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The Language of Lighting

Chris Lose • LD at LargeSeptember 2018 • September 14, 2018

Illustration by Andy Au

After 22 years in the lighting game, I have learned a thing or two about how to talk to people. I have learned that communication is the basic fundamental building block of our industry. Communication is how we get gigs, how we portray our message and how we make one another feel. We express ourselves in our own unique way to our clients and to our audiences alike. We use every form of communication to get our points across. We use language, bar napkin drawings and digital representations to show one another exactly what sugarplum visions we have dancing in our heads. Even with every means of communication in the cosmos available at our fingertips, we still manage to mess it up somehow. We, sometimes, spend more time trying to explain what we mean than we do getting any actual work done.

I have worked for some visionary virtuosos in my time. I have had designers tell me exactly which button to press for each and every cue, and I have had designers who have given me free rein to create my own style of magic so that they could take the credit and accept the lion’s share of the payments. Both systems have proven to be successful for my clients and me.

As a programmer and a lighting director, my job is to receive the information from whichever creative guru has chosen to hire me, transfer that information into colored photons and consistently repeat that vision until the money runs out. Opening my ears is the easy part. Interpreting the data that is flowing into my brain is the hard part. All designers have their own unique way of transferring the work of art in their head to my fingertips, through the buttons and arriving on stage. I have picked up a few keywords that have been consistent from designer to designer. These words don’t always mean what a novice would think they mean. An experienced programmer can hear these words and know exactly which keystrokes they correspond to. In short, I would like to help you translate what in the heck your designer is talking about.

I’d like to scoop out a bit of my knowledge and smear them on these pages for you to dissect. If you sort through the chunks of this article, you will find some gems that will help you to become a much more efficient programmer as well. Here are some common terms that you can keep an ear out for.

LD Lingo, Defined

‡‡         Floofy (adj.)

See also: “Floofed,” “Floofing” (verb)

A hybrid form of the words “Poofy” and “Fluffy.” Floofy means that your designer doesn’t want to see any hard edges. She doesn’t want to see any shadows with a distinct crisp line. She wants things to have rounded corners and indiscriminate shape. In designer speak, she wants it 25 percent out of focus.

‡‡         Steppy (adj.)

The act, or movement, of putting one leg in front of the other in walking or running. This term actually means whatever you are doing, it needs to happen in zero time. When your look is not “steppy”, it means that your crossfade is not matching the tempo of the music and you need to fix it. It could also mean that your chase is not happening at the correct BPM.

‡‡         Ethereal (adj.)

Extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world. “Ethereal” is a word that has been described to me many times and in many ways. Ethereal means that the person asking you to make a look has no idea what they want, but they want it to look insanely good and out-of-this-world. I have had an overwhelming amount of success by putting every single light in a wide open Congo and then taking three to five center spot fixtures and put them in a very slow alternative rotating starry sky gobo aimed DSC. Nine times out of ten, the creative director will smile and say, “Yup, that’s ethereal.”

‡‡         Star Wars Walk (adj.)

The Merriam Webster dictionary was of no help whatsoever when trying to decode this definition. This classification of term is completely made up in the head of a certain creative director. I call this a “mutually realized term.” This sort of term allows the programmer to visualize exactly what the designer has in their head by referencing a modern popular art icon. By cross-referencing the famous Star Wars AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) walker, I was able to mutually visualize the motion that the designer would have otherwise been unable to relay. “Star Wars Walk” is now a pre-defined effect in my library. It is a pan chase that crisscrosses odd and even fixtures to give the illusion of walking.

‡‡         Grogan (noun)

A lump of excrement. For example: Kittens stop being cute when the first grogan hits the carpet. This term is only used by a handful of designers that I have worked for, but it is worth mentioning. This term means you are way off. Designers are at the mercy of their programmers, and they need to continue to motivate the creation of beautiful looks with a sense of expediency. A designer will rarely insult the programmer because that leads to hurt feelings. Discouraging the programmer can only lead to distraction and damaged egos. Grogan means “You tried, you failed, and I want you to not do that again.” Grogan means that you used too many colors in one look, your positions need updating and your not feeling the same way about the music as intended. (If you ignore the warning signs of “grogan,” you may become familiar with the term “term-ination.”)

‡‡         “You need to finesse that.” (phrase)

I appreciate this phrase more than most. This is the most polite way of saying “I am not at the console right now. I can’t type in exactly what I want. You probably did what I told you to do, but you did not present the look that I had envisioned in my head. I need you to continue guessing what I want until I am satisfied with the direction that you are heading and I will approve of a very similar look ten minutes from now.” This phrase means that you are getting close. Your designer has enough faith in you to allow some time to keep going. The creative guru realizes that you have the ability to make a pretty good look even better with a little extra time. This kind of a phrase is very reassuring. This lets me know that we are going to take the time to make art. “We are not just slapping up a bunch of looks to get through the set list. We are going to look at similar atmospheres and choose which one most accurately portrays the mood that is being



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