All is Not Equal in a "Perfect" World
Published Wednesday, June 16, 2004

When A Perfect Circle takes the stage, they walk out onto a very different set design. The stage is evenly arranged so that all of the members are equal and none stands out from the rest. The automated lighting rig, however, is not so egalitarian.

The 16 VARI*LITE® VL3000™ Spot luminaires are clearly the stars of the lighting show.

"The brightness can't be beat, and the zoom is just incredible," lighting designer Willy McLachlan said of the VL3000 Spot fixtures. "This was my first real outing with the Series 3000™ fixtures, and I think they solve all of the problems I have had with other 1200-watt fixtures on the market."

For one segment of the show, McLachlan designed a 25-second sequence using nothing but a standard starfield gobo and the 6:1 zoom feature of the VL3000 Spot unit. Programmer Benny Kirkham started the cue with the lens as narrow as possible and focused on the stage floor, he then zoomed the fixture out for a complete eight-bar musical passage until it engulfed the audience.

"The beam width just keeps going and going and going...it's like it will never end," McLachlan noted. "It feels like we're being sucked into the stars. That amount of zoom in a light is fantastic. The tracking of the zoom was really impressive with the evenness of the field and focus of the image all the way out."

McLachlan wanted a tall, majestic look for the show. To accomplish the design, he had to work with a trim height of 30 feet or more. The powerful output of the VL3000 Spot fixtures made them a fantastic choice for the overhead spot unit.

"There was no other fixture that would have acceptable brightness left when we got to the stage, especially in color," McLachlan said. "The color-rendering was fabulous. The power left when using a deep color was very exciting. You could really go into dark, rich  colors and not lose the intensity of that color or the intensity of the look. It was just fantastic."

Additionally, the mechanical speed of the VARI*LITE Series 3000 fixtures surpasses that of other 1200-watt luminaires.

"A big trend with some of the other 1200-watt spots out there is to slow some things down," McLachlan said. "When manufacturers do that, we, as designers, lose the ability to create a look, black that look out for a blink of an eye and create a new look. You lose that ability to go from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time. The VL3000 Spot units definitely have the speed advantage."

One area in which McLachlan says the VL3000 Spot units are equal is in the functionality of the units. The Series 3000 fixtures are just as effective for graphic design elements as they are for task lighting. McLachlan alternated duties of the units between specials and painting portions of the picture onstage.

"They are a fantastic unit for task lighting," McLachlan explained. "But it's equally powerful as an effect unit, which is where the ability to cross-fade colors but still change color quickly is especially important. With the VL3000 Spots, I was able to perfectly tune in the particular shade I needed, but maintain quick dramatic changes when that was necessary also."

The Series 3000 fixtures - along with 20 VL2000™ Wash luminaires, a pair of VL1000™ ellipsoidals, 27 VL6™ spot luminaires and 27 VL5™ wash luminaires - gave McLachlan the opportunity to tighten his belt budget-wise and not worry about some of the indulgent tricks of the design - such as video and scenery that moves. Late in the design process, those elements were eliminated from the budget, leaving the designer to rely on good old-fashioned attention-to-lighting details and clever programming to create an evocative show.

"Benny Kirkham is absolutely my ally in that," McLachlan said. "His programming skills are second to none, as are his lighting director skills and ability to manage the look of the show from day-to-day. It was the most organized and fun programming session for a rock show I've ever had."

Organized and fun, but also very challenging. While each the five band members are stars in their own right, none of them demanded - or even desired - "rock star" status on stage. To that point, lead singer Maynard James Keenan did not want to be seen like a "front man," and even went so far as requesting to not be lit like a traditional rock and roll "personality. The group's philosophy is that they all contribute equally, and all of their contributions - even the singing - are just as important.

"It was an interesting design challenge because in addition to the band's belief that they are all equal in importance. The vocalist has the same need not to be distracted or assaulted by the production around him as many traditional stage performers or concert vocalists," McLachlan explained. "But in the end, I felt it also gave me an opportunity I've never had before in a design."

McLachlan drew on dance lighting techniques as well as film and photographic lighting techniques to highlight the shape of the performers rather than the performers themselves. McLachlan relied on strong sidelight for the basic visibility of the performers, and drew on photographic techniques like backlighting band members from over the shoulder, casting strong shadows and using shape and form to paint the picture on stage.

"Even though the followspots and frontlights are missing, there's no question in the audience's mind who's driving the story on stage," McLachlan noted. "But we didn't submit to some of the standard techniques that reduce the impact of the beautiful picture we created on stage. A beautiful photograph can be one with nothing but shadow and shape. In lighting design, we strive to approach that level of creativity, but still fulfill many other requirements of creating a live show. This was a great opportunity for that."

It was also a 'perfect' opportunity for the VL3000 Spot luminaire to perform 'circles' around the competition.

Send this page to a friend