Lighting Design is indeed an art form, although it differs quite a bit from what one would see in an art gallery. An art gallery for the most part features two and three-dimensional pieces, created using tools that are visible to the eye. For example, a painter has a pallet of colors, brushes and a canvas. The sculptor works with materials and various tools to transform something into art. Lighting is similar in that a lighting designer works with tools to create a lighting look on a stage.
However, lighting design is different in one very crucial aspect: time. Michelangelo spent years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Lighting designers do not have that kind of luxury. A lighting designer’s art tends to be created over a few hours, and then it only lasts for a few short performances. Therefore a lighting designer must be able to have quick access to the tools at their disposal.
These tools consist partly of the lighting fixtures hung around a space, whether they light the platform or the congregation. A lighting designer may have only 12 fixtures on dimmers, or they could have a mixed rig of a few hundred fixtures on dimmers and a dozen or so multi-attribute fixtures.
What is a multi-attribute fixture, you ask? In the ever-expanding world of lighting fixtures it became important to create a new term: the multi-attribute fixture. A standard fixture has only one attribute that can be controlled from the lighting console, and that is intensity. Whether it is an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight or a fresnel, with standard fixtures you can only control the dimmer that the fixture is plugged into, by changing the intensity of the fixture from 0 to 100% from the console.
The next fixture type that expanded the use of the lighting console was the “intelligent” or “moving light” fixture. Since that time, a number of different fixture types have been introduced that offer more control from the console. From this, the term “multi-attribute” came about. A dimmer is a single attribute, while pan, tilt, color and so on define multiple attributes.
Let’s get back to the time issue. Once all of the fixtures are installed and the set is in place, the actual art of creating lighting looks can begin. Unfortunately everyone else wants time on the stage as well, so your design window can shrink quite a bit. The few hours a lighting designer has to create may have to be scheduled around dress-rehearsals and set-building.
Before creating, a lighting designer will have to prepare their tools. Just as a painter would need to obtain paints and brushes, a lighting designer needs to assign controls and channels. This is where the need for paperwork comes into effect. The faster you can find the channel that controls a specific fixture, the more time you have to create art, instead of fumbling around finding a channel. To keep everything straight, lighting designers often use light plots during this process.
There are three types of paperwork that you can make use of. The first is a graphical representation of the space drawn in scale, showing the hanging positions and fixtures. This is referred to as a light plot. The light plot is a plan view of the space that is often prepared to scale in a CAD drafting program. Some LDs choose to produce a more representational plot that is not necessarily to scale, but still works graphically. An example of this is shown on page 15.
The fixture symbols on both the drawn Light Plot and the example CAD drawing are generally the same, however on the drawn s plan there aren’t any walls drawn; only lines for the pipes. The CAD lighting plot for ‘One Mo Time” displays more detail. The theater walls, the set, and the title block are all displayed, plus all of the fixtures are drawn to scale.
One very important element of any plot is the Key. The Key helps other people interpret your plot by clearly indicating what each symbol represents. Even if you don’t have a template to help draw the fixtures onto your plot, you can use other symbols; for example X’s, O’s and boxes can be used to represent different fixtures, as long as you provide a Key.
The next type of paperwork is the various documentation which backs up the light plot and provides more information about each fixture. If you look at the CAD plot, the only information displayed about each fixture is the symbol and the unit number. The wattage, color, dimmer number and control channel are not displayed. All of this information is collected in a spreadsheet document so that it can be accessed in various reports if necessary. In large lighting systems it can be helpful to print out an Instrument Schedule, which is formatted by lighting position. The most commonly used format for an Instrument Schedule is called a Channel Hookup. This is the document you will end up using the most during programming.
The last type of paperwork is a combination of a Plot and Channel Hookup, and is called a Magic Sheet. The Magic Sheet is a graphical representation of the design. There really is not a specific way to create a Magic Sheet. Each designer creates a Magic Sheet using their own style. A Magic Sheet is a document that best represents an artist’s palette, and ideally, it frees them up to create their art.
The time spent on preparing good paperwork will always reap benefits when you are ready to start creating. Whether you use a lighting design program, paperwork software, or just paper and pencil it is always a good idea to prepare the proper paperwork so that you can spend more time on the reason you got into this insanely fun craft in the first place.