Step 1 of M.C. Friedrich's column "From the Concrete to Abstract" can be found here, including all supplemental materials. Pics are in place throughout the article, and all handouts and Word docs (and pics) are attached to this forum in a zip file.
It has been my experience as a lighting educator that learning to create a light plot and the corresponding paperwork is a daunting task. To help my students, I broke the learning process into three, manageable step, starting from the concrete, and moving to the abstract. This may sound backwards, but I believe teaching is most effective when it is begun with the concrete reality, lights hanging on the electrics, and reversing into the abstract, the plot and hookup. This way the student has a solid understanding of what the abstract will be representing.
Here are the activities I lead my students through for step one. My intent is to present this clearly enough for lighting instructors to adapt to their own classroom situations. We learn best by doing, so just reading these activities will only get neophytes so far. You can read a cookbook but until you try it you won’t learn how to make a cake. Think of this as a light plot recipe.
For students, the goals of this activity are three-fold: 1) Develop a small single-area lighting concept (not quite a design) based on McCandless and 3-point lighting; 2) Hang and circuit the lighting instruments, including a rough focus and adding some color; 3) Record all information on a plot, color key and hook-up. Before beginning these activities, give your students an appropriate foundation in the controllable properties of light then the function of light plots and paperwork for a production. All these projects are drafted by hand using lighting templates on prepared handouts and worksheets. Using a CAD system for lighting is a separate skill set taught at another time.
I use a very simple light lab setup for this project, just one lighting area. Have a light lab? Great! Move on to the next step. Don’t have one but have 3 electrics you can lower to 8 or 10 feet above the stage floor? Do that and move on. Want a simple light lab setup? Check out figure 1-1 for an easy schematic of one. Use four 10’ pipes (1½” diameter for example) on boom bases spaced into an 8’ square; using pipe clamps attach four more pipes to box in the top; finally, add one more pipe across the center, and you’re good to go.
Once you have a lab, have a student tape an “X” in the center of your setup. This marks the center of the single lighting focus area to be used.
In your light lab you will need the following equipment:
• 6 dimmers/circuits (Just use the best circuiting your lab affords.)
• 3 wash instruments (Fresnels, Parnels)
• 3 Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlights (50°, 36° or 26° are all okay)
• 6 gel frames for instruments
• 6 gel cuts: 1 each of bastard amber, lighter amber, pink lavender, blue lavender, light blue, darker blue
• Leather gloves
• 6’ step ladder
Using both wash and spot instruments reinforces the idea of options when creating a plot and gives the student a variety of lighting symbols to draft. You don’t have to use a specific number of each, just what you have handy.
Distribution & Focus
To start, I hand out a blank Distribution & Focus/Color Key worksheet pre-printed with the general instrument location for two lighting methods: McCandless and 3-Point (worksheet in the zip file attached to this post, it’s Figure 1-4 Color Key.doc). The worksheet will help guide note-taking for the two methods of lighting that I’ll introduce later. I talk the students through the purpose of a color key: a graphic representation, or groundplan, of the direction from which each color of light will originate, repeated for each lighting focus area.
The Practice Plot activity starts when I step onto the taped “X” on the floor and stand in as the actor. I give a brief explanation of the McCandless and 3-Point lighting methods, pointing to the different light hang positions. The simplicity of these methods offers a clear place to begin understanding a system of instrument placement.
The McCandless method, condensed to its most basic elements, is two lighting instruments hanging at a 45 degree down angle in front and above the actor and at 45 degrees to either side of the actor. One is gelled in a cool color while the other is warm. (See Figure 1-5 for a visualization)
I then mention down light, even cooler, as a common addition to McCandless. The students jot notes on the Distribution & Focus handout for reference (Figure 1-6).
The 3-Point Lighting method consists of one instrument stage right of the actor, one stage left, and the third directly in front, all pointing at 45 degree angle down to the actor. (Figure 1-7) One side light is warm, the other cool, and the front neutral. I overlap the use of the down light position with the McCandless setup. This is also noted on the Distribution & Focus/Color Key handout. (Figure 1-8)
Hang, Circuit, Gel, Focus
Now it is the students’ turn. I divide the class (and my light lab, which is large) into four groups of five or so students. See Figure 1-9 for an idea of how I set up my lab before the exercise begins. The students hang the instruments in both the McCandless and 3-Point configurations, making best judgments of placement. This is when they discover the imperfect world in which we live. Sometimes one cannot hang an instrument in the perfect spot because a wall may be in the way or there may be no pipe from which to hang the instrument. They circuit, gel, and focus the instruments as additional practice and to see if the placement is acceptable.
Figures 1-10 to 1-12 are more shots of students doing the work. Figure 1-10 is pictured here, figures 1-11 and 1-12 are available to download if you want.
The students are ready to begin their paperwork of a light hang they know very well, since they just created it.
Paperwork Handouts Are Used
For each small group, I give them individual copies of the following (zip file containing all paperwork in Microsoft Office formats is attached to this post):
• Light lab quadrant groundplan with hang positions in which they are working. (Figure 1-14)
• Light lab groundplan as a whole, just for reference. (Figure 1-15)
• Hook-up template. (Figure 1-16)
• Lighting template.
• Printout of the USITT Lighting Graphics Standards. I use the USITT standards because it is a common language and a good starting place for the students. This is a formidable multi-page list that can overwhelm the students. A one-page version of the graphics standards is easier to use and find the symbol needed. FieldTemplate has a nice one (Figure 1-17) or you can draft one of your own for students to use.
Draft The Plot
Each student then drafts their own light plot directly on the groundplan of the light lab quadrant (Figure 1-18). At just six instruments and channels, it’s a very manageable size. Yes, there are lines through the instrument symbols and we do discuss that is something to avoid when drafting a full plot. They can see how it makes it difficult to read all the information. My more meticulous students will go back and white-out the underlying lines. The students also add instrument keys and notation keys while we discuss the function they serve on the plot, identifying what the symbols mean.
Create The Hook-Up
They also make an accompanying hook-up chart (Figure 1-19). At this stage of understanding, I only present the idea that the hook-up is a list of the information from the plot organized by control channel. More detail is covered in Part Two.
Being the professor that I am, I do go ahead and state the obvious, telling the students that plots and hook-ups are done before the hang in a real situation. I do not give the exception of the circuit number; too much information too soon for this first project.
Parts Two and Three of this project are found in the Lighting Forum on TheatreFace.com -- check 'em out and ask questions!