Lighting designer Susanne Sasic utilizes 40 VLX Wash luminaires for Arcade Fire
Published Tuesday, October 5, 2010
by Bryan Matthews

When Arcade Fire launched their new album “The Suburbs” and then the accompanying tour, they had a clear vision of how the album and tour should work together. With the album inspired by the backdrop their youth, the tour design would also have to be inspired by nostalgic looks, but must also highlight the energy and diversity of the alternative rock band. To oversee the vision for their lighting design, Arcade Fire enlisted the assistance of designer Susanne Sasic who in turn brought in 40 VLX Wash luminaires, provided by Solotech and Upstaging.

“Once I was brought on by the band’s manager, we began discussing the new album and how they wanted to integrate aspects of the album into the tour,” began Sasic. “The overall feel of the album is a sort of journey into their childhood through the looking glass of a faded Polaroid, so this is what they wanted for the tour. The set design would consist of a suburban, outdoor location with a large projection video screen contained inside a road-side billboard frame measuring 20’ wide x 10’ high. Then we also added a light tower onstage, which we refer to as 'stadium lights', to add to the outdoor feel.”

As Sasic began sketching out her design for the show, she knew that the billboard video screen and the light tower would present some physical obstacles, but it was the band’s desire to use a more obscure color palette that significantly defined which instruments she would use in the lighting rig.

“Aside from the physical elements onstage and the necessity to effectively light each member of the 8-person band, additional design challenges stemmed from the necessity for color-matching between the lighting and video as the video elements would be using a radically different color palette from the standard CMY color-mixing. The band really wanted to use some very specific colors such as the eerie green and orange that you might see in low pressure sodium or metal halide street lights that would not be able to be effectively matched by standard fixtures. They called the color palette ‘the colors in between’.”

While Sasic began looking for the fixtures that would allow her to overcome the color-matching challenge, one more design need also had to be addressed. The tour would include a stop at Madison Square Garden for a live streaming HD webcast as part of the UNSTAGED series presented by American Express. So now, while Sasic needed the lighting to look great for concert-goers, she also needed the design to look great for fans on the web as well.

“In my designs, I am partial to wash lights for the majority of my color-mixing and matching. Knowing that I would need to have great color along with a good key light for the live web stream, I began to look at the possibility of using an LED-based source. I love using new technologies and I had seen the VLX Wash during a private demo so I knew that it would be a perfect fit for this tour because of its power, deep range of color, and the true LED white. I have used automated LED lighting previously as decorative elements, but never as a main lighting source. Still, I knew the VLX could easily be my main wash light for the tour.”

Knowing now what she needed, Sasic acquired a total of 40 VLX Wash luminaires from Authorized VARI*LITE Dealers Solotech and Upstaging and began placing them onstage with the band and in both above-the-stage and front-of-house locations throughout the lighting rig.

“The VLX is definitely the bulk of my rig. Due to the power of the VLX, the brightness of the video was never an issue. With its extremely expansive color palette provided from the LED source, finding the ‘colors in between’ was quick and easy. And then the color-snapping of the VLX is incredible. It can change color without you even really seeing it.”

As the color challenges were being met, Sasic also needed the VLX Wash to shine through as the key light for the live HD video webcast as she expected that it would. The VLX did not disappoint, and in fact, surprised a few of the video people along the way.

“During the webcast, the VLX was definitely my main light for the band. The true LED white was extremely successful for the band member skin tones. I was amazed at how great they looked under this light and the only people surprised more than me were the video guys. It looked great coming through the monitors and everyone was very happy with the way it all turned out.”

Since all lighting designers face unique challenges in every design, when a luminaire can overcome several of those challenges it becomes more than just a fixture, it becomes part of the show. Looking back, Sasic agrees that the VLX Wash has become a successful part of the show.

“Simply put, it is my big wash light. I think most lighting designers will be surprised by their brightness and intense range of color. It was invaluable to be able hit all the ‘colors in between’ that the band wanted to use, but when you also add that you can use the true LED white for key lighting on video broadcasts, the VLX Wash has no match.”

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