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LDI's 30th Anniversary

5Qs With Norman Coates, UNCSA

Head of lighting at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has been on the faculty for over 25 years, Norman Coates will chair LDI’s third annual Projection Mapping Summit. With technical and creative support from WorldStage, ShowSage/Dataton/Watchout, and Christie Digital, and a roster of digital media designers, this year’s two-day exploration of projection mapping promises to be challenging, and fun. Live Design gets an advance look in this casual chat with Coates.

1. Can you talk a little about your position as Director of Lighting, School of Design and Production at UNSCA, and a little about your background?

I’ve been at UNCSA since 1990 as the director of lighting. I started as a guest artist with the intent of returning to NYC where I had been designing for various regional theaters and working both on and off Broadway. One thing led to another and I stayed at the School of the Arts. The position includes teaching three levels of lighting design classes and working with students on projection design for theater and public art projects as independent studies. As director, I also advise student lighting and projection designers on their production work that includes four dance concerts, two operas, and eight dramas per year.

2. What will the Projection Mapping Summit cover at LDI2018?

In the morning of day one, the diverse panel of experienced projection designers and technicians will share their knowledge from pitching a design and grants to finishing the design on site. Included in this morning session are factors involved in the process to choose projectors, servers, staff, schedule, and how to manage expectations of clients and collaborators. In the afternoon on day one, attendees will divide into five teams and work with the designers on the creation of short projection project based on the 30th anniversary of LDI. Attendees will get hands-on experience in workflow, content asset management, codec, rendering, and mapping. The second day will be entirely devoted to creation of team videos and mapping it models of the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign. The end of day two will include a showing of each team’s creations and critiques of the work.

3. What is the best advice you ever got?

I think the best advice I ever got was something I later learned was a paraphrase of something Goethe said, “You cannot expect to develop good taste from what is of average quality. Get exposure very best.” This was in reference to research and inspiration for a project. It was a push from a teacher to extend and expand my knowledge base. What I’ve learned is that it’s a never-ending pattern of observation and growth.

4. And the worst…

The worst advice was from a production manager in Europe, in response to my trying to get the stagehands to be precise in their work I was told. “Norman, it doesn’t matter the audience. They don’t know what it should look like.” Of course, the art is in the details and being true to the intent of a design is critical. The audience will always be cheated visually and emotionally with every compromise. Interestingly, he was very particular about everything as it related to the food he was served at dinner. He never saw the correlation in the experience of the theater audience and his dining experience.

5. What do you tell your students to inspire them?

I don’t think I have a group of ideas or adages to inspire students. There are certain things I want students to consider when designing. One is design first and cut later. If you are editing your choices and inspirations early in the process, you’ll never get beyond the average. Another is that the design process is a little like swimming on a hot day. You need to dive in, immerse yourself no matter how shockingly cold the water may seem. But be sure to get out of the pool when you get cold or tired. Take a break and sit poolside. Once you’re hot, dive in again. I try to let students know that immersion in the work is great but the ideas and flashes that happen when you’re sitting by the pool are sometimes the best. Of course, I do everything I can to get students excited by all of the arts - painting, literature, music, architecture, and design. Its our world, and they should inhabit it all of it.

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