LD Lawrence Upton finds power and versatility in the VL3500 Wash luminaire
Published Friday, October 5, 2012
by Philips Vari-Lite

Having sold more than 30 million albums worldwide, multiple Grammy-winning artists the Smashing Pumpkins have one of the most acclaimed bodies of work in music today. Formed in Chicago in 1988, the band has recently released OCEANIA, their 7th studio album. To support the album, the group has also launched a global tour with lighting design by Lawrence Upton who used 37 VL3500 Wash luminaires from Philips Vari-Lite, provided by Epic Production Technologies.

“I have been working with the Smashing Pumpkins for 19 years and this tour is unlike any we have done before,” began Upton. “There are two very distinct looks in the show and it’s very heavy on the video. The first part of the show is centered around the new album and the concept artwork that is displayed on a large sphere that hangs directly over the stage. During this part of the show the lighting is kept low and theatrical because the emphasis on the sphere, but afterwards, we really unleash the lights.”

When putting his design together for the OCEANIA tour, the large video sphere was not the only challenge Upton would face. When lighting the Smashing Pumpkins, there are other factors that one must take into consideration.

“The Smashing Pumpkins are a little bit unique in as much as there is no front truss, no spotlights and no front light on the band, so the physics of lighting become quite interesting because you have to light them from the side without lighting all the ancillary stuff that is upstage of the side fills. This can become quite a task and it’s all about the physical placement of your instruments.”

So as he began laying out his plot with physical placements now defined, Upton began looking at the automated luminaires that he would use in his design and deciding exactly which capabilities would be most important.

He explains further, “In the early portion of the show, there is really nothing too complicated because it’s all about keeping the light off the sphere. The show then transitions through one of their cover songs released back in the 1970’s and we go to a stark black and white. Then once we on the other side of the transition, we open the lights up in every way possible. The Smashing Pumpkins don’t like to use haze or smoke, so I need reliable punch. I need instruments that are very powerful and also have a wide aperture. The VL3500 Wash is perfect for this application.”

With the VL3500 Wash luminaires now placed on both stage left and right, as well as behind the band and under the sphere, Upton got to work bringing his design to life. And it was while doing so, that Upton found another capability of the VL3500 Wash luminaire. Known mostly for its power and large columns of light, the VL3500 Wash also proved its versatility in the softer moments.

“In the first part of the show, we have beautiful color from the LED video and we are able to match it with the rich colors from the VL3500 Wash. During this part, we are running the VARI-LITE fixtures at only 13-19%, and while there may have been other instruments we could have chosen, their color is fantastic. When we move into the second part, we really open them up and get to see their powerful beams and I honestly can’t think of another wash light that I would’ve liked to use.”

While enjoying the performance of the VL3500 Wash luminaires, Upton also got an opportunity to try out the new VL3515 Spot luminaire during a recent tour stop. As the next generation of the popular VL3500 Spot luminaire, the VL3515 Spot uses the highly reliable 1500W Osram double-ended short arc lamp, and features 6:1 zoom optics, CYM color mixing, variable CTO color temperature correction, a six-position color wheel, two gobo/effects wheels, a shutter and separate dimmer, and ultra-fast strobe mechanisms.

“I did get a chance to use the new VL3515 Spot during one of our shows in South America and I was very pleased with the increased output, the color temperature, and the beam angle of the fixture. The color also was incredibly smooth, and I think it’s a great improvement on the already spectacular VL3500 Spot.”

So as the band continues to cross the globe playing both arenas and large festivals alike, Upton is proud of not only the effect that the Smashing Pumpkins continue to have on fans around the world, but also on the overall performance of the VL3500 Wash luminaire, the work horse of his lighting rig.

“We are running short of rock bands who can still write new songs and the Smashing Pumpkins music covers so many genres. As their designer, this is extremely enjoyable because I can take my lighting rig and at one point it can be a rapier or a broad-edge sword, and the next it can be as delicate as a flower. In the VL3500 Wash luminaire, I have a light that can be both a powerful sword and a delicate flower, and that’s why I am so happy with this design and this tour. These lights are awesome and they gave me the precise tool needed to make my design even better.”

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