Saturday, December 30, 2006

HickoryDickory Wrap-Up: Lesson 3

This is the third in a continuing series of lessons learned during HickoryDickory.

The third lesson I learned was that angle affects reflection. We're all taught in middle school science class that light bounces off of objects at the same angle that it hits, but for me at least, I had never really thought about how that rule applied to objects that didn't have a mirror surface. Unsurprisingly, it holds there as well.

For this show, I used a light yellow-green color (Straw Tint, I think) from one angle and a pinkish color (I don't remember the name) from the other angle. The pink and the green combined to create white, and the end result was a warm, comforting light that brought out the warmth of the actors' skin tones. The set, which was mainly a warm yellow, looked very good. However, there was one wall of the stage that didn't look like there was any of the pink color hitting it at all; it had kind of a radioactive green glow to it, even though I was certain that there were two colors of light shining on it.

I finally figured out that the wall looked radioactive because it was slanted. It was at about a 45-degree angle to the audience, so when I shined two lights onto it from 45-degree angles, one light was perpendicular to the wall surface, while the other was barely skimming along that surface. The yellow-green light was the one perpendicular to the wall surface, so its color reflected more toward the audience, while the pink light reflected into the back stage area.

The solution? Switch the gels between the two lights hitting the wall. Then any actors standing in front of the wall were still illuminated by both colors, but now the pink light was hitting the wall straight on, while the yellow-green was reflecting backstage. The pink light looked much less garish than the yellow-green, so this toned down the wall while keeping the acting space colored the same way as everything else.

HickoryDickory Wrap-Up: Lesson 2

This is the second post in my sequence of lighting lessons I learned during HickoryDickory. The first lesson was about maintaining the contrast between the actors and their surroundings.

The second lesson I learned was about sunlight. There is a convention in theatre lighting that moonlight is blue. You can use blue light, and people agree to believe that it's moonlight, even though it looks nothing like the moon. However, I discovered that there is no such convention about sunlight. Everyone always stereotypes the sun as being yellow, so I tried to create a sunny look by shining yellow light through a gobo to give the textured pattern of leaves. I discovered that it didn't really look like sunlight through leaves, it just looked weirdly greenish and acidic. When I removed the yellow gel entirely (on Charlie's recommendation), it looked a lot better.

What really makes sunlight look sunny is the angle; if you have a strong white illumination that is consistently coming from the same direction, it looks much more like sun.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

HickoryDickory Wrap-Up: Lesson 1

Well, it's been a long time since I've posted; I've had a very busy semester (gee, what's new?), so spending hours typing up blog posts wasn't high on my list of priorities. Next semester doesn't seem like it will be any different, since I will be doing three shows (possibly four or five).

For now, however, I'm on winter break, and I plan to write all the posts I should have written over the past several months.

To start, I'm going to cover HickoryDickory. When I last left you, I had just started writing cues with Bill. I don't remember too much about the process itself, but I do have some overall lessons that I learned. Some are more general than others, but I think they were all valuable. I'm just going to post one per day, so that way I can space out my content over a longer period of time.

First Lesson:

Lighting is about contrast. Those of you with more experience than I have are probably saying "Duh," to yourselves, but that was a lesson I had never really had an opportunity to see for myself until now. This was my first show done on a box set, which meant that this was the first time I ever had to deal with walls.

Walls, unfortunately, reflect a lot of light. In dances, walls aren't a problem because most of the light comes from the sides, so it never hits the back wall. In a black box with no set, the curtains soak up all the light, so it never reflects even if it does hit them. However, the walls on a box set are usually much more lightly colored than black, so they reflect more light. This isn't really a problem, until the walls start reflecting more light than the actors' skin.

Once the walls reflect more light than the actors, a strange effect happens: no matter how much light you throw onto the stage, the actors always seem to be a little bit dim. This is because given the same amount of illumination, the walls reflect more of it back to your eyes than do the actors, so when your eyes adjust to that brightness level, the actors end up looking underexposed, so to speak.

In the case of HickoryDickory, the walls were a muted yellow, which was almost exactly the same brightness as a typical pale white American. Bill thought everything looked okay, but I was constantly frustrated by how dark the actors looked.

There's no easy solution to the wall/actor problem, but the best thing I found to do was to use light from angles that hit the actors but not the walls, such as from the sides or from a very steep angle from the front. Angles like that create shadows in weird places, like in the eye sockets, so I had to fill those shadows with light from the front, which lit up the walls, but since the actors were already mostly lit, I could use the wall-hitting lights at a lower intensity. Since this lowered the illumination of the whole stage, I was in esssence tricking the audience's eyes into overexposing the well-lit parts of the actors in order to see the dimmer parts, rather than underexposing the actors because everyone's eyes were adjusting to the bright walls.