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You Can’t Afford to NOT Previz

Chris Lose • August 2020LD at Large • August 5, 2020

Illustration by John Sauer/

We tried the bar napkin sketches. We tried arts and crafts models. We tried making concerts out of doll house furniture. We even tried using artistic dance to convey our visions to the bean counters that ultimately control the final look of our artistic visions. All of these methods brought us one step closer to the modern marvel that we call pre-visualization. In our capable little hands, we have all of the tools necessary to dazzle our clients with beautiful images of projects yet-to-come. We can plot our mega-rigs in virtual space months before we send them to be produced and shipped around the world.

Please don’t take my word for it. I reached out to two pioneers in the previz game to back me up. David Perkins, chief visionary at Imaginary Labs and Andre Petrus, lighting programmer at Clear All Visuals would also like to educate all of us on the importance of previz. When I asked Perkins to give me a description of previz technology, he gave me a very succinct analogy. He said, “Suppose you’re a dancer. Would you wait until you walk onto the stage to begin choreography? No, you go to a studio, maybe workshop your ideas, rehearse, and bring your A-game when you arrive to the real stage.” Previz gives designers the time they need in a controlled environment to make the very most of the rig they may have spent weeks drawing. He continued by saying, “If they wait until the rig is fully loaded-in to begin exploring what it can do, they’re likely going to miss out on its full potential.”

‡‡         Four Ways Previz is Essential

When people ask me if we can afford to previz our show, I tell them, “We can’t afford not to.” Here are four reasons why.

Imagination Saving. All too often, I discover that an accountant or an executive producer lacks the ability to decipher the grandiose visions of two-trillion-watt lasers, floating moons and curved trusses. I can tell them all about my abstractions, but without a visual aide, they are unable or unwilling to expand their mind to encompass what I am describing. If they can’t embrace the vision, they won’t pay for it. When I can come to my client with a 4K presentation of what I am describing, I have a much better shot of convincing them to crack open the vault and spend some money on some real production value.

Previz also gives us the ability to try out big changes in the design by seeing how it works in digital space. These big changes would often not make it to fruition because in real space, they would be expensive to attempt. In digital space, they are free and safe to explore. In Petrus’ opinion, “Rehearsal time is time to rehearse. Once the rig is in the air, I should be looking at cues I already made, and it’s time to finesse and polish. This helps take the overall lighting to another level you may not have had time for.”

Time Saving. Thanks to a beautiful previz file and a detail-oriented crew chief, I was able to patch, hang and create an entire future show on the backup console without any disruption to a current show. When I flew from Miami to Los Angeles, the completed file was on my USB stick. I loaded it up, updated a few patch changes, updated some positions and palettes, and then went to dinner. I had saved myself an entire day of sitting in front of a fresh rig trying to sort out the minutia.

Perkins would like to remind us that previz is also an error-checking tool. When we hire a good previz team, we’re basically getting an additional set of eyes on our show data. Eighty percent of the time, the data he receives is perfect. For the other twenty percent, they are able to catch things that would be debilitating. Given that the rig is not loaded in yet, there is one last chance to make revisions. For example, a plot that we worked on had tower fixtures drawn yoked straight downstage. We soon discovered that we wouldn’t be able to create smooth pan sweeps. This raised a red flag, and we had the fixtures underhung, without wasting time during load-in.

Budget Saving. Every hour that I spend programming on a previz model is an hour of expenditure saved. By programming in virtual space, I am saving venue rental, gear rental, stagehands, riggers, fire watch, fog fluid and per-diem costs. I can walk into a rig that has just been hung and already have my show 90 percent complete. To achieve 90 percent used to require a team of people sleeping near dimmers. That team of people required a venue with a steward and a house rigger and whatever additional fees the local could strap onto the production. With previz, we can cut out all of the middlemen without them even knowing that they have been rendered useless.

Petrus provides us with an example. “Let’s say you have three weeks scheduled for full production rehearsal. If you came into rehearsals with a blank show file, it would take at least a week to get the first pass of the show in the desk. That means you will have to rent the rehearsal space for an extra week.” That three-week rehearsal can now be cut to one or two.

Environment Saving. Saving time, budget and imagination is wonderful. But the most important resource that we can save with pre-visualization is our environment. Previz will soon be recognized as one the most environmentally friendly steps we can take to reduce the carbon footprint of modern lighting rigs. Our industry is not inherently eco-friendly. Shoving metric tons of gear around the globe creates a sizable footprint. A console and a computer do not. By sitting in my hotel room, pushing buttons and guzzling energy drink, I am causing less harm to my environment than the electricity required to power one fixture for a day.

Previz is a Green Technology. Perkins recently acknowledged an article recognizing manufacturers and designers for their conscious choices to reduce their environmental impact. This gave him a lightbulb moment. He thought, “What we do with previz is inherently the greenest technology there is. Without pulling any feeder, turning on a single generator, or lamping on a fixture, a programmer is able to work in a progressive way.”

‡‡         The Future of Previz

Now, before I waste all the words describing the virtues of previz to many of those who are already believers, there is a sea change coming. Soon there will be no limitations as to what can be seen in previz. Everything from waving drape, low smoke, crowds, water and pyro will be visualized in a single environment. This will allow large teams of multi-disciplinary trades to work cohesively on the total show. The bigger challenge will be if everyone is ready to previz together. Perkins summed it up by saying, “The tools will evolve with demand. It’s not previz for the sake of doing previz, it’s previz in service of great design. I couldn’t be more excited about what’s coming around the corner.”


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