Recently, lighting designer Christian Choi of Choimation Lighting, Inc. was enlisted to redesign the lighting for Saigon Entertainment Television (SET), the local portion of the Saigon Broadcast Television Network (SBTN). Headquartered in Garden Grove, CA, SBTN is a 24-hour Vietnamese language channel providing news as well as arts and entertainment programming. Choi, who had worked with the producers at SBTN on other projects, was asked to take a look at the SET studio and make recommendations for a relight. The existing SET studio had three different areas—a two-person news set, a four-person interview set, and a two-person green screen stand-up position—all in a 30'x35' space lit with 28kW of Fresnels.

“SET presented a few interesting challenges that needed careful attention,” explains Choi. “This studio is in a commercial warehouse that was not designed as a television studio, so I couldn’t use standard conventional fixtures because they generate too much heat. The air conditioning would make too much noise for the cameras, so I needed to find a way to turn off the air during the day without it getting too hot. Also, the studio needed to be designed so that it was quite simple to operate with little or no labor to maintain it. Finally, the angles needed careful attention because there are three adjacent areas shot in a small space with the same cameras under a 16' grid.”

Choi settled on a design approach that would be energy-efficient and cost-effective. “I decided to use LEDs for both key lighting and backgrounds,” he explains. “They are incredibly efficient and save enough money to make them affordable. They fit perfectly for this situation, as it takes very little to maintain them in this studio.”

To look good on a television camera, color temperature and color balance is an important consideration. With color temperature, you work with the amber/blue balance; with color balance, you work with the magenta/green. “In the past, LED fixtures were totally out of the question for use as key/fill fixtures because they are quite green, and I don’t mean ecologically responsible,” says Choi. “They shifted up to +20 green, which is entirely unacceptable. I had just gotten back from LDI, where I saw a great many LED fixtures, so it was all very fresh in my mind.”

Choi had checked out the Element Labs Kelvin™ TILE at LDI but wanted to observe and measure output, so Element Labs’ Rich Pierceall sent him a unit. “As I unpacked the thin square unit, I noticed how light it was and that it had controls to manually set the color temperature and intensity of the fixture,” says Choi. “I was totally amazed at how beautiful the fixture’s optics and color were. The shadow detail produced by the diffuser is very soft and lovely with wraparound detail, which was perfectly suited to the beautiful Asian skin and soft features of the subjects. The fixture produces a magnificent separation between specular highlights and shadow detail. One can finely tune its levels to absolute zero green/magenta shift while variably controlling color temperature.”

Choi used four Kelvin TILEs for the SET studio, especially for their color range. “The fixture uses RGB LEDs with added cyan, amber, and white LEDs, which reproduce an astonishingly wide gamut of color,” he says. “Each LED is carefully calibrated, so you don’t end up with different color temperatures across the width of the fixture.”

With the key lighting solved, Choi moved on to looking for an affordable white LED fill-light solution. He worked with account manager Brett Paddor at Entertainment Lighting Services, Inc. (ELS) on fixture options. “Brett loaned me a few units to play with at the studio, so I could measure their output and see what they looked like on the subjects,” says Choi, who found that the Philips Color Kinetics iW® Blast 12 TRs filled the bill for this job. “Though they cast about +8 green, adding some minus green to them got rid of this problem. The ability to change color temperature on all of these fixtures gives a fine degree of control. It’s important to set all of your color temperatures exclusively for each fixture prior to taking a full reading of the cumulative light output in order to get a nice even coverage without any color spikes.”

Another design challenge was how to remedy the hard shadows created on the subjects that were being lit with white LED fixtures. “We tried a number of different things including various lenses made by City Theatrical (CTI) as well as various fixture accessories,” says Paddor. “We found that the CTI Egg Crate Louver for the iW Blast Powercore™ 12, as well as two of the standard frosted lenses in the fixture kit, worked well. However, when you use two frosted lenses, you lose some light output.”

Choi also chose Philips Color Kinetics iColor Cove® QLX low-profile fixtures for the edge of the news desk to lessen under-chin shadows and refine close-ups even further. “I also used the QLX fixtures to under-light the desk and light scenery. Low-profile fixtures like this are so convenient to use in tight places.” Choi used ColorBlast® 12 TR units to provide backlighting for the vacuformed set pieces. Since there are three shooting positions in the studio that are all adjacent to each other, Matthews Studio Equipment 10' telescoping hangers help to get the desired angles for the lights on the grid. For control, Choi wanted simple recall of preset looks for the SET studio staff, so he chose Interactive Technologies’ CueServer Mini to set looks with his laptop and then store them in an eight-button touch panel for recall of the lighting cues. In the end, he reduced the 28kW lighting load to 2.7kW using only three 20A circuits.

Other design touches also dealt with scenic elements. “We wanted to change the Duratrans out from the usual cityscape scene that is synonymous with news, so I got some fantastic ideas from producer Truc Ho about what he liked and conveyed them to designer Jorge Dominguez from Univision,” says Choi. “Jorge is a brilliant designer who came up with a lovely translight for us. It was very balanced and softened the look of everything.” Choi used Philips Color Kinetics eW® Blast 12 Powercore 4,200K units to backlight the translight behind the news set. “I added four Dell 30" LCD monitors, and James Ngo of SET created a stunning logo set for it that follows the satellite theme of the show, beaming you the news. To top it all off, they put in a brand new black Marlite floor supplied by Global Scenery. The floor complemented the whole studio quite nicely.”

Paddor enjoyed getting to test out using LEDs for television lighting applications. “This was our first time using LEDs for this particular type of application,” Paddor says. “We found the challenge to be unique and a great experience. Christian is a very bright guy and works on both a technical and a creative level that is unsurpassed.”

In the final analysis, the design accomplished the goals for the studio, which looked so much bigger and better that SBTN asked Choi to redesign the lighting, video, and set for its national news. “It was a large project, not just because I designed all of the visual elements, but also because I engineered and built it,” he says.

Choi adds that, in the end, the SBTN SET studio’s redesign “had many positive implications—air conditioning reduction, better light quality, no lamp or color filter replacements.” Using green technology to save the studio some green and make the designers some green is a successful model for all involved.

Michael S. Eddy runs Eddy Marketing & Consulting, which handles marketing, media relations, and events for a range of entertainment technology companies. He also freelances as a writer on design and technology and can be reached at michael@eddymarketing.com.