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The Creative Process of Richard Belliveau

Thomas S. Friedman • April 2020PLSN Interview • April 8, 2020


ETC/HES’ Richard Belliveau

Richard Belliveau has been a driving force in automated lighting development for 30+ years. His body of work has produced many groundbreaking products and dozens of patents that bear his name. The 2009 Parnelli Visionary Award winner’s work still results in patents and accolades; most notably his recent work on High End’s TurboRay and SolaPix projects, with the results showing clearly the innovation chops he’s been sharpening since the late 1980s.

‡‡         Young at Heart

But how does Belliveau stay on the cutting edge in an industry with so much competition? Like some of his best ideas, the solution is less complicated than one would think. “I try to stay young at heart, because if I become one of those nostalgic ‘the good old days’ types, I’m done — I couldn’t innovate any longer. I really have to involve myself with younger people. I’m interested in what makes them happy or motivates them, and I am inspired to create products that get both the younger and the older crowds going.”

Belliveau says when LED wash lights first came out, he avoided getting in that game. “My eye wasn’t drawn to the separate red, green and blue LEDs, and I thought, ‘Who would ever use that? It looks like a pizza.’ But I was at a karaoke party, and it dawned on me that these young people weren’t judging the light the same way I had. They thought it was a cool look. I realized then that I was a little too late in in that game. But when I did realize this is accepted by the younger generation, it gave me the freedom to do an effect I’d wanted for a long time, which was to move the individual modules, and the Shapeshifter was born.”

Richard often looks beyond the obvious in product solutions. With Showgun, engineering’s goal was to make a powerful large emitting beam surface. But Belliveau realized designers weren’t focusing gobos the way he had envisioned. “We had worked so hard with the lithography process, but at a show, I saw everybody used the gobos out of focus. So that was part of the Showgun concept — it would have gobos, but it was more about, ‘Can we make fabulous breakups on the stage with that?’”

He is also one who enjoys the controversy over features like the Showgun’s LED ring. During the development phase, he pulled up to a red light next to a car with spinners. “My passenger looked at the car with its wheels still spinning and said, ‘Look at that — that’s so disgusting!’ And I said, ‘Then why are you looking?’” That evening, Richard had the vision to include the LED ring system on the Showgun — to highlight it regardless if someone might find it distasteful. “Younger people didn’t care, and I didn’t either — you could always turn them off.”

Looking back on the era of digital lighting, he says, “This is why I maintain it’s important to stay young — I wouldn’t have been in the place to find that inspiration.” The moment came when Richard was checking out a New Age band in an Austin basement. “ Maybe I was too old to be there, but I was having a good time,” he laughs. “They used a projector, projecting graphics on the band with Apple software, and I could not believe the impact this had with a 1,000-lumen projector as the only stage light.

“I immediately thought about how to incorporate projection into moving heads, as well as applying media servers. I took my HES co-workers to see this, and that helped motivate them to think about digital lighting. It turns out that Richard Bleasdale’s media server technology, along with Peter Wynne Wilson’s orbital head, was by far the easiest and cool pathway. Initially accomplished with a Barco projector, that concept evolved to the DL series with media servers in the fixture, so that long lines of RGB cable weren’t required from the stage.”

Belliveau’s drive for innovation has resulted in products years ahead of their time, but he is not one to rest on his laurels. “My attitude is to just keep going. Sure, you see products similar to those we created a decade ago becoming highly successful. But my rear view mirror is only for nostalgia.”

He views automated lighting products in two distinct hemispheres. “One is theatrical framing spots or washes, workhorses in general, but shows still need something special. That same audience still thrives to see something that is new technology and a look they’ve never seen before. I focus on designing products that will simultaneously look amazing, impress an audience, and that will be affordable.”

‡‡         TurboRay and SolaPix

His latest innovations involves a retro vibe, but modernized with a new look. “The kids today at concerts are the new generation. We’re not only working for the designer, but we’re working for their audience. The baby boomer generation sees one thing, and you still have to appeal to that crowd. But the younger people at the festivals have never seen that older gear, so you can create things for them with new ideas and technology that turns them on.”

Much has been made in comparisons between High End Systems’ TurboRay and the Vari-Lite VL5. Richard counters, “We ended up with a license for that technology, and ETC had purchased Irideon. In developing TurboRay, I was focused on finding solutions and applications that weren’t inherent in the VL5. We wanted to make TurboRay into something completely unique that would look good on TV and on stage. My presentation on TurboRay used the ‘old Camaro, new Camaro’ analogy. The classic Camaro was liked by the prominent designers of the day, and the new Camaro is liked by the younger generation. But the two worlds can converge, and they can both be appreciated.”

TurboRay’s radial diffuser utilizes a different design and substrate. Belliveau points out the role of secondary diffusion in TurboRay is an important feature and credits the concept to product manager Matt Stoner. “We came up with a way to close the diffusers to make the wash, which I thought was a great idea.”

Hot on the heels of TurboRay was the SolaPix project, where Belliveau was approached by management to devise a replacement for the SolaWash pixel wash fixtures. “I thought what a common product to try to innovate, but after working with Matt Stoner on some concepts, I began to envision something I hoped would be very special, which became the HaloGraphic Pixel Definition technology in that product.”

With two-by-fours, custom jigs and various lens coatings, he assembled the first prototype. “I have to say it just blew me away; I couldn’t believe that this idea would be so dramatic. People think there is great complexity to the HaloGraphic system, but it’s quite simple, and I’m fortunate to have received a U.S. Patent for that technology. I specified the amount of diffusion in the tool, and this causes the light scattering properties of the lens when in HaloGraphic mode. And by the way, SolaPix is a great light even without that feature.”

Not surprisingly, Belliveau is working on new projects he hopes will be trendsetting in the industry. “For me, it’s not all about the money. I like making people happy, even with little things like our time saving HazeFree technology. But when I hear those gasps of excitement from a crowd, I know I’m doing my job!

“Ultimately, I’m ego driven and I don’t want to fall behind. As long as I have my health, I certainly won’t retire. High End Systems and ETC have given me this great opportunity to provide the outcome that is the expectation of my personality.”

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