Special Events
Lighting by Images by Lighting Lighting by Images by Lighting / Photo by Yoshi Morimoto

The Light Touch: New Worlds from Event Lighting Designers

From high-tech video mapping to intricate architectural applications, lighting designers created wondrous new worlds with light  

“Life is all about good seating and lighting.”—Graydon Carter

Arguably, the same could be said about special event design. Purposefully designed and well-executed lighting establishes a mood faster and more effectively than just about any other decor element. “Lighting is the unifying design element by which all other decor elements are perceived,” says Greg Christy, president/CEO of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.-based Brite Ideas. “Without carefully considered lighting, any other elements are inconsequential.” Raymond Thompson, co-owner of Los Angeles-based Images by Lighting, explains, “It’s not just about lighting some ‘thing,’ but creating a total enveloping environment.”

MAKING AN ENTRANCE First impressions are everything, which is why entrances and pathways need careful consideration when it comes to lighting—safety issues notwithstanding. “I love to light entrances with a series of layers of overlapping texture,” says L.A.-based Images by Lighting co-owner Curt Stahl. “It gives a sense of importance to the event. The entrance telegraphs what people can expect to see and feel throughout the event.” (Photo of lighting design by Images by Lighting / photo by Yoshi Morimoto.)

Jon Retsky, owner and lead designer of San Francisco-based Got Light, agrees, adding pathway and landscape lighting to the top of the “to light” list. “These areas are not often a first consideration when planning an event," Retsky says. "But, the results can be stunning, as well as utilitarian,” he says. From the simple (staked camping path lights, solar rocks, copper hooks with dangling lanterns) to the more complex (customized illuminated inflatables), pathway lighting, he says, can have a huge impact on overall event decor. "Bold washes of light onto tree canopies, pattern washes inside pools, and other landscape uplighting can indirectly create an amazing backdrop for outdoor events.”

Mapping it Out

Video Mapping by Brite Ideas

MAPPING IT OUT The marriage of lighting and video is ever-evolving as lighting designers seek innovative ways to transform event spaces. “Video allows more detailed content to envelope the environment,” Christy says. “As we become more visually sophisticated—content surrounds us on a daily basis—there is an expectation to incorporate this into our events.”

As example, he notes that an ocean-themed event from several years ago would likely have featured lighting fixtures with rotating gobos to simulate water ripples. But, “Today, we utilize lightweight, bright and relatively inexpensive video projectors to paint the space with not only water ripples, but sea turtles swimming by and dolphins playing," Christy says. "This creates a much more engaging environment, and takes the decor to a more immersive level."

“Video mapping has had a huge impact on lighting and decor, allowing us to create environments that were previously impossible to achieve,” Christy continues. “We can now take a building, or even a moving dancer, and paint those surfaces with imagery, color and texture to create new forms of expression.” For the opening of the Los Angeles art exhibit “Pacific Standard Time,” Christy and his team mapped the iconic façade of the Getty Museum to illustrate the significance of the exhibition. (In photo; photo courtesy Brite Ideas.)

Similarly, at a recent installation at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Thompson and his team worked with video mapper Bart Kresa Design to re-create a day in ancient Israel, using a combination of video mapping, pin spots, washes, break-up patterns and color. “We used to just do color sequencing, with no images,” says Images by Lighting lighting designer Lonnie Thompson. “But with video mapping mirroring our lighting, going from sunrise to sunset felt all the more real.”

Pretty Has a Price

Got Light in Grace Cathedral

Unlike wireless LED technology, however, video mapping does not come cheap. “The costs can be quite expensive; however, it can raise the design level of an event,” Retsky says. “Whether it’s simply kinetic video cut perfectly to the architecture or façade of a building, branding a building with video, or making a room ‘disintegrate’ and transform into an Egyptian tomb, there is nothing more powerful and energetic than using video as light, and frankly, using video as a scenic element to tell your story and invite guests into a fully interactive experience.” (Lighting in Grace Cathedral by Got Light / photo by Show Ready Photo.)

IT’S A WIRELESS WORLD Wireless LED lighting is still under the spotlight, so to speak, as its applications for events continue to evolve. “Wireless LED fixtures allow the ability for easy color changes which enable events to have transitions and mood changes throughout the evening, as well as more kinetic lighting treatments,” Christy says. “And it’s opening doors that were previously closed to event designers. For example, pin spotting in a private home several years ago just didn’t make sense because the look of the equipment would outweigh the benefit. Now, with wireless magnetic pin spots, we can highlight in new ways and in previously impossible spaces.”

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