Not to make anyone jealous, but I am writing this article sitting next to a campfire in the mountains of North Carolina. The majesty of God’s handiwork is all around me. It’s early November and I’m going to experience the glory of fall tomorrow as I hike up Grandfather’s Mountain. My reading for today was Psalm 8:3 “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him”. God creates for us on a daily basis wondrous sights and effects. All you have to use for inspiration is God’s handiwork to create some awesome effects in your own productions.
You’ll notice from this photo that great effects do not always require complex setups, rather they are based on simple physical principles. Let’s take for example the rays of light breaking through the clouds. It starts with a light source that has parallel rays, then a filter/pattern is in front that; one blocks the light to produce a shadow, and two allows some rays to pass. The shadow area provides a backdrop for the rays to stand out against.
So as the title suggests; Keep It Simple S (I’ll let you fill in the last blank). The basis of creating an effect is to start out with the simple solution before you get too complicated. Imagine the effect you want to create and then break it down into the physical components.
The Ray effect: imagine clouds with brilliant shafts of light around and between them. What does that break down into? First, clouds to create shadows, second parallel rays of light. In a theatre the cloud can be a physical shape that is hanging over the stage. If you want it to look cloud-like, which means not a solid, there are two options. The simplest is to make the cloud out of say, 1/4” plywood, which I would paint and hang at an angle. In order to give it the illusion of transparency, light it from the front to make the painting show up. The second, more expensive solution would be to create a three dimensional shape out of fabric and fill material that would look cloud-like when back lit.
Now for the rays of light: enter parallel rays. What fixture produces parallel rays of light? If you said “Parcan” then you win the prize. A parcan uses a parabolic reflector which produces parallel light rays. Mount a par behind the cloud and adjust the front cloud light and the back light so that the cloud painting is visible and the rays stand out. If the rays are not quite as visible as you would like then one more element is needed.
Let’s go back to the picture and look at what God has used for this effect. I did not mention before that there’s also water vapor in the air. The water vapor gives the light a surface to reflect from. In our own setting, we just need to introduce some haze into the air and, voila we have rays. The water vapor, or haze can come from a commercial haze maker or even a humidifier, such as you would use to add steam to the room of a sick child. The size of the unit depends on the size of your space— experimentation is the key!
Let’s look at another lighting effect you may want to create: a virtual stained glass window. During your performance, you only need this window for the scenes in the church; the rest of the time the same wall is the house interior. So, you need to be able to make this come and go quickly. To make matters more interesting, you can’t fly anything in, and you don’t have space behind a physical window to backlight the window with a lighting fixture. You have to project this image. What is the simplest and least expensive alternative? The answer is a pattern projection from an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight.
The first step is to purchase a pattern (other terms are gobo, template, or cookie), in the shape of the window. Patterns are available from a number of companies and I have seen at least a half a dozen different stained glass window patterns. You can even buy two patterns and create a new window by sandwiching them into the holder. You can even modify the pattern to suit with a pair of scissors.
So, how do you get a multi-color image from one fixture? Well I’m glad you asked, because here we get to be simple instead of complex. Complex would be to get multiple fixtures, blackout different sections of the same pattern, and place different colors in up to four fixtures. Simple is to use a technique of cutting and taping gel together, called split gel. There is no rule that says that you have to only put one color of gel in a fixture. You can create wonderful effects by cutting a gel up into small pieces, or even using the scrap leftovers from a sheet when you cut it into full sized pieces. Anyone who has cut up enough sheets of gel for a show knows that there are always scraps leftover— keep’ em, they may come in handy one day.
Now, back to our stained glass. By cutting and taping the gel together, you can create a multi-color image with just one fixture. One thing to know when you tape the gel pieces together, you will find that since they are in front of the focal plane that the joints will blur and the colors will begin to mix. Lots of small cuts tend to blur into one color, so experiment to come up with the effect that works for you.
Another good use of “split gel” is in creating a ‘fire’ look. In order to get a really good effect, you will need to get a device that will spin a pattern. Get a stationary flame pattern and a radial line pattern that is spinning in a direction so that it appears to move upward. Counter-clockwise is usually the best direction. Then put a split gel in front and you will create a very realistic fire image that you can project using just one fixture.
The point is that you don’t need the latest in intelligent fixtures to create great effects. If you break down the fire image, the component parts can be found in an intelligent fixture, but at 10 times the cost, and you will have to install the patterns yourself since I have yet to see a fixture of that type come with a flame pattern as one of it’s standard patterns.
So set your imagination free and then break down the effect into simple components. Keep the K.I.S.S. principle in mind when you start to approach the project. The creation of an effect is the same as saving a soul; the best approach to someone is often simple. The more complex and detailed you get, the more confused the person that you are trying to save may become, so just kiss them.