Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Scenic Masterclass Speaker: Donald Holder

It was interesting to hear lighting designer Donald Holder (The Lion King) talk about collaboration (or not) between set designer and lighting designer.  I absolutely loved the title of his talk: "When Did We Add the Mirrored Floor?"

Says it all.

Mirror! - image from HERE

Communication =  Important.

He had a hilarious story about a shouting match in Tech after one very-eminent-set-designer (cough, cough) at the last minute, and without telling the lighting designer, moved scenery into fly space needed for lighting.   The equally-very-eminent director had to physically stand between the two designers before punches flew.

The lesson?  Talk first!

The take-away message was that the set designer needs to respect the lighting designer's needs.  For instance, to "pop" actors off the set with light, the lighting guys absolutely need space to fit lights between the actors and the scenery.  So don't, you know, fill that up.  (As that cough-cough designer did.)

"Give the lighting room!"

Mr.  Holder also suggested, when a set designer talks to a lighting designer, that we "focus on the positive."  (I suspect this translates as, no name calling, swearing, or finger-pointing.  I think it can get ugly.)  Talking to each other - civilly - is vital.

He spoke about his influences and inspirations, which turned out to be similar to what I've heard from lighting designer friends: the inspiration of nature and its lighting effects like sunrises and sets, clouds and shade, plus the great painters of light like Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hopper, or Sargeant.  Holder explained the importance of stage lighting as the "lens" through which the audience sees the show.  Perfectly true.  He reminded us of Joe Melzeiner's definition of a set as "a lightable object."  And he described lighting design in practice as a constant balance between a conceptual approach and the practicalities, between the "big gestures" and the nuts and bolts.

In this nuts-n-bolts spirit he recommended against curved cycs - "curved cycs tend to look wrinkled" - and especially against flying them.  Plain ol' straight, framed-in-black cycs work best.

He also discussed the present conversion of stage lighting from the standard of incandescent fixtures to LEDs.  The Lion King saved 30% on its energy bills when it switched to LED for its new UK tour, plus less maintenance.  That advantage is obvious.  The disadvantages of LEDs are more subtle.  For one thing, color mixing is not quite the full rainbow spectrum that the ads suggest - some colors are unavailable.  Skin tones tend to fade under LED light.  And the fading of those lights...  Where an incandescent source keeps its true color right up until that last moment, then gains a golden glow before dying, LED colors shift throughout the fade but miss that "warm" last moment.  He called it a subtle difference, but one with psychological importance after millenia of human association between light and flame.

Holder also talked about the recent trend (thanks largely to LEDs) of building more lighting into the sets themselves.  For Spiderman, with a set budget of (wallet spasm!) $ 8 million, $ 2.5 million of that was spent on in-set lights and electrics.  This kind of scenic installation makes collaboration between lighting and set designers even more important.

That mirror floor?  That was a set designer's surprise.

(No one had told him - but he coped.  A lot of actor-lighting was suddenly bounce light from below.)

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