The older we get, the more we have seen. Or as lighting designer Jeff Ravitz puts it, he is lucky enough to have seen more than one revolution—at least in lighting. It seems that designers are rather flexible and willing to use the tools that appear in the toolbox as long as they serve the design and the art. So not only has Jeff embraced the LED and shared his solid-state thoughts with us in our ongoing series “What’s Trending: The LED Revolution,” but he also takes us on a little walk down memory lane in terms of gear he has confronted over the years. And guess what, he’s ready for whatever’s next!
By Jeff Ravitz
I’ve been lucky enough to have seen more than one revolution. My education began with tungsten Fresnels, R30 and A-lamp border lights with roundels, radial ellipsoidals, scoops, actual gelatin, Roscolene and Roscolar color wheels, and pie plate gobos…you get the picture. I saw the transition to quartz lamps, axial Lekos, high-temp gel, semaphore—and then scroller—color changers. And, of course, the automated lighting fixture, with every function and effect built in.
It used to be that the only way to incorporate variety to a show—color changing, textures, and changes of sharpness or softness—was to hang duplicate fixtures that were gelled in all the alternative choices of colors, or loaded with different gobos, or focused to varying degrees of sharpness. It meant lots of additional lights, dimmers, cable, and power consumption. The automated light moved that issue in the right direction. Now, every light in the system could be the same color or gobo, or could be programmed in infinite combinations. True, these robot luminaires had lots of moving parts and mechanical things to break, and an expensive, hot, power-hungry lamp whose color and life began degrading the minute it was ignited into service. But the leap forward to our industry and art form was significant. Entertainment lighting would never be the same, and after decades of only slightly better than flat-line developments, the industry had experienced a move straight up.
Now, the cry for increased innovation was louder, and the craving to solve problems became more urgent than ever. So what about those lamps? The LED source offered a solution and had the potential to improve upon a myriad of limitations. It came from the industrial and automotive worlds, where the precision and consistency of LED color had looser tolerances. Those sectors appreciated the much longer lamp life and remarkably high lumen to watt ratio. As the theatrical and architectural industries became curious and began experimenting with LEDs to replace more conventional sources, the new technology’s shortcomings came front and center, and it was clear that creating standards and delivering on them had two very different time lines. But the potential was obvious and the industry, smelling the financial rewards and seeing the future writing on the wall, plunged in, full steam ahead.
As end users, we designers and specifiers were as much a part of the march forward as the engineers, scientists, and manufacturers. If this emerging tool had any chance to succeed, it had to be used. And it was. Thankfully, enough of us took chances. We lit buildings, scenery, and even…the talent. We made it eye candy, outlined sets and stretch limousine interiors, illuminated lobbies, bathrooms and pathways. We endured bad binning, horrific multiple shadows, and wildly inconsistent color. And we stumbled our way into additive color mixing. We had been taught that by adding red, green, and blue, the result was white. Well, not really! That’s why nature gave us ROYGBIV. But the point is, we willingly strapped ourselves into Spaceship LED, with the hope, faith, and absolute certainty that it was skyrocketing us to a better place. We gave feedback, we put the manufacturers' feet to the fire, and sometimes, we cried. But we were part of what is today an accepted new standard. And it’s only getting better.
Personally, I’ve always been excited by advancements in technology. Today I am sitting on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. There is no window shade. The glass darkens via a digital touch switch. I love it. And I love what LEDs have given us. Who can argue with the beauty of having one compact fixture that can mix—digitally and with no moving parts—a veritable bounty of actually usable colors. Who can quibble with an entire lighting system that requires a fraction of the power needed to drive a rig of the past? Who doesn’t love LED tape, color-changing track lights, and wash fixtures that can be their own, stand-alone light show, despite requiring an entire universe for one light! We suffered and endured the growing pains because that is what we do. Our art form doesn’t get to be art without the technology behind it. We have limitations we don’t even know are limitations until one of the geniuses amongst us leapfrogs right over something that was bugging us all along. Wireless control, lights that talk to each other and to us, battery-operated, lighter, smaller, faster, digital, less moving parts, cheaper (Now I’ve gone too far?!!) What next? Bring it on…please! Vive la Révolution!