A New Inspiration Behind Their Lighting Creations
PL Series LED luminaires inspire students at Cal Arts to create unique lighting designs
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
by Philips Strand Lighting

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Committed to artistry and new technology, the Cal Arts Lighting Design Program provides professional training that enables students to broaden their design experience in all entertainment lighting applications. With a curriculum that strives to use the latest systems and technology in numerous productions, students refine their design skills led by renowned theater and architectural lighting designer Anne Militello who recently worked with Forman & Associates to bring in a new a stockpile PL Series LED lighting tools from Philips Entertainment which included PLProfile1, PLCyc1, PL3 Wash and PLProfile4 LED Luminaires.

“It all began when we brought Forman & Associates in to speak about LED luminaires for the theatre,” began Militello. “They then called me back a few weeks later with a proposition from Philips Entertainment that would allow us to get the PL Series LED luminaires into the hands of our students and we were very eager to accept. We don’t own any LED fixtures and so we could sometimes rent a few but at those times the student designers would essentially use them for color fills as opposed to their main theatrical fixtures. I personally have worked with LED wash and linear lights outside of Cal Arts, but the idea of an LED ellipsoidal is really very new so I had not gotten an opportunity to work with those types of fixtures until now. I was waiting for this next phase of lighting to come about and with the PL Series LED luminaires it looks like that next phase is here.”

“We received the PL Series LED luminaires in the last semester of my junior year and I first began to use them in our light lab as part of our classroom activities,” said Cal Arts senior Nicholas Diaz. “In the classroom we were able to work in a hands-on environment creating projects in our black box setting and then presenting to the class for critique and discussion. In this instance, we really were able to test ourselves and take chances we might not normally take by freely incorporating the LED fixtures into our classroom designs.”

“This was my first time to use LED fixtures and before this I didn’t really like LED because I thought the color was sort of fake and the color temperatures were never quite right,” added Cal Arts senior Seth Chang. “I was a little worried about how they would actually perform for us so when we first got the lights I spent two afternoons in the theatre playing around with them. I have to say the colors they can create are truly amazing. They can literally provide any color you want, plus because they are RGBW, I was able to not only adjust the color but I could also adjust the color temperature if needed which to me is absolutely fantastic.”

While first being used in the classroom environment, it was when the student designers got to use the PL Series LED luminaires in an actual performance that the real test would come. Built on the proven Philips Entertainment LED technology, this was a test that the new fixtures passed not only based on their colors, but their power as well.

Militello continued, “When Forman & Associates said they were going to show us an LED ellipsoidal, I wasn’t necessarily skeptical but I was a little unsure about how it would perform in a real theatrical environment. When I saw the PL Series in action I was very happy about what they could do and now that we have them in the theatre the students are really getting a lot out of them. At Cal Arts we have three main theatres and a few other alternative spaces so our lighting gear gets a considerable amount of use. When we are doing several productions at the same time we have to have a sort of lottery to see which productions get to use the PL Series fixtures because everybody wants them in their designs and they work great.”

“I have done a few shows with the PL Series luminaires both as a programmer and also as the designer of my own shows,” added Diaz. “For the designs I've created, I used them in a large concert-type event which had a lot of energy and I wanted the fixtures very specifically for their power. Since we were in one of the smaller venues and space was a concern, I used the PL3 Wash, PLProfile1, and PLCyc LED luminaires. I had lit this event before and in using the PL Series I was able to have more color options with less hang time and eliminate all incandescent fixtures. Plus, with the physical size of the room as a challenge, by using the PL Series we significantly cut down the heat generated from the lighting and it kept the room a lot cooler.”

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“I have used them in a couple of theatrical shows and because of their mixing capabilities it is very easy to blend them into a lighting rig with incandescent fixtures and they blend very well,” said Chang. “The LED fixtures have changed the way I design because usually I have to have three or four different fixtures in one position to cover up all the color I need, but with the PL Series I only need one to do everything I need it to do.”

Diaz explained further, “When I was functioning as the programmer, we used a combination of the PL3 Wash and the PLProfile4 fixtures in our largest venue because we needed their punch and power for the throw distances. I love the lights from a programming perspective because I was able to give the designer the exact look he was going for. As we were building color palettes it was important that we could get any color we wanted out of the PL Series fixtures. It was amazing to be able to pick a color on the console and then have it render beautifully with the lights.”

In a true theatrical environment it is not only the performance of the lighting tools on a particular show that matters, it is their consistent performance throughout a full season that demonstrates their true value. This is no different at Cal Arts where a packed schedule keeps both the lighting instruments and the students working on an almost continual basis giving the students the opportunity to find their favorite light.

“We typically do about 15-20 productions each year with about 50 student technicians working with the lights,” said Militello. “In this busy theatrical environment, we don’t have to worry about changing their lamps or changing gels from color burnout, which is a tremendous advantage. For the most part, I think theatrical designers will be surprised by the amazing color mixing and punch of the PL Series, but the amount of tech time saved is also a significant advantage. They are really fantastic fixtures.”

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Chang added, “The PLProfile4 is a great fixture and is actually one of my favorites. I like to use them for my specials where I can do a lot of crazy color mixing such as in one show where I used two PLProfile4 luminaires to light the ceiling with 16 different colors. If I had done this same application with incandescent fixtures I would have needed 14 additional lights. The PLProfile1 is also a great fixture especially when dealing with the warm whites.”

“Personally I am a huge fan of the PLCyc and I have recommended them to several people who are trying to upgrade their systems,” admitted Diaz. “I love how the reflector provides a gradual dispersement of the light which makes it a much more natural cyc wash. In the past we may have only had enough incandescent cyc lights to do a ground row for a particular show, but with the PLCyc because of their wide and even wash we can now do a ground and top row. They really illuminate a lot of space. Unfortunately word has gotten out and designers here have begun to fight over the PL3 Wash fixtures because their zoom range and brightness are incredible. Everyone loves to use them.”

Now immersed in a new year with new productions ahead, the students at Cal Arts are enjoying the fulfillment of the schools creed to provide them with the latest in systems and technology. With the PL Series LED luminaires, they now not only have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of proven LED technology in their own theatrical environment, but they are also eager to share with others just how the PL Series LED luminaires can enhance any lighting design.

“What is really surprising about the PL Series is the power of the light that comes out of the units,” said Diaz. “When we first saw the demo of the fixtures other student designers and I weren’t quite sure how they would perform and we thought they couldn’t possibly be as bright as their incandescent counterparts, but the truth is they are much brighter. Once we got them in the school it was easy to see that these fixtures were going to be the workhorses in all our performance spaces. To anyone who may be skeptical, I would say, wait until you see them inside your own venue and you too will be blown away.”

Chang added, “The primary aspect that other designers will first love about the PL Series is their color, but the second surprise will definitely be the power behind their beams. When most people think of LED they think it will not be powerful enough, but the PL Series LED luminaires will definitely change their thoughts about that, plus I really like their incredibly smooth dimming capabilities as you fade up and down which is definitely a significant advancement in LED lighting.”

Militello concluded, “When you bring in new technologies the students are always a bit skeptical until they get their hands on them and start working with them, but I believe we have many converts now. As LED technology continues to become more commonplace, it is a tremendous advantage that the kids are getting to use the PL Series fixtures now instead of only hearing about them. It is fun to see the students start to push the envelope with what the lights can do and I have seen them start to use some whites that are not in the traditional color spectrum of a tungsten and that you can only get with the LED fixtures. It is an interesting and wonderful experience to watch them create these great lighting looks for their shows.”

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