As musician and lyricist Andrew Bird prepared to launch the “Break it Yourself” tour in support of his latest album, lighting designer Ryan Patrick Murphy was behind the scenes looking to create a new look for the show. To do so, he would have to develop a rig that could travel lightly but still pack the power he needed. His design would have to be creative yet minimal, and he found all of this working with Authorized Philips Vari-Lite Dealer ILC who provided him with 10 VL440 Spot luminaires.
“I have been working with Andrew Bird since 2007 and in the production meetings we work off a symbiotic relationship between the set designer Ian Schneller, Andrew and myself,” began Murphy. “On previous tours, we have used gramophone horns that work onstage as speakers, so for this tour I wanted to try and get away from that a little bit and deconstruct the horn idea. After several discussions, we came up with the idea to use what we called â€˜Aerocells' which are like twisted horns that look as if they are being taken apart or they are yet to be finished. These pieces along with a white cyc backdrop would be the only elements in the set design, so the lighting design was essential in creating the finished look and feel for the audience.”
Playing predominately theatre and club venues, Murphy next set out to find the ideal lighting fixtures that would help him create the vision that was in his mind; a vision of shadows and silhouettes.
Murphy continued, “My main goal for the lighting design is to incorporate the four â€˜Aerocells' and create a shadow-play. With the varying sizes of the venues, the shadows would make it easy to have the set pieces appear larger than life, so I started looking for a single-point fixture to make this happen. I couldn't really look at LED products because they are multiple-point sources and you get a lot of aliasing dependent upon how far away you are from the object you are trying to light so I needed the single point source to make this happen. As I was looking at all the various wash and hard-edge fixtures out there, ILC mentioned they had the new VL440 Spot luminaires so I went over to their shop and gave them a look.”
“When we first met with Ryan and discussed his upcoming tour, he needed to find a reliable, smaller fixture with great output, which not an easy find,” said Bob Moisan, ILC Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “As our senior account executive Matt Pearlman discussed the situation with him, we were able to identify the VL440 as a perfect solution, so we set up a demo and he loved the light instantly. Ryan is a great LD to work with as he is continuously looking for new ways to accomplish his visions and ILC was very happy to be able to deliver the best solution with our new VL440 Spot luminaires.”
Murphy agreed, “I had never actually worked with ILC before, but I have known them for many years though their work at Harpo Studios in Chicago. When I met with them about this tour and we talked about what was needed, they came back to me with a fantastic price with amazing gear and during the whole process they always seemed to bend-over backwards to help with whatever I needed. It was great working with them.”
As ILC provided Murphy with 10 VL440 Spot luminaires, he now had the fixtures he needed to bring his shadow-play design to life. And while he had never actually used the VL440 Spot before, he was very pleased with their performance and capabilities.
“They are a great looking fixture,” continued Murphy. “They are so small, but still powerful and the colors are fantastic. For this tour, fixture size was definitely a factor because my whole travel lighting rig is a floor package. I am using the existing house rigs and then incorporating my floor units into each show at all the venues. So I place four VL440 Spots downstage to create the shadows on the white cyc, and then four VL440 Spots upstage that sit against the white cyc to create silhouettes of the â€˜Aerocells'. Then we have two more VL440 Spots that sit mid-stage on 10' pipes so that I can create deeper angles of shadows and all this together makes a beautiful combination of shadows and silhouettes.”
But not only satisfied to create shadows and silhouettes, Murphy also wanted the lighting instruments to offer him the opportunity to incorporate some traditional lighting elements, such as gobo and frost effects. This was not an issue for the VL440 Spot luminaire.
“I don't like to be too literal with gobos on white backdrops because it's been seen and done and it doesn't really work for Andrew,” explained Murphy. “So what I do is have the frost rolled in along with a slow gobo roll and it looks like the background is morphing and gives it a sort of video look. The house technicians we have worked with along the tour have been very impressed with the VL440 Spot. When we played the Ryman Theatre in Nashville, the technicians were excited to see the new lights and they loved how compact they were and the physical design of the fixtures, but were blown away with their performance. They have a really flat field that is even throughout the whole zoom range and when I throw the frost in, it still looks great no matter what size I make the zoom. I have been very happy with the performance of the lights, especially with how they create the shadow-play because you have no drop-outs or dead spots in the beam field.”
In a smaller and more compact form factor, the VL440 Spot luminaire is complete with all of the optical quality and functionality designers have come to expect from Philips Vari-Lite. Using a 400-watt MSR Gold 400 MiniFastFit lamp, the VL440 Spot provides 9000 lumens of output with a zoom range from 15° to 35°, and a mechanical iris for continuous beam control. While its three-wheel CYM color assembly and eight standard colors on a fixed wheel offer limitless color options, the fixture also has one gobo wheel with seven rotatable and indexable positions and a second gobo wheel with ten fixed positions.
So as the “Break it Yourself” Tour continues to play across North America, and then heads off into Europe later in the year, Murphy is excited to continue working with the VL440 Spot. With its compact and smaller design, and its outstanding performance capabilities, Murphy is confident that the new fixture from Philips Vari-Lite will have a long life as one of the mainstays in the lighting industry.
Murphy concluded, “I think lighting designers around the world will absolutely embrace the VL440 Spot because they have everything that you love in a VARI*LITE luminaire; the color mixing, the gobos, the speed, but now it's all in a smaller size. I am a one-man crew on this tour and with them being so lightweight, it's extremely easy for one man to set them up. I have had zero issues with the VL440 Spots and this makes them the perfect light for me and this tour.”
As a leading designer and manufacturer of premiere automated lighting systems, Philips Vari-Lite provides equipment and services to the entertainment industry, serving such markets as concert touring, theatre, television, film, cruise lines, houses-of-worship, and corporate events. VARI*LITE automated lighting systems are available through a worldwide network of independent professional dealers. www.vari-lite.com