Moving light technology can be used to help create the most complex visuals; it can also convey the simplest childlike imagery. For the recent production of The Little Prince at the State Theatre in Austin, TX, lighting designer Richard Winkler and video designer Colin Lowery used High End Systems' Catalyst system to create the latter via a series of simple line drawings.
Based on the beloved childhood fable by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the production features a scene in which a character must draw various images — a sheep, a rose, etc. — which are illustrated in a book. “The script has little line drawings that one of the characters draws on a sketch pad in the show,” Lowery explains. “So we wanted to have it appear like the audience was seeing what he was drawing in real time. What the original stage directions say is to have an artist backstage with an overhead projector doing the drawings with grease pencils. But instead, we enlarged the drawings from the script so that they would be bigger, put them under the transparency sheet and a Wacom Tablet — a pressure-sensitive drawing pad that enables you to draw in Painter and Photoshop. I have a computer that's hooked up to the Wacom Tablet, so I plugged the video out of that computer into a deck so that anything that was happening on the computer screen was also being recorded on a tape.”
Lowery's son traced the artwork. “A complicated drawing would take three or four minutes and you have 30 seconds of onstage time in which you would see the drawing,” Lowery explains, “so we had to speed it up like crazy — in some cases 900%. The drawings were white on black, so we'd make changes with the background color, drawing speed, shape, and other parameters, and create a new movie. My programmer would just replace the file in Catalyst with the new file.”
Winkler credits the Catalyst for making this sequence work. “Catalyst allows phenomenal flexibility as long as you have a video content creator and a lighting programmer who are capable of making the content changes available to you in the theatre,” he says. “We had ideas and we changed and modified images within three minutes. Without Catalyst, any changes would typically be done out of the theatre, usually overnight, it would be costly, and you were never sure exactly what you were getting until the next day. By having Catalyst and Apple's Final Cut Pro software on-site, we could make the changes and load them into Catalyst immediately.”
Winkler's rig also included eight High End Systems Studio Spot® 575 and four Studio Color® 575 automated luminaires, controlled by a Flying Pig Systems Hog 500 console. The Little Prince, under the direction of Scott Kanoff, ran December 4-29.