The Art & Craft of a Stage Lighting Designer
The very first concert we ever went to, back in 1984, was Bon Jovi, It was an unlikely choice for someone obsessed with British bands like OMD and Duran Duran, but Jon’s hair was irresistible. Oh, and the music was pretty good, too. Before that, the biggest production we had ever attended was Up With People, so attending a concert, at night, with friends (and a couple of adult chaperones) was a really, really big deal. I was too overwhelmed to remember much, except for Jon Bon Jovi swinging out over the crowd holding on to some kind of rope, the most spectacular stage lighting I had ever seen. At one point in the show, during an especially loud rendition of the type of power ballad that could have only come out of the 80s, we found ourselves nearly hypnotized by the lights and the way they seemed to accompany the music. We’d never experienced anything like it. Nearly 30 years later, this now legendary band still puts on quite a show, but today’s lighting makes earlier productions look as sophisticated as a high school musical.
These days, except for a few low-key, acoustically inclined holdouts, every band worth its tour bus puts on a dazzling display of stage lighting. Recently, however, we were so blown away by the lighting at a show that we were inspired to dig deeper to discover how the magic happens. The stage lighting that inspired this blog was for the Lifehouse concert at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. A lighting production of this caliber requires the best in the business, and Universal Studios has assembled a team with a long and legendary background designing the lighting for TV shows (The Incredible Hulk) and movies (Jurassic Park). Universal Studios also boasts top notch lighting equipment, much of it custom.
In much the same way that a creative landscape designer can design and implement a plan utilizing outdoor wall lighting to make an exterior room come to life, a set and stage lighting designer creates a highly detailed, technical plan to bring a vision to life and to make a concert unforgettable. Like the landscape lighting designer, a lighting designer must balance visibility with mood in choosing his lighting sources, combining single source, point source and multi-source lighting fixtures to achieve the desired effect. After he creates the plan, in the form of a drawing called a Lighting Plot, he must put the proper technicians in place to execute his plan. And then comes the hook up, when every single one of the lighting sources get connected to a single master control console. And it’s this one highly specialized command center that runs the lights for the whole production.
Working with producers and directors, the top stage lighting designers combine artistry with technology to create the kind of concert experience we remember for a lifetime.