"The sets were dramatically beautiful, and, in typical Roy Christopher fashion, broke all rules of show business," says LD Bob Dickinson, referring to the scenic design and designer for the 75th Academy Awards show, broadcast live from the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles on March 23, 2003. The biggest challenge in lighting the sets was a large cone made of sheer translucent fabric sitting center stage. "This might be the most difficult scenery I have ever lit," says Dickinson. With a base diameter of 3', the cone flared up to a 35' diameter at the top, with various scenic elements, including a large Oscar appearing inside the funnel.
"We had to address it like an aquarium and light it from the interior," says Dickinson, who used custom truss from Kish Rigging in Simi Valley, CA. The truss is the same shape as the top of the funnel, repeating the oval shape but a little smaller. A combination of Martin Professional MAC 2000 wash luminaires and Vari*Lite® VL1000™ Arc fixtures gave Dickinson the power and flexibility he needed. "The MAC 2000s did a lot of the show," he says. "They are very bright and have a very pleasing steel blue color temperature." The VL1000s provided an ellipsoidal hard-edge source with shutters for added control. "They were a very successful choice," says Dickinson.
"The sets were a nod to the heyday of Hollywood, with a streamlined Art Deco concept, but not a real reproduction," says Dickinson. "They had a current look, with very simple lines, so I kept the lighting very discrete, and not very showy except during the musical numbers." For the first hour and a half of the show, Dickinson used primarily shades of white with different textures and intensities to give the show a sophisticated look.
In deference to the actors and actresses onstage, however, he does "over-correct" the followspots. "Someone might appear with an olive complexion like Halle Berry or ruddy skin like Sean Connery," says Dickinson, who notes that film-style makeup has less red in the base and tends to look too sallow on television. He makes up for this by mixing Lee 223 (1/8 CT orange), Lee 205 (ND frost), and Rosco 05 (rose tint) to create glowing skin tones.
One important difference this year was the decision to balance the show at a cooler 5000K rather than the usual 3200K incandescent temperature used in the past. "The reason for this is that when color-corrected to 3200K, the video projections used onstage look too orange for the audience, and the projections lose intensity. At 5000K you can leave them as they are," explains Dickinson. "Also, at 5000K there is better color interpretation for television. Magenta really looks like magenta."
Another difference this year was that the Oscars had the distinction of being just the second awards show ever to be broadcast in HDTV (Dickinson also lit the Grammy Awards, the first HDTV awards show, earlier this year). The major consideration for HDTV is the closeup. "You have to be careful with the light angles, as imperfections in skin really show up in HDTV," notes Dickinson. Scenic elements also need to be perfect, as backgrounds stay in sharper focus for closeups. Dickinson lights the Oscars at a fairly low level, with keylight at just 40fc. "This level may be a bit dim for the live audience, but it's bright for the television viewers," Dickinson says, adding that in spite of a large rig, the lighting was fairly simplistic.
The rig included eight Vari*Lite VL2416s™, 20 VL5 Arcs™, 82 VL5s, 83 VL2402s™, 87 VL1000 Arcs, 86 VL6Cs™, 56 VL7s™, and 24 VL7Bs™, 80 MAC 2000 wash luminaires, over 200 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, 36 Source Four PARs, 36 Arri 650W fresnels, 48 Mole-Richardson 250W open-face Tweenies, five Strong 2kW long-throw Super Troupers, two Strong 2kW short-throw Super Troupers, 36 Kino Flo 4' tubes, 1000' of 1/4" rope light, and 36 pieces of broken neon. Control was via one Vari*Lite Virtuoso™ console and one ETC Obsession console. Other personnel included lighting directors Robert Barnhart and Andy O'Reilly, board operator Gilbert Samuelian, and gaffer Jerry Nashalenas.