My LDI: A personal view of LDI99


The first person my partners and I saw at Lighting Dimensions International 1999 was Luc LaFortune, the lighting designer for Cirque de Soleil. We had seen the wonderful Orlando Cirque show, La Nouba, the night before, so we went over to gush about the lighting. While we talked to Luc, a couple of guys with the last name of Juliat on their name tags said hello to Luc in French. Then a Japanese friend of Luc's came up and said hello and they started catching up on old times. Then Luc's friend turned and said something in Japanese to someone behind us. Spontaneously, a group of 20 Japanese that we hadn't seen before started applauding Luc. The three of us walked quietly away to let Luc bask in the adulation of his newfound acquaintances.

My partners, Chris Medvitz, Chris Wojcieszyn (Wojo), and I considered this to be an important LDI. Our lighting design division, Juice Creative, had just come into existence last year, so it was important that we present ourselves as three members of a new team to the lighting community.

I bring this up not to get in a free plug but to make what might just be the most important point in this article. If you're trying to move up, sideways, or into the lighting business, find a way to come to LDI. I've used LDI over the past decade to successfully market myself as a lighting programmer. This year, my partners and I were using it to make a marketing statement about where we are in the design world. I bring up this point because I see a lot of technicians and electricians wandering the LDI show floor year after year. And they continually fail to market themselves in the way they dress, the people they meet, and the way they carry themselves. Never are you going to find a single greater gathering of lighting employers at one time. I brought up the Luc story because you can run into very important and influential people at LDI. Use that fact to your advantage. Treat LDI as one long job interview, because people are watching. I know--I hired an assistant from a reacquaintance I made on the show floor.

But enough of the advice, let's get to the juicy stuff.

The first booth the three of us went to was High End Systems'. The mood and feeling of High End at LDI99 can be summed up in one image: The first thing we saw, first thing in the morning, on the first day of the show, was High End Systems' super salesman John Wiseman talking to a couple of Light & Sound Design (LSD) execs in what looked like a serious business meeting. People didn't just come to the High End booth to look. They came to buy.

End users who chose to put their money into High End gear in the 1990s were well rewarded. The Cyberlight(R) shows how a piece of well-made gear can last a long time in rental stock earning its company money. And High End continues to back its users. This year it's releasing retrofit kits for both the Cyber and the Studio Spot(TM). The Turbo(TM) Cyber kit lets you double the brightness and increase sharpness and clarity of the beam. The CYM retrofit kit lets you turn your existing Studio Spots into color-mixing fixtures. These kits let the industry know that High End will do what it can to extend the useful life of its products. The Studio Beam(TM) PC was made in response to users' requests (myself included) that High End make a 1,200W fixture. This responsiveness to its customer base created the feeling on the show floor that if you were in a position to buy fixtures you had to at least consider High End, if only for their longevity.

The three of us decided to go to the Martin booth next. First of all, I have to commend Martin on its very tasteful booth. In a show that can get a little heavy on the black duvetyn, the white scrim booth was a very welcome change. The "product" Martin imported into its booth was great to look at. And the light fixtures were great too.

To digress a moment, this was a year where there wasn't a clear "must have" product across a wide variety of markets. I can remember the LDIs where the ETC Source Four and the High End Studio Color(R) impacted the way business was done in the lighting world. This year was the year of the niche fixtures--fixtures that served a specific need very well.

And the first niche fixture you have to talk about is the Martin MiniMAC. This fixture deservedly won the Architectural Fixture award for 1999 at LDI. If you were designing for a club, retail space, restaurant, or any interior where you wanted to make a bold moving light statement, you had to look at the MiniMAC. With a list price of little more than a grand US, these lights are going to be everywhere. The asymmetrical product design is innovative, the size factor is right. The most universal comment I heard on the show floor was one of the highest compliments a lighting person can bestow on a new fixture: "I just want a few for my living room." People who were normally hostile to Martin products sounded congratulatory to Martin for creating a product that expands on our capabilities as an industry to provide fixtures in a niche that hadn't been possible before. I predict in two and a half years we'll be sick of seeing the MiniMAC because it'll be everywhere.

The other niche but potentially revolutionary fixture that must be talked about is the LSD Icon M. I could very well be wrong in calling it a niche fixture right now because the M, more than any recent technology advance since the introduction of the Vari*Lite(R) VL1(TM), has the potential to change the possibilities of lighting from this point on. I do call it a niche fixture for the moment because I would anticipate that initial production runs of the M will only go so far and that the initial rental price of the fixture would limit its use to the upper end of concerts, corporate production, television, and special events. But this is a guess, and I don't claim any special knowledge of LSD's strategic decisions, so we'll all have to wait and see what reality ends up being.

The more experience you've had putting together shows with automated lights, the more spectacular the Icon M demo was for you. For those of you who don't know, the M uses video technology to create the imagery that we now use steel and glass patterns to create. The M lets you not only project patterns but allows you to rotate, blur, add, subtract, decay, scale, andzoom any one of its 1,200+ onboard gobos. There are so many virtual patterns in the light that if you looked at each one of them for an average of three seconds, it would take over an hour to go through them all. You'll also be able to upload your own custom designs into the light.

The M delivered what I thought it would when it came to the effects. Usually when you read some material about a new lighting fixture that invokes the phrase "limitless possibilities" you can be sure that what you're reading was written by a marketing person with tendencies to hyperbole. In the M's case however, when it comes to the effects combinations on the gobos and the ongoing potential of the technology, "limitless possibilities" borders on an understatement.

What I found fascinating are the subtle things. During the demo, the crossfading from one gobo to the next was so effortless and natural that it was easy to miss. It was only then that I realized how gross and alarming live gobo changes are these days. When we roll from one gobo to the next now you see the whole wheel rotating in the beam. It's a huge move that calls great attention to itself whether you want it to or not. But we've long accepted that as a reality in automated fixtures. Even fixtures that bump gobos extremely fast, like the Vari*Lite VL2(TM), subconsciously relay that there's a very fast mechanism at work. With the M the gobo just fades in, just bumps in. The beam just becomes the next gobo without an apparent mechanism driving it.

But such "limitless possibilities" do not come without a price. The big handicap with the light now is that it puts out about 7,000 lumens. That puts the output of these first preproduction lights at about par with a Source Four ellipsoidal. The brain trust at Production Resource Group (PRG) seems calmly confident that they should be able to up that to about 9,000 lumens by the time they hit full stride on production next summer. That would put the output at about a 750W Source Four. The other limitation is that you currently have to use the Icon Console(TM) to drive the M.

It'll be fascinating to see how the M holds up on the concert stage. It seems as though a lot of shows are migrating to 1,200W fixtures that can output 15,000 to 22,000 lumens. Will the 9,000 lumen M be able to compete? But we lighting people are a resourceful lot. If there's an application that demands the use of the M, I'm sure we'll figure out how to build scenes around the limitations of the light.

The current issue within PRG is what to charge for rental on the light. The development cost of the M was very expensive and cannot be recouped in the next couple of years on rentals alone.

What I find fascinating to conjecture on is what version 3 of the M will end up being. I keep on thinking how primitive the Model 1 Vari*Lite looks these days. How will we perceive this first model M in four years? My personal prediction is that LSD will create a model 3 or model 4 fixture that will be available for the mass market and revolutionize the way business is done. Combine that with the inevitable capabilities of third party control systems to handle large amounts of data and we'll have some truly powerful tools available to us. The assassination of a little known duke in 1914 led to the conflagration of World War I. It's possible that the M we're seeing now is the Archduke Ferdinand of the lighting world. If certain technology advances fall LSD's way, the hardware used in the M could become the basis for all moving light technology in the next decade.

Arnold Serame is a principal lighting designer for Juice Creative, the lighting and event production division of George P. Johnson. He can be reached at [email protected]