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Lighting For Our Phone Friends

Chris Lose • August 2019LD at Large • August 8, 2019

Illustration by Andy Au

We are not lighting for the human eye any longer. We are using computers to send digital signals to excite millions of electrons to send billions of photons to light a few performers for a horde of other computers that are recording the show for possible future viewing.

We are sending thousands of pounds of gear around the globe so that the concertgoers of the world can view their favorite artists through a window 750 pixels wide by 1,334 pixels tall. These images will be shared farther and wider than any Boomer or Gen X’er could have imagined.

These images will make it around the world before the show is even over. The images will return back to the artists’ dressing room before the last bottle of vodka is emptied. Our artists and their management will make up their collective mind about the quality of the show based, almost exclusively, on these images.

We cannot fight this reality, but I can help you prepare for the inevitable. Here are five ways that you can ensure that your 21st century crowd gets the best experience while viewing the entire production through their smartphone.

‡‡         Followspots

Get the budget approved for followspots. Do not rely on house followspots any longer. They are unreliable, and they are at random angles every single day. They need to be low angles to flatter your artists and there need to be plenty of them. The artist needs to be lit from every angle every time they are on stage. They need to be color-balanced for video. Several direct light sources coming from the right angles will make for the best Instagram photos possible. That is an actual goal of ours now.

When your artist comes to you with a photo taken from last night’s show and they can see how great they look in every photo, don’t forget to mention just how expensive it is to get those looks, and how much work you put in to ensure every angle was perfect. We have to assume that every single moment is being broadcasted live to someone’s nieces’ living room. Every pose is being snapped, selfied and entered into the Cloud for all eternity.

‡‡         Footlights

Footlights aren’t just for theater any more. Footlights have come a long way from the downstage edge full of incandescent bulbs. The LED footlight market has exploded.

Per meter, we can pack 10 times the amount of LED lumens into the show than we ever could with MR-16 strips. On a recent show, Aaron Hubbard, the regional sales manager at ACT Lighting, Inc. introduced me to the Robert Juliat Dalis 862 variable white and Dalis 864 color footlight. The quality of light that came from these compact fixtures was enough to inspire this article.

The majority of concertgoers are sitting five feet lower than their idols, and they are looking up their noses. A high angle followspot will just cast shadows downward and lead to viral posts about how old your artist looks. I have had to answer to those photos a few times. I try to convince them that it’s the followspot angles, but that solution has been dismissed more than once.

A steady stream of warm white lumens washing their face from the thrust and the B-stage will present them in their best light. A catwalk full of footlights will allow for every photo from the front row to look its best. Aaron Hubbard and ACT are betting their reputation on the usefulness of these low angle LED footlights, because they know each photo could be the next TMZ header.

‡‡         Video Interaction

A video wall behind the stage makes a huge difference. Make sure that the visuals interact with the artist. Make sure that the content draws your attention back to the artist. Go big, but don’t forget about the central focus. I like to use the mirror effect when creating content, and when I try to spice up existing content. If I can mirror the content to draw attention back to the center of the stage, I am still making a huge image, but the attention goes back to the performer. I am happy to see lots of up and coming bands that are aware that most festivals have a video wall these days. More often than not, their LD will at least show up with a USB stick with a current band logo. A simple logo behind the band sets them apart from the other artists that performed that day.

‡‡         Smartphone Interactivity

Imagine a concert where the audience can dictate the tempo of the show using an app on their phone. Fantasize about a show where the audience can vote on the set list in real time. Envision a concert where the colors of your smartphone background match the colors of the concert. Picture a stadium where each pixel on your phone becomes part of the content. This level of integration was incomprehensible just a decade ago. The sheer level of computation and integration would have been unobtainable. Nowadays, these pipe dreams are not only possible, they are starting to become affordable. These 22nd century ideas are quickly becoming a reality in our 21st century shows.

‡‡         Augmented Reality

When you have the budget, this is the future of concerts right here. Drones are cool, and holograms are great for viral videos, but this is what will change the playing field. Accepting the fact that three quarters of the audience are already viewing the artist through their smartphones allows the designer to fully embrace modern technology. Placing augmented reality codes into the video allows the artist to let their imagination go wild. Through augmented reality, we can have a spaceship fly through the air and land on stage. AR allows the artist to have pyro spectaculars without getting a fire permit. AR will soon allow us to present an entire stage of backup dancers without the necessary buses, hotels and flight expenses. I cannot stress enough the impact that AR will have on our market. If you are reading this article from atop your Scrooge McDuck pile of money, I recommend you invest in AR now instead of playing catch-up later. You can thank me in the future.

‡‡         The Future is Now

Our smartphones are a part of our lives. Our phones are the first thing we see in the morning and the last image we see before we go to bed. They have become our companions. It is only natural that we take our friends to a concert with us. It is easier and more effective to embrace the digital age than it is to deny its usefulness. The artist and production can only scream at the audience for so long to put down their smartphones before they realize that their pleas are falling on deaf ears. Even if two people put down their smartphones for one song, they will pick them right back up the next song when they think the artist won’t notice them a second time. Embracing the phones and preparing for their impact on our industry will reduce stress, increase creativity and open new worlds to our medium.

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