How does one go about lighting the nation’s first African-American President-Elect for his first official speech, both outdoors and on television, without distracting from the historical significance of the moment?

Chicago’s Grant Park was the scene on November 4th when President-Elect Barack Obama held his presidential acceptance speech before a crowd of more than 100,000. Event producer C3 Presents lit the rally along with stage lighting rental and production company Christie Lites, who was the lighting contractor and lighting supplier for the event, with a staff of 15 onsite.

Huntly Christie, CEO of Christie Lites Orlando, notes, “It was a mixed bag of lighting. However, the most prominent fixture on the site was the Martin MAC 2000 Wash XB™. They were instrumental in making sure that the world witnessed this historic event.”

LD Bob Peterson who described the evening as, “A very historical night, with a feeling of excitement, and also a sense of relief when the results were announced. I received directions from the Obama team that the lighting was to be appropriately conservative with no celebratory effects. The brief was to elegantly transfer from the exuberance of the campaign to the seriousness of the presidency.”

The MAC 2000 Wash XBs, which made up two-thirds of the automated lighting package, were spread out across three 80’ Stageco towers, a 30-foot 10-by-10 scaffold, a mobile Elevated LED Screen, and two stage backlight scaffolds. Light from the MAC 2000 Wash was used for stage backlighting, for near audience lighting, and to illuminate a stately row of trees off in the distance. Self-contained Musco mobile lighting trucks handled the far field lighting.

“As audience fill light the color temperature adjustment of the XBs allowed me to feather in the transition from the stage lighting (4800 Kelvin on President-Elect Obama) to the audience fill lighting (around 5800 Kelvin),” Peterson notes. “I was thrilled with the CT variance capacity of the XBs and delightedly shocked at the light output from them. There was a bank of trees about 1,000 feet away which they unexpectedly lit up.”

Peterson does mention challenges, which he says were all present in the “cut shot,” an important camera view from the southwest corner of the park through the President-Elect into the crowd all the way to the city skyline in the background. “The driving photographic issue was exposing to the skyline,” he says.

Opening the iris to accomplish that task created concern about the amount of uncontrolled light from the huge corps of press photographers present. “I was a bit worried that we might be required to open up the iris so much that the press lighting would be an uncontrollable competitive light source,” Peterson explains. “In the end, the hundreds of Chimeras and Kinos acted like the world’s biggest softlight, and filled his profile to that camera angle.”

Championed by Emmett Belliveau of the Obama campaign, with general field duties handled by his event producer John Liipfert, of The Obama Campaign Team, the night had a magical air to it and the event was viewed as a success on all fronts.

Christie Lites account rep Robert Roth was on the job from start to finish and recalls how the event was planned in just three short weeks: “Bob Peterson had a clear vision of the lighting and the campaign team had a clear budget they that had to adhere to,” he comments. “We then got every body on the same page as far as what was doable and Bob sketched out broad elements of the lighting for them.

“The stage wasn’t a traditional square covered stage and was expertly conceived by Bruce Rogers. It was then a question of us getting the supporting physical elements in place correctly to provide lighting positions. The XB was the primary base instrument. I’ve been using them since their launch—including at festivals this past summer—and I am very impressed with the fixture’s performance and reliability.

“A special part of this was the scale of the event and what was going to appear on the TV screen at home and in newspapers around the world the next day. That is where Bob excelled at his craft. The Obama campaign wanted a lack of visible production elements so that when the cameras looked past the President-Elect to the crowd there was not an abundance of technology showing.

“It was about the people, the skyline, the moment; Bob did a masterful job of getting it lit for still camera and television so that all the elements worked in balance with each other,” Roth concludes.

Lighting Equipment:

72 Martin MAC 2000 Wash XB™
2 grandMA 2048 Ch. Console
6 SyncroLite XLs
2 Musco Type “C” Trucks
72 Altman Focusing CYC
29 2-foot Ministrips
3 Jem ZR33 Hi-Mass™
3 DF-50 Hazer
3 Versa Fan
3 M2 2.5k Lycian Spots
4 Lycian 1293 3k Xenon Followspot