What is Lighting Design?
The lighting designer (LD) is responsible for designing and setting up the lighting rig, as well as designing and creating all the lighting states for the show and formulating this into a cue list. They should work closely with the director, set designer, costume designer and the rest of the design team, creating detailed script-based plans as well as technical drawings to make sure their design will fit effectively with the production. They are also usually expected to organise any hires that may be necessary.
As well as the creative aspects of the lighting design, the designer is ultimately responsible for the actual rigging, cabling, focusing and other technical work that takes place in the theatre to implement their design. On a very small production the designer may do all this work themselves, however on a large production they may never have to touch a lantern themselves, instead having a large department they can call upon to focus upon the considerable technicalities rigging a large set of lights produces, freeing the designer up to think only of the creative and overall scheduling aspects.
A lighting designer of a large production may choose to have an associate lighting designer and assistant lighting designers. An associate tends to be an experienced designer who can provide an alternate source of experience and ideas for the show’s designer to work with. They understand the designer’s preferences and working methods and are permitted to speak creatively in the absence of the designer (though any large or irreversible decisions should of course be checked!) An assistant will sometimes work creatively but mostly helps the designer to implement their creation technically, helping to rig the lights in the theatre during the get in, maintain and draw paperwork showing how the system should be built, or programming and operating the lighting desk during the show. They should be invited to work through the design process with the designer, attending runs and paper techs, such that they understand the show, can help the designer with tasks and so that the assistant gains experience of what the designer does and can later go on to design shows themselves
The designer on a large scale show might also choose to have a programmer to operate and program the lighting desk. During the plot and tech they program the desk as requested by the lighting designer, freeing the designer to think about the creative side of the design and collaborate with other departments, while the programmer can think about the practicalities of translating a set of cues into the desk, which can often be quite complex if there are many effects, complex cue sequences, moving lights or other intelligent fixtures. They must have a deep knowledge of the desk they are using in order to be helpful, and free or inexpensive training courses are run by all the major desk manufacturers.
A followspot operator manually moves a special spotlight which can be coloured, zoomed and dimmed by a person sitting next to the light, to enable the light to be much more flexible than a typical light that stays in one focus and colour throughout the show. Typically this is used to follow an actor around the stage keeping them lit, either as a very stereotypical hard edged bright white spotlight or as a more subtle highlight Having a person operating the followspot can much more easily follow an actor moving around the stage than any preprogrammed sequence on a motorised moving light. In Oxford these are typically only used for large musicals however outside of Oxford they can be found in the lighting of all types of theatre.
The lighting operator (‘LX Op’) is the person who sits behind the lighting desk during a performance and actually operates it for the show, which on a modern computerised lighting desk is often little more than pressing “Go” on cues at the appropriate moments, either by following a marked up script or by listening to a DSM (Deputy Stage Manager). This is generally an extremely basic job, which can be a good opportunity for a beginner to experience a backstage environment.
Software for Lighting Design
While there are many consoles and software packages for controlling lights, the industry standard in theatre is ETC's Eos software, and with good reason! Eos is everywhere - from small student shows running off a PC in the Pilch, all the way up to massive designs with hundreds of cues on the West End, using ETC's high-end Gio and Apex consoles. Eos can either run on a laptop (using an ETC Gadget interface, which OUTTS can supply), or on a dedicated console such as an Ion, as found in the O'Reilly Theatre or the Oxford Playhouse. There is little difference in functionality between Eos on a laptop or a console, except for things like special buttons and sliders which can make programming a bit easier. ETC publish excellent training videos for Eos on their YouTube channel.
Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is fast becoming the standard for creating and visualising theatrical lighting rigs. In smaller venues, it is easy enough to design a rig on paper. However more ambitious shows, for example at the O'Reilly, will require some prior planning. The best way to do this is on a computer, using tools like AutoCAD and Vectorworks. Vectorworks is easier for beginners to get to grips with and has less advanced system requirements. Both are free for students! Most of the example rig plans shown below were produced with the educational version of Vectorworks.
Software for Sound Design
ost venues will already have the required licensing to play recorded music, but you should check this in your tech spec and/or venue contract. Note that music
Equipment for Lighting Designers
Most of the usual Oxford venues have Eos family consoles and a generic lighting stock commensurate with their size, however many of these rigs lack intelligent LED fixtures. The OUTTS hires store specifically stocks equipment to cover these gaps and give your shows an extra splach of colour here and there! Here are some brief summaries of what each venue has - these are not exhaustive, and you should always check with the venue's most recent published tech spec and consult with their manager when deciding what additional equipment to bring.
Simple conventional lighting rig. 6 simple LED parcans. Dimmers and non-dims on a hard patch. ETC Element console. Rigs must be shared with other shows using the venue in the same week. Contact Rob Bristow for further details.
Flexible conventional lighting rig. No intelligent fixtures. Recently upgraded dimmers with indivudual dimming/hot power across all circuits. 15A sockets. ETC Nomad system on a dedicated computer (2 universes). 1 universe of DMX distributed to all points in venue. The Pilch's tech spec is currently out of date - contact us for details.
Full conventional lighting rig (but with quite a few broken fixtures). No intelligent fixtures. Hybrid patched dimmers and non-dims on 16A sockets. Hemp and motor fly bar system (training required). ETC Ion desk with fader wing, which can be brought out front of house to make programming easier. 2-universe DMX distribution.
Fully loaded lighting system with (almost) everything you could possibly desire. Full conventional rig, reasonable quantity of ColorSource PAR and Spot fixtures. Two ETC Ion desks. Additional equipment (e.g. moving heads) is sourced typically from HTS. Contact the Chief Electrician for further details.
Hiring Lighting Equipment
Sometimes, you will need to supplement the venue's equipment with additional hardware. It is your respnsibility to ensure any equipment you hire is compatible with the venue's lighting system (in particular respecting power draw limitations and use of hot power). Always consult with our hires reps and the venue technician if relevant. Here are some recommendations on sourcing lighting equipment:
This should always be your first port of call for cheap and good quality lighting equipment. Situated close to the Pilch and O'Reilly, we have recently made over £10,000 of investments in new equipment, including Robe 600 moving heads, Diamond 7 LED moving heads, 12 LED parcans, and 100s of metres of 16A industrial cabling. We also stock an ETC Nomad kit, allowing you to light any space with just a laptop. We are happy to provide advice and training on any of our equipment.
Based out of Henley, HTS are the biggest supplier of theatrical equipment (lighting, sound and more) in the local area and offer a comprehensive service. Being further away, delivery costs can be higher but they are a great option for larger scale shows, especially if you need advanced or specialised fixtures (such as moving head spots or LED profiles), or if you need full production services for a show in a non-theatrical venue (e.g. garden plays).
Resources for Lighting Designers
Example Rig Plans and Show Files from past productions
We have collated a small library of rig plans and show files from past shows. In some cases (subject to copyright restrictions) these will include a cue script or video footage as well. All of the designers of these shows are happy to be contacted to talk about their designs. If you are looking for Oxford Playhouse rig plans, these are best discussed directly with the Chief Electrician.
Click on any of these shows to download a .zip file - unzip them and you will find an Eos show file, annotated rig plans and accompanying notes. These are provided with no warranty, express or implied. They are for reference use only and do not constitute formal advice on how to rig or configure lights in their respective venues. If you would like to add your rig plans to our growing library, please contact us.
Fixture Guides and Instruction Manuals
Handy overview guides to all the OUTTS fixtures may be found here.
Lighting and the Design Idea (Wadsworth Series in Theatre) 3rd Edition - Linda Essig and Jennifer Setlow
Introduction to Stage Lighting: The Fundamentals of Theatre Lighting Design - Charles I. Swift
We aim to program multiple lighting workshops in a range of venues every term - sign up to our mailing list to get notified when we next do one.