An Introduction to Lighting Design for Theatre, Dance, Music and Life.
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An Introduction to Lighting Design

An Introduction to Lighting Design

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As lighting designers, what will we be doing?

       Haven't all of us stumbled out of bed in the early morning, and upon walking into the living room, find ourselves greeted by the fantastic image of the golden sun streaming through the venetian blinds, splitting through the dust in the thick morning air, cutting the sofa into dozens of slits of light and shadow? Then we race to grab a camera to take a picture of this beautiful scene, only to return to find a much more boring room with the light too bright for our weary eyes to perceive. That is a lighting accident, one we can depend on to an extent but an accident, nonetheless. It is uncontrollable.

       As lighting designers, we must know how to take an image from our mind and transcribe it into words that a director will understand and talk about, onto paper that an electrician will understand, into instruments that will be focused, gelled, and hung according to our pre-arranged thought into dimmers that will respond to a signal, all in order for that one light cue to recapture that early morning living room, afternoon picnic, evening by the campfire, night on 42d street picture that we designers set as a goal for ourselves.

            The lighting designer must be the conductor of a symphonic light orchestra, ready to play opera, rock and roll, or classical piece, depending on the production.

       When it comes to the World of Lighting Design, there are three overall aspect of the excitement,: the effect (also known as design, illumination, look, feel, mood, etc), the tools (also known as color, placement, intensity, choice, etc.) and the process (analysis of the script, creation of the concept, use of tools to reach the desired effect), all of which are important. The purpose of a Lighting Design I course is to introduce all parts of the World of Lighting Design in a way that will excite, inform, and spark the creativity of all those participating.

The Effect

       "Light the play, not just the stage." When designing the light, as opposed to just turning the light on, we lighting designers need a mental picture of the completed lighting project, a mental image so clear and specific it contains performers on the set, in costume, under light.  
       We lighting designers must come up with a picture in our heads of what the lighting for the show should look like. For example, we imagine a lighted scene with the characters on the set at the moment something is happening and what the lighting looks like on them.
Although most people follow the standard McCandles theory of lighting which consists of four functions of light, there are at least nine in effect at all times. 
       We the designers must consciously manipulate those properties to control the art form:
    Selecting Visibility: Controlling what can and cannot be seen.
    Establishing "Given Circumstances": Setting the time of day, season, location, and lighting sources.
    Coloring the Stage Picture: Controlling the color of the light.
    Shaping Space and Form: Giving size and shape to the performance area and the form of scenery, objects, and actors.
    Focusing attention: Aiding in directing the focus of the audience.
    Composing the Stage Picture: Using light to bring the design together visually.
    Setting a Mood: Helping to stimulate an emotional response by the viewer.

    Establishing Rhythm: Determining how the structure of lighting changes through time.
    Establishing Style: Reinforcing with light the distinctive or unique mode of presentation of a production.    

       We lighting designers have only a few tools to create our final to use to realize our final design. We must know how to use our tools effectively so as to master them and not be mastered by them.

    Instrumentation: The various lighting units available to designers and the differences among the units.
    Angles and Patterns: The way the placement of instruments affects the beam of light.
    Lightplot: The drafting that communicates the designer's decisions to the electricians.
    Color: The effect of color on the objects lighted
    The Rules of Reality: The fact that electricity, cable, dimmers, and light itself, all of them, have rules which designers can modify but still must follow.
    Intensity and Contrast: The way that light and shadow, including brightness, can affect the area in view.
    Psychological Considerations: Perceptions from the aspects of light, eyes, brain, brightness, color, space, and form.
    Composition: The visual framework, time factors, and field of light, including the way the light is arranged within the framework.
    Style in Lighting Design. Production styles, Formulas, Genre, Architecture.  

The Process

       Everything from the designer's picking up the script for the first time to collecting the paycheck on opening night is part of the lighting design process.
    Analyzing the Script: How do we read a play?
    Analyzing Other Elements: How do the director, production, theatre, set, and costuming influence the lighting?
    Coming Up With the Design Idea: What does the process mean to the designer?
    Communicating Ideas: How does the designer discuss ideas with the director, other designers, etc.?
    Completing Paperwork: How important is the paperwork for the electrician and the designer: What are the differences?
    Determining Cues and Levels: How does a designer "paint" with light?
    Preventing Tunnel Vision: How does a designer keep in mind the audience's viewpoint?
    Finalizing: How does the designer fit the design together from start to finish?