What type of equipment will the lighting designer of the future be using? Will it be something as complex as running the lighting cues of a Broadway show from a Palm Pilot on a beach in Maui? Or as simple as comfortable chairs and tables? With our time machine temporarily out for repairs, ED recently invited a distinguished group of lighting designers to discuss with us their deepest desires and thoughts about the kinds of tools they'd like to see in the coming years. Twenty of these designers from all over the world, and from a variety of disciplines, accepted our challenge. They include: Chris Akerlind, Steve Brill (Lighting Design Group), Jason Cooper (Lighting Design Alliance), Michael Finney (Michael Finney Lighting), Rick Fisher, Brian Gale (Walt Disney Imagineering), Thomas Hase, Nigel Levings, Peter Maradudin (Light and Truth), John Martin (Light and Truth), John McKernon (Lightwright), Chris Parry (Axiom Lighting), Rui Rita, Tom Ruzika (Ruzika Lighting Design), Norm Schwab (Lightswitch), Mark Stanley, Marsha Stern (Marsha Stern Lighting Design), Clifton Taylor (Design Curve), Donald Thomas, and Hugh Vanstone. Pull up a chair, grab some coffee and join us as we take advantage of this unique opportunity to pick the brains of some of the top designers in the lighting industry.
ED: We'd like to start by asking everyone what types of products that are not currently available would they like to have today? Fixtures and sources, maybe?
Steve Brill: More innovations like the Source Four, I think. Fixtures that are more efficient, smaller, cheaper, and better. And lamps, too.
Rui Rita: I frequently find the need for a compact ellipsoidal with the efficiency of a Source Four in the space of an Altman 3.5.
Thomas Hase: A zoom profile spot unit that bridges the gap between a 2,500W HMI and a Source Four would also be great.
Rick Fisher: What about a flood that can work in a complementary way with the various moving lights in terms of color? Movement is not necessary. I often need to light drops and BP screens in ever diminishing spaces, while competing with brighter automated lights onstage. Current architectural floods are close but not reliable and discreet enough for theatrical use. I would also like to have a more flesh-friendly lamp/source. Existing sources can still be too ugly for drama !
Chris Akerlind: Is it possible to achieve HMI intensity out of a point source held in an actor's hand? All the motion in high-tech lighting makes me yearn for the opposite: intense but static effects.
Tom Ruzika: The only thing I'm still looking for is a long-life, small, high-intensity and very reliable exterior framing projector. Give me that and I'll be happy forever.
ED: Many of you mentioned the need for further progress in moving lights and projection fixtures. Would you share some requests?
Marsha Stern: A maintenance-free automated fixture--or is that an oxymoron?
Hase: I would just like a reliable, low-end moving light with a 1,200W HMI lamp that moves smoothly, has six colors, six patterns that rotate and can iris, focus, or strobe without costing a mint. Most theatre people find it hard to deal with the complexity of current automated fixtures when we don't need half of their features.
Michael Finney: I have high hopes for more products along the lines of the Icon M, such as an architectural grade moving fixture with CMY color mixing, beam shaping, video input options, and all-weather performance. I'd settle for an affordable theatrical version, too.
Nigel Levings: Or a smart linear fixture, such as a parallel beam sidelight that is the same height as a human being, capable of color change, pan, tilt, and some minor beam control? Along the lines of a DHA light curtain, but lighter, smaller, and smarter.
Brian Gale: How about smaller, more powerful automated video projectors?
Jason Cooper: Don't forget low cost, too. Sort of a Selecon/Finelight combination with an LCD accessory attachment. And add an automated yoke. Very cool.
ED: In what ways could design and console software on the market be improved?
Gale: By truly integrating CAD and programming software that allows the designer to model and program the lighting design virtually.
Chris Parry: Something that gives better and easier 'virtual lighting reality' than we have now and is easily accessible to all-- like WYSIWYG, only much better.
John McKernon: We definitely need better ways of dealing with moving lights. There are too many attributes and functions to keep track of and control in the limited amount of time we have available. As it stands now, documenting complex pans/tilts/irises/color/gobo changes is virtually impossible, although everyone tries.
Levings: Definitely better software control for both conventional and moving light fixtures--something along the lines of timeline displays used by sound design programs, where the attributes for a fixture are displayed as a timeline and can be easily changed by clicking and dragging.
Norm Schwab: I'd like to see real graphical interfaces for consoles. Rosco/ET Horizon is a hint of what is possible. Programmers and designers should not have to think in channels or even parameters, but rather in large stroke concepts.
Donald Thomas: Or voice recognition software built into a control board that could make the level-setting process go quicker and more efficiently. Of course I'm not trying to eliminate the ME, but couldn't we reduce some of the mindless data entry at least?
ED: Before we switch topics, how about peripheral devices?
Peter Maradudin: I need a peripheral changing device that could be mounted to fixed instruments and fade from one color to the next. Since units using multiple 'dichromic' strings are usually fragile at best, why hasn't someone like Vari-Lite taken the dichroic fins from a VL5, for example, and installed them in an external color fader?
Mark Stanley: In traditional fixtures, color mixing systems cut out too much light. Having a true color mixing system with the advantages of single color filters, one that allows you to mix from true tints to highly saturated colors without planning your scrolling order or accidentally fading through green, would be amazing.
Thomas: I'd love to have a software approach to creating patterns in conventional units. Instead of a metal template, I'd like to insert an LCD device directly into a fixture slot that can generate an image sent from a remote PC.
Hugh Vanstone: Well, highest on my list would be more comfortable chairs and tech tables. We spend half our lives at them and they're usually excruciatingly uncomfortable arrangements!
ED: Ah, high comfort finally meets high tech. For our next topic, we'd like to discuss what types of innovation will most significantly change the way we work five years in the future?
Clifton Taylor: Number one, in my opinion, will be when engineering refinements make high-function robotic luminaires so cheap that they can completely replace fixed-focus luminaires.
Gale: I think lighting equipment will eventually have IP addresses instead of (or in addition to) DMX addresses we use now. Two-way communications with lighting equipment will be a fact of life. Automated fixtures and dimmers that can be accessed from the designer software and have show data, patch, focus, color palettes, and images downloaded ahead of time.
Cooper: The continuing quest for greater lumen efficiency will drive new fixture enhancements, such as the use of super-bright LEDs in everything from table lamps to ellipsoidals, spotlights, and open-face PARs.
Schwab: The space, military, and telecommunications industries offer so many breakthroughs in the next decade that we can only begin to guess what they will be. Just two examples are organic LEDs, which combine RGB elements in a single clear device, and dichromic film materials that are tuned electrically to give off an infinite range of colors.
ED: How about advances in design software?
Stanley: We need a system that allows real-time, 3D preview of lighting ideas, is easy to program, and small on memory requirements. As time in the theatre gets shorter and shorter, more ideas need to be solidified in advance, particularly since many director/choreographers still have trouble visualizing lighting.
Hase: Ease of operation and a fast learning curve is the key here.
ED: What impact will media and projection technologies have on lighting?
Gale: Automated fixtures with beam, color, and patterns will be created offsite with a Photoshop-like paint program. Static patterns, moving images, shutter cuts, and beam shaping would be uploaded to the fixtures onsite.
Levings: I think we will come to rely more on not just assistants and moving light programmers but image creators and graphic artists as the new generation of pixel-based moving lights takes off.
ED: How could the Internet affect the process of lighting design?
Schwab: The Internet will enable people to program shows without leaving their homes.
Thomas: I'm all for the use of computers and the Internet to facilitate the process, but this is a collaborative art form and I hope we never reach the point of 'remoting' the production staff.
Levings: We do, however, need some good, preferably wireless, method of getting data to our lights and computers, which may involve some combination of digital phone technology and Internet protocols.
Stanley: On another note, I'd love to see a nationwide database of theatre ground plans, sections, tech sheets, and contacts accessible through the 'net.
Taylor: Not to mention 3D CAD drawings of each venue. We should not have to survey hotel ballrooms, theatres, and exhibition spaces over and over again!
ED: Any final thoughts on upcoming progress?
McKernon: I think that most of the changes happening today involve software, whether in hard-coded hardware form or in software applications. However, we're all still waiting on a tiny light that delivers all of the features and performance of a full-sized light--so plain old hardware still has a long way to go!
Fisher: I think the most important message here is not to ignore the basic building blocks of our theatrical arsenal as a place for some of the most significant change. Who would have thought 10 years ago that a reworking of the ellipsoid would have taken the world by storm?
ED: Our final topic is about the business of being a designer. Are there additional information standards that could be developed to assist us all in our work?
John Martin: As an organization or professional community, we could be more like the AIA (American Institute of Architects), both as a singular organization and in the way in which resources like contracts and CAD symbols are shared among members.
Finney: We're definitely overdue for some kind of coherent project development guidelines that are accepted by clients, one which defines schematic design deliverables, for example.
Cooper: It would be great if manufacturers could supply fixture information in a standardized electronic format, which becomes a data set for the generation of specification forms, shop orders, CAD symbol libraries, and even moving light attributes and profiles. A bit like an IES file.
Schwab: The Internet can also be used to standardize forms such as insurance and contracts. Our clients should be able to go to a single website and see that I have it.
Rita: I'd like to see more accepted use of CAD among scenic designers. That would allow greater usefulness of WYSIWYG alongside an accurate scenic representation.
Stanley: There is too much of a hodgepodge of drafting programs that set and lighting designers use. We need a standard theatrical drafting program, so that we can email and open shared files between sets, lighting, and electricians.
ED: What about data transmission standards and protocols?
Taylor: We need ASCII cue file standards for moving luminaires and every console should accurately read and write ASCII cue files!
Vanstone: Yes, I agree. There should be a standard data storage format so it is possible to 'export' shows, perhaps an ASCII file that supports moving lights, cues, timings, etc., from one type of console to another. And while we're at it, why can't everyone agree on the meaning of 'wait' and 'delay?'
ED: Are there other types of evolving business technology and interconnectivity that would make your jobs easier?
Rita: Video conferencing for preliminary meetings is one.
Finney: I'm particularly excited about some client/host software I've seen that allows two remote locations to view and comment on the same drawing at the same time. On the other hand, File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is either a terrific boon or one of the greatest insanities of business today. Projects are being done at an insane speed.
ED: Final comments?
McKernon: I don't much care whether or not it's technology that makes my work easier--better training and education always improve things without a bit of technology.
Vanstone: Which also allows operators to work today's extremely complex consoles better and faster and give us all more time to work on the lighting.
Akerlind: For me, the artistic process is an endeavor that requires non-mechanical communication. But I'm all for a technology that allows for more in-theatre flexibility and exploration.
Ruzika: I often think that all this computer organizational stuff doesn't help the design or design process any better. It's technology for technology's sake. To quote Ebenezer Scrooge, 'I like the dark, it's cheap! Technology, Bah Humbug!'