Vari-Lite Streams Live with Nissan Live Sets
Jeff Calderon and Patrick Schulze join Yahoo Music for an extraordinary endeavor
Published Monday, June 18, 2007
by Bryan Matthews

Scheduled to air through October 2008, taping has begun for Nissan Live Sets! on Yahoo Music. Shot completely in High Definition, this unique project features the biggest artists in music today. Lighting the way for the concerts are 1994 Emmy® Award-winning Lighting Designer Jeff Calderon and Lighting Director/Programmer Patrick Schulze, and with a complete lighting rig supplied by PRG-LA, Calderon and Schulze have chosen 16 VARI*LITE® VL3000™ Spot luminaires to be the workhorse of their automated lighting.

Shot in Sound Stage 17, on the Fox lot at Century City Studios, Nissan Live Sets! first aired on December 1, 2006, and the project will feature 48 artists, debuting a new concert on the 1st and 15th of every month until October 2008.

"This project is a unique hybrid designed specifically for the internet," began Calderon. "It is as if you are actually at a concert of a big time artist in a smaller venue, in a house that holds about 350 very excited fans."

The process of the creating Nissan Live Sets! began in the summer of 2006 when Yahoo Music retained the services of PRG-LA.

Calderon continued, "Yahoo first approached Tony Ward at PRG-LA with the project to supply the complete lighting rig. And then together they began to interview prospective designers. And that's when Tony recommended me. After I signed on for the project, we knew that we needed a fantastic programmer, and I immediately suggested Patrick. I first met Patrick in early 1990 on the Rick Dees Show: ‘Into the Night', and he is one of the best programmers I have ever worked with."

After the creative talent had been assembled, production meetings began with sound, lighting, and scenic to discuss the total set-up for the project. During the meetings, it became apparent that the set was catered more towards the audio for the live audience. Calderon was going to have to negotiate where to place the lights as the set would be comprised of a wooden "cage" structure that reaches out over the artist.

"There were some structural weight issues with the scenic cage, so we couldn't hang any heavy fixtures on it," Calderon added. "We had to have backlight for the entire stage and the scenic cage was going to make shadows on the performers if we only lit thru it. So we purchased 12" box truss that is placed in an L-shape both above and behind the wooden scenic cage."

Weight was not the only issue that Calderon faced with his lighting design. There were also budgetary concerns. Calderon began researching the exact fixtures that would be able to give him all the attributes that he wanted, while allowing him to stay in budget.

"Yahoo wanted to buy the lighting gear instead of just renting it, so I had to stay within budget," said Calderon. "While making the decisions on fixtures, we almost went with the Mac 2K Spot, but it can't zoom like the VL3000 Spot can, and the VARI*LITE is less expensive, so I was sold."

With the lighting gear solidified, Calderon and Schulze now began the process of turning on the rig to light the concerts that are shot with six to eight cameras in front of a live studio audience. During each concert, the featured artist will perform three sets and in between the sets they will conduct an interactive Q & A session with the audience.

"We begin the process by getting the set list for the artist and we start breaking it down," said Schulze. "Depending on the artist, we have either a day for prep and cueing, or we do it all on the fly without the luxury of time. We typically work about 10 hours on the first day. In the beginning, we had to test the waters in a sort of trial and error."

Calderon remarked, "Since sometimes we don't get a set list from the artist, shooting live without knowing which song is coming next creates a challenge because we would like to be able break the individual songs apart. But regardless, we have to give them something new and fresh for each song. The lighting has to be contemporary, live, and bright, without being flat in any area."

Shooting two artists per month, Calderon and Schulze are often left without the luxury of time. But, time is not the only challenge they face when trying to create unique designs for each artist.

Schulze went on to state, "On top of the time constraints, we have the pressure of not knowing how the producers will put the final show together in post editing. Jeff and I have monitors by the console so that we can see what the cameras are seeing from the various positions, but we never know how they are going to piece it all together."

"We have to protect the wide shot at all times," stressed Calderon. "Since we don't know how they are piecing it together, we always have to be cognizant of how the wide shot looks. And we have to keep the backgrounds up."

Schulze agreed, "I have lit for both television and stage, but lighting for the internet is different with the compression for broadband. The quality changes. We have to pump up some of the instruments so that the background doesn't get lost. We can't have a heavy light and dark separation, so we have to boost up the background. And we have to remember that what we see in person is not what the viewer sees at home."

Once the taping began for Nissan Live Sets!, Calderon and Schulze were able to devise a system that would allow them to successfully light every performance; and being relied upon heavily in that system is the VL3000 Spot luminaire.

Schulze continued, "We try to use several base looks that have been created, and then build on them. We created the rig to have maximum flexibility for multiple artists and it is working great. The whole stage is practically moving lights, and we are using the VL3000 Spots for the intense zoom range, color, and gobos. The luminaires are able to provide us with a little bit of everything with great punch and brightness on top of their aerial graphics and colors. They cut through everything. The zoom range is outstanding and the optics are fantastic."

Added Calderon, "The VARI*LITE fixtures do a majority of the moving effects due to the 60° wide angle beam. I use four VL3000 Spots to light the set, but if I wanted to, I could do it with only one. The zoom is that incredible. We are using six of the fixtures to light the entire studio set behind the audience, and the other 10 are used as backlights. I am also very impressed by the gobo tracking that we can do while zooming in or out because the gobo is able to stay in perfect focus no matter what degree we are at. There is no other light on the market that can do what this light can."

As Calderon on Schulze continue to work through the roster of artists that will appear on Nissan Live Sets, both they and the artists have been enjoying the lighting rig's diverse capabilities, which allow them to give each concert its own look and feel.

"Every artist is different," explained Calderon. "For example, Iggy Pop wanted no movement, only color changes; we didn't even use follow-spots. With Christina Aquilera, we were given the freedom to create movement, color changing, and gobo projections just as long as we kept her looking good on stage. And then with Tony Bennett, he wanted simple and smooth color washes with a classic mood. It's a lot of work, but all the artists have been very complimentary of the designs."

Nissan Live Sets! on Yahoo Music is now airing on www.yahoomusic.com/nissanlivesets. And with 48 of the biggest names in the music industry today slated to appear, Calderon and Schulze are looking forward to a fantastic ride.

Calderon concluded, "In most cases, we have the creative free-hand to design whatever we like. But we have to keep the integrity of the music in mind. Both Patrick and I are having a great time with this project. For us, Nissan Live Sets! is all about being creative and having fun at the same time."


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