Don Holder's Lighting Design For Spider-Man

Photo Jacob Cohl

“From what Julie had envisioned and George was creating, I got the sense of a world that included very bright, bold, dynamic color, particularly in the backgrounds,” says Don Holder of his lighting for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. Holder won a Tony Award for the Taymor-directed The Lion King and also lit McKinley's Broadway debut, The Boy From Oz. “What we were building was a 3D comic book world.”

The hiatus period brought about certain changes to this vision. “The new creative team felt it needed to be warmer and more accessible," says Holder. "They wanted the foregrounds to be infused with color and texture, whereas Julie wanted them icy and edgy, and we moved toward a high-contrast HMI palette that lit all the actors and carved out the 3D space. I had to figure out how to get the foreground and background together without everything turning into mud.”

Lit like Japanese lanterns, the pop-up cityscapes helped unify the look. “These are lit with the Philips Color Kinetics ColorGraze striplights, the only units low-profile enough to fit in them,” Holder says. “And they had to be long-life and low- to no-maintenance, as they're impossible to get at. We were very fortunate that they worked out.”

There was also the matter of the space above the audience, where the aerial action transpires. “That was a huge challenge—how do you expand well beyond the fourth wall?” he says. “Julie wanted it to be circus, so on a certain level, she wanted you to see the wires. Now the show is no longer about illusion, as it had been before the hiatus; it's about this big event, and it's not meant to be hidden. I wanted the entire space to be activated in a sea of sources, not just two followspots following a guy around on a wire.”

Don Holder and the lighting team used the previsualized flying data from Fisher and some balloons to create key points for his lighting to follow the aerial parts of the show.

To do this, Holder obtained the previsualized flying data from Fisher…and some balloons. “We triangulated and created a series of key points along every flight path and by connecting the dots developed a series of light cues that could follow all the flyers everywhere in the theatre,” Holder says. “The rig has custom-built lighting positions around the theatre and uses gear facile enough to follow each flight path smoothly. We then bought some helium balloons from a party goods store and suspended them at all those key points, replicating all those flight paths with 50 balloons coming from the orchestra pit floor. We then focused every available light at every balloon position, and created a series of linked-together cues, after which we transitioned to moving sandbags, which allowed us to finesse the timing and other variables. It sounds incredibly complex, but it started with a ton of balloons all around the theatre.”

One of Holder's favorite moments in the show is the Act II song “If the World Should End,” which finds Peter and Mary Jane on a fire escape and was telecast on the Tony Awards. “All that is is a pinhole drop with lights shooting through it, and some slow scanning focused through the drop with some haze in the air. You get a sense of the cosmos swirling around them.”

Some of those lights come from a massive vertical lighting position, a goalpost of illumination, which is bolted to the back wall of the theatre with many quantities of different equipment, primarily to light the big surfaces. But here it's used to help generate a surge of emotion. Says Holder, “It's funny how the simplest moments tend to resonate with people.”

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