Lighting Technology: A Guide for the Entertainment Industry. By Brian Fitt and Joe Thornley. Focal Press, 1997. 480 pp. Illustrations and tables. Softcover: $56.95. ISBN: 0-240-51449-1.
Have you ever wondered why 1 1/2" pipe is standardized in our industry? What would you call an ellipsoidal spotlight in England? The answers to these and many other fascinating questions can be found in Lighting Technology: A Guide for the Entertainment Industry, by Brian Fitt and Joe Thornley.
This text is a kind of second edition to 1991's Lighting by Design, with a title change that reflects the updated contents and new topics discussed. For those who are currently working professionally in the lighting industry, as well as students who are about to embark on a career in this constantly changing field, this book is a must. Although the text focuses mostly on television and film studios and their equipment, it covers just about all aspects of lighting in the entertainment industry. From reflector design to HVAC requirements in entertainment spaces, this book is thorough in its scope.
The text is laid out in a very orderly fashion. The first chapter begins with something that is primary, but sometimes forgotten or lost: lighting the actor. There are excellent photographs depicting backlight, frontlight, sidelight, key light, fill light, and so on, which clearly show the different effects of directional light on an actor. In fact, the photographs and diagrams throughout the book are superb for teachers, professionals, and students alike.
Each chapter of the book contains some historical information that applies to the material discussed in that chapter. I enjoyed these historical factoids, which precede the in-depth discussion of each chapter's topic, the most. As technicians and lighting designers, we know and use our lighting equipment well, but very often are unaware of why it evolved into the form which it is today. Sometimes the evolution grew in leaps and bounds, and other times it remained much the same, although the use may have changed. For instance, in England in 1807, Frederick Windsor ran gas pipe from his home to the walls of Saint James Park to run gas lights for the king's birthday celebration. He chose 1.5"-bore pipe to run the lines. Later, in 1817, when gas lighting over the whole stage was introduced in the London Lyceum, 1.5" pipe was used. When electricity came into use in theatres, these now-obsolete pipes were used to hang the theatre's new electric light fixtures. The book is full of small stories such as this, and they are fun to read.
Because the authors work primarily in England, some of the terminology is different from what's in use in the United States. For this reason the book is a very good resource for lighting professionals. The world is a much smaller place due to many technological advances, so an understanding of equipment from other countries is fast becoming essential. Learning all the different types of equipment and their names will humble even the most experienced technical readers; another good reason to own the book.
It is understandable that the authors have written much about the equipment and design of TV studios. Fitt was with the BBC for 33 years, and Thornley now works as a consulting engineer. The study of these areas, of course, is quite comprehensive. In the chapter on luminaires there is a good mix of TV, film, and theatrical fixtures. What's lacking are some of the most recent ellipsoidal improvements in reflector, lamp, and housing design in the United States. The units that are covered, however, are covered well, with excellent reflector and lens diagrams. I will find these diagrams particularly useful as a teaching aid. There is a separate chapter on automated lighting fixtures, although most attention is given to automated TV luminaires.
The chapter on light sources covers the entire range of lamp types extensively, with great attention and detail given to discharge sources, both historical and current. I learned a great deal about discharge ballasts in this chapter from both a design and a practical standpoint. There are heat, noise, and fan problems to be dealt with, and other technical considerations: for example, proximity placement of ballasts near the acting area in film shoots, or the high copper dust content when filming in the Arizona desert.
If you are interested in facility design there is a chapter that deals with these issues as well, covering safety requirements, grid structure, fly house construction, cyc height, power systems, structure loads, counterweight systems, luminaire specification, studio air conditioning factors, and acoustics. There is a separate chapter where the authors deal with floodlighting requirements for sports venues, stadium and arena luminaire types, power supplies, and proper lighting angles. It also looks at truss, chain motors, ground support systems, and touring safety issues.
There are other noteworthy resources within the book. These include color filter comparison tables, which cross-reference a variety of filter manufacturers. There is a glossary of terms and an alphabetical listing by country of voltage supply and frequencies all over the world. The appendix of lamp tables lists lamps in order of wattage and gives European LIF codes as well as American ANSI codes, besides other information including voltage, color temperature, lamp life, LCL, and base type. These tables include both incandescent and discharge lamps. The luminaire performance tables are general with no particular manufacturer mentioned. The formula and conversion tables deal with general measurement, thermodynamic temperature, illumination, Ohm's Law, and electrical energy. These tables are excellent resources.
As material covered in this book is fairly extensive and often in great depth, it might not be the ideal textbook for a lighting fundamentals course. However, if you are an educator and want the students in your program (even a traditional theatre-oriented program) to have exposure to other great entertainment technology out there, then this text could be incorporated nicely in the curriculum. There is some material covered, however, which would be appropriate for basic lighting classes, especially chapters on subject lighting, light sources, dimming, and luminaires.
What I would have loved to have seen included in this book would have been some comprehensive information on new fixture technology, including the latest in standard and automated fixtures by manufacturers such as ETC, Altman, High End Systems, Clay Paky, and Vari-Lite. From a control standpoint, some of these manufacturers have excellent lines of both theatrical and automated light consoles. It may be asking a lot of one book to include so much, but I think these additions would have found a happy home in this text.
Lighting Technology: A Guide for the Entertainment Industry will be a welcome addition to my classroom and personal library. Anyone in the lighting field will probably enjoy having this text as part of his or her toolbox of knowledge.
Steven Hempel is the electrics supervisor of the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.