Expansive color palettes and power are key for lighting designer Bud Horowitz
Published Tuesday, June 29, 2010 6:00 am
by Bryan Matthews

Lighting designers face many challenges in concert touring such as how to enhance the story and emotion of the music through the use of color. On the current “Play On Tour” with Carrie Underwood, lighting designer Bud Horowitz has surpassed this obstacle by creating a design that beautifully complements the depth and emotion of the multi award-winning artist and her music. To do this, Horowitz bolstered his design with 91 automated luminaires from Philips Vari-Lite, provided by Bandit Lites.

“For the tour, director Raj Kapoor and production designer Michael Cotten created the initial visual concepts for the show with the physical structure layout and video elements in place,” began Horowitz. “They wanted to break the show out into four acts with each act having its own look and feel through custom video content created by Mark Allen. And it was the video elements that would really then drive the color palettes for the lighting.”

Prior to joining the tour, Horowitz had worked with Kapoor on a number of special event occasions but the two had never collaborated on a concert tour. With his diverse background that includes designing for opera and theatre as well as concert touring, Horowitz possessed the understanding of how color can best be used to complement the story of music.

“I first got involved with the tour due to my previous relationship with Raj who has worked with Carrie since the middle of 2009. When he called me in December to see if I wanted to join him again I knew it was something that I really wanted to do. Although I had never seen her live before, I began watching tapes of her previous shows to get a good feel for the artist and her music. I could tell right away that both were full of a rare combination of emotion and power and so I wanted to make sure the lighting design enhanced both these characteristics.”

Once onboard, Horowitz got to work on his design. Kapoor and Cotten had laid out a set design that included four rear-projection, double-stacked, 20K video screens surrounded by seven vertical truss columns that lead up to a large, center truss ring. With the show broken up into four acts, the projection screens would showcase the custom video while Horowitz’s lighting design created the color backdrop on which it all played out.

“With the trim heights for the show ranging anywhere between 35 – 40 feet over the stage, the main qualification for the lighting was that it had to be able to handle these distances without losing any of the color quality across the beam, plus it also had to have deep, saturated colors with an extended color palette to complement the video. When I was looking at which lights to choose the VARI*LITE luminaires had everything I needed; power, color consistency and the most expansive color palette on the market today.”

Once he knew which automated luminaires would make his design work best, Horowitz then turned to Authorized VARI*LITE Dealer Bandit Lites who provided him with 42 VL3000 Spot, 43 VL3500 Wash, and 6 VL3500 Spot luminaires.

“I had never worked with Bandit Lites before on a concert tour and I cannot say enough great things about them. They provided us with exceptional equipment, had a phenomenal work ethic, and showed tremendous hospitality during the programming phase.”

As the initial programming phase did begin, Horowitz knew the exact purpose for each of the VARI*LITE luminaires. So with the help of lighting programmer Demfis Fyssicopulos and lighting director Brian Jenkins, Horowitz set out to create the exact design he wanted.

“I placed the VL3000 Spot fixtures on both the ring truss above the stage and on the stage floor. These would all be used for their fantastic color, strong beams, and great gobo patterns. The VL3500 Wash units are definitely the workhorse of the design. I have them placed in the ring truss, on the floor, and on the vertical towers. The ring units give a great downstage treatment on Carrie and then the floor and tower units create phenomenal walls of color and light shooting through the band into the house. All the floor units have the stipple lens and the hanging units all have the clear lens. With the VL3500 Spot fixtures, I needed shutter capabilities along with the color consistency to match what we had going on elsewhere across the stage, so these were a perfect fit to provide the key lighting on the band members.”

Once the design was completed, Horowitz was very complimentary of his production design team, including programmer Demfis Fyssicopulos and lighting director Brian Jenkins.

“Demfis has the unique ability to get exactly what you are asking for and he was a huge contributor to the design. Brian Jenkins was the lighting director from the previous Carrie Underwood tours and he came very highly recommended for this tour as well. He is very hands-on with the rig and a great benefit to the production team. It was through the combination of their talents with the power and color spectrum of the VARI*LITE luminaires that we were able to create a wonderful enhancement for a wonderful artist.”

As the tour begins, lighting rigs themselves will also face many challenges with life on the road. It is up now up to the lighting director to successfully coordinate the nightly unloading, hanging, focusing, and then reloading, along with the routine maintenance, to ensure the lighting rig keeps firing on all cylinders for every audience, every time.

“I think there are a couple of key aspects to maintaining a lighting rig,” began Jenkins. “The first deals with clean programming in the beginning and the other concerns the work ethic of the lighting crew. Demfis did a great job during the programming stage, and my road crew is my backbone. I'm a big believer in being a working LD and being involved with the boys that hang the rig every day, but it helps that I have an incredible group of guys from Bandit Lites working hard every day on a tough touring schedule. They take pride in their job and their responsibilities. Our fixtures have been knocked around quite a bit more than I've been exposed to in the past, but we all work together to perform preventive maintenance and it keeps our rig at 100% every day. Vari-Lite makes fixtures that are both durable and of high caliber.”

Now, as the “Play On Tour” continues to sell-out venues around the world, Horowitz and Jenkins are both able to reflect on the success of the design and how it was largely dependent on the choices they were provided by VARI*LITE automated luminaires – color and power.

Jenkins added, “Having early conversations with Bud, it was clear he had a purpose for every group of fixtures in the rig. When his vision became a reality at rehearsals, we were more than excited with the variety of options we had to complement the extravagant video content. There are many moments during Carrie's performance where the songs are emotional and touching and you can feel an incredible energy from the crowd. With the variety of colors along with the amazing power of the VARI*LITE luminaires, we are able to create this fantastic atmosphere in the arena to bring even the furthest audience member a bit closer to the stage.”

Horowitz concluded, “The show is very theatrical and built to enhance the lyrics and emotion of the music. By being able to pull such specific colors from the vast VARI*LITE color spectrum, we were able to dial-in whatever colors we wanted to enhance it even further. Plus, the VL3500 Wash luminaires power and zoom capabilities are simply outstanding. The throw distances created by the set design gave us a great opportunity to really showcase what they could do. The VARI*LITE luminaires definitely gave us the perfect tools for this design.”

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