With the holiday season upon us, it’s normal to have visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads, but lighting designers are more likely to have visions of sparkling LEDs gift-wrapped in a variety of fixtures or even gadgets that allow them to be nomads. Four designers from around the country—Aron Altmark on the west coast, Jane Cox and Lenore Doxsee in New York, and Sean Savoie in St. Louis—let us in on the products they’d love to find under the tree or by the Menorah, or those that have been a blessing over the past year, to illuminate their dreams.
I’d love to get this new LED fixture that blends lighting and video in a really interesting way—the iPix DB1—for the holidays. This fixture, at first glance, looks like a really large LED tile or TV, with a single 1,920x1,080 HD video display as its face. Behind the video display, however, are 15 80W white LEDs that project nice, thick beams through the video panel and out into the air, illuminating the video being displayed on the HD panel. Effectively, this gets you two fixtures in one—an HD video surface, as well as a beam effect light—but when you combine the two effects, you can achieve something really special that I’m in love with.
Turning on the LED emitters while playing video content allows you to essentially project content into the air, creating volumetric graphics in the same way as many of the pixel-mapping style fixtures we’ve been seeing dominate the lighting space. Instead of a low-resolution pixel display, though, you’re casting beautiful beams of HD content. Mixing different forms of content and chases/effects with the LED engines allows further creativity and layering of visual effects. This can be done in simple or extremely complex ways. The fixture can be like a big wash light just by putting up a solid piece of colored content, since it will tint the white light coming from the LED engines. By combining generative video content with pixel-mapping the LED engines in the DB1, you could create an interactive volumetric display that envelops the viewer in the content. I think this is the kind of fixture that allows lighting and video to really mesh and intertwine to make some really amazing effects that make things, for lack of any other non-buzz-word, much more “immersive.”
The DB1 fixture has HDMI or SDI input for the video panel portion, with DMX control of the LED engines (dimmer for each emitter, global strobe, and global intensity), an integrated rigging frame and heat management system, and can be mounted a bunch of different ways. It’s also nice that the LED engines can come in a 3,000K or 4,000K color temperature to suit designer preference. I haven’t had the opportunity to use these on a show yet, but I attended a demo with Inner Circle Distribution, the US distributor of the product, and was extremely impressed with the fixture. I wouldn’t mind if a bunch of them showed up under the Chanukah shrub.
I’d like to have two fixtures, please: One that I get to use in my dreams, and one that I’ve actually used this year.
In my dreams, I’d like to find an Ayrton MagicBlade-R under my Christmas tree or maybe dozens of them. I don’t get to use light as architecture as often as I would like in my mostly theatrical career, but if I did, this would be the first thing I’d want to play with. I’d love to have these blades of LED light on stage. I’d love to use them as graphic lines of light that can sweep and dance through space, with continuous rotation on both the pan and tilt. How cool is that? I’d love to see how they could define and cut through space, in combination with softer lighting. I’d love to see how they could relate to the human body and to domestic architecture. They look elegant, assertive, and crisp, and I’d love to match them up with a more conventional theatrical palette. Each LED in the seven-light blade can be on or off, and in a different color, offering an extraordinary range of color possibilities that my four-year-old and I could enjoy equally. I was introduced to the idea of these by the brilliant Michael Maag, lighting supervisor at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, who is my go-to source for all things new in the lighting world. Ayrton is distributed by Morpheus Lights in the U.S.
In my more day-to-day design life, where I don’t get to light mega concerts, I’d be thrilled to get the new upgrade to the Rosco Miro cube, the Rosco Braq cube [designed by Black Tank]. The tunable, white Miro cube is one of my favorite lights of all time—and affectionately known by my associate Tess James as the Cox Box—because, from a tiny elegant black cube that almost any set designer is willing to put on stage, it delivers an incredibly bright light that can shift from a warm tungsten white to a cold arc light. It’s my light of choice for difficult spaces and for footlights. It happens to fit right in with the tiniest of front fill speakers, which helps when selling it to the creative team. The dimming and the color shifting are beautiful. You’d never know you were looking at an LED frontlight source. I’ve used it in the last two years to light, among other shows, Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican, Rebecca Hall in Machinal at the Roundabout Theatre Company, Pirates Of Penzance at Portland Opera, Ira Glass in Three Acts, and best of all, the Monica Bill Barnes dance company in a tiny studio space doing a show called Happy Hour, where three Miro cubes are the only lighting for the whole show. You can just plug them into the wall if you like, and three of these are bright enough to light the whole room. The Braq cube is an upgrade to the Miro cube, and it’s even brighter and better. I can’t wait to play with it soon.
What’s my new favorite lighting device? Hands down, it’s the ETCnomad 512 Output Kit with Gadget. These products have changed my life as a freelance designer. The ETCnomad software puts the power of the Eos console onto your laptop. The software is free, but in order to output DMX, it must be used with the dongle. The Gadget is the interface that connects your DMX devices to your USB port. I’ve recently designed two shows that have run off a laptop using the ETC Gadget.
The first was a dance piece that was performed in a museum. I used a GLP impression Spot One moving light as the only source. We borrowed an ETC Element board for the initial programming, but after the first day of tech, I programmed exclusively on the laptop using the Gadget. I am happy to report that the transition from the console to the computer was completely seamless. I opened the show file with the ETCnomad software, and I was immediately able to control the fixture. The show ran a looped sequence of approximately 100 cues for five hours per day for about eight weeks. The gallery staff was able to start the loop when they opened the museum each morning, and they would go to cue out at the end of the day. I never got a call that anything was amiss.
The ETCnomad was a lifesaver for me recently with a show touring in France. It is a dance piece with two movers, 18 LED fixtures, and about 120 conventional units. The show has a lot of effects in it. We request that the presenters provide an ETC Eos family board, since there is no time to reprogram all of this on a new board at each stop of the tour. One presenter was suddenly unable to get us a console, and we were scrambling to try to recreate our show file for the board they had available. Then I thought about ETCnomad. Since I have the one-universe version, the only challenge was to control all of the equipment through one universe. It all fit. I plugged into their DMX and immediately was able to start playing back our cues.
The keyboard shortcuts make programming easy, but at times, the virtual keyboard is a better option. Just like on an Eos family board, the user can easily create three different screen layouts and put many different tabs on each one to access the functions needed for her show. The Moving Light Controls tab has a virtual encoder for every attribute. The user can scroll through the available options or click on the attribute name to enter a value.
The ETC Gadget is truly transforming my world. With limited budgets and limited tech time, having the power of the full Eos console on my laptop is tremendous. For those of us who are working in downtown/low budget dance and theatre, the ETCnomad system is a game changer.
As I’m sure you’re aware, I try to be a good, little boy designer. I pay attention when others are talking, and I really try hard to make all my audiences happy. I play well with my fellow designers, and as often as I can, I share my toys. However, there’s always that special shiny new toy that all the good girl and boy designers would like under the tree. I adhere to concept and all the rules of design, but sometimes, you just want to do something that is cool and fun!
This year, I’d really like a Clay Paky A.leda B-Eye K20. All the cool kids are playing with these, Santa! Yes, my PARs and spotlights work just fine, but this light is just neat. I’ve seen it used in all kinds of concerts and even on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. I mean, if it’s good enough for Jimmy…
And in the spirit of Christmas, Santa, this new toy wouldn’t just be for me but for many other good girl and boy designers in my classes. You see, I teach at Washington University in St. Louis, and all my students would love a chance to create some amazing imagery and effects. It’s a beautiful wash light and an even better eye candy fixture with its amazing optics, and the best part: The front lens rotates! How cool is that? You can pixel-map across the face of the fixture in all sorts of combinations. What a great teaching tool! Sure, it’s been out for a while, but I just think this is one of the coolest effect fixtures out there.
Thanks for reading my letter, Santa. With a new toy like this, I can certainly make all your Christmas parties sparkle and shine in new ways!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,
Sean M. Savoie