Television lighting has come a long way from the days of using traditional conventional fixtures like 2K fresnels, ellipsoidal reflector spotlights, soft lights, cyc lights, and the numerous other types of incandescent fixtures. Since the beginning of television, these fixtures were the lifelines of the studio, and in many ways, they still are because of low maintenance, reasonable price, and ease of use.
Unfortunately, in a live studio environment, where time is of the essence, studio personnel are constantly challenged with the tasks of getting to fixtures, changing gels and gobos, and endless refocusing. Many times, we are on a set for hours, and we may have several shows that require several lighting changes. Typically, we end up double- and triple-hanging conventional fixtures in the same location, just to project different patterns or color. To accommodate dramatic turnarounds while giving each show a signature look, we needed to light the sets more efficiently. In short, we needed one fixture to carry out multiple tasks.
The answer was the integration of automated fixtures. QVC required fixtures to cut through the keylights and read on camera. The results were mixed. While some automated fixtures performed flawlessly, others were maintenance-intensive because they were never powered down due to the demands of 24-hour programming. Nonetheless, the benefits outweighed maintenance issues.
Once our initial needs were solved, we set our sights on increasing our flexibility with key and backlights. We wanted a fixture with the attributes of an automated arc fixture but with the lamp source of a conventional fixture (3200K). We chose Licht Technik motor yokes with Arri 2K fresnels for a keylight application and City Theatrical Auto Yokes with ETC Source Four Parnels to serve as backlights.
Unfortunately, we found disadvantages to using automated fixtures for television. “Large automated keylight fixtures that are dead-hung and stationary in a grid can sometimes become obtrusive,” says QVC lighting designer Jeff Norris. “Due to the precise positioning of lighting in a television setting, it's sometimes difficult to avoid questionable shadows or drastic angles from fixtures that are restricted to pan and tilt.”
We have now seen the introduction of a new hybrid of automated fixtures, merging the incandescent source of an ERS fixture with the features of a traditional automated light-fixtures such as the VARI*LITE® VL1000T, with finer optics and a zoom range of 19-36 degrees with a super zoom that ranges to 70 degrees, CMY color mixing, variable diffusion, rotating gobos, and a four-blade shutter system. VARI*LITE® also offers the VL1000TD, which includes an onboard dimmer that cancels out the noise a traditional dimmer would cause.
The ETC Source Four Revolution is another promising fixture. It comes with an internal dimmer. Rather than using dichroic color mixing, the Source Four has a cartridge-loading, 24-frame gel scroller mounted on the front. The trade off is the ability to mix colors on the fly, but if there's a particular color range a studio prefers, they can ensure they have it. There are four module bays available: iris, three-position static litho wheel (plus open), three-position rotating litho wheel (plus open), and a four-leaf shutter module. These modules are easily swappable, giving a configurable fixture to fit your needs in seconds.
Then, there's the static High End Systems ColorMerge™ and ColorCommand™ dichroic theatre line of products. The ColorMerge turns existing ETC Source Four ellipsoidal fixtures into smooth color-mixing lights, whereas the ColorCommand fixture is a color changing wash that replaces the use of a PAR. Both incorporate dichroic CMY color mixing systems, eliminating the use of traditional scrollers and providing a cost-effective approach.
Prior to tungsten-based automated fixtures, all of our automated lights only served as set enhancements and effects lights. Unfortunately, we were limited to fixture location, due to color temperature issues. For QVC, it's imperative that the source of the fixture is tungsten, producing a color temperature that remains consistent, at 3200K, for front lighting. With the majority of the automated fixtures reading close to 6000K, they can't take on the role of keylight on the set, no matter how much color correction is used.
“Even with color correction, it is very difficult to obtain true white on television,” says Nicki Gordon, QVC lighting designer. “With our non-tungsten sources, it is necessary to use highly-saturated ambers and give up transmission to compensate. With the combination of conventional and arc fixtures, you mainly get shades of blue,” Norris says.
The ability to change the function of a specific fixture provides more flexibility. Typically, when QVC is considering a fixture purchase, consideration is given to color mixing, color wheels, gobo wheels, zoom, iris, and shutters.
However, not only do these fixtures possess great attributes, but they also save money. Since they are continuously running, we change lamps on a strict schedule, every 10 weeks (approximately 1680 lamp hours). Even though QVC changes incandescent lamps every 12 weeks (about 300 lamp hours), we still have greater control with lamps that run off a dimmer. We also save because the fixtures are dimmer-controlled, resulting in less heat. New tungsten-based automated fixtures will become ideal instruments in the QVC inventory.
Thanks to all these technological improvements, we have access to a whole new set of possibilities — creative, technical, and financial. Sometimes it's not about having the most gobos, colors, or effects wheels, or even the most intense light; it's about having the correct light for your application.
Mike Kordel is a lighting engineer at the television network QVC.