Switched On - Over the Rainbow

"IT ISN'T EASY BEING GREEN"

blondeinreddress.jpgColour affects us emotionally - we talk about loving or hating colours – as in: “I hate the colour of that hat” or “I love the colour of your dress. Colour in light can therefore be just as effecting.

All light is of some colour – as there is no such thing as light with no colour. Of course on some occasions the colour is more obvious than on others. In fact the lighter, more subtle, colours are more often used and could therefore be said to play a greater part on stage than the more overt and darker shades. It is, for example, usually the lighter shades that light the actors for most of the time.

14.jpgHowever, strong or richly dark colours can be very dramatic and they will usually send a very clear message – although as always context is important. For example Green can suggest Envy or Evil, Blue can read as Peaceful, Red can read as Passion, Blood, War, Rage, Lust or Love.

The lighter colours also effect the viewer, but less obviously. Lighter coloured light is used to provide a context within which the drama can unfold – for example creating the look of sun- or moon- light. Some hues will act to enhance skin tone, the costume or settings of a piece and some will not.

This kind of discreetly coloured light is catagorised as being warm or cold.


15.jpgWARM LIGHT is thought of as more appropriate for ‘happier’ subjects – comedies, romances. Typical warm colours are: Straw, Straw Tint, Light Pinks, Light Ambers, Gold tints.

COLD LIGHT is thought of as more appropriate for ‘sadder’ subjects, like tragedies, horror subjects or thrillers. Typical cold colours are: Steel blues, light greens, blue colour corrections.

Where no colour is apparent - e.g. using no gel (referred to as ‘open white’), or the thinnest of tones then the light can appear stark, and brutal.


Colour Theory:

lightsources.jpgThe illustration to the right shows us how a light source passed through a prism splits into its separate colours, and how a gel inhibits the passage of part of the range to create a colour.

The various colours in the light are how we perceive the various wavelengths of the light – each colour having its own wavelength.

The names we give to colour are purely of our own making – each blends into its neighbours in the spectrum. Indeed the so-called 7 colours of the Rainbow are also a purely artificial way to describe the many, many colours that make up the spectrum.

primaries.jpgColour is further defined as containing three primary and three secondary colours, each set of which when mixed together make up the full composition of white light. See Illustration 11.

In light the Primary colours are GREEN, BLUE & RED.

The Secondary colours, which are made by mixing 2 of the primaries together, are YELLOW, CYAN & MAGENTA.

All three Primaries added together (as when projected from individual lights) create White Light.

When we see colour we are looking at those wavelengths of light that are being reflected from an object to our eyes. Our eyes see the wavelengths and translate them into a perception of colour.

If we shine a coloured light at an object we reduce the availability of colours to reflect, and this can mean that the apparent colour of an object can radically change. This is something we should always bear in mind when we use colour – i.e. how it will effect the things we light with it.


Colour Mixing:

When different lights, using different colours, reach the object they are lighting they mix together to create a new colour. In this example wavelengths are added together and thus this is called Additive colour mixing and it produces more light and a brighter (whiter) colour.

When two or more gels are placed in the same unit then a new colour is produced also. In this example wavelengths cancel each other out and thus this is called Subtractive colour mixing and it produces less light and a darker colour.

In summary:

  • ALL LIGHT HAS COLOUR

  • COLOUR IS A POWERFUL COMMUNICATOR OF EMOTIONAL MOOD

  • COLOUR CAN BE USED TO HELP DEFINE PLACE, LOCATION, TIME AND SEASON

  • LIGHTER COLOURS ALSO SET THE MOOD - BUT DO SO MORE SUBTLY

  • STRONG COLOUR CAN HAVE GREAT IMPACT

  • COLOUR IS USUALLY DESCRIBED AS BEING WARM OR COLD

  • STRONG COLOUR CAN EASILY DESTROY OR OVERPOWER A STAGE PICTURE – AND SHOULD THEREFORE BE USED WITH CARE

  • COLOUR CAN MEAN DIFFERENT THINGS IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS e.g Red for Anger, or Red for Passion.

 

EXERCISES:

lightingjournal.jpgIn developing one’s skills as a Lighting Designer there is no substitution for actually doing the job. However in preparation for undertaking an actual design it is useful to try things out first by practical experimentation. You can usefully set your own experiments or set them for your colleagues. In addition, whilst described for the individual, most of these exercises can be easily adapted for group work.

It is also a good idea to keep a notebook or JOURNAL of ideas, references, sketches, past successes, pictures, photographs, postcards, etc, etc. Such a journal can become a source of good ideas and a useful aide memoir. Certainly the results and any sketches or notes made whilst working on the following exercises could be usefully included in such a journal.

GENERAL NOTES: Most practical exercises require that you can obtain a blackout and the use of several light sources – obviously theatre luminaires are intended but in some exercises torches may also suffice. Some of the exercises may also work in miniature – i.e. using small torches and a table top. Other, non-practical exercises, are of the kind that will help you fill a note book or a journal of ideas. The latter are marked ***

 

*** Exercise 10: OVER THE RAINBOW

a. Get yourself a selection of old magazines or other material with lots of colour photographs and illustrations.

SG_WPATH.jpgb. On a large piece of paper or a centre spread in your journal draw a representation of a Rainbow, it may be an arc, or a simple list.

Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

c. From the magazines cut out small squares of single colours and stick them on to your chart.

d. Having finished your art work – look through a maufacturer's gel book and match the gel colours to your chart.

VARIATION:Do the same exercise using your favourite colour only and seeing how many variations of colour you can get between the lightest version and the darkest - ie. Light Blue through to Dark Blue.

NOTES: This exercise is about perception and subtlty of understanding in colour. The human eye can see the difference between many millions of colour shades, as lighting designers we need to practice this art.

 

Exercise 11: PAINTING THE RAINBOW

a. Using three focusable units project the primary colours onto a white surface – screen or sheet (this is best done in a otherwise blacked-out space).

b. Note what colour you get with all units a full power.

c. Using different levels find the best version available of the perfect ‘white’ light – once again making a note of levels.

d. Using your reference material from exercise 10 – choose a colour and try and reporduce it using the three primaries. Once again note levels.

e. Repeat for new colours, each time noting relative levels.

VARIATION:Repeat the exercise replacing the primary colours with the secondary.

NOTES: In most colour ranges the primaries are noted – but if not, and in any doubt, consult the manufacturers, who are usually happy to help. You should find that the primaries let through different amounts of coloured light and therefore need to be balanced against each other even to produce ‘white’ light.

Exercise 12: CHAMELEON COLOUR

chameleon.jpga. Find some objects or clothes that are strong in colour. They may be a single colour each or have many colours.

b. With the rig from exercise 11, and using the primary colours, shine each coloured light in turn on to the objects. It is a good idea to arrange with juxtaposing colours next to each other. (once again this is best achieved in a blacked-out space.)

c. Make a note how each primary colour effects the look of the objects you have chosen, remembering to check now and then what the objects original colour was by turning on the normal lighting within the space you are using.

VARIATION:Repeat the exercise replacing the primary colours with other strong colours and lighter shades.

NOTES: Objects that appear the same colour may well appear differently under certain coloured lights. This is because they are made up from different wavelengths and these in turn are effected differently by different coloured light – see next exercise.

 

Exercise 13: BLACK IS BLACK

cats.jpga. Find some objects or clothes that appear to be Black in colour. (Don’t worry if they appear to be slightly different in colour even in normal light).

b. Use once again the rig and colours from exercise 11 - the primary colours – and shine each coloured light in turn on to the ‘black’ objects.

c. Make a note how each primary colour effects the look of the objects you have chosen.

VARIATION:Repeat the exercise using ‘white’ objects in as many different materials as you can find – e.g. paper, cloth, soap, feathers, etc.

NOTES: It is to be hoped that you will have found a mixture of ‘blacks’ – that will simply not reflect any colour – and others. These others may appear black but will reflect some colour when provoked to do so by coloured light. In all cases however the reflection will probably remain dark.

 

*** Exercise 14: EMOTIONAL COLOUR

ladymcbeth.jpga. Write down a list of as many emotions or states of mind that you can think of, here’s a start:

ANGER / JOY / HATE / ENVY / LOVE / JEALOUSY / PITY / HOPE / CONFUSION / PEACEFULNESS / EXHILARATION / SURPRISE / GREED / MADNESS / DISTRUST

b. Now write next to each word the colour you would associate with it.

VARIATION: You can repeat this exercise with other lists such as people or animals. You can also test your friends – and in this case it is always best to read out the list and ask for an immediate answer. Thinking too hard ruins the spontaneity, and if you do have to think perhaps it is better to not have an answer rather than to force it.

NOTES: This exercise is about prompting the imagination – it is not about getting the right colour! As in many aspects of this work there is no wrong answer – in fact the only wrong answer is not to have one!

Exercise 15: COLOUR SCENES

a. Take the list of emotions that you used in exercise 14 and write each one on a separate piece of paper.

b. Place the pieces of paper into a container – e.g. bag, tin or hat.

c. Pull out up to 4 pieces of paper and look at the ones you have chosen.

d. Now, on a vertical white sheet or screen, create a piece of lighting to suggest this emotion. Naturally you will now be using more than colour – shape , size, and intensity will now play a part, however for this exercise the dominant feature should remain colour.

e. When you have plotted your results show them to someone who does not know what you have been doing and ask them to guess what emotion your lighting represents. If they have trouble doing so, allow them to see the original list to choose from.

VARIATION: Variations on this exercise involve limiting the number of pieces of equipment you may use – e.g. to one unit! And to prohibiting the use of such handy items as gobos.

NOTES: You can repeat this exercise many times. Naturally some emotions will be easier to express than others. Once again this exercise is about prompting the imagination, and there are no wrong (or right) answers.

 

*** Exercise 16: YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE

AnnaBrothers.jpga. Arm yourself with a manufacturer's gel swatch book (free from all good manufacturers and stockist).

b. Make yourself familiar with the range of colours available that may be used to suggest real light sources - i.e. the lighter hues of straw, amber, pink, and blue (also possibly green).

c. During a period of time (a day to a week) take a few moments wherever you are to look around you at the colour of real and artificial light e.g. morning sunshine, light on a rainy day, evening light, a street lamp at dusk, fluorescent light in a kitchen, you bedside lamp at night, the light coming from a television, and so on.

d. Each time you do so try and match the colour of the light source to a gel in the swatch book. Making a note if you can of such things as: the light source, the time, the weather conditions and the gel chosen.

NOTES: Write up your findings in your lighting designer’s journal. If you haven’t been keeping one, then time you started! Such references are invaluable to a busy lighting designer looking for inspiration or even that colour they knew they liked but can’t find again!

 

Exercise 17: SUNRISE / SUNSET

girls.jpga. Create for yourself a small, white vertical screen or sheet.

b. On to the screen project light to suggest one OR any of the following:

* DAWN

* MORNING

* NOON

* AFTERNOON

* EVENING

* DUSK

* NIGHT TIME

VARIATION: Try the same exercise using a small stage area – perhaps one meter square – in which you can place a common element to light – e.g. a chair.

NOTES: Obviously it makes a great difference whether you try this exercise in 2D or in the variation in 3D, with the latter naturally lighting angles also have to be thought out. In the 2D plane colour naturally becomes dominant.

The choice of colour can very widely on a scale from the ultra naturalistic to the unashamedly romantic. And from decisions to do with whether you decide it is a cold winter’s day or a warm summer one. Also were in the world you are placing your scene?

As is often the case there is no true real answer, only some that will be more effective than others.



Exercise 18: The 4 SEASONS

a. As with exercise 17, create for yourself a small, white vertical screen or sheet

b. On to the screen project light to suggest one OR any of the following:

SUMMER

AUTUMN

WINTER

SPRING

VARIATION: Again this exercise can be carried out using a small stage area – perhaps one metre square – in which you can place a common element to light – e.g. a chair.

NOTES: Once again this exercise is about using one’s memory of a time of year and recreating it in ‘essence’ – because obviously summers and winters vary from day to day, from year to year and from place to place. However in striving for the ‘essence’ of the season the lighting design should hit upon some means to communicate the idea of the season and not get to bogged down in a specific.