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WHERE WOULD WOULD FILMMAKING be if a director called out, "Camera! Action!" and left out the element of light? Without the fundamentals in place, the movie would most likely lack depth. Taking the light out of a special event would similarly suck the life out of a party.

"If you have just the house lights up, people are going to leave early," says Andy DiRaddo, product services manager for Houston-based LD Systems. "Even planners with a limited budget should dedicate part of it to hiring a creative lighting designer who can make the most out of even the fewest lighting fixtures."

Curt Stahl, vice president of Images By Lighting, Los Angeles, says he can transform a room with basic lighting elements for as little as $1,000. "Lighting is like a visual backdrop, giving an event dimension by using intensity, direction, texture and movement," he says. "It is the difference between looking at a picture of a sculpture in a book and seeing it firsthand."

While basic lighting packages can be had for about $1,000, events utilizing the newest intelligent lighting fixtures can top the scales at six figures plus. "Intelligent lighting is the new era in lighting, because you have one instrument that can move and project a variety of patterns and colors," says Sean DeFreitas of Dania, Florida-based Designs by Sea. "You couldn't have that five years ago, but due to technology, the instruments are changing and giving designers more options and creative license."

At the Gala Awards Ceremony & Celebration at The Special Event '98 in Dallas, DiRaddo used intelligent lighting fixtures to light the interior and ceilings of the Morton H. Myerson Symphony Hall. "The trend is to use a lot of moving lights, but you have to be careful of overdoing it," DiRaddo says. "Subtle is best, rather than making everything look like a disco."

Although the use of intelligent lighting is increasing, Stahl believes that it is a "trend, in a fad sort of sense." Intelligent lighting, he says, isn't going to disappear, but will be applied a little more conservatively in the future. "I have a feeling people will go back to conventional lighting," Stahl says. "We still like the old traditional lighting, and finding new ways of applying that to create an effect."

LIGHTING AS DECOR What typically comes to mind when thinking of decor? Centerpieces, floral arrangements, table linens and props tend to top the list. Lighting often is forgotten until it's time to pin-spot the old faithfuls, but that's changing.

Before designing an event, DeFreitas consults with a lighting designer and a lighting company to understand the capabilities of the lighting fixtures that will be used. "I design my events around lighting," he says. "I think that this year and next, the key is to use lighting as decor, instead of using it to light decor." The point of using lighting as decor is to move away from props and sets, DeFreitas says. "If you are looking at a prop of anything, whether it is a fish or a sun, it is what it is," he says. "Lighting can be interpreted in many different ways, and take on many different looks, using the same backdrop. It can change a number of times during an event."

DeFreitas specializes in designing fabric shapes that work with lighting instruments to create ambience in a room. The fabric is either lighted from the inside or projections are bounced off the shapes. Lighting also can be used to make art out a potential flaw. In one event, DeFreitas used fabric tubes to camouflage tent poles. "It looked as though giant lamps were holding up the tent," he says. "You couldn't have achieved that look without lighting."

Even large rooms that are seemingly difficult to decorate can take on new life with lighting. "Look at a room as a blank slate for images and colors to be painted on the walls," DiRaddo says. He is not talking about regular paints to liven up a room, but rather projecting images. DiRaddo used projections to create mood and movement in the lobby of the Houston ballet theater for a recent gala. Custom designs spanned the walls of the lobby using a Pani projector. "Often, lighting, in the form of projections, is all the decor that is needed," he says.

"Projections are the latest and greatest lighting application, and we use them in as many ways as we can," says Stahl. He used repeated images of Van Gogh's Wheat Field to light the limited spaces available for the opening of the Van Gogh exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "This visual backdrop became the main focal point of the decor," he says. Standard lighting elements, such as the pin-spotting of bouquets, were also used.

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T A new dual-image-changing scenic technique, created by Richard Green, partner in Santa Monica, California-based UV/FX Scenic Productions, may be the latest lighting craze to add visual excitement to a special event. Green has been using this technique for rock bands, dance clubs and large themed entertainment projects, and says it is slowly making its way into the special event arena. "The special event market is just starting to discover some of the Hollywood resources that are available," Green says.

The dual-image murals that Green paints have one look under normal lighting, but metamorphose under black light. With paint and light, Green creates dual images, invisible treatments, 3-D and day-to-night scenery. "I can create the Mona Lisa with someone besides Mona, and can not only do it and get it glowing, but also I can do it as a complete invisible, as a dual image and as a day-to-night that changes before the audience's eyes with UV light," he says. "You can't beat the 'wow' that is generated with a live special effect."

That wow may cost a minimum of $15,000, but it is something that can be used many times, Green says. He primarily paints on a lightweight scrim for the special event industry, so that the props can be easily transported and installed in minutes, he says. "The trend is toward smaller, lighter, more user-friendly products," Green says. "It's all about using tools that look good and that people can readily use. It is about putting art back in the hands of the people."

The word laser may spark a memory of Pink Floyd tunes blaring through a planetarium, while red and green lines and cartoon hammers slice across the otherwise darkened dome. That day, however, is dead, says Kevin McCarthy, director of sales and market development for Los Angeles-based Laser Media Inc. McCarthy makes it his business to defuse this image and inform and educate his customers on the changing times and technology.

"Lasers in the past have produced line-drawn, almost neon images with horizontal and vertical movement, and that's OK for people who want that kind of look, but laser technology has grown beyond the capabilities of the typical laser light show," he says. "In the past, clients wanted a big ballyhoo or big send-off at the end of a show, but the days of flash and trash are gone."

McCarthy sees the use of lasers as a complement to an event, not as an event on its own. "It is part of a multi-sensory experience that integrates lasers into other media, such as slide projections, video and intelligent lighting," he says.

The concept of making lighting and lasers work together has prompted a laser revival in the event industry since late 1997, says Andy DiRaddo, product services manager for Houston-based LD Systems. "The advent of new computer software and Yag lasers has brought the laser back from being somewhat overused," he says.

Although lasers seem to be making a comeback, some lighting experts still exercise caution when deciding whether to use them in an event. "I try to be careful with the application of lasers until I'm certain they fit the theme of the event," says Curt Stahl, vice president of Los Angeles-based Images By Lighting. "You can use lasers only so many times before people say, 'Been there, done that.'"

McCarthy disagrees. "I tell people that it is not what you are using, but how you use it," he says. "It's all in how you can use this technology, combined with other media, to tell a story."

Laser Media Inc. is developing solid-state laser technology that will open up a lot of opportunities for special event planners who have avoided lasers in the past because of a limited budget, McCarthy says. Solid-state technology produces laser light electronically, rather than electrically. It has few moving parts, consumes less energy, has higher energy output and doesn't use bulky water-cooling equipment, he says.

"With solid-state laser technology, we can offer a very good, very reliable, high-quality product at a very low cost," he says. "Something that we would typically rent for about $10,000 a week is now available for less than $3,000 a week."

Another advancement in laser technology is the move to laser video, whereby lasers project video images such as holograms onto a surface. "Years ago, people would call wanting to recreate that Star Wars scene, where Princess Lea was floating in a beam that R2D2 projected," he says. "In the past, that was impossible to recreate, but with the advancement of video laser technology, it is possible to project a hologram on stage and see it interacting with the president of a company or presenter."-M.L.

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