Light fantastic for theatre design

May 23, 1997

MINIATURE models of set designs have long injected a dose of practicality into theatre directors' artistic vision. Now a student at the University of Central England is doing the same for lighting.

Improved technology and a fashion for sparser sets have placed extra stress on the use of lighting in plays over recent years. But it is much harder to represent how lighting will look on stage without creating the full-scale set, making it expensive and difficult to experiment.

Arnim Friess, a former press photographer studying for an MA in scenography at UCE, is combining computer and traditional modelling to come up with a solution.

"Only using drawings is unsatisfactory because lighting doesn't do on paper what it does in space," he said. "It is also difficult to scale lighting down because the patterns it makes are different."

Three-dimensional modelling on computers appeared to be the most effective solution but it demanded vast amounts of power which could make it too slow for the quick responses needed in the theatre.

Mr Friess expects his final model to involve a combination of techniques.

"If you go to West End musicals now the lighting designer is nearly as important as the set designer because lighting is cheaper to run and has become more important for artistic reasons," he said.

"Audiences are highly sophisticated visually because of films and television and they notice if there is something wrong with the way things are visualised in the theatre."

He said many people were coming into lighting design from art schools and wanted to bring the innovations they had learned there into the theatre.

Whatever model Mr Friess develops will come in handy for his next project in the theatre.

He is to provide the lighting and projection for A Brief History of Time: The Stage Show, based on the book by Stephen Hawking.

"I have to produce on stage both atoms and the whole universe," he said. "It's likely to be quite a challenge."

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