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Just what is the primary function of the Lighting Designer?

Just Some Bloke

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So you take thousands and thousands of dancers and whittle them down to 20 of the best unsigned dancers in the country, then you give them one of the UK's top choreographers and tell them that if they do well they will win £50,000. Then you work them hard and put them on a stage with the some of the highest production values around to support them. It seems to me that the standard of the performance is going to be high.


So when the first thing the top judge says about that performance is "the best thing about that routine was the lighting" then it seems to me that the LD has got something wrong. And, indeed, I think he did.


I watched "So You Think You Can Dance" over the weekend and I imagine that the standard of the dancing was pretty high - certainly, having seen the same performers in previous weeks, I can confirm that they both have immense talent. Unfortunately, I've no idea if their performance was any good or not, as all I could see was these lazers coming from all angles and stopping me from being able to see the dancers. I kept trying to concentrate on the moves, the technique and the presentation of the dancers but those lazers just got in the way. The lighting would have been absolutely brilliant if someone hadn't forgotten that the aim of a lighting designer is surely to compliment the performance, not compete with it. In this competition the lighting won and the dancers lost. That's wrong, surely.


For those who'd like to comment, the show is still available on iPlayer and the routine is the first of the night. Have a look and see if you agree.


At the end of the day, am I wrong about the LD's job, or is stealing the show wrong?

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Firstly, there is no such thing as a 'lazer' [sic], but there is such a thing as a laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation).


I'm only just starting out on the path of lighting design, but I had always taken it that lighting design (for live events and theatre) was there to illuminate performers and create an atmosphere.

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Well, I'm sure, JSB that your question is indeed a rhetorical one.

I watched the section you refer to on the iPlayer link, and will agree that once the lasers got into full swing they were more of a distraction than a compliment.

However, that said, I wasn't at all impressed with the routine itself as a dance number, but that's a whole different critique! :huh:


As for the actual answer, well, I've always believed the role of the LD tends towards the following criteria:


1. Can the paying public SEE the performers?

2. Can the lighting in 1. above compliment and augment the mood and scene setting of said performers?

3. Can the lighting create additional emphasis outside of the performance if required?

4. If the idea of the performance itself dictates that at any time the actors are NOT required to be in full vision, does the lighting allow for the mood/atmosphere to be conveyed?

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I thought the dancers were mostly well lit throughout and the lasers were an appropriate choice of effect given the music used. I have no idea about the dancers performance as I know almost nothing about dance. I interpreted the judges comment about the lighting being the best part of the performance as a comment on the dancers performance, not on the quality of the lighting.


Matthew - I don't pretend to be an expert on lighting design, but I would say that for lighting a band creating an atmosphere or lightshow can take precedence over just keeping the act visible.

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I thought I'd swing at this one from the point of a dance judge - and leave the lighting element. It was simple to focus on the dancers, and ignore the lighting - I rather though from JSBs intro that it would be all effects masking the movement, but apart from a very small number of shots that were a little too closeup to show full body, you could see everything that as a judge you need to see, and it was poor. Remove the lighting and there was very little content that showed any advanced technique - this standard is visible from amateurs all the time, and the bits that give the game away, like canon & unison were very short and undemanding for a competition.


Without the lighting, it would have looked very basic and lacklustre - watching it again, as a viewer, the excitement level went up, and I do believe the lighting did exactly what the LD wanted - make weak dancers look better. Watch it again with your hands cupped allowing you to follow the dancers, and it's really dull!


They do the same thing on all these shows - Strictly being the worst culprit when you have the weaker ones on - good dance draws the eye onto the best or worst elements. Clever lighting does the opposite.


Having a quick look at the others, there was definitely an attempt to 'disguise' what some were doing.

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or is stealing the show wrong?


Dear Eric


This is a brief response as I'm running out of the door for a meeting.


I get extremely pissed off if people DON'T notice my lighting!I've not stood around for hours tinkering with a truck-load of equipment just so that people can not notice stuff. I am at odds with the notion that that the LD just reacts to what the director/designer wants. The LD should be proactive - after all, I can read "Hamlet" too.


I have a paper on this that I presented at a CSSD conference that I'll try and put online.



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I can't disagree with Paul about the quality of the dancing... How about renaming the programme "So you think you can put on a good show" - the combination of dance, lighting & sound are what makes the spectacle here - the dancing on its own wouldn't make for a very good programme...
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I'm sure that at some point in the pre-production meetings somebody simply said "what can we do to make the programme exciting and entertaining? Some of the participants may need some help - so let's make it as stunning as we can - ideas, anyone?"


If we were talking about professional performers, then perhaps the 'wow' factor should come from them? However, we've all seen and many of us designed shows where the performer content is a bit weak, so we counteract with artistic input from the 'support' department. It's so easy to realise what you've actually done is a deliberate shift of perspective from the performance to the 'whole'.


I liken it a bit to when I went to see Genesis - the sound and lighting were what made the show, supported by the imag - because the actual musicians were insignificant little ants on a huge stage. I spoke to Patrick Woodroffe about this show when we were sitting in a waiting room once, and he was genuinely pleased I enjoyed it. This seems to me to be similar to what happened here - the LD adding something to what is a pretty difficult show.

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Well, as I said up above, the dance itself was indeed a whole different critique, but as we're 'going there'...


Yes, I must say that the laser backed routine (only watched that one) was not even up to the standard in many ways of your average club dancers - certainly well below the quality of some of the better dance schools around here (we host no less than 27 dance schools on our stage for performances, so trust me, I've seen a HUGE range of abilities!)


The other aspect which distracts rather than adds to any routines is that of camera work - something I've bemoaned here before. The almost constant switch around of camera angles does NOT in my opinion add anything to the performances and serves only to irritate the hell out of me!

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Hughie Green started it and this is the reductio ad absurdum - take ordinary talent and surround it with whatever tricks of the trade you can to make it look like something or indeed anything! I agree with Tony though, I stopped watching after about a minute largely because the vision mixing was so busy and the camera work so cliché-ridden.
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This was a TV production and (in my experience) TV lighting designers don't get too much of a say about the end look that is achieved. I've done a reasonable number of live performance type shows for TV/camera and I'm always restricted to what the director wants, they want a big LED video screen, they get a big LED video screen, they want lots of funky video content then that's what they get even when the artist specifically states that they do not want ANY video of ANY kind used in their production. Sure the dancing is important but to the TV production team, the most important thing is to create a finished product which is fresh, enjoyable and interesting enough to keep people watching all series. Weather or not they succeeded is a matter of opinion. Personally I don't see anything fresh in yet another talent show on TV nor do I like the use of LASERs as a lighting effect as they aren't too versatile.


I'm not saying that the LD doesn't have any say or creative input, sure they design the rig, and the looks but, as with all productions, they have to work with the director and the rest of the production department.


My guess is that the director decided they wanted LASERs and so LASERs were booked the director got the images they wanted and the show went on air. If the director wasn't happy with the look then they would have changed things during rehearsals no matter what the LD wanted. Yes the LD's job is to make sure that the cast are visible but in TV (unlike live performance) the LD is not solely responsible for what you see they are merely there to light what the director want the camera to see.


Were the LASERs a bad choice? Possibly, it's a matter of personal taste

Was the end result LDs responsibility? Absolutely not.


I spoke to Patrick Woodroffe about this show when we were sitting in a waiting room once, and he was genuinely pleased I enjoyed it.


I wonder where that was ;-)

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My wife and I did find the LASERs very distracting.


- On the good side, it didn't burn into hyper-blue as I've seen far too often in HD over the last year or so, and the LASERs didn't shatter into interlacing artifacts like they did on X-Factor last year. Very good job from the technical team.


I did find the judging highly irritating though - they seemed to focus far more on the choreography and lighting than the dancers execution of it.

- The dancers are not the choreographers for their 'main act'...


I didn't think much of the choreography for the first act at all - it felt like there wasn't much there to excel at in the first place.

It could have been due to extreme cuts at a late stage if the dancers couldn't do the 'real thing', but that's still rather disingenuous - surely they have a good idea as to what each of the dancers can and cannot do by now?

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This was a TV production and (in my experience) TV lighting designers don't get too much of a say about the end look that is achieved.


Very much have to disagree, I work a lot in TV and am working with the company providing the lighting for this show (we also do others like strictly etc) and the designer in question has a lot of input, in fact it is him who will make the decisions about what is used and how, there is certainly not a director saying I want lasers and him just pandering to the wants of others. The design is used to both enhance the performance and as others have said at times to help hide the talents (of lack there of) as need be.


However your point about the end product being the most important thing is very true, from a dance point of view camera shots where you can not see the feet and certainly in shows like strictly close ups of the face are fairly useless however the public as a whole want to see the faces and want to see a show that looks good they dont really care about seeing the feet lit in a simple way as much and you have to remember that it is those people that the show has to be aimed at also and perhaps unfortunately the people that want to see a wow factor out number those of us that would be happy to see a good simple dance show. But just think if those people did not want to see the show as a whole the lighting on these shows would be very boring for all of us, I have seen the rehearsals in house lights and the show is just not the same but we could just show that if the only part of the show was the dancing and nothing else mattered.


The arguments about the lighting could be applied to many things for example do we need a set that is that elaborate, could a dance studio not work as well, do we need that sort of sound system or would a small PA not work after all its only the dance that matters...


The show is a whole and at different times for different reasons the focus has to be shifted thats all part of what makes a show, the same is true in theatre and all other parts of the industry, we all have jobs because of just that fact that the show has to be a whole and has to be as good in all aspects as it could be, its that fact that drives both the new designs and drives technology in the industry forward.



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