Vari-Lite is Top Selection at 2004 NFL Draft
Published Monday, May 3, 2004

When preparing for the NFL's annual selection of top prospects, the experts look for certain attributes that will make the draft a success. Their choices need a good mix of speed and quickness, smooth movement, reliability, proper size, flexibility, the ability to cover large areas and nice features. The top choice for lighting designer Michael Franks - the VARI*LITE® VL3000™ Spot luminaire.

"It was a can't-miss pick," said Vari-Lite product manager George Masek. "The VL3000 Spot is the complete package. It's everything a lighting designer wants from a workhorse luminaire. The fixtures are proven, and are considered by many lighting experts as the best fixture available."

High Output provided 11 VL3000 Spot luminaires as part of the complete television lighting and grip package for the two-day event, which was televised live on ESPN from Madison Square Garden on April 24-25. It was the fifth consecutive year the Boston-based company supplied the lighting package for the event.

"Brightness and zoom were two of the main reasons we went with the VARI*LITE Series 3000™ fixtures," said Chris McMeen, division director of theater and special events at High Output. "I really felt that Michael needed a brighter fixture than he'd used in the past because of the throw distances."

All 11 of the VL3000 Spot luminaires were positioned front of house. Franks used the lights mostly for background color and texture, basically using the Madison Square Garden Theatre walls as scenic backdrops for the ESPN draft analysts at the main set. From directly in front of the stage, Franks needed fixtures that could throw to the sides and back of the Madison Square Garden Theatre, a distance of about 150 feet.

"He needed to cover a whole lot of area with a few units," McMeen explained. "It takes a powerful light to throw that distance, but then when you zoom all the way out, how much light are you really getting? The intensity of the VL3000 Spot fixtures, even at full zoom, is outstanding. If you try to use a 500W lamp and have it zoom to full, it's just going to get washed out."

The 10-60 degree zoom of the VL3000 Spot did the trick.

"The zoom was great because we could cover a large area, and they were still very bright," Franks said. "And we were able to soften them without losing the size. With some other types of fixtures I've used, you have to compromise either the brightness or size of the image."

Although the fixtures were used mostly for scenic treatments, Franks did program a "big ballyhoo type of cue" that was run each time a draft selection was announced and the future NFL star approached the stage. Because the event was televised live, it presented a different set of challenges for the lighting team.

"A lot of colors don't work well on camera," said Franks, owner of Michael Franks Enterprises. "We had to find colors that were going to pop. When we did a wash on the background, we wanted the pattern to really pop out."

"The challenge is to balance the live event and have it look right for the naked eye and also on camera," Franks continued. "Certain things have to be balanced so they aren't too bright or too dark."

Additionally, the automated fixtures provided Franks greater flexibility than he could get from a completely conventional package.

"Eight years ago, when I started doing this event, I was using conventional fixtures, which were very time-consuming," Franks said. "Once you focused, you couldn't go in and make adjustments because they had loaded in the tables and set pieces. With the VL3000 Spot fixtures, it was great because we could use the zoom. It was almost like having a conventional because you could focus it and soften the pattern and do subtle things that you really see more on television than in person."

"But," he added. "They were brighter and covered more background."

After seven rounds, 28 trades and 255 picks, few experts made a wiser selection than Franks and McMeen.

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