Craig Pierce is a lighting designer and teacher based in southern California. Pierce’s recent freelance design work includes Martina McBride's Joy of Christmas tour, the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade holiday decorations package, and the recent landscape and architectural lighting for Crossroads Church in Corona, CA. Pierce is resident lighting designer for Buffalo Nights, an award-winning theatre company in Los Angeles. He also teaches architectural lighting design at the Fashion Institute, Los Angeles, in the interiors department.
On the Joy of Christmas holiday concert tour, Pierce served both as lighting designer and director, going out on the road for the show’s 17-city four-week tour (stopping at 16 arenas and one theatre), November 26 through December 22, 2002. Pierce left Los Angeles November 9 to go to rehearsals in Nashville, where they rehearsed for two weeks and then went on the road, the first stop being Philadelphia and last in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Pierce’s tour lighting rig included 55 Martin Professional MAC 500s, three High End Systems Cyberlights, 60 PAR-64s with Morpheus M Faders, all DMX-controlled, an ETC Emphasis® lighting control system, two ETC Sensor® 72 racks, and a Wybron Autopilot2 system. Bandit Lites was the supplier of all the gear. The pre-programming in Los Angeles and Nashville programming was done in tandem with assistant LD Lisa D. Katz.
Following is Pierce's testimonial on the perfomance of the ETC Emphasis system.
I’ve got 10 years on ETC’s Expression-based consoles, so I had great comfort in turning to Emphasis for this tour, since it’s all Expression-based. I didn’t need to learn a new platform. I had played around a bit with WYSIWYG in the past and I was really interested in getting more familiar with it. So I picked it up for this gig and was really happy with it. I’m a big CAD user, so I found it a very familiar environment to work and learn in.
For years as a lighting designer I’d watch scenic designers transmit sketches to the directors and producers, and I’d have no way to quickly visually communicate any of my concepts to the team. Using Emphasis and WYSIWYG on the Martina McBride tour, I was able to effectively sketch out rough scenarios of lighting and say, "Here’s what I’m thinking of for a snowflake cue; here’s what I’m thinking of for church windows." Any questions could be answered early, and that was good because we went through as many as nine scenic revisions. I’ve done shows before where we’ve done that many revisions, but you always end up catching up as a lighting designer, and you maybe submit three light plots, with your third one being the final. But I was able to catch up every time and submit nine light plots for the show. Making edits in WYG was very easy; I could send off a transmittal of new paperwork, new plot, everything through e-mail. I would export to DXF, or if I needed to get down to a lowest common denominator, I would just print out an 8 1/2" x 11" copy, scan it into a jpeg, and e-mail that, so that they’d have an idea what the rig in the air would look like. With each iteration I would do two or three rendered, rough sketches to show to the director.
I also like the ability to toggle between 2D and 3D environments and see what the light fixtures are doing without having to get out a protractor: "That can’t be a 19º; that has to be a 26º." "Okay, done." "Oh, the MAC 500s--I can’t use the narrow lens, I have to use the wide lens. How much gobo coverage do I get with the wide lens?" Here you can shift back and forth--2D, 3D, 2D, 3D. It’s cool to be able to work that quickly. There are some CAD tools still missing in WYSIWYG, but the lighting tools make up for that in terms of speed. In standard CAD-land you don’t get to toggle between views that easily, nor do you get the kind of information and feedback you’re looking for as quickly.
I did my 3D model, put in focus points, and pre-cued my stuff in WYSIWYG Design. When we got to the theatre, I was pleasantly surprised with the accuracy with which all that pre-work translated to the real environment. When I threw my MAC 500s at Focus Point 1, they looked onstage just the way they looked on the monitor. I was pleased with the parameters of the moving lights and how they’re simulated in 3D, how well that translated into the real-life scenario. It really did look like I expected it to, and it saved a lot of time. I had to tweak my focus points very little. I didn’t have to wiggle all of the lights into Focus Position 1, then 2, and so on. It can take days of programming to get all of your focus points in, and we finalized over 60 focus points in half a day.
The biggest risk in a touring situation is that things will change. In a theater situation when you’re running a cue stack, you do the same thing night after night. In a touring situation people often decide they want to change songs or, in our instance, Martina would go into the house and interact with the audience members, which was really cool, but I needed to be able to grab banks of moving lights and follow her manually. Because of this point-and-click interface I was able to grab the lights I wanted to grab easily, visually, and then on the encoders just pan and tilt them to where I needed to move them. I never needed to know the fixture numbers I was grabbing. In any other sort of programming platform, be it the [non-Emphasis] Expression or the Flying Pig Systems Wholehog or whatever, I would have to key in Fixture 43 and 123 and 125 to grab them, but in Emphasis I was just going click, click, click, and they were automatically on the encoders, and I just started tilting and panning.
The best feature on Emphasis is the user interface. It’s so simple. I didn’t have an assistant on the road, so during my focus calls I found myself having to run back to the lightboard, then run up on the stage to direct the guys on the truss. I got tired of that. So I turned to one of the Watchout (a very cool video presentation system) operators, who also sat out front, and I said, "Could I ask you to help?" He said, "Well, I really don’t know how to use that," so I proposed, "Give me two minutes." And literally in about two minutes, showing him how to right-click and drag the pick box, and saying, "Select the PAR-64s," he was able to run the board for my focus call for the rest of the tour. The interface is so intuitive that if you’re computer savvy, you can sit down and after a few minutes start bringing up lights and manipulating fixtures.
I think there is still a ways to go with this product, but Emphasis is truly something new. Now in one system I have a design process, a rendering process (which for most of us virtually didn’t exist before), and a programming process, which are all completely integrated. This is a process that I think lighting designers have been looking for. The process has always been so disjointed. LDs often find themselves in difficult situations where they haven’t had the communicative tools they needed to design and produce and communicate and then ultimately program a show and keep the director in the loop at all times. Now you can do that.
I also think there is a line where you cross from having an Expression-level console being okay, to an area where you really want that "Emphasis," where you really want that click-click-click, speedy control. I think I could do a dozen moving lights on Expression 3 and I’d be pretty pleased. Beyond that, between a dozen and about 80 moving lights, I think you’re in Emphasis land. Above 80 and you’re in Hog land (then you do the WYSIWYG previsualization on a Hog, with your WYG-It dongle, and you go on that way).
At one stop of the tour, all I heard from one of the local house guys was, "Why aren’t you using a normal moving-lights console?" I’m out there adjusting focus points and whatnot, and he comes up behind me and he watches me for a little bit, he squints his eyes and moves a little closer, stands up straight and says, "Well, $#&@! Now it’s just gotten too easy!"