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Fight Night: Khabib vs. McGregor

by Wilson Burke • in
  • Lighting for the Camera
  • November 2018
• Created: November 12, 2018

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Photos by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

LD Frank Gatto Lights UFC 229 with Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov

he three-time Emmy award-winning Frank Gatto & Associates, based in Boca Raton, FL have built a positive name over the past 38 years in the field of sports lighting. President and owner Frank Gatto, who was a full-time lighting director with television station WTVJ in Miami beginning in 1970, incorporated Frank Gatto & Associates (FGA) in 1980, operating it part-time while still working at WTVJ. In 1987, Gatto left the station and concentrated all his attention on building FGA. Among his first clients was a new, small cable sports network, ESPN, and Gatto started lighting kickboxing for them. Another early client was the USA network; they hired him to light USA’s Tuesday Night Fights.

Over the years, FGA specialized in on-location productions for sporting events all over the world. As ESPN grew into a televised sports leader, FGA lit many of the network’s location shows. Among the other networks that the firm has worked with are: Showtime, Fox, Univision, and Major League Baseball. Though FGA has a strong reputation in the fight worlds of boxing and mixed martial arts, they have worked on a wide range of sporting events, including, baseball, soccer, football, golf, hockey, billiards, and cricket. Some of their marquee sporting events projects in the FGA portfolio are the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Showtime Boxing, Men’s and Women’s U.S. Open Golf, MLB World Series, Professional Fighters League and ESPN College GameDay, to name a few.

In addition to sports, the firm also lights corporate events and political debates; in fact, Gatto has lit every president since Richard Nixon. In 2018, Frank Gatto & Associates was named Best TV Lighting Specialists—the Americas, as a part of U.K.-based LUX Life magazine’s Global Entertainment Awards.

This past October, FGA’s long-time client, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) had the firm light the fight cards that made up the mixed martial arts event, UFC 229, as well as the events that surrounded the fights like the weigh-in. It would include the highly anticipated, and highly contentious, Khabib Nurmagomedov versus Conor McGregor fight. T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV was sold out on Oct. 6, 2018 and the event set the record for the highest-ever attendance and gate for mixed martial arts in Nevada. Even more people watched on Pay-Per-View around the world. In support of Frank Gatto’s lighting design, Jason Eible, who has been with FGA since 1997, was on site as the lighting director for UFC 229.

Tempers flare at the UFC 229 weigh-in. Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

‡‡         Lighting the Fights

There are always several bouts as a part of a UFC event, and UFC 229 was no different. There’s always something going on as a part of the fight night—lighting, video elements, music, and more to keep the fans entertained. FGA must not only provide a white light sports lighting look for the Octagon during the fights themselves, but also provide lighting to tone the audience, as well as some high energy lighting looks to build on the crowd’s energy. The FGA team also lights up ancillary areas for the Octagon Girls, the fighter’s entrances, etc. “We have a regular design for all of the shows,” explains Gatto. “On this particular show, we had a lot of extra things that we had to do, such as a big weigh-in. Overall, we had a bit more on this show than we have on normal shows.”

In addition to the extra lighting, Gatto and his team had to consider balancing the lighting design for the fans in attendance as well as those watching at home on Pay-Per-View. “The UFC cares a lot about the audience experience, so we do some things to please the audience in the arena as well as the viewers,” says Gatto. “We put some colored lights around on the audience to look good on camera, and we have ballyhoos going around when something exciting happens, like on the announcement of the winner. We also have strobes going, and things of that nature. The in attendance audience experience is important to the UFC as well as the television viewer’s experience.”

In thinking about the television picture, Gatto notes, the use of a color wash on the audience that appeared behind the fighters. “We like to get a balance between the Octagon, and then we like to have a different color on the audience, a little bit of amber on them as a background; just to separate the Octagon from the audience. Also, we’re always coordinating with the video person, going into the TV truck and looking at everything together, discussing color temperatures, and what we’re going to do.”

Lighting director Jason Eible with Frank Gatto & Associates. Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

‡‡         Washing the Audience

“Until recently, we lit the Octagon, the audience, as well as all of the ancillary areas all with ETC Source Four PARs,” comments Eible. “This past July, we switched to an LED wash light for the audience areas. We now use a unit from Christie Lites, our supplier. It’s an RGBW LED strobe/wash light unit that works great. Of course, with change comes a little nervousness, because when you’ve been doing the same thing for so long, people notice the smallest things when they’re out of place. For the first few fights, we hung the LED lights alongside our traditional Source Four PARs. We gradually moved over adding more of the LED units and looked to see if people responded negatively; we could go back to the Source Four PARs if necessary. The change worked out well though, and the LED units do a great job; enabling us to easily change the color on the crowd and have individual controls over the lights.”

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

By changing from the PARs to an LED wash light, the FGA lighting team has reduced the glare in the audience’s eyes. “That is something that UFC really excels at is, basically not abusing the crowd with a bunch of lights during fight coverage,” continues Eible. “Now that we have the LEDs, we’ve been experimenting with colors to paint the crowd. On some of the fights, we paint the audience blue to give a better depth of field. The nice part about the LEDs is, they have a super wide field angle. Even when one of them is directed right at you, you won’t feel that this light is blinding you. You can still see the fight going on, clearly. You can see the video screens and the replays are all going on. It’s the one thing that you couldn’t do with PAR cans unless you used a lot of diffusion, and a had lot of different angles.”

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

While Eible maintains that the lighting team doesn’t have a “whole lot of tricks in the bag” in terms of lighting cues, they are ready to go no matter what happens during the fights. “We respond with the lighting to match the energy of the crowd,” says Eible. “We have a lot of ballyhoos, but, for instance, if the second fight ends in a knockout, we bring the crowd lights up right away to capture that energy on camera; to see people moving. Then when the replays start, we’ll bring everything down—we don’t kill all the lights—but lower them so people can pay attention. We just try to feed off the energy of the crowd and to convey that energy on camera.”

The Octagon and audience areas were both lit at UFC 229

‡‡         The Main Event

The lighting team does save some tricks for the main card. “Over time, the design for the main card has evolved,” Eible explains. “We’ll do blackout cues when they run video sequences. The lighting will work with video and audio, so we bring everything to black, which gets people excited. Then we’ll bring up some lighting along with music and video for the fighter entering. The main event fighter walk-ins are a bit more dramatic. They’ll start walking backstage, whereas the rest of the night, the other fighters are standing at the bottom of the arena ready to go. For the entrance, there’s a music cue, and we like to see when people grab their cellphones and start crowding for access; it’s something that we try to capture in the moment. That’s a bit special with the UFC. We also have four followspots for each show to highlight the fighter’s entrance.”

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

To light the Octagon, which during the fight is an even white wash lighting with a color temperature of 3,200K, the FGA design uses a total of 96 Source Four PARs on six lamp bars. To paint the Octagon with color between rounds, they use some moving lights. “We use a combination of MAC Vipers—both Profiles and Washes,” notes Eible. “The wash units give us the ability to do some color washes in the Octagon. Also, for this event, we added in 10 MAC Quantum Washes for an effect in the main ring when they did their intro right before the fight.” For the starburst looks on camera, we use 22 MAC Auras. To light up the Octagon fence, we have grates built in the stage deck that surround the Octagon; they’re like the old rock ‘n’ roll grates. In those grates, I have 16 of the new Chroma-Q Color Force II 72s that graze the fence. We played with a lot of different lighting fixtures but found the Color Force IIs really blow through the Octagon; even when the Octagon lights are on, you can still clearly see these on the fence.”

The weigh-in made use of a half-octagon lighting rig. Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

‡‡         Weighing In

There are a lot of events surrounding a UFC fight. Among the most anticipated by fans is the free-to-attend weigh-ins — and for UFC 229, it was a very big deal. Held the day before, the weigh-in took place on stage at one end of the arena, with fans and international media in attendance. “The weigh-in had its own separate lighting rig from the fight rig for the Octagon,” Eible points out. “This is something that I came up with a long time again; a half octagon truss to light the whole stage. For the weigh in, there’s the 270-degrees of the bowl.”

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

For most events of this nature, the crews would have ample time to load-in and program the lighting looks, but this was UFC 229, paired with a very busy T-Mobile Arena. “The challenge for this event, because of the magnitude of this particular fight, obviously, was time,” Eible states. “plus the arena schedule was busy. Thursday night, the night before we started at T-Mobile Arena, was the first NHL home game for the Golden Knights hockey team. Typically, we get an arena for Thursday, and then, we’ll have Friday for the weigh-in, and Saturday’s our show, and then strike. This time of year, it gets tough, because we do several fights in arenas that have other sports events, so when we get into November, we’ll do same day set up, shoot, and strikes for the whole production.”

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

Eible continues describing the load-in schedule for the massive UFC229. “It got a little tight for this particular event, because of the NHL opener, we didn’t have Thursday, so we started rigging at 3 a.m. Friday morning. We rigged our main show; flew that out to the ceiling, and then we brought in the weigh-in stage, and did the lighting for it. Then, at 6:00 p.m. Friday night, when the weigh-in show was over, we had the crew come back in and load-out the weigh-in show. At the same time, we were resetting for the main show. We were there from 3:00 a.m. Friday to 4:00 a.m. Saturday, just getting everything in order.”

LD Jason Eible at the FOH for the fight night configuration of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. He used an Avolites Sapphire Touch. Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

‡‡         Teamwork

For his lighting control console, Eible, who programs and operates his own shows, chooses to work with an Avolites Sapphire Touch. “I love it,” he says. “It’s a great desk for busking on, and it’s very intuitive; it’s just easy.” FGA works with rental company Christie Lites to supply the lighting equipment for the UFC fights. “Christie has been fantastic, as far as supporting us,” states Eible. “At the end of the day, we couldn’t ask for a better partner. Jeff Johnson and Cory Walker are our Christie Lites reps and are great to work with.”

Eible also gives credit to his lighting team. “Jim Matthews is my lighting crew chief for UFC 229; he’s my right-hand guy and has been with us for over 10 years now. Fernando Moreira, who is also one of our crew chiefs, has been with us for just about as long as Jim, he is my L1 for this show. The other key players on our team are Cody Benton, my L2 and John Franco, my L3 for this show. Those guys, from about this time of year all the way through May, they’ll start at 4:00 a.m., and be ready for doors at 2:00 p.m. They do it every week, and it’s a hustle and they always get it done, no matter what the challenges. It is a really positive attitude approach we all take and that makes it work.”

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

The positive attitude of Frank Gatto and his team paved the way to new technology for their designs. “We were the first company to use moving lights for TV lights in boxing,” says Gatto. “Before that, we used to just hang conventional lights, and shoot them into cameras, for that star filter effect. When we went over to the moving lights, we called them ‘beauty lights,’ and the director would say, “Beauties to camera nine!” We’d press a button, and bang, they’d all go right to camera nine. We were able to get a lot of different looks with moving lights and that changed how we designed fight lighting. Now, we’ve made the move to LED technology and we have so much more control over color and less glare. Again, it is changing how we light things. It is improving the overall look and audience experience. We can’t wait to see what’s next.”

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

UFC 229

Gear

  • 2       Avolites Sapphire Touch consoles
  • 16     ETC Source Four PAR Six Lamp Bars
  • 24     ETC Source Four PARs, loose
  • 4       ETC Source Four 26-degree Ellipsoidals
  • 22     Martin MAC Auras
  • 5       Martin MAC Viper Profiles
  • 4       Martin MAC Viper Washes
  • 16     Chroma-Q Color Force II 72 RGBA LED Batten
  • 4       Zylight 1 x 2 Pro-Panels
  • 44     Elation Level Q7 LED PARs
  • 56     Christie Lites STR RGBW LED Panels
  • 4       Zylight Newz LED On Camera Lights
  • Total Structures 12” Box Truss
  • Total Structures 20.5” Box Truss

Photo by Brenton Ho/Kabik Photo Group

For more on Frank Gatto & Associates, go to www.frankgattolighting.com.

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