Establishing a Process: Lighting Design PART 1

LIGHTING DESIGN PROCESS PART 1: Script to Plot

Smokey Joe's Cafe, Atlanta Lyric 2009 des. Bradley Bergeron

Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Atlanta Lyric 2009 lighting design by Bradley Bergeron

My first love as a designer was production lighting. I logged many hours working with extremely talented designers as an unknowing apprentice. I loved the work, but I never thought that I would ever have the desire to design on my own. There was something very gratifying about the process of putting it all together for the designer. It was always a puzzle filled with obstacles and complications. Working around equipment failures, infrastructure limitations, and physical obstacles gave me a very unique set of skills and experiences that I was able to take with me to ensure the optimization and success of my own designs. THE SCRIPT The design process starts with the script. Before you can have a meaningful interaction with the director, producers, and design team, it is critical that you become familiar with the world of the text. The writers words will define parameters that you must respect in order to be successful with your design. Typically at this stage I will just mark up the script OR make a preliminary cue list that outlines the moment within the script (usually by page number, line, etc) that each cue will occur. I will make additional notes about time of day, location, and timing. These notes will inform other variables such as color and pattern interactions with the light beams. Once I have established a set of basic requirements using one of these methods I know what my minimum viable components are. Next I need to have a better understanding of the performance space.

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Working cue list for Thoroughly Modern Millie designer Bradley Bergeron

THE VENUE AND THE PRODUCTION TEAM The venue will dictate my infrastructure elements such as power and data distribution, physical attachment locations, accessibility, and equipment inventory. The other designers will make use of the same physical dimensions of the space to create their own design contributions. The most critical design collaboration will involve the scenic design. The scenic design will set the other physical parameters that I am going to be concerned with to establish the locations of my lighting implements (based on my basic needs assessment).I will continue to collaborate with other designers. For example I will need to finalize color choices based on ideal interactions with the costumers work. This type of design is highly collaborative and there are many stakeholders and influencers that must remain happy. Make it through that minefield and hopefully you have something that is honest and serving to the story that the audience is able to enjoy.

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Rough Preliminary Plot for Thoroughly Modern Millie based on venue information

THE PLOT Armed with all of this information we can now formalize a design by creating a light plot. This shows how many of which type of light will be located where and controlled how. It is truly a lot of information and so much in fact that the plot is usually accompanied by support documents so that the exacting details can be accounted for. The plot certainly serves as a wiring schematic at the very least. In contemporary lighting design there is typically a high voltage power distribution (dimmable) and control data distribution for lighting fixtures that have control protocal. An LED fixture, for example, always has power running at “full” and intensity is managed by a data communication protocal that controls independent diodes using a micro controller that is built into the fixture. Words, words SCIENCE (and magic)… The bottom line is that this lighting plot is the key to the implementation of the design. It will factor in all of the appropriate parameters and ensure the success of the design if those parameters are obeyed. The plot is a build schematic for the implementation of an essential story telling component. At this stage it is import and that the designer establish color (gels in most cases) and pattern (gobos – see picture below). Congrats we are almost halfway there 🙂

Lighting Plot for BDF @ The Perelman (Kimmel Center)Philadelphia, PA designed and drafted by Bradley Bergeron

Partial Plot for BDF @ The Perelman (Kimmel Center) Philadelphia, PA designed and drafted by Bradley Bergeron

The science of color selection

The science of color selection

The Science behind a "gobo"

The Science behind a “gobo”

Stay tuned till next weeks entry for part 2 of the design process which will take us into the “hang and focus.” This is the first step of the implementation. Positioning the lighting fixture is only half the battle. After the light is positioned and appropriately powered, the designer must focus the light to satisfy the intended use. The designer uses the palate they have created to sculpt the space and breath life into the world of the show. This is a VERY broad overview of process and is by no means comprehensive, but it is intended to provide context for a specific design process/methodology that may otherwise be unknown or unfamiliar.

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