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Lighting Design process

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by Dustincoc, Aug 28, 2007.

  1. Dustincoc

    Dustincoc Active Member

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    What process do you use when designing lighting for a show? I've done some "Design" work but never actually worked a design from the script all the way through to opening night. I'm designing a reader's theatre production of "I'm Peggy Guggenheim and you not" to open on sept. 21. I've been through all the textbook "methods" but am looking for some non-theoretical approaches.
     
  2. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    I feel like I have written an answer to this question for the forums before, but I can't find it...

    I suppose one might consider my methodology for design to be "textbook" in style, but it works. This is a good question too, as, for the most part we stay away from telling people how a show should look in favor of encouraging the creative process.

    To start any design, start with the script. Read it, then read it again and again. The first time you look at it enjoy it, and in the back of your mind think about the feelings and emotions that it evokes. As you go through the script subsequent times, look for any hints that the playwright gives you that can help with lighting such as time of day, location, time of year, period, etc. At this point I would start doing some preliminary visual research, mostly emotional response imagery. This will give you something to come to the table with for the first design meetings with the rest of the design team (director, scene designer, sound designer, etc.).

    I also do a basic script analysis before going into the first design meeting. This includes locating the themes of the play, coming up with a basic plot outline, exploring subtext or the connotations of the play, etc. You may also want to get some notes down on the characters, and how they interact with eachother. This is a way to see how your reading of the play aligns with what the playwright is trying to convey.

    The first design meeting should be the time to get the design team aligned to one vision and goal for the production. The meeting should hopefully be a time where all the members of the design team can voice their ideas, the themes they see, and what they feel the story is about. This hopefully will lead to a unified vision for the production. This may not be the same as the vision you had reading on your own, it may be a conglomeration of ideas rolled into one, or the director may say "this is how it is going to be."

    Once you know where the team is heading with the script you can mold your ideas to work into the show. Now that you know where the director wants to go with the show you can start doing more specific research. If it is a period piece you might start by looking for images from the period if it is abstract you might continue looking for images that show emotional response. Find images that show the quality of light you feel fits, the angles or harshness, the colors, etc.

    When you have figured out what the lighting needs to do for the show then you can start working out rough ideas for how you are going to bring those ideas to the stage. What is the motivational light source for each scene, what do you need to make it happen? Are you outside with the sun or moon shining, or are you under s streetlamp? Are you in a church with light streaming through stained glass? Once you figure out those things you can start setting up systems. Maybe you need a system of back light with crushed glass gobos to look like stained glass, or maybe pools of orange light from the streetlamps. I usually put in the systems that set mood and feeling first, and then work in the systems that you need to make sure the actors can be seen. At this stage through in everything that you think you might need, it is easier to cut back later than it is to add.

    After you get the scenery drawings you can start to lay out lighting areas and figure out what kind of equipment you need to light in the set. This is where you will probably start pruning out ideas so that you can fit into the inventory/budget of the people you are working for. You may also have to rework ideas to fit the equipment on hand. Then you can put it all down on a plot and hand it off to the ME, show up for focus, and then be off to your next gig.
     
  3. foeglass

    foeglass Member

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    icewolf has got a great system.

    It is not called a textbook approach to be sneered at--it is a text book approach because it works. Being from a small college program I have had to work through myself how to go about designing. So naturally i read books on the subject. All of them had similar themes--read for enjoyment- re read-create an analysis- get specifics- work the practical lighting out first--not practical as in interior lamps and so forth for basic washing for the stage.

    However I have found that walking into most shows i have ideas right away of what i want the show to look like. Generally i do not keep these ideas all the way through but get a sketch book or note pad and write it down. keep a sketchbook as a designer--I cannot stress the importance of this enough. It is amazing if you can keep it up.

    I am always interested to hear how lighting designers work through their designs so i am looking forward to reading other's process' as well.

    Good luck with your design.
     
  4. JD

    JD Well-Known Member

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    It is very hard to separate set design and lighting design. I have done design for theater, theatrical music, and rock. In many ways, you might ask the question "How do I write a book?" Lighting design is part science and part artwork. In theater design, you can chose to use light as your set (best example "Chicago") or, you can chose to augment the vision the set designer has. Often, what looks good on paper, does not work in practice, yet in most theater the equipment rental list needs to be put together before the designer ever gets to see what his work looks like. This is where experience comes into play. I agree with the above post in that you need to be able to visualize the whole play before you can decide on the first light. There are two schools of thought on this. One, if it is a production that has been done before, try to see what the production looked like. Two, Never entertain the idea of ever seeing what someone else did because you may simply or subconsciously copy it. I was once told that you need to apprentice at least 6 years with a good designer before you set out on your own. This may be true, but the real world may not afford you this option. If it is your first production, stick to the basics, then ask an experienced designer to review your vision. Good Luck.
     
  5. Dustincoc

    Dustincoc Active Member

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    You mention having too ways of the light and set interacting, the light as the set and the light augmenting the set. This a a readers theatre and I've heard the director wants to keep it exactly that, a readers theatre, i.e. no set and only very basic lighting. My teacher describes this as more of a cueing exercise than a lighting design.
     
  6. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    In this case, you are going to want to evoke as much emotion through lighting as you can. You are probably going to want to explore how you can use color and patterns, as well as how you can define spaces with light. In some ways this can be an even more creative process than lighting a show with a set.
     
  7. JD

    JD Well-Known Member

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    I would agree that this actually opens up the creative process! There are so many tricks you can play on the human eye with lighting. Example, in one scene, you may want to make the stage look very shallow. This can be done by using monochromatic or white lighting all from the same area, such as the front. With the help of a black backdrop (yes, black) lit in a deep blue from above, and an amber cast from the front on the actors, the stage depth appears to explode! The whole thing can be a lighting designer's dream!
     
  8. squirt4444

    squirt4444 Member

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    I'd like to add that you will also be weighing between imagery, transitions, and effects. When you come into a meeting you need to be very clear where you want to go and don't want to go. If you show imagery you need to make sure you aren't showing things that maybe look kinda cool but arent really practical because those images always seem to stand out to directors. I don't know why but they always love them. Some things you just cannot do onstage however you must be flexible while defending your creative voice.
     

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