by George Masek

Automated Lighting Enhances the Worship Experience

By George Masek

The ability to automatically change colors of the lighting or to focus it on
specific scenic elements or in certain areas during the presentation can greatly
enhance the production value of the service and trigger a variety of emotional
tones. Automated luminaires can also add the dynamics of movement to create an
exciting worship experience.

For an Easter celebration, dark colors or a reddish hue during the
crucifixion on Calvary set a somber tone as the congregation reflects on Jesus’
death on the cross. Strobe effects can be used to give the appearance of
lightning or a threatening storm. A fixture can be focused on the actor
portraying Jesus to give a halo effect. Movement from the fixtures may
accentuate action and motion onstage.

As the red slowly changes into a golden hue, the emotions of the audience
swing from mournful to rejoicing as the stage is suddenly bathed in bright light
and the celebration begins for the resurrection and promise of life everlasting.
Color changes can be made quickly with snap changes, or slowly by means of a
color cross-fade. Shadow effects can create the appearance of a cave or dark
entryway through which the resurrected Jesus may emerge.

In addition to the moving beams, rotating gobos can give the impression of
moving clouds, ripping water, twinkling stars and other effects. Or the gobos
can simply provide a variety of background textures. A gobo is a thin metal
plate or glass that is etched to produce a design, which can then be inserted
within the automated fixture and projected as an image. A single gobo can
produce a colorful image, such as a stained glass window. Custom gobos can be
created for specific images, such as trees or a cross.

Using the fixtures’ automated zoom, designers can emphasize particular
aspects of the production by manipulating the size and focus of the projected
images. Automated shutters provide similar emphasis by cropping objects and
providing high contrast between the illuminated objects, such as Jesus on the
cross and the background.

A popular Easter Sunday format for many churches is the illustrated sermon, a
service that combines reading passages and scripture along with congregation
members acting out passages and accompanying hymns from the choir. With an
automated ellipsoidal reflector spotlight, a single fixture can accommodate all
three segments of the presentation.

The fixture can operate as a spotlight while the pastor is reading the
scripture. It can then quickly change colors, diffuse to a soft-edge light and
pan to another area of the sanctuary to illuminate action on stage. It can
change colors again and bathe the choir in color as hymns are sung for an
emotional and uplifting worship experience.

Automated lighting also allows lighting designers or event coordinators to
make last-minute changes to the production if needed. If for some reason the
crucifixion scene needed to be moved six feet in either direction just before
the presentation begins, the lighting director can refocus the lights to new
positions in just minutes with the push of a few buttons. The same change would
not have been possible with a conventional lighting rig.

The ideal toolkit

One of the most popular recent introductions into the lighting industry is
the automated ellipsoidal reflector spotlight. For years, the basic ellipsoidal
has been the standard theatrical lighting tool. Automation has taken all of the
desired elements of the original ellipsoidal lights and put them into an
affordable package.

Because the automated lights are multifunctional, they have the ability to be
used in standard applications as well as in theatrical applications and
productions. In addition to the standard functions of conventional lights, the
fixtures’ flexibility also provide movement, fixed or rotating images and a
variety of beam sizes. And the movements can be subtle and tasteful so as not to
distract from the service.

“The biggest challenge I face is convincing them that we’re not going to
turn the church into a rock-and-roll show by using intelligent lighting,”
says Tony Hansen, an Orlando, Fla.-based freelance lighting designer who has
worked with numerous churches over the past two decades.

Overuse of the features might require some restraint on the part of the
church’s lighting director, particularly a novice who might be infatuated with
the amazing effects the lights can create. When developing a lighting program,
the lighting director should respect the traditions or practices that define the
church’s worship style.

“The main thing to remember with automated lighting is that it’s there
to enhance, not distract,” Hansen says. “You don’t have to use all the
features just because they’re available.”

On the other hand, you do not want the lights themselves to stand out, making
the auditorium look like a concert hall. If needed, request that the exterior
finish of the lights be painted a particular color so that they blend with the
sanctuary’s ambiance.

Just as the flash and movement of the lights should not be a distraction,
neither should fixture noise. Generally, Easter productions heavily rely on the
spoken word, and in some instances complete silence, for effect. As such, the
congregation should not hear a constant buzzing from the lights’ cooling fans or
motors. The optimum light should be convection-cooled so that the cooling fans
are not activated until the units reach about 50 degrees. When running, the fan
should be virtually silent.

Give them something to remember everyday

In the past, cost has kept many churches from considering an automated
lighting system. In the past 18 months, as technology has improved and
manufacturing capabilities have grown more sophisticated, automated lighting
equipment has become more affordable. Many congregations are discovering that
automated lighting can enhance not only special productions but regular worship
services as well.

“I’m finding that more and more churches are looking at permanent
installations of automated lighting fixtures,” Hansen says. “They’re
discovering that the addition of intelligent lighting gives them the opportunity
to create many different environments and emotional settings without setting up
different scenery each time.

“Churches can have a different brand or a different look for their
traditional Sunday services, their contemporary Saturday services or their
Wednesday evening services.”

Regardless of whether it is a regular Sunday service or a special Easter
presentation, the religious experience should be emotionally rewarding. An
automated lighting system has the ability to enhance this emotional experience.

George Masek is the Technical Marketing Director for Vari-Lite. He has 20
years of experience in lighting live events and productions ranging from
concerts to theatrical performances.



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