lighting design/plot

Okay, hi. So I'm still in high school, and even though I have focused almost entirely on lighting, there isn't much design going on beyond getting the actors lit. However, I want to pursue lighting design. And the thespian conference is coming up this november. I want to enter or at least attempt a light design. But I haven't a clue as to how it should be laid out. I've seen the basic plots with the fixtures and the stage and everything, but I don't quite understand how to convey a design without having a physical example of the design. So if anyone could show me an example of a light design or just let me know if I'm even on the right track, I would really appreciate it.


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I don't have any suggestions...but that strikes me so much as what I was thinking two and a half years ago. There was no lighting design going on in my school. Then I came along. And now that I'm gone, I don't think that it'll ever happen again. Good luck!


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Won’t learn much about design by way of looking at a blue print. Each fixture is in it’s location for a unique artistic purpose due to the show it’s hung for and the specific theater it’s hung in during a real design. Some positions and uses theater to theater and show to show will be similar such as often say a (modified to the uniqueness of the theater) McCandless base to the design but beyond that the plot is of no more use than say a French door in a set design which would often be universal but also have different purposes. A 6x12 is a 6x12 and given a angle, and distance to focus area, you still get no useful information about it in making art due to shutter cuts and or soft verses hard edges which make up in part the paint brush the designer was using for that stroke of paint on canvass. (This given the exact same beam angle in focus location - height and location for the same acting area.) Can’t take one design and make it another design much less gain much useful info off just seeing a plot and use it for the same show given different location or even different production. This much less in any way even if you fully understand the show, understand what the plot by way of location of fixtures, patching, gel etc. on a plot will tell you. Just as you can’t take the set design or even scenery for Oklahoma and use it for Hello Dolly. Both are musicals and have lots of acting area for the large cast but both are also totally different even with gel choices. Or even take the set design for Oklahoma off say a Broadway production, than turn it into something useful for your stage, it’s art and should be unique each time - much less based upon what you theorize and are thinking. Can’t even re-produce an original Broadway production of the same show in the same theater and re-use the same gel or even fixture choices in all conditions given the same plot due to differences in directing styles much less fixture and lamp efficiencies.

About the only use looking at a plot would be in learning designing a show would be when accompanied with all production meeting notes, a very much familiarity with the space it was in and the gear used, thorough knowledge of the designer and director, a copy of the stage manager’s prompt book, designers story boards and or other design concepts for the look scene to scene and a thorough study cue to cue of what was called up in a scene, at what level and knowing what the focus was given each piece of gear. Such a thing would given you could get that much info about a show would be very difficult to study even for one scene much less for an entire show. Such a re-production and learning about the choices made in each scene for the length of the production would be about impossible to fully understand and learn from.

Lots of lighting plots posted on this forum in the past, even some photos of the show, limited to that show and of no more value (even harder to do) in study than taking a magazine add and figuring out the beam angles, lights, gel etc. necessary to re-produce it. Take say some Kohler plumbing fixture add in a magazine, figure out from the photo the set design and how it was lit - from what angles, what fixtures, what colors, what intensities and there is a plot. Sit in the audience of a show and capture as many scenes as you can in your memory in seeing the angles and what was done. Study a look you specifically thought good, how was it done. Better yet, work on the focus of lots of shows even where you are currently at, study what effect each fixture in hang and focus has in use on stage given a cue and it’s intensity. Learn the difference between a Leko and Fresnel even when overhead hung, learn what effect a tophat will have on both fixtures for a situation and study say at about a 80 degree angle to the stage deck 18 feet above the stage, what that beam will look like during the hang and focus. Remember what that say 6x12 will look like at that angle, what size of field verses beam angle it will have when in flood verses spot. Hang enough shows in experiencing the light, and say tricks in out of necessity cheating angles but supplementing that cheating with other stuff, and you start to get rational of the design intent.

Read lots of books on lighting design. If intent to do design, the more the better, study what you work with and make what the books for now teach you about concept and placement become reality to your mental picture of what a specific fixture, distance and angle will do for you. Why hard edge verses soft edge at times. Why flood verses spot? Why iris verses say top hat if any need at all? Why choose say a 2,000w HMI lamp over that of say 5,000w worth of halogen light? What could you get out of even a low pressure sodium vapor lamp you could not get out of gelling other lights to in theory get the same look? No not look, feel - and that’s where you get the art part of light.

Light plots, nice for a wall or portfolio after done and if well drafted, but after that, it’s one time only in use unless all other info about the past show including cues, intensities, focuses etc. are exactly the same.

Even if you were to design the same show at the same theater using the same cues, plot and even hang/focus people who remembered the last time it was hung, than asked hundreds of questions of how and why fixture to fixture in using the same plot as the last show, it still would not have the same art or feel to it - this even if all else the same in all ways. Just as each show changes year to year and night to night in detail, one cannot re-produce what is momentary even if all else about it the same.

Recommend that you study into what and why it is what you have. If you want further study, get the cue sheets and prompt book to a past show you worked along with it’s plot. You will gain much more information about design - good and bad by way of something in detail you experienced. Study the details in all parts of it for what worked in look and what did not. What part of a scene or acting area worked sufficiently by way of fixture and location, and what did not. Than study scene by scene what could have been done to more convey the image you will have liked to see. Start to draft up your own design for that show you are intimately familiar with in solving those problems. Study into what you have on hand and experienced.

Go to a church, even some office building or just a school classroom and note the effects of light by way of the sun and that which is provided hour to hour in seeing it. Sit under a tree and study the effects of the sunlight and street lights upon people around you. Note those you watch in location and angle. That effect of light you are attempting to convey be it in mental picture from other people's designs - what worked or not or from nature or architecture is the key to your library of images you both wish to convey and choose from in conveying at some future time where appropriate. The more you study as if photography student (another good source for design books) the more you have to draw upon for creating your own image.

Go to the books out there on design, learn the what and why, than begin to get concepts and ideas in designing what’s provided for case study and show design. Design a show realized or not for your space, than design it for the Thespian Confrence space you would like to be designing it for. Design as many shows as you can realized and not while studying beam angles, focus, and other choices. Really look at gel choices and see what they are doing in a scene, than keep that image in your mind for other productions. Experiment where possible with levels and gel and placement much less cue timing.

There will most likely be a lot you will be learning over the years as a perspective lighting designer in the science, mental image and art of it. No easy way to rush what will take time to understand. Just looking at a plot, the patch and gel choices of someone else is of limited value. In an absolute sense, it’s kind of like looking at the ingredients of a cereal box. Yep you know there is some form of fructose in there but what it’s really doing in making up that taste is lost in fully understanding. This much less in eating it morning to morning, at times you enjoy the taste and it hits the spot, at others it does not and you would prefer something else to eat. No Art in the Plot, that’s the graphic placement of fixtures and their purpose within a design intent. What in design you need is the design intent. Instead read something of Appia, Craig and or Jones amongst others. In writing - that’s design intent of much more value for making art than getting say a blue print to a say diner than by way of it making art on stage in re-producing such a layout exactly on your stage. Say if designing Bus Stop, yea, you could look at blue prints to diners and get some feel for how they are laid out, yet it will not be in any way by way of actual blue print to the diner to importance to the scene by way of where that kitchen door much less front door is in relation to the fourth wall audience or even if in the round where such things might be located.

A physical example of design is not in the blue print of what fixture was placed where in some theater somewhere for some show. That's not art, it's just a blue print. Art is in conveying an image, say photos of a moment, ideas in concept and lots of other work. Convey than your own ideas or wishes to the design - this before the plot. Once the image and concept is there, convert as it were this artistic intent to reality in realizing.

Study into lighting design books, very necessary at this point if starting in high school to look towards doing what is good in making what you see on a scene become reality. Study also that intent of making what you design in making art on stage become reality. This by way of photometrics, study, doing shows and seeing shows. From taking a Kohler add from a magazine and attempting to design the lighting for it by way of angle, distance, intensity and gel to choosing what's best at a specicific throw for lens type in look, it's also experience based in making happen what others have done. Than looking at what they have done, and learning from it.
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The Royal Renaissance Man
Where can I find information about this contest? I looked at the main page but didn't see it on any of the links, must have missed it. Any directions?
Wow, Ship, thanks. That was quite useful.

And Arez, I just checked the site, and apparently they don't have a lighting design IE, my director lied =P. But there is scenic, costume and publicity.


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Premium Member
apparently they don't have a lighting design IE, my director lied =P. But there is scenic, costume and publicity.
That's ok cause Scenic Design is so much cooler anyway ! < Ouch this is going to hurt > :rolleyes:


The Royal Renaissance Man
to each his own my friend, to each his own


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Learning light design is really something best learned working side by side with someone who knows his or her stuff.
But to get you started on your own a little, this is the exercise I use to start my students out...

Go to the Library and get a big book of art. Find one that isn't modern art or impressionist. Try Baroque or Renaissance styles of art. You want pictures that are pretty realistic but have lots of light and shadows. Now, sit down with a sketchpad and try to figure out how the lighting works in a painting. Do a top down ground plan sketch of the "stage" with locations of the subject of the painting outlined on it. One of the first things a designer does is divide the stage up into target areas for lighting. Do the same, which parts of the painting will need lighting? First just sketch some arrows to show where the light is coming from. Then try to decide which lights are fresnels and ellipsoidals. Pay close attention to the shadows... unless it's pitch black, there is light coming from another source how will you create that? The fun thing is you will find that the lighting in a painting often would be impossible in the natural world and extremely difficult on stage to duplicate. Start with some simple paintings of one or two people in a room of some sort. Work your way up to large-scale outdoor paintings of things like battles and people in the woods with lots of details. After you've got the hang of it a bit, crank up the difficulty. Pretend that the "set" of the painting is on your school stage... and now you are only hang lights where there are lighting positions. Once you’ve done that a little create a specific instrument inventory so you are forced to use a limited number of instruments. Finally, spend some time working on how you are going to wire these up. Give yourself limits to the number of dimmers you can use and figure out how you would circuit it. DON’T do it all at once take slow steps. I spread this process out over 2 weeks with my High School class, adding one element at a time so take it slow. Do it with a friend so you can discuss how it could be better or how it could be done differently.

A summary of the exercise:
1) Sketch a ground plan of the painting.
2) Divide the painting up into circular areas that need separate lighting, designers typically use circles about 10 feet in diameter.
3) Sketch arrows to show general direction of light sources
4) Replace arrows with real stage lights, make your own code of simple symbols like triangles and squares.
5) Once you’ve got the idea, set the painting on a real stage and use real lighting positions.
6) Use larger and more complicated paintings (more areas to light).
7) Limit the number of lighting instruments you can use.
8) Limit the number of dimmers you have to use.

Secondly, go volunteer at the local community theater. I don't know where you live, but I know that there is a person in your hometown who does lights for a community theater who would love an assistant. Call up the local theaters. Forget the big professional houses, they have union contracts and can't allow you to touch a light without getting in trouble. The small community theaters on the other hand have very little budget and live on volunteers. They will love you. Be respectful, hard working, and responsible and never act like you know everything. Even if it's something you know, say "I have an idea but I would like to know how you would do it?" You will learn a lot.

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