Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Or so the song goes--the same is not necessarily true for a lighting designer. Ask Darryl Palagi. For five years, the LD has been illuminating industrials for Herbalife International, ranging from small business meetings to massive distributor events in 20,000-seat arenas, featuring entertainers like Elton John. Last September, for the introduction of a new cosmetics line from the weight-loss and nutrition product company in New York, he was entrusted with the care and handling of 29 diamonds--faux, to be sure, but the challenges in illuminating them were quite real.
The launch of the Colour line was one of the nine or 10 major industrials Palagi is responsible for lighting every year; as LD for Herbalife's in-house production company, Van Nuys, CA-based Wesley Morris Entertainment Inc. (WME), he also "punches out" 10-15 smaller shows per year. In 1999, this schedule put the former roadie back on the road for six months. "And 2/3 of our work is overseas," he explains, adding, with a laugh, "it's like touring with a band for a year, without the luxury of having any logic to our schedule. We don't just go to Asia, do that region, and not return for another year; it's not uncommon to do Europe, Asia, and Canada, then return to Asia. We go where the business requires us to go. It's not record sales or a media frenzy that brings Herbalife to town--it's product sales and launches, and urgent business matters that require a meeting. We have to go to places when the distributors there are at a point where our arrival helps them sell what they're doing, so it's always a zigzag path."
A zigzag path led the LD to Herbalife. In the 60s, Palagi was a theatre major and an art student at a junior college in Sacramento, CA, who opted out of art school to join the happening club and music worlds in Los Angeles. "I gravitated toward lighting, which is much more kinetic than painting," he explains. "And I knew the difference between stage right and left, which was enough to get me going." As with many LDs, "one thing led to another," and after lighting performers like Frank Zappa and Tom Waits, he found himself designing looks for sitcoms, including The Golden Girls, ALF, and Boy Meets World. When the latter went through a staff shuffle in 1995, Palagi decided to go full-time with WME, where he had been freelancing.
"Wesley Morris needed somebody with TV experience, as the intensity of Herbalife's shows grew," Palagi recalls. "Our events are lit for live performance, but also IMAG, future telecast on the Herbalife Broadcasting Network, and sometimes live satellite broadcast. Some of the designers they had been using were not camera-comfortable. And I was very excited to get back into live events; there's a thing that happens when it's live, even with industrials."
For his event debut, Palagi says, "I lit the audience to look as good as the performers. Everyone was very impressed--but it didn't take too long for the budgets to fall back again," he laughs. More seriously, he says, "A lot of industrials lighting is kissed off; many clients don't need what we have to give them. That was a hard lesson for me to learn at Herbalife--I initially wanted to do big, heavy looks all the time, but that's not what they needed, so I backed off. But as they saw what I could do they developed a taste for more creativity." As this has happened he's found a comfortable groove within the company. "Our rivals in this industry do large-scale events, too, but I've never been with a company that tours like Herbalife does. Founder/president Mark Hughes does them year-round."
Which means Palagi does, too. To maintain as smooth a schedule as possible, Herbalife has other touring vets on its payroll, drawn from the entourages of performers like Bruce Springsteen and Prince. "Industrials are a real crossover business now, with people with lighting backgrounds in theatre, TV, and concerts doing them. It is very competitive, and when there is an opportunity to be creative, you have to do it really fast, and do it really well."
Such an opportunity presented itself with the Colour launch, held at the Hammerstein Ballroom at Manhattan Center Studios last September 11-12. Attracting capacity crowds of 2,200 attendees both days, it was not the biggest show on Palagi's plate last year, "but it was the most stressful. It all happened in a two-week period, and, given the schedule, it shouldn't have happened at all. But I worked closely with the WME production design team on what proved to be an amazing execution process, even by the fast-paced norms of industrials."
It started with a sketch, just one of the many the head of the Colour line needed to review as the launch drew close. "It was of a diamond-type shape, which she fell in love with. It had no real relation to cosmetics, but it suggested the stylish image the line is meant to project. She asked, 'Can they glow? Can their light be prismatic? Can they move?' Of course, you never say no."
Spontaneous inspirations are typical with industrials. "They're not planned as heavily as a Broadway show," Palagi says. But lighting the 29 diamonds the production department turned out, which ranged in size from 7' to 15' (2m to 5m), required some Broadway-style dexterity. "These were enclosed pieces that needed to change position on cue and stay lit for up to eight hours. Each had two layers of a Japan-made plastic product, which we called 'shower curtain,' on them--one layer inside, and the other outside. Each layer was laser-etched and we would get a prismatic effect with them, but from what light source? I tried everything--color changers, big lights, small lights. I was a week out on the production and I didn't have them lit."
LED technology seemed an answer, but the Borealis unit, which Los Angeles-based A-1 Audio and Lighting Productions offered, was more of a cyc light. Palagi then remembered a party he had attended six months before at Glendale, CA-based Production Lighting Systems, which had just become a Production Resource Group member. "There was a guy there with these little LED lights that changed colors--absolutely beautiful. It turned out that he was from Cleveland, OH-based ColorCorp, which distributes the Color Kinetics line from Boston. They made me a terrific deal--I couldn't possibly have paid the $75 apiece that was being asked for them, but they wanted the exposure."
ColorCorp, he says, "had to scramble around to get us 200 of them; they aren't a rental house." Given the deadline, only a few could be shipped for testing to LA. "Most were shipped on pallets, in boxes--not in road cases--to the event in Manhattan. We had diamonds coming in from one place and lights from another, and we had to assemble them on-site. Each of the large diamonds had 14-15 C-200 LED units within them that had to be rigged, and that, unfortunately, was on the day we loaded in. We put in three 24-hour days," he sighs.
But the diamonds set the tone for a glittering affair, with a motivational talk by Hughes, several dance numbers ("the first time I see the dance onstage is during the show, as there is no rehearsal time, and we may have only three or four hours total to program some looks in," says the LD), the product launch itself, explanations on how to use the Colour line, and live makeovers with models. "The Manhattan Center was fun because it's a darker house, which makes for a more theatrical environment," says Palagi. "But we can never just turn the lights out: The speakers need to maintain eye contact with the audience, and the audience needs to read or take notes. Brightness is another challenge--when the house lights come on big between presentations, they wash out the videoscreens and the stage, which always have to look their best."
At this event, Palagi relied on a trusted combination of High End Systems Studio Colors(R) and Light & Sound Design (LSD) Icons(R) to maintain a compelling palette, but lately his light plot has undergone a makeover of its own. "I'm a longtime Studio Color fan, but they don't have the power I need at long distances, so I mostly use them when I'm in close," he says. "My main supplier is LSD, which has been good to me. I love the Icon, and LSD services us all over the world. They do 50% of our work; the rest of the rental companies aren't where we often need them to be. But they don't handle Coemar."
The Italian company's CF 1200 is his latest attachment. Inspired as he is by the "more with less" approach of concert LDs like Steve Cohen, he decided to use the Coemar units, sourced from a "very cooperative" Obie Company, for Herbalife's 20th anniversary event. It was held February 18 at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. "It was fantastic. Some of my closest lighting positions were 60-70' (18-21m) away, and I had to have some really powerful light getting to the stage, as the set went all the way out into the room and into the ceiling, and there was no box truss and nothing conventional. I was getting 100fc at that distance. The CF 1200s do use a lot of power, and I don't want to have to rent generators to run them, but where I can use them, I will. Herbalife understands that it can save a lot of time, money, and energy if I can load up with enough of the right moving lights, which cuts focus and rigging times in half."
Lighting Dimensions spoke to Palagi as he was planning an Herbalife industrial in Japan. This year, the company plans to downplay the razzle-dazzle in coming shows, and leave the diamonds in storage. "It makes sense: You can burn out your audience with continuous Academy Award-type shows, so you strip it down fora while and concentrate on the message. And I don't have to travel as much," he says. "But even though the emphasis will be on simplicity, the opportunities to make a creative experience out of the new shows will still be there."
LIGHTING DESIGNER Darryl Palagi
PRODUCTION DESIGNER James Carhart
PRODUCTION DESIGN STAFF Britta Couris, Jody Wodrich
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (200) Color Kinetics C-200 LED units (38) High End Systems Studio Colors (20) LSD Icons (20) ETC Source Fours 36 degrees (46) PAR-64s (12) PAR-64s, 6-lamp bars (48) City Theatrical PAR-64 top hats (16) Wybron PAR-64 color changers (2) Lightning Strikes units (3) ETC 48x2.4k dimmer racks (36) Total Structures 10'x20"x20" truss sections (6) Total Structures 20"x20" cubes (20) Columbus McKinnon Lodestar one-ton motors (2) Reel EFX DF-50 hazers (1) LSD Icon Console for moving lights (1) Avolites Diamond II console for conventionals