a dozen frenetic engineers to cajole a recalcitrant camera chain back into life), the assembled lighting team racked their brains to find some commonality between different forms of lighting.

At that time, there was only one piece of equipment that we could recall having seen everywhere – from a film soundstage to a rock concert, from an opera house to a television studio, and from a major musical to the launch of a new model of toothbrush. It was the Quartzcolor Iris cyclorama flood, designed by Mario De Sisti for the Ianiro family.

It is a luminaire that is still available some thirty years after its introduction and in my opinion, quite rightly so – as there are few, if any other cyc floods in its class.

CONCERT STAGING

Things have certainly changed since then, as developments for the concert stage in particular have steadily percolated their way into every corner of lighting. The parcan and concert truss led the way and have since been followed by all types of robotic devices – from color scrollers to moving-mirror ellipsoidals and moving-head fresnels and ellipsoidals.

While robotic luminaires (I refuse to call them Intelligent, as I’m usually quite content for them to simply be obedient) may require an additional control console and programmer, that situation has become normal in almost every field of production over the last decade.

On the other hand, most concert lighting practitioners are quite surprised to learn that the molefay/minibrute is actually a piece of film and television equipment.

After all, Allen Branton was using 9-light molefays for sidelight and Mole 5K’s on the drum kit for David Bowie’s "Serious Moonlight" tour in the early 1980s. The majority of those currently working in concert lighting were probably in grade school at the time.

The increased sensitivity and robustness of the image pick-up devices in our cameras – combined with improvements in lamp and luminaire optical design – is giving us lightsources that were once below the threshold of our cameras.

The output of projection systems and ellipsoidal spot effects has now moved into the window of our camera’s capabilities; television pictures may never look the same. The creative opportunities offered by the current generation of robotic zooming ellipsoidal spots are simply begging to be exploited by a creative LD with a decent sense of aesthetics.

If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to audition a Coemar CX7, a Martin MAC 2000, a HighEnd X.spot, a Clay Paky Golden Spot, a FutureLight MH860 or a Vari*Lite VL2202, you may be surprised to find out how quiet, reliable, bright and flexible they can be.

One caveat: Never underestimate how long they take to program, especially if your console doesn’t have advanced moving light programming facilities.

ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING

Perhaps the most surprising areas that have the potential to give a new twist to our lighting art are architectural lighting and event lighting. The searchlight has been a kind of light source without a good purpose since the end of the London Blitz in 1941.

Initially, the beams sweeping the sky to celebrate a movie premiere or the opening of yet another carpet showroom or used car lot, were actually salvaged ex-military searchlights – operated by some poor lighting technicians paying their way through college.

The automated – and now also color-changing – searchlights available from such companies as Sky-Tracker, Griven and SpaceCannon are worthy of consideration for large-scale outside production work.

While we may not always have an area as big as an Olympic stadium to light, John Rayment’s use of searchlights during the 2000 Sydney Olympic opening and closing ceremonies should not be overlooked in the general hype over that production.

His use of 48 7-kilowatt and 36 4-killowatt searchlights as color-changing washlights is something we should all file away as an interesting solution to a problem that may yet arise.

Architectural lighting is often dismissed as simply a few fixed floodlights on a building – perhaps with an occasional highlight on some obvious feature, like an archway, a portico or a spire. Until recently, in some situations that was indeed the case.

Two factors have combined to change that state of affairs. Adventurous event designers and producers have been using automated concert-style fittings to liven up buildings as part of such transitory events as festivals and public celebrations. Color, movement, gobos, projection and effects have been used to give familiar buildings a very different – and often dynamic – appearance.

While this may have been achievable for a couple of nights – generally only in mild weather and almost always with a technical crew on hand for maintenance – it was never intended for anything resembling permanent installations.

However, building owners, chambers of commerce and city authorities are often so impressed with the transformation that they want to keep at least a simplified version of the lighting in operation. Architectural lighting designers, many of them migrants from the performing arts, are having a lot of fun obliging them.

Enter the luminaire manufacturers, who now feel that they have color mixing down to the point where they can build a fixture with a level of reliability and robustness suitable for architectural applications.

Studio Due’s CityColor, a color-mixing floodlight, was soon followed by offerings of beam and flood lights from Griven, Martin, Clay Paky, HighEnd, Coemar and SpaceCannon, with no doubt many others to follow.

FLOODLIGHT OF ACTIVITY

The outcome of this flurry of activity on the architectural lighting front is that now there are a substantial number of wide-angle, color-mixing floodlights available for rent as well as purchase. The fact that most of these are rated between IP33 and 65 (dust-proof and waterproof and thus suitable for use as headlights on a midget submarine) can be a real bonus for outdoor production work, but that is not really the point.

These are wide-angle, 2.5 kW metal halide floodlights, suitable for scenic applications and area washes – but they have a DMX socket on them and CMY subtractive color-mixing capabilities.

That’s a very useful piece of gear to ponder the possibilities of. I’m just waiting to see how long it will be before someone equips a studio with a full top and bottom cyclorama wash – at 130 lb. plus and more than $4,000 per unit.