… Less can be more.
… Creativity shouldn’t be driven by budget.
… True success is a product of collaboration.
… Bigger isn’t always better.
… Anything can be done, given enough time, resources and creativity.
… The greatest of these is creativity.
How many times have you picked up a trade magazine to read a feature story telling of spectacular effects, mammoth lighting packages, incredible video technology and unbelievable sound systems used to create a “State-of-the-art” installation or an “Academy Award” rivaling production? People of our industry are naturally drawn to these types of articles, and not just because we want to stay on top of “The latest and the greatest”. No, for us there is more magic in creating “behind the scene” than in watching the magician. We have an incurable curiosity of how things work. We want to know what was used, how effects were created and how dilemmas were resolved. Occasionally we may even project ourselves into the article, envisioning how we would apply the seemingly overabundance of equipment to our project or production, and all the while dreaming of the presumably endless budget that no doubt would come with it.
While dreams of coupling the perfect lighting package with the perfect lighting budget is a quick break from reality the real world holds a more sobering view. Every project, by intent, must live within a budget. At the same time every light in a design package is there to fulfill a specific purpose(s). Very few designers if any would concede to having everything they could ever want or (for some) ever need from both on any particular job. The challenge begins as designers pitch budget against purpose.
“The key here is to make the most of what you’ve got with the budget allotted.” I call this “Creative Lighting Design”. Realizing that in most cases it is easier said than done, it is my hope that the following thoughts and suggestions offer some ideas, encouragement and even inspiration to anyone struggling with “Creative Lighting Design”.
Everything starts somewhere and when it comes to “Creative Lighting Design” The best place to start is with the basics. Plain and simple, do your research. Get in the know as much as you can about as much as you can.
Know your gear:
Know what you have and the capabilities and limitations of each type. Know your objectives and what is necessary to accomplish them. Know where you can get additional gear if necessary and feasible.
Know your venue:
Know your hanging positions and their effectiveness. Know where you can add positions to accomplish lighting objectives. Know available circuit, dimming, data and power capabilities. Know the limitations of the room, such as windows, trim heights and potential obstructions.
Know the production:
Know the main objectives of the event. Know the expectations of the director and/or producer. Know your time frames; it’s better to spend your time on a few looks that work well through out the production than to have several great effects in an otherwise under lit show.
Every show we do begins with an analysis of these 3 areas and is followed up with supporting drawings, data paperwork, miscellaneous documentation and, when available, audio and/or video content from rehearsals. This all may seem remedial but as stated before you need to start with the basics. The more you know before you start the more ready you will be when the clock starts ticking.
MAXIMIZE COLOR WASH
Study after study has been done documenting how color affects our senses and emotions so there is no question that at least some color is necessary in most designs. A strong color wash can be very important for several aspects of worship lighting playing an integral part in association and retention of the message. However, if you find that you are limited in your over-all fixture count look to side-lighting. Side lighting with wash fixtures might even become your secret friend. For example: say you normally use (6) fixtures in amber from the front. The same objectives may be accomplished with (2) from the side, thus saving fixtures.
A bonus to this little tip is that color will typically read a little stronger owing to the fact that side positions are typically closer throw distances than front or back positions. Color from the side is also a little less flat looking and will cover the set, musicians & other stage pieces while being less of an issue on faces than color from the front.
SELL THE IDEA OF COLOR (The Power of Perception)
When it comes to production design, light is used to help people on the stage tell a story. When it comes to lighting design, color is used to help designers lighting the stage tell the story. Color can be symbolic such as red for anger, or used as a reference such as red, white and blue for Independence Day. Most often, though, it is used to create emotion or heighten the senses of the audience. But what happens when you don’t have enough resources to flood a stage with 3+ different colors throughout the event, much less a whole room? This is where the “power of perception” comes into play. By applying just a little color to the right surface in a few key areas you can create the perception and feel of the whole room being filled with that color. Area surfaces such as columns, side walls or podiums that will take light well are good examples. In this way you can “sell” the feeling or sense of color to the audience.
But what happens if you don’t have good surfaces in your venue to sell the idea of color? Another way of creating this perception is done by using the opposite technique in a sense. Instead of lighting a surface allow the audience to see a light source as part of the scenery or background. We recently completed a lighting consultation project in a worship center with a massive 6,000 sq ft back wall made completely of glass. Filling this room with color during daylight hours would be costly and barely effective at best. Also, the high levels of ambient light would render any possible light-able surfaces, weak.
The solution: We added multiple RGB LED units into the window mullions facing the audience. This allowed the congregation to see small points of color that weren’t overpowering or distracting, yet aided in creating looks, moods, and effects without using washes or projection; simply by giving the perception of color.
These examples worked, not because there was a budget to afford them. They would work even with a limited or no budget at all because one of two possible things happened. A few fixtures added color to specific areas that take light very well or they were added in places where you might not think to place them.
BUILD DIMENSION INTO YOUR DESIGN (Layer Lighting)
Probably the most common oversight of lighting design in worship centers is lack of dimension. All too often the lighted stage looks flat, un-pronounced and is missing definition. The correction to this oversight is achieved by using layers in your design. Now don’t panic, this does not necessarily require a large number of lighting fixtures; instead it is more about the placement of what you have.
When you begin with basic front light the stage is illuminated but in a very flat manner. People and set elements appear to be somewhat two dimensional. One of the most important layering effects to combat this is back-light. Back-light gives a subtle glow that rims the outer edges of objects and people helping to differentiate them from the background. Color may be added, just be sure to not overdo intensity or saturation.
The next important layering effect is texturing with patterns. Whether using a static gobo template from a conventional fixture or employing them from a moving light source, they are wonderful tools to help create the illusion of space between people and set. Templates can be especially effective in turning a flat 2D surface into a textured 3D object. This illusion not only helps separate people, it also adds depth to your background.
Another important layering effect is side-lighting. Casting light from the side forces the separation of front objects from the background without lighting the backdrop. This illuminates objects and people in such a way that front light and back light alone cannot. A variety of color can be added for effect and helps in creating mood.
MAKING THE MOST OUT OF SOFT-GOODS
At first glance, this section may have you thinking to yourself, “What do soft-goods have to do with lighting design?” Well, you may be surprised to find what you light can be as important as how you light it. Many times churches will have soft-goods such as cycloramas, chiffons, spandex sails, and spherical cones, etc. in their inventory or at least have easy access to them. Generally they are used with great effect in traditional ways. However, a little imagination and the right lighting is all you need to create totally different looks in untraditional ways. For instance, try giving a standard white cyc some fullness or try bunching it up at the lower center to create dramatic, angel-wing swags. This type of background takes on a very elegant look when lit with color streaks, washes and/or patterns.
ABOUT MOVING LIGHTS
They are considered a standard in the production world. Yet some church members may feel these lights are more representational of a flashy, rock ‘n’ roll genre that would not be fitting for use in a house of worship. Granted that was their initial application, but it’s becoming more common for churches to have at least a few moving lights on hand. The reality is, moving lights can be excellent lighting tools for everything from Sunday sermons to choral specials to pageants. The key is to use restraint when programming and not use all of their features in one service just because you can.
Moving wash lights are great for providing a colored backlight of the stage or choir area. These lights are positioned before the service and do not have to move at all for the duration. Colors can be used at various times throughout the service and can be programmed so that changes are very subtle or even unseen. Don’t be misled though. These fixtures are more than glorified conventionals. One moving light can replace multiple conventional fixtures by using the same light in different positions as needed throughout the service. To keep from seeing the light move between positions simply apply the douser.
Another advantage of the moving light is its increased ability to aid in layering. Wash lights do great things when positioned correctly in relation to backdrops. Adding texture creates a look of stone, rocks or grass to sets, risers, or stairs. Adjusting your beam shaping, color and intensity gives you awesome highlights on painted drops and other backgrounds. It’s much like painting with light.
The collective benefit of using the versatile moving light is that the same small compliment of fixtures is capable of serving a great many purposes. They establish mood for services, create washes for color, highlight items of significance, and texture surfaces for layering effects. The beautiful thing is all of these things can be done without seeing lights move, if so desired. Just keep in mind moving lights are tools used to create a specific outcome not just flash-and-trash toys. When applied appropriately most people find that movers are more than a non-essential extra. They might even be a necessity.
The Creative Lighting Design Believer
Lighting the perfect show can be a challenge especially when “pitching budget against purpose.” However, the next time you return to reality after dreaming about one those “no budget – endless supply” shows don’t get discouraged. Just believe:
Less can be more – Maximize your color wash with side lighting and get more color wash with fewer fixtures.
Creativity shouldn’t be driven by budget – Make the most of soft goods and other resources by using them in non-traditional applications to bring creative new results.
True success is a product of creativity – A successful lighting design is made by creatively adding back-light, texture and side-light to build dimension thereby eliminating the flat look of front light only.
Bigger isn’t always better – You can actually “sell the idea of color” throughout a room by applying it to the right surfaces in a few key areas, or by allowing the audience to see small points of it without distraction. Behold the power of perception!
Anything can be done given enough time, resources and creativity – DO YOUR RESEARCH! The more you know before-hand the more creative you can be with your time and your resources.
The greatest of these is creativity – The versatility of moving lights allows us to “paint with light” but it is ultimately our responsibility as designers to appropriately apply its multiple capabilities creatively.