What's Trending: The LED Revolution

(Andrej Uspenski) TrioConcertDance at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theater, with lighting by Clifton Taylor using an all LED rig

Let’s face it: Stage lighting has gone through a huge change in the past decade. Once upon a time, candles gave way to gaslight, then gaslight to electricity, and new lamps came into being from tungsten and incandescent sources to MR16, arcs, quartz, and fluorescent…and now, of course, the LED. Designers were naysayers at first—"we’ll never use them; they’ll never be bright enough; the colors aren’t true"—but today most are singing a different tune, or at least tuning in some different colors. The newest topic in Live Design’s What’s Trending series is The LED Revolution, as we check in with designers to see how they feel about those ubiquitous little light emitting diodes now.

Kicking off this series is lighting designer Clifton Taylor, whose new book: Color and Light: Navigating color mixing in the midst of an LED Revolution, a Handbook for Lighting Designers (ISBN 978-1-935247-19-7) is available from the publisher or on Amazon. E-book edition will be available soon.

By Clifton Taylor

I’m writing this on a flight from New York to London to light the first show for the newly renovated Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House for Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo. The Linbury has been outfitted with an entirely LED rig, and while I’m excited to be working here with all of this new gear, I’m also struck by how quickly the LED revolution is progressing. Prior to the development of LED spot luminaires and ellipsoidal spotlights, I imagined that this change would happen over the next 10-20 years, but here we are, just a few years after the Series 2 Lustr ellipsoidal was introduced by ETC, and we are building first-class all-LED facilities.


TrioConcertDance at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theater, with lighting by Clifton Taylor using an all LED rig. Photo by Andrej Uspenski.

A few years ago, I wrote an article that said that we as lighting designers would not be able to control when this change happens, that the change, driven by so many convergent factors, is stronger than any desire we may have to slow it down. So, here we are: Public policy is beginning to be written in many jurisdictions around the world that outlaws the use of tungsten lighting equipment. As the demand for tungsten lamps will begin to wane, the adoption of LED equipment will be accelerated by the necessary closing of factories that can no longer be kept open making the specialized tungsten and arc lamps that we use in our current luminaires.

Is there anything wrong with this? I will not miss the problems of managing mechanical scrollers. I will not miss the difficulties of changing filters by hand all the time. And for the most part, I will not miss red-shift. I thought I would, but now having built many new shows without it, I actually don’t.

However, I will miss the beautiful full-spectrum tungsten luminaires that can render every paint or dye color with fidelity. I will miss knowing, and having the ease of being able to arrive at, the subtle differences between hundreds of different colored filters. And I will miss the idea of a show having a particular color look. I see more and more shows that have no particular point of view when it comes to color, and I miss that.


TrioConcertDance at the Royal Opera House Linbury Theater, with lighting by Clifton Taylor using an all LED rig. Photo by Andrej Uspenski.

LEDs are not only trending, they have won. In the beginning of the 20th century, when electricity began to take over from gaslight in people’s homes, electric lighting fixtures were shaped like gas lighting fixture shapes, though “retrofitted” with electric light bulbs. As the change progressed, however, the designers of electric lighting fixtures created new shapes and fixture types that no longer referenced the earlier gas lighting fixtures. The same is happening now with LED fixtures. Freed of the restrictions caused by housing a single very hot lamp inside of a fixture, firms are creating LED based fixtures with entirely new capabilities. Martin’s new Mac Allure Profile luminaire has separate control over each of the component color emitters, allowing the creation of new lighting effects out of a single luminaire. (Martin’s new fixed focus ellipsoidal spotlights are the ELP-CL and ELP-WW.) This trend will only continue with entirely new classes of fixtures on the horizon. March on progress, we’re ready for what’s new.

Linbury Theater Inventory

Intelligent units

Fixed-focus units

  • 20 Altman Spectra Cyc 200
  • 6 ARRI L7-C Fresnel
  • 90 ETC S4 Lustr Series 2

Complete with following lens tubes:

  • 5 x 5º
  • 25 x 19º (EDLT)
  • 30 x 26º (EDLT)
  • 30 x 36º (EDLT)
  • 30 x Fresnel lens

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