Stage Lighting Design

By Cindy Carpenter,2014-07-31 15:44
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Stage Lighting DesignStag

    Stage Lighting Design

    PART 1 - An Introduction to Stage Lighting



     One of the most rewarding professions today can be

    that of the lighting designer working in the arts. It can

    also be one of the most frustrating professions on the


     The lighting designer will never stop learning. Every

    production or project will present new challenges,

    new obstacles, new human dynamics and new

    problems to solve. There can and should be many failures along the way. This is part of the artistic process. The lighting designer shouldn't hesitate to make as many mistakes as possible - just don't make the same mistake twice.

    There is great satisfaction in designing the lighting for a production that fulfills the needs of the playwright and also meets the objectives of the director and other designers. There is however far greater satisfaction in knowing that you have succeeded in your goals and objectives and that you have emotionally 'moved' an entire audience through the controlled and planned use of light.

     Stage lighting is no longer a matter of simple illumination as it was less than 100 years ago. Today, the lighting designer is expected to be a master of art, science, history, psychology, communications, politics and sometimes even mind reading.

     The stage designer quickly learns that things are not always what they appear to be. A director who asks for 'more light' on an actor, probably doesn't mean that at all. Instead he really just wants 'to see the actor better'. The designer might chose to reduce the lighting contrast around the actor, or simply ask the actor to tip his head up a bit. Both solutions solve the problem without 'adding more light'. So the lighting designer also has to be a good listener, a careful interpreter and a skilled crafts person.

     Ultimately the lighting designer must be an artist! He must understand style, composition, balance, esthetics and human emotions. He must also understand the science of light, optics, vision, the psychology of perception and lighting technology. Using these tools the lighting designer must learn to think, feel and create with his heart.

     When it's good lighting design - you alone will know.

    When it's bad lighting design - everyone will tell you!



     Stage lighting design is probably as old as formalized

    theatre. The early Greeks built their theatres as open

    air spaces and orientated them in relation to the sun,

    so as to use natural light for stage lighting. They

    would present their plays at different times of day, to

    take advantage of the different types of natural

    lighting. This type of planning was in essence, early

    lighting design. The Theatre of Dionysus (Athens,

    about 330 BC) and the theatre at Epidaurus (finished about 340 BC) are examples of these early public theatre facilities.

    Lighting for the theatre developed over the centuries, using both natural sources then artificial sources. The sun, candles, torches oil, gas, electric arc and lime lighting, all have had a place in early stage lighting. During the Renaissance period in Italy, many of the principals of modern lighting design, were firmly established.


     Modern stage lighting design began to flourish with the development of the incandescent lamp in the late 1800's. This invention allowed for the development of small, safe, portable lighting fixtures that could be easily placed anywhere around the stage, and then controlled by a remote electrical dimmer system. Previously during the gas lighting era, complex stage lighting did indeed exist however, it was limited by this awkward smelly technology, with its many inherent problems. During the gas lighting era, a great numbers of theatres were destroyed by fire.



     The stage lighting designer is traditionally

    responsible for the design and supervision of all

    aspects of lighting for a typical stage production.

    Lighting designers today often tend to specialize in

    specific types of entertainment productions, each

    requiring slightly different working methods and

    techniques. Specialization may include lighting for;

    Theatre, Dance, Opera, Television, Theme Parks, Ice Shows, Outdoor Pageants, Trade Shows and Industrial or Corporate productions.




     NATURALISM provides a sense of TIME and

    PLACE. Stage settings may be highly realistic or completely abstract, absurd, or stylized. If time of day is important or the place is realistic, then MOTIVATION is often provided by sunlight,

    moonlight, firelight, lamplight, or other naturalistic stage sources.


     COMPOSITION must reveal actors, objects and scenery in proportion to their importance, by

    building a visual picture.

    .) MOOD (and ATMOSPHERE) 4

     MOOD considers the basic psychological reactions of the audience.



    These basic qualities of light are; INTENSITY, FORM, COLOR, DIRECTION and MOVEMENT.

    These are the lighting designer's tools.



     INTENSITY typical refers to the 'strength' of a light source.

     ILLUMINATION refers to amount of light falling on a surface.

    BRIGHTNESS refers to the visual sensation caused by a light source when it interacts with an object and then the eye. Example: In theatre when we change the dimmer setting of a lighting fixture, we are changing the

    output INTENSITY of the source. This results in a change of ILLUMINANCE (light falling on the

    stage) that is perceived by the eye as a change in BRIGHTNESS.



     Light provides objects with a sense of FORM. The eye is able to recognize objects in terms of shape, size and position.

     Form as applied to light is rather complex. It is everything that intensity, color, movement and direction are not.

8.0 - COLOR


    HUE is the classification of a color that the eye sees as red, green amber, etc.

     The PRIMARY colors of light are RED, GREEN and BLUE.

     The SECONDARY colors of light are formed when any 2 primary colors are combined. The 3 secondary colors are MAGENTA (red & blue), YELLOW (red & green) and

    CYAN (blue and green).



    The direction of light is one of the most important

    attributes in stage lighting design. All light has

    direction. A bare candle radiates light in all directions.

    A spotlight radiates light in a very specific direction.

    In nature most light comes from the sky, from above.

    In theatre lighting this is also generally true as most

    lighting positions are above the stage or audience.

    2.) MOVEMENT

     Movement in light is generally taken to mean any change in INTENSITY, COLOR, FORM or DIRECTION. Dynamic changes in all of these qualities take place in nature on a regular basis. Movement may also include the physical movement of a source, such as; a search light, police beacon, color wheel, special optical effect, moving projections, mirror ball, etc.

    Stage Lighting Design

    Edition 2.d - Copyright (c) 1997-1999 by Bill Williams

    PART 2 - General Design Methods



     Although there may be no 'one' method of lighting

    design, there is however a systematic approach that

    was proposed by Stanley McCandless (Yale

    University School of Drama 1925-1964). It is this

    approach that is the foundation for modern stage

    lighting design today.


     McCandless proposed that the stage setting be broken up into a number of ACTING AREAS, each with two (2) fixtures. The fixtures were to be positioned overhead as front lights at approximately 90 degrees to the area. Further the fixtures were to be located approximately 45 degrees horizontally. Next McCandless proposed that each lamp have a different color filter, a 'warm' from one side, a 'cool' from the other. Each area was also (ideally) given individual dimmer control.

     An 'open' stage would be typically broken into 9 areas (more or less as required), each having an 8-12 foot diameter. Areas might be arranged; 3 downstage, 3 center stage and 3 upstage.

     The two fixtures provided VISIBILITY to the actor. The dimmer controls allowed areas to darken or brighten as needed, providing SELECTIVE FOCUS, COMPOSITION and MOOD to the overall stage picture. The position of the two fixtures, allowed an actor to 'play' to either his right or to his left, and still be in a KEY light. The angle between the fixtures provides excellent plasticity and form to the human face. The opposing warm and cool colors assist in providing interest, contrast and naturalistic lighting.

     3.) BLENDING and TONING

     Light the actors first for visibility, then light the surroundings separately for mood and atmosphere, was the McCandless's approach. Sometimes no additional lighting is required, letting the 'flare' from the acting areas illuminate the walls of a set. Alternately, scenery may need WASH or FLOOD lighting to help integrate and blend it into the entire lighting picture.


     Backgrounds, backings, backdrops and cycloramas should all be illuminated separately from the

    actor and from the scenery.


     McCandless recommended additional fixtures (if needed); (a) to provide 'acting area specials' (entrances, furniture, etc). (b) to provide motivation (sunlight, moonlight, firelight). (c) to provide projection or effects.



    The following, outlines a procedure useful for the comprehensive and responsible lighting design, of a professional stage production. This applies to theatre, dance, opera, musical or other entertainment productions.

    1.) SCRIPT ANALYSIS: Read the script (score) several times, once for enjoyment and then again to determine; the times of day, seasons, type and direction of sources, moods and other intellectual and emotional stimulus.

    2.) TALK WITH THE DIRECTOR: Meet with director and other designers. Determine their interpretation of the script. What is the proposed style of design? What are their expectations regarding the lighting?

    3.) SET & COSTUME DESIGN: Gather together and familiarize yourself with the set drawings, renderings, costume sketches and the model. If there is a model, take a 'Poloriod' photo of each scene, to help you during the design process.

    4.) STUDY THE THEATRE: Visit the venue or study the plans. Get to know the lighting and rigging positions. Get a complete inventory of any permanent fixtures, circuits, dimming and control equipment. All other lighting equipment will need to be rented. If the production is to tour, determine and study the details of all theatres.

    5.) TIME/CREW/BUDGET: Will the lighting budget allow you to meet the needs of your anticipated design? Determine exactly how many hours you have in the theatre, for all aspects of the design. Determine exactly how many crew members you will have available and when. Finally determine what budget is available for additional rented equipment.

    6.) ATTEND REHEARSALS: Watch for blocking, and other mechanics. See if there is a particular style to the direction, (there should be). Are there specific conventions being used? Get exact measurements for furniture and 'specials'.

    7.) PREPARE THE LIGHTING DESIGN: Form a verbal 'concept' for the lighting. Next form a visual image as to how you expect the production to look, moment by moment. Next produce the LIGHTING PLOT and all related paper work (including: the SHOP ORDER, HOOK-UP, INSTRUMENT, FOCUS and COLOR schedules).

    8.) SUPERVISE THE FOCUS: Although your attendance at the HANG may not be required, your attendance at the FOCUS session is mandatory. During this session you must aim, focus & document each fixture, one by one.

    9.) SUPERVISE THE LEVEL SETTING: Build each lighting picture one at a time so as to fulfill your design criteria. You must also establish exact 'counts' for the transitions from one cue, to another. Provide the Stage Manager with exact script locations (GO point) for each cue. 10.) LIGHTING REHEARSALS: Supervise and refine all lighting levels and transitions as needed. Instruct your electricians as to 'running' maintenance and provide them with all final documentation.



     Spotlight fixtures include the PLANO CONVEX, ELLIPSOIDAL REFLECTOR, FRESNEL, PAR LAMP, PIN SPOTS, BEAM PROJECTOR and FOLLOWSPOT. These fixtures are used to provide a narrow and controlled beam of localized light, to the stage. All spotlight fixtures have one or more lenses and are generally available in beam spreads of approximately 5 to 70 degrees.

    Plano-convex spotlights are useful in providing ACTING AREA lighting and

    localized lighting to specific areas of the stage. They have no beam controls

    (shutters, iris, barndoors) available.

    The ER spotlight provides a narrow, directional beam with a hard edge. It is able

    to provide a sharp focus of integral metal shutters.

    Fresnels are particularly useful in providing COLOR WASHES to acting areas

    or scenery. Typically, 3 Fresnels are used to illuminate each area.

    Where flare and a very soft beam edge is not a problem, par lamps are particularly

    useful for ACTING AREA and WASH LIGHTING. They are also usually the

    fixture of choice for COLOR WASH and BACK LIGHTING.

    Pin spots can be very useful for providing accents, highlights and specials.

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