As worship leaders prepared for the Christmas season, many were creating elaborate and beautifully designed productions that rival touring productions normally seen from the likes of a Broadway production house. When Prestonwood Baptist in Dallas, TX, began production meetings for their Christmas production “The Gift of Christmas”, lighting designer Matt Webb and lighting director James Maddux were faced with the challenge of creating a design that could complement large-scale LED video in a musical production that would include over 800 cues. To help them bring “The Gift of Christmas” to life, Webb and Maddux turned to Gemini Stage Lighting and 107 VARI*LITE luminaires from Philips Vari-Lite.
“We always do a Christmas show with a freelance lighting designer who can give their full attention to the production,” began Maddux, who serves as the staff lighting designer for the weekly worship services at Prestonwood Baptist. “When we started the production meetings for this show during the summer, the first thing that jumped out at us was that we had never had this amount of video, nor had we had such a large number of individual musical performances.”
“I grew up attending Prestonwood Baptist and started by doing smaller lighting designs for them while involved in the Student ministry,” said Webb. “Since then, I have been doing both lighting and video for television and corporate events, as well as worship services. When I spoke with Executive Producer/Worship Pastor Todd Bell, he was telling me about the integration of the LED video and since my background is also in video design, I asked if I could do both video and lighting for this production, and he brought me on.”
Since the set for “The Gift of Christmas” would mainly consist of the 8.5' x 60' LED Wall which would be used as virtual scenery, and since the production would also feature flying effects for both angels and a sleigh, the actual stage would have to expanded to include an orchestra pit for the musicians. This new challenge rounded out all the elements that would drive both the type and placement of automated luminaires which would be used during the show.
“With the LED wall being used to create the majority of our scenic elements, we could no longer fit all our musicians onstage along with our performers, so we had to build an orchestra pit which increased the lighting throw distances,” continued Maddux. “Matt would have to design his rig around the LED wall and the 36 separate videos that were created for the show. Since our house rig already consisted of 12 VL3000Q Spot, six VL3500Q Spot, and six VL3500 Wash fixtures, we knew that we wanted to bring in additional VARI*LITE luminaires to supplement the rig because of their power and color consistency.”
“With the addition of the orchestra pit, most of our front light would be a 100' throw, so we needed all the firepower we could get,” added Webb. “And since the show was developed around the musical performances that would change quickly with over 100 scenes that vary in both style and tempo, we had to have flexibility from our automated fixtures for our â€˜flash' factor. That is why I like using VARI*LITE fixtures. They provide it all.”
In the design, Webb and Maddux worked with Gemini Stage Lighting to use a total of 35 VL3500 Spot, 40 VL3000Q Spot, and 32 VL3500 Wash luminaires. The VL3500 Spot fixtures would be used primarily for front light, side light specials, and gobo patterns on the back cyclorama. Webb also used them as his primary light for both the primary performance areas and the smaller set pieces on stage because of their shuttering capabilities. The VL3000Q Spot luminaires would be used for their intense beams, color, and strobe effects from both back light and floor light placements to create the “wow” factor Webb sought during the more high-energy production numbers. And finally, Webb used the VL3500 Wash fixtures as his main wash light providing both great color and backlight effects. With only eight VL3500 Wash luminaires, he was able to light a 400-member choir.
“I knew that my biggest challenge would be achieving the perfect balance between the intensity and color of the LED Wall and that of the lighting rig,” said Webb. “In the lighting industry, VARI*LITE fixtures have both an unmatched brightness and the optics are the best for deep rich colors at all ranges. Plus, they have the best ability to easily color correct for video. I love using the VARI*LITE fixtures because they make it all truly come together.”
“We love the VARI*LITE optics, and their lumen output was definitely needed for this show,” added Maddux.
When the production concluded, Maddux and Webb were left with different points of excitement over the design, but both were agreed that it was a combination of efforts of Gemini Stage Lighting and the performance of the VARI*LITE luminaires that brought the lighting design together.
“Gemini and Philips Vari-Lite were both key to the success of the event, and I can't say enough about the Gemini electricians that handled the quick load-in flawlessly,” explained Maddux. “Another one of the things I enjoyed most about the production was that during our normal weekly worship services, we typically white-balance to 3200K. But on this production we were able to white-balance to the VARI*LITE open-white at 6000K. Colors just seem to read more true when you balance to moving light, and when you white-balance to a VARI*LITE white the colors read even better with a really fantastic, subtle color temperature that you would not normally see.”
“It was great to be able to work with Gemini on a large production because they have such a great crew and provide excellent service and support,” concluded Webb. “This was an 800-cue show and I loved having all the different effects and flexibility offered by VARI*LITE luminaires. Another interesting thing that happened was that this design did not originally have the VL3500 fixtures. We were planning to use another wash, but then three days before load-in, I got notification from Gemini that they had them in stock. We were thrilled because they are the brightest wash light out there and they really rounded out a great rig full of VARI*LITE luminaires.”