We caught up with Richard Neville, lighting designer for the main stage for Ultra Music Festival 2013, to discuss his work on one of the largest stages in concert festival history, the staging structure and roof structure for which was built by long time Ultra Music Festival vendors Mountain Productions, with scenic and set elements built by Tait.

Live Design: How did you involved with this year’s Ultra Music Festival?

Richard Neville: I’ve worked with one of the stage’s designers, James Klein, on a number of projects, both back home in Australia and overseas before, including a number of party and festival events. He called me when he started putting the stage design together with Bruce Rodgers, and it went from there. There’s a long-established dance music scene in Australia and South East Asia, which my company has been involved with for years. However, it was exciting to take it to the next level at Ultra and really work toward the festival'’s amazing production standards and reputation.

LD: What was the design philosophy going into the project?

RN: When I first saw the stage design, the first thing that really struck me was the need to create a lighting design that would support the awesome geometry of the structure. There are so many great features of the structure: the overall shape, the hundreds of smaller pyramids that make it up, the central archway, and the giant Ultra logo, to name a few. When it's dark, it becomes lighting’s responsibility to make sure that this great design keeps its shape, size, and definition. I worked closely with Bruce Rodgers, Tribe inc, and James Klein Events to ensure that every part of the structure took light as best as it could. Together we looked at different finish options for everything, right down to the acrylic used in the DJ booth logo, to make sure it really came alive with lighting. The final design had lights literally everywhere; there were fixtures covering the logo, all the way across the arch, and we had a moving light on every single one of the 176 pyramids that make up the structure.

A glance at the Ultra schedule reveals six days of non-stop lighting—up to 12 hours per day—and the knowledge that many partygoers would spend a good chunk of the six days standing in front of the main stage. I had to abandon my usual mindset of keeping fixture types to a minimum to give the stage a massive array of effects, positions, and fixtures that would keep people guessing what else we had to reveal. We didn’t reveal almost 100 fixtures until day two of the festival, and there were a few effects we kept our sleeve just for weekend two.

I had to also be mindful that several artists would bring their touring LDs along, so it was important to keep some elements consistent with other festivals. I kept a large number of spot and wash fixtures in fairly traditional positions inside the main stage, and then placed groups of these fixtures out on the structure to ensure that the lighting would always be spread out across the full width of the stage. All of this led to the creation of a lighting design that has well in excess of 1,000 intelligent fixtures, which also checked off the requirement that the lighting looked huge!

LD: What others were involved in the lighting team?

RN: Back in Sydney, we had four of our staff involved in the preproduction and paperwork. Alex Grierson is my associate designer and programmer who did a great job managing everything from visiting LD requests through to getting the visualization files setup and operational. On site, two of us operated the shows and also assisted other LDs with programming when they required it.

I’m a firm believer that EDM events don’t allow for the traditional lighting designer/operator relationship, where the person who designs the rig isn’t the one operating it. When a DJ can change tracks and cut the music completely in a split second, the lighting has to react instantaneously. With Alex and me involved since day one with the design and then physically operating the consoles in the day, we can react quickly to these changes. Furthermore, as the designers, we know the reasoning behind every light’s placement and how to get the best out of each fixture, so these reactions do have a sense of artistic reasoning behind them. It’s certainly a demanding and draining way to operate, where we are not just producing paperwork, but also programming thousands of cues, listening to around 50 different artists, and also finding time to assist other LDs, but I wouldn’t change a thing because we’re incredibly happy with the results.

LD: Talk a little about your lighting rig and fixture choices for the main stage.

RN: I specifically went out to try and give the stage a unique identity with the lighting, and a part of that was finding either new or obscure lighting fixtures that would breathe new life into the stage. I used 176 of the new Robe 100 Beam fixtures on the pyramids across the set which work incredibly well. We set them up to operate in two ways: by default, we have full control of them from the lighting console, which lets us do a full range of spectacular beam effects in both the air and across the crowd. We then set up a macro on the console which takes color information from the surrounding LED video on the pyramids and maps it across all of the Robe Beams, so at any time we were able to make the structure’s lighting come alive with the video content. It was quite spectacular with a bit of haze!

We had 121 Clay Paky Sharpys in the rig; most of them were spread across the top of the structure where they not only obviously did a great range of aerial effects but could also be pointed down into the crowd while still maintaining an overall pyramid shape. I was particularly happy with the 20 chrome Sharpies we had around the DJ; they looked fantastic, even when they were not on!

On the Ultra logo, we were using 65 new TMB Solaris Flare LED strobes (out of 100 that we used in the rig). These fixtures are nothing short of amazing...They’re a full RGBW fixture and do a full range of strobe effects, with the added benefit that they can stay illuminated at full intensity indefinitely. The fixtures also divided themselves into a number of individual cells which let us get incredibly creative with random cell flashes and chases.

As I mentioned with our goals, there were a number of fixtures in the rig that we use as reveal effects—things that weren’t always visible to the audience but were instead revealed momentarily or for particular acts. I designed a wall of 40 [ICD] Elements KR25 panels interspersed with [Martin Professional] Atomic strobes, Robe 600 Washes, and Sharpys, which completely covered the rear of the automated doors. When the doors opened and rotated, this intense wall of light looked absolutely huge. On stage, we also had half a dozen Novalight Supernovas, which do a great enveloping beam look at select moments with their huge moonflower looks.

(Check out Neville’s lighting plots here.)

Read part 2 of Neville’s lighting for the main stage.