Recently “retired” from his position as the founder of A.C.T Lighting, Bob Gordon is an esteemed industry veteran who has been in the biz for the better part of five decades. His skills as an inveterate salesman cannot be disputed, and he has been responsible for the success of many lighting products—including those from European companies such as Flying Pig Systems, MA Lighting, and Claypaky—in the American marketplace.
While Gordon may be gone from A.C.T, I’d swear on my grandMA that he’s not done with this business yet. Live Design chats with Gordon as he reflects on the past and transitions to an as-yet undefined future.
I started in the lighting business in the mid 1960s while in college, and I was always interested in the technology of lighting. I was a working lighting designer and left that to run a production company called TFA (later Electrotec) in December of 1982. After a few years managing accounts such as Rod Stewart, Queen, Yes, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Peter Gabriel, I left to become the sales manager of The Great American Market. I stayed there for three years and left to become the VP of sales & marketing for Wybron. After three years of that, I formed A.C. Lighting, Inc. with my partner David Leggett. I bought his shares out in 1999 and changed the company name to A.C.T Lighting, Inc. three years later.
2. What was lighting technology like when you first started out?
When I started out, theatres still had resistance dimming (piano boards), autotransformers, and early electronic dimming such as Thyratron and magnetic amplifier as well as the early SCR and Triac dimming. The piano boards and autotransformer systems combined control and dimming in one location while the electronic dimmers such Thyratron, Mag Amp, and SCR dimmers allowed you to remote the control and separate them from the actually dimmers. The lighting sources were primarily incandescent.
3. How did you develop a talent for picking the best products once you launched a company of your own?
As a lighting designer, I had a good feeling for what the important attributes were and what other lighting people would find important. Also, as technology advanced, I was lucky to surround myself with really smart people. Over the years, I got to launch and represent some products that changed the industry, including the Wybron Coloram scroller, the Flying Pig Systems' Wholehog, wysiwyg, MA Lighting’s grandMA, and Claypaky’s Sharpy.
4. What have the most major changes been in terms of technology?
Technology was relatively stagnant when I started in the 1960s. The most important advances came in the 1930s with the Strand Leko and in the 1960s with quartz lamps. In the late 1970s, lighting computers started as a way to manage cueing data allowing shows to get larger and more complex. The 1980s brought color changers and moving lights, which made the systems more flexible. The 1990s brought us CAD and visualization programs. Now, you could design a show and program it from the comfort of your laptop computer. Finally, light sources really changed with short-arc and LED lamps.
5. What’s next?
I don’t know what is next except that the software we use to design, program, and control lights will keep getting more powerful. I advise that people getting into technology today start from the ground floor and learn the art of lighting the space, and cueing the show. All of the new technology will make it easy to light in a perfectly horrible way. The art of color, design, contrast, and timing is more valuable than all of the technology available.