September 23, 2010
I’m definitely one of those lighting designers that spends more time looking up than looking forward. It’s a potentially dangerous habit, yes, but I can’t help it. I don’t see spaces, I see lighting environments. I need to look up to figure out how my environment is lit, and to analyze how other designers’ minds work, so that I can file that visual information away for the next time I run into a similar design challenge.
Since I am of a theatrical background, I do this automatically whenever I walk into a theatre. I look up at the front-of-house positions, catwalks, box booms, and any other exposed lighting positions, and I generate a picture in my mind of how I imagine the show is going to look based on the number and positioning of the lighting instruments, the visible gels and accessories, and the presence of certain types of equipment. Experience tells me what to expect out of each lighting instrument: having focused thousands of theatrical instruments so far in my life, I can fairly well predict what will happen. What most excites me, though, is when something unexpected happens in a design; something that I can’t draw on experience to explain.
I was particularly excited one night this week, then, when I went to see the first preview of “A Life in the Theatre” starring Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight at the Schoenfeld Theatre (lighting design by Ken Posner), and was surprised, twice, by the lighting. It wasn’t only an effect in the show that surprised me, though; one of the effects caught my eye before the show even started!
The effect I noticed immediately when I sat down in the rear of the orchestra was the sparkling, but glaring, crystal chandeliers hanging from the underside of the balcony! They were nice to look at, but they were either lamped too bright or designed with too many open spaces between the crystals because the glare from the lamps was overwhelming the sparkle factor, causing them to become huge distractions in my field of vision as I tried to see the stage … hold the phone. Listen to me! I’m dissecting the architectural lighting design of the theatre!
I must be learning something in grad school after all!
I’ve started noticing more of the details in architectural lighting designs because I am quickly learning the terminology, theory, and technology behind how it all works. Take Wednesday’s Principles of Lighting class, for example. We spent the entirety of our three-hour class learning about incandescent lamps. I thought: how much more can there possibly be to know? Well, a lot, apparently. We learned about the physics and chemistry of the lamps, the reasons for the different shapes and sizes, and I finally learned the difference between standard incandescent and halogen lamps. I’ve been using halogen lamps my entire theatre career, but I never actually knew what made them unique! I love learning practical information!
It’s amazing how the new things I am learning are impacting my eye for design, too. For instance, the other effect I that surprised me in the theatre that night was all due to the color temperature of a light source. Before grad school I never would have made an observation about color temperature, but now I have a whole new vocabulary to discuss lighting in more accurate, technical, terms. Learning the physics behind lamp technology has also helped me to better understand how light and color work together, which is the only reason I noticed the effect that I did. I’m excited because I can now use that information to really make an impact with my designs. I can use the physics of light, in conjunction with the physiology of the eye and the brain, to create powerful lighting effects that operate on the viewer’s subconscious. It’s like being a lighting ninja! (Too far? Nah.)
Long story short: I’m learning a ton, and quickly too. So much so that I need to write down my thoughts all the time, because there’s just so much useful and interesting information flying at me. The blog helps a lot with that, so don’t expect me to give it up any time soon. I just wish I had more free time to write, because I could probably do a new post a day with everything that’s going on here. So, stay tuned, and thanks to everyone for all of the positive feedback so far; it definitely keeps me motivated!