Lighting Design: Three Techniques

By Raymond Thompson

1. Accentuate the Positive

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Photo: Nadine Froger

This year the California Science Center’s 16th annual gala coincided with the opening of its latest exhibit – Pompeii: The Exhibition. Christina Sion, vice president of food and event services, partnered with the center’s neighboring venue — the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — to transform the entrance of the Coliseum into the garden area of a Pompeiian villa for dinner.

The space itself was the star, and to be sure it got top billing, Images’ lighting designer Lonnie Thompson artfully accentuated it with lighting. He and his team spent a lot of time choosing appropriate colors and texture that would complement the space. In the end, he created a lighting design in tones of amber, red and blue to light the main arch and side arches of the impressive arched entrance. The main stage was lighted in shades of pink and blue and the inner archway directly behind it glowed softly in reds and blues as guests arrived. It was all about augmenting the original aesthetic but pushing the colors to emphasize the architecture.

2. An Old-School Digital Effect

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Photo: Gabor Ekecs

Lighting designer Curt Stahl has worked on the Golden Globes HBO after-party for many years with designer Billy Butchkavitz. While it is always held at the Beverly Hills Hilton, there are always different themes and challenges. This year, for the Liberace-inspired theme (based on the HBO Golden Globe winner Behind the Candelabra), one challenge was a decrease in the amount of digital video to be used on the event space’s main wall. This year, video mapping would only added at the end wall to provide a more kinetic feel to the event that included various branding for the client, candle-scapes and chandelier imagery to tie in the overall theme.

Yet, the designer still wanted the feeling of mapping. In lieu of it, Stahl created the big wall visual using conventional lighting; several gobo rotators created a solid projection of overlapping moving damask texture. It was certainly unique, in this day and age of high-tech, to actually go old school and recreate a look by using old technology, but of course it worked beautifully!

The same approach was taken with the HBO logo. Stahl used automated fixtures to project the logo, overlapping it with MAC III projectors that have branding capabilities. Much time was spent time ensuring they were lined up exactly so that it looked like a single image. This created a more intense image, and served as a great backup if needed.

3. Hide it in Plain Sight

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Photo: Steven Lam Photography

And last, my favorite lighting technique — dressing it up! With more al fresco weddings and events being held in wide, open spaces, the first thing that I have to think of as lighting designer is how I’ll light that space without showing all the gear. At this wedding reception, Santa Barbara-based wedding planner Alexandra Kolendrianos asked me to make it cozy and intimate, but with no tent. And she wanted chandeliers.

To create rigging point, we created an architectural truss structure — a series of 20-by-20-foot rooms, 15 feet high. All spots as well as ambient lighting fixtures to light the bar, the walkway and dance floor were installed on 12-inch box truss that was then sleeved with a cream-colored fabric by Designing Life. Chandeliers were flown at the cross sections.

No matter where you sat in the structure, you had a good seat. And that’s what all these techniques are about. To all of the lighting designers at Images, great lighting is about what you can’t see as much as what you can!

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Ray Thompson is a co-owner and lighting designer of Images, a lighting design firm based in Los Angeles.

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