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Design Issues and Solutions First Step Beyond Stan McCan...

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by jmac, Jan 22, 2009.

  1. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    In need of advice for setting up a small limited asset community theatre run of Godspell, set entirely inside a subway car. Here's what we have to work with (should make most of you feel lucky, I think)-

    250 seats. Stage is 28' wide by about 17' deep. No fly space at all. Roof deck is only 11.5 feet above stage level, which is 2.5 feet above house floor.

    The one FOH position is pipe 10' in front of stage and the pipe is about 8' above stage, making for a shallow angle. Pipe runs full length of stage, but we can't use middle 5'-6' due to School's projector which has to remain concurrently. I recall a predecessor once using floor standing booms a couple rows into house at side walls (instead of the pipe), so that might be another possibility, but we lose a few seats.

    On stage there is one pipe 3' US from main curtain at 10 feet above stage. There is also a parallel I-beam about 4 feet US from that, that we have clamped on to in past.

    Further limitations: All equipment is rental, typically we end up with old Altman 360's at FOH and rusty fresnels on stage, all 500W. No permanent dimmers. Power is limited to 6, maybe 7 if lucky, 20A circuits, each with 4-channel dimmer pack. Basically have to figure about max. 24 instruments total, plus maybe a couple practicals. Max. number on FOH pipe is about 15. Leaves about 8 on stage.

    So far, being new at this, for prior shows I have used rudimentary McCandless method with 2 @ approx. 45 degrees L-R for 3 DS areas, and same for 2 US areas. Safe pale pink/blue/amber/lav colors. This typically left 2-4 FOH for specials. On stage fresnels were used to help US, pick up dark spots on scenery and a fill or two if any left over.

    I have not been able to think about different color washes, top/back/high side lighting at all, due to lack of instruments and experience.. It seems I need all or most of the lights just to get basic coverage for visibility. But I am now trying to step out a bit further if possible...

    Director for this show envisions "pools of light" here and there, as opposed to general full area coverage.

    So I would like to branch out at least a little from Stanley, and see if there is a way to do some color washing for the different moods, given the above restrictions. After reading alot here at CB, I have taken a small first step into "Gafftaper Land", and just picked up 5 four-year old, but supposedly never-used Apollo Smart Colors with power supply on e-bay, which, assuming they work, I would like to incorporate into this show and for example, use for the "red" scenes. (Aside- Any place to get used scroller cables?).

    From what I have read here and in books, it seems the common ways to accomplish this color wash/tone, etc. is with top, back and esp. high sides. Do I have enough lights to work with, and then enough head room, to do this effectively, or not?

    Alternatively, would it be feasible or better to use say about 5 straight-in pale FOH lights and have my scroller color washes coming in from the ends of FOH pipe or perhaps side booms? Or do those colors get washed out and rendered useless by the pale straight-ins??

    In short, given the limited positions, etc., can I somehow make effective use of the 5 scrollers, and if so, where/how best to use them?? I'd prefer not to put them back up on e-bay...

    Thanks, I look forward to your ideas!
     
  2. Esoteric

    Esoteric Well-Known Member

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    I prefer tops. But if you don't have the throw, which it sounds like you might not, backs are the best.

    For your first step away from Stan the man, I would recommend watching a rehearsal first and seeing where you need light and where you don't. Don't hang or focus lights where you don't need them. That is the first step from being a technician to being a lighting designer. Anyone can hang 100 lights and cover the entire stage for every contingency. It takes a real designer to hang what he needs and use most of his plot.

    Mike
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2009
  3. xander

    xander Well-Known Member

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    While Mike makes a valid point, there is also a strong argument made for lighting the whole stage, because if it is there, they will use it. They may not be using it when you watch rehearsal, but blocking will change all the way up until opening, and you don't want to tell a director that (s)he can't use that part of the stage because you haven't lit it. Because your resources are so limited definitely take it into account and maybe scale back on places that aren't used often.
    As far as your area lights, I would definitely suggest dropping down to a single front light and then use the other instruments to get in some back light. When you see it it will change your life. :-D Front light is important for seeing the actors' faces, but that's it; back/side light is where you bring life to the design.
    As far as your scrollers go--I have no idea what kind of show you are doing or what the set looks like so you have to decide if it is appropriate--but I am a big fan of doing template washes from box boom type positions. Hang a couple lights (however many you need to cover the stage) on both sides of the house and just wash the stage/set walls with some break up and whatever color you want for that scene. I love texture, and when resources are short, gobos are your best friend. They don't even need to be all exactly the same (if you don't have 4 of the same pattern) if you fuzz them a bit. It should be subtle enough that nobody is going to notice if they are the same, they just see texture.

    -Tim
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2009
  4. Esoteric

    Esoteric Well-Known Member

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    I have found that this constant changing of blocking is (in my personal experience) a community theater thing. Although blocking will sometimes change and you might have to retask a light during tech, usually the blocking the week before tech is the blocking at opening. But even i fyour director does suddenly decide to use an area, sometimes they will be happy with whatever light is there (after all there will be some sort of color or pattern or something there), and yes, sometimes you will have to retask a light for the scene. But this has happened to me all of twice outside of community theater (and both times the directors were community theater directors who were getting a shot at the big time). But again, your milage may vary.

    Mike
     
  5. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    Thanks for your reply. What is typical angle for back lights? I only have about 9' high to work with. Given our limited hang positions, it will probably be easier to get a somewhat uniform coverage from sides than back. From both your replies, it seems back is preferred to side (if you can't have both)?? What are the pros and cons of each? Is it preferred to have all of one vs. 1/2-baked of each?

    Rehearsals are just starting, but with the small stage, and given all ten actors are on stage for virtually the entire play, I'm sure all the stage area will be used, but with focus on certain area(s) for various scenes/numbers.
     
  6. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    Thanks for your reply. Again, to you, what angle is best for back light? I'm afraid with my low position, they would be too close to horizontal, and would be shining in audience's face??

    Have not used gobos yet. There must be a gobos primer somewhere here... Are you suggesting front lights in pale color and then the gobo washes coming in from the FOH side angles with darker gels to help set the mood? More important there, or on stage with back and/or sides? Where more advantageous to be able to have color changing with the scrollers, FOH or back/sides? Do old Altman 360's accept gobo holders, or would we need S4's? It would be typical to use the gobos for the entire show, if subtle? Any further help appreciated. Thanks, again.
     
  7. highschooltech

    highschooltech Active Member

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    For something like you're describing i would do Something like two sets of 6 lights coming from the front McCandless style (one set warm& one set cool). Then use scrollers on the backlight cause you don't wove enough channels to do side light. I would then use extra circuits for specials and gobo washes.

    To answer a question That you had 360 Qs will accept gobos leat a S4 would work better cause they are brighter. I would not use gobos in your main lights because they will decrease output and you may want a scene w/o a breakup in it.
     
  8. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    All Altman 360Qs have pattern slots. Most 360s do also, but not the oldest ones, which could be ordered with ONE of: framing shutters, iris, or pattern slot.
     
  9. Esoteric

    Esoteric Well-Known Member

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    Okay so this is a little complicated, but I will attempt to answer your questions.

    First off with a McCandless front wash (which in a thrust space if you add back light you now have 3 point lighting, but from what I remember you are in a proscenium) side light is a luxury. You already have two front lights offset at 45 degree angles, then all you are adding is an additional 45 degrees to make 90. It is nice if you have a specific use in mind for it, do you? But mostly it is a luxury.

    But as far as color washes you want something that will show up when your front light is on. The closer you get to your front light, the less of your color wash you will see (that is why you never color wash from FOH unless it is going to be used without the front light on). So the best approach is to take the opposite angle for a wash. In this case backs or tops.

    As far as ideal angle? The ideal angle would be 30-45 degrees vertical and directly behind.

    Whatever you choose, do it all the way. The hard part about being a designer (and what separates us from technicians) is that we have to make choices. Don't do things halfway pick one and use it.

    Mike
     
  10. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    Resurrecting a stale thread here, for further advice--

    Rehearsals are further along and I have a tentative scheme to throw out for reaction/suggestions. Remember, this is a low budget operation, and I'm still getting my feet wet. Looks like 90% of the action is DS. US minor/incidental use only.

    FOH- Double McCandless (L&R warm and cool) for DSC where most of the key action is. Single L&R for DSR & DSL (lavender, to hopefully go with either warm or cool). Two I-Cues (picked up used) for specials. I have three other positions, one of which will be a strobe. Other two in reserve for??

    1E- Four fresnels for US, two center and one each L&R.

    "2E"- Looks like I can get 3-4 positions here for backlighting DS, with the scrollers. Hopefully 3, but I might need 4 for for uniform coverage, because of low mounting height.

    Question- (I have 5 scrollers). Since most acting is DS, can I get by w/o US backlight, and just have 3-4 for DS? This would maybe free up two scrollers for US side lights which might help for the dance numbers?? Or best to go with 3 backs for DS and 2 for US, and leave trial with side lights for next show? Where best to take advantage of scrollers?

    Also note, the back lights w/ scrollers will be about 30-40 degrees up from vertical, with no masking. Is this ok?

    Aside from a couple odds & ends for lighting subway door and signs, etc., that's it.

    Welcome your feedback.
     
  11. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    An argument can be made that the farther upstage one goes, the more important backlight becomes, as its primary purpose is to "push" the talent away from the backing. Freeing up two scrollers for US sidelight only makes sense if the dance number happens entirely US.

    I don't know what you mean by "30-40 degrees up from vertical" but I prefer backlight to be 10-20° off vertical. The lower the angle of elevation, the less effective it becomes.

    All the above being said, each lighting situation is different, and equipment and/or mounting positions are always limited. Often, knowing where to make the best compromises defines the best designer. The first rule is that there are no rules.
     
  12. Esoteric

    Esoteric Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, that is very low backlight. Not that there is not a reason for it. But that is very low. However 10 degrees off vertical, I would almost consider a top light.

    You might also look at using some of your scrollers to light the scenery.

    Mike
     
  13. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    Derek- I misspoke. I meant to say for DS side lights, as the dance numbers are primarily DS.

    I'm not sure the correct way to state the back lighting angle, but I was meaning fixture aimed straight down (top light) to be 0 degrees, and tilting up (or off?) from there increases the angle, until 90 degrees would be pointing the fixture straight out horizontally to the audience. So 45 degrees is aimed equally up and out, and 30 degrees is more down than out. (Not sure that helps clarify)..

    In this case, because of available mounting positions, and to get at least some throw distance with our low height, I think I need to be closer to 30 degrees than 10 degrees.

    But, so I understand, what are the differences in purpose, or the pros/cons of back vs. top lighting?? If 10-20 degrees is most effective back light, is top light even more effective, or is it for a different purpose? I think Mike, you earlier mentioned you prefer top to back- why?

    I'm confused Mike, because in your earlier post you mentioned 30-45 degrees ideal for back light, but now agree it is very low...? Am I confused in how we are measuring the angles? Or are there cases where low backlight serves a purpose?

    If my possible backlight is too low, are sides a better option for the scrollers? As this is set in a subway car, there is no reason to have a sun/moon or night/day set up..

    Getting back to my original question, this play has no scenery changes, but alot of mood changes. Are backs or sides best for using the scrollers to help achieve?

    Sorry this is getting to be a bit rambling and disjointed here... I appreciate your continued help.
     
  14. Esoteric

    Esoteric Well-Known Member

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    Sorry jmac we seemed to have a miscommunication. I was thinking 30 degrees above horizontal (horizontal = pointing directly at the audience) when I said that was low back lighting. 45 degrees off of vertical (start by looking up and then go behind you 45 degrees) is also rather low. But I would consider anything from 10 degrees off of vertical up to vertical to be a top light. Ideally I like 30 degrees off of vertical for my back light, but anything up to 45 is acceptable (although for most stages is a very low backlight, hence why I do it from time to time, but not very often). And 30 degrees off of horizontal is VERY low (where I got the idea we were talking from horizontal and not vertical I don't know, I blame it on my bronchitis).

    So to clarify before moving on...
    From vertical:
    0-10 degrees: Top
    11-30 degrees: Typical backlight
    31-45 degrees: Acceptable as back light, not useful in most theaters, low backlight
    more than 45 degrees (30 degrees off of horizontal would be 60 degrees off of vertical): Very low backlight, except for effects almost always useless and unacceptable

    Now, moving right along....

    Yes, you will create more distance with a greater angle (because you have to physically move the light upstage to hit the same focus point).

    Back light will project a "halo" around the subject, but most of the "pop" is lost since the points of emphasis are on the back of the subject. There is no light on the front of the subject (face). Mixing can be very difficult (since replication of angles is more difficult), however creating cool mix effects is easier because you can use different angles. Mostly not good for scenery splash, and sometimes hard to use because lights can clip the scenery. It is more difficult to get a full stage wash because of angles and the fact that you basically turn it into top light the further you get upstage. However it can be more stark and harsh even than any other angle. It seperates the subject from the scenery. It is often easier to get cool beam architecture if you use haze.

    Top light will also give you a halo, although with more "pop" because the emphasis points are now the top of the head and the top of the shoulders. You can get a spooky face (since the light does spill on the face), of course you can also wash it away with front light. Mixing is VERY easy (think cyc lights, I once did a fesitval where we hung an RGB fresnel top and basically mixed to whatever color the guest designers wanted), but since the lights are all at the same angle, it is nearly impossible to have different washes up and not mix them (you have to use different units for this effect). You get great scenery splash (if that is what you are looking for) and you hardly ever have to worry about clipping. Full stage washes are very easy (although depending on your throw can take a lot of units) and even stage washes are childs play. It can be used to seperate the subject or to help pull everything together into a scene. The beam architecture takes a little more work orienting the gobo, and you can also end up with "coning".

    I prefer top because it is more flexable to me. I use both, but I prefer tops.

    In color changers (for plays) I usually go side, top, back, front. Musicals are different. Dance I always use them for sides.

    Don't think you are going to get even, smooth, quiet, or subtle color shifts out of scrollers. Scrollers are made to turn light off, switch color, turn light on. That being said, it depends on your production. You could use them effectively either way. Myself I usually go sides first (usually, I mean if you are doing Die Mommy Die, or Romeo and Juliet you might rethink it) because of the flexibility of sides. I can put saturate in them and make something moody, or I can put tint in the them and just help boost my actor light.

    Mike
     
  15. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    I, too, apologize, as I believe I added to the confusion. When speaking of lighting angles, one should always use the term angle of elevation, the angle above (or below) horizontal.

    (All angles are approximate, and vary by preference and venue.)
    Footlights as low as minus 60°
    Shin sidelights would be minus 10-20°
    Head highs would be 0°
    Balcony rail frontlight is often 20°
    FOH Cove/Beam/Catwalk Frontlights 30-60°
    Pipe end sdlt 45° to C.L.
    BAX 60-90°
    DNLT=90°
     
  16. bbess

    bbess Member

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    Hi! this is long, sorry ....
    Seems to be plenty of good technical advice so far. I would like to suggest a different approach, you seem to have access to some good toys, and a good general knowlege, so forget about lighting the "stage" for a minute and let's design. Go for a ride on a real subway. Bring a digital camera, or a notepad or both. Bring the director! Any good design starts with a little research and can be fun too. I live in NYC so I've had lots of opportunities to ride the Subway.

    How is the car lit? I've seen old style incandescant tube lights with fresnel like fluted covers, they were warm and sickly yellow, and shadowy. The current crop of nyc standards has a very green fluorescent, it shows the dirt and the scars and the blemishes of the cars and the people who ride. Newer cars have an icy blue tint to the indirect, high efficiency fluorescent. LED signage and message marquees are on display. there is always lots of flickering, strobing, chases and the light is changing all the time. When going from one power source to another, sometimes the light drops to only a bare minimum, sometimes emergencies come on. Stations and work lights flash by - each one a little different, sometimes the tunnels are all cobalt blue, sometimes yellow, red, sometimes the sunlight comes blasting through from some where above Sometime you see leaf patterns or grille patterns. Going across a bridge at sunset or early morning is like a 70's rock concert!

    So what does your base subway car look like for this production of Godspell?? Why did the director choose a subway car? Where's it going? Where along the ride are the important stops? Who gets on or off? Does it always go in one direction? Is the audience "in the car"? Is Jesus crucified at the end or does he hit the third rail? Oooh Sparks! Is John the Baptist a squeegee man?
    The play itself is wide open to creative thought, so you can have a field day with the lights. Anyway, my point is pretty clear, sorry about the length. Open your eyes and mind, study some real light (really look at it) and then figure out how your car is lit in the reality of the play and use your tools to build those looks.
    Once you know why you're lighting something a certain way, how you do it is only a distribution on equipment. Forget lighting methods for a while, beyond a certain visibility, you have hundreds of ways to create mood. Any angle, color intensity, is valid if you know the "why". Don't put up a "texture wash" unless it's "the light coming through the forth wall windows in a particular station, don't have a "yellow wash" unless there's track work being done. Go through this process to get to your design. Then pull out all your design weapons and help sell this play. You'll be brilliant! :grin::!:
     
  17. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    Thanks BBess, for the great advice and encouragement. Yes, my stronger engineer side needs to yield to the weaker creative side... Unfortunately, I won't be taking a subway ride anytime soon, but your descriptions were helpful.

    The director is putting a 911 spin on Godspell. The subway car is moving only at the beginning, actually before the prologue. It will make 3 stops, people get on and off, and we are working on some ideas such as tunnel and station lighting, changing signs, etc. After leaving the third stop, power is lost, and the car stops, and the chaos of 911 ensues. There is a depiction of the Twin towers falling, and then Jesus enters the car as a NYFD fireman... then off to the prologue and the rest of the story, more by the book. He would like some smoke for this entrance; any way to do this just with light??

    We discussed, but the director does not want realistic fluorescent, etc. car lighting. So for the bulk of the show, the car is stopped, in the middle of a tunnel, and I am struggling a bit to determine what should really be driving the lighting at this point. But I have yet to see a good run thru rehearsal yet, so hopefully something will shake loose here soon...

    Thanks, again to all, for your ideas and suggestions.
     
  18. jmac

    jmac Active Member

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    Thanks to Mike and Derek, for clarification on the various lighting angles. I should be ok, as long as I think standing horizontally on my right arm...!
     
  19. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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  20. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    What is the movie that was recently re-done about a hyjacking of a NYC subway car? Origional movie is a classic and great movie.

    Would start with watching that and or riding the subway. Where is the light coming from in gaining the feel for the setting. Are we moving in needing that chase effect? Where than added to that is the magic of the scene and "God" coming from as required to isolate and transform subway car to something special.

    At that point start designing your looks. Given rental inventory, don’t worry yet about fixtures yet, just get some concepts of your wishes and that of the director’s so far. Get some images and storyboards in the books first before realizing how to do it first. Than how do I do this effect takes place be it Broadway, McCandless or other - after the look and reality of the space gets compromized and or retrofitted for reality.

    Than comes up the question of how or what fixture be it nook light, hung from the grid and half working fluorescent tubes on a dimmer, LED cyc or what ever. Worked a lot early in my career in a 9'-1" ceiling studio theater that was like 14' wide - magic can be done though you have to consult than throw out the books both on optimum angle and typical fixture used. Yes, at times if they are next to a wall you can put light on them but perhaps not color balance them persay. Or perhaps when upstaging themselves, they need a designed shadow as highlighted or not.

    I typically used 3.5Q5 Altmans, Altman 100's (3" Fresnels), PAR 46 wide or medium, if not even RSC based architectural wash lights and other wide flood types in such short throws. 360Q that’s 4.5" perhaps with 6x9 for longer throws? 6" Fresnels for longer throws perhaps with the scrollers if cheaper than more fixtures and re-patching between scenes? Perhaps MR-16 or MR-11 strip lights lamped down to a lower wattage for fill - above and or below for a broad fill to which you spot from there?

    First is the scene and at times a slight change in blocking perhaps so as to find the light where optimum, but overall as I often said to designers: “First design the thing, don’t worry about how to do it yet. That’s my job.” Will become your job after the design and or with help our job to optimize what looks you design, but first is the design.

    Budget in choosing fixtures and available inventory of who you are renting from being limitations but pehaps a 3" Fresnel rents for cheaper than a 6" Fresnel. Enough pherhaps useful short throw but smaller fixtures for you and perhaps you even have budget for special fixtures and or more dimmers - this plus smaller fixtures require lower wattages so perhaps 1.2K dimmers but more channels will better suite you. Throw out what others in the past have used, this is your design, don't limit yourself to what others have used. Play with wattage of fixtures also, say if you need some specials lamp them say GLC but other washes with EHD or HX-400 in still getting your color temp. at full dimmer ouptput but controlling the overall intensity. Say if 6" Fresnel play with those options of either BTH or BTL as needed in balancing I would say as very useful against a 3" Fresnel with a 150w ETC lamp. Even for a fluorescent lamp, yes you can if magnetic ballest normally dim them on a stage dimmer to some percentage, you have choices from like 2,7K to 6,5K in color temperature. Play with color temperature as if gel or fighting the amber shift, and the dimming of them as both stage lighting effect - flicker effect and the nature of dimming a fluorescent lamp for it's usefulness in lighting your stage and or effect. Perhaps wire them indipendant so you can further dim banks or lamps without loosing overall coverage.

    No movers, a few stations to stop at - really gotta watch the movie but it's a great opportunity instead of easy tool to use - how would Rosenthal have done it in the days before movers? If help or hint to shoot for, perhaps think slide projector in stobing/chasing stage lighting between stops to make movement, than you get to the stop and the slide is slipped into place. Say a follow spot chopper cut as it were sideways in doors opening from the rear of the scenery as an image = doors opening, area behind lit etc. Overall as at least a concept in if you have seen a slide projector on speed advance to the next slide before, it has a sort of movement to it and comes to a fast stop when it gets to the station and or to the slide image searching for. Not saying that a slide projector as a special effects projector has never been used before in front of or behind the stage on stage or that it's a concept for movement I might think useful in a non-mover but idea to build from in moving the train.
     
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2009

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