Painting Lightscapes: Total Audience Immersion by Stu Chisholm

March 16, 2009 by Stu Chisholm

Using lighting to transport you audience to another world

With no clear end to the sagging economy in sight, more and more mobile DJs are diversifying, offering other goods and services to bolster their income. Even when money isn’t the issue, a savvy DJ will always be on the lookout for that new idea that will give them a creative or competitive edge. If you’re like me, however, then you don’t really have an interest in things like invitations, chair covers, photography or other non-DJ types of “upsells.” I prefer to keep my offerings within the confines of what I know and am passionate about: entertainment, sound and lighting.

It is the latter that has taken on a new role at many of today’s formal events. While we’re all familiar with the “traditional” DJ light show, today’s DJs don’t feel compelled to keep their lighting confined to the dance floor. Instead, they’re placing lights all over the room in strategic locations, literally “painting” the room with light!

Like a mirror ball, this idea is actually an old one. Faced with a venue with bare walls and a stark appearance, couples would hire decorators who found that placing PAR cans along the baseboard could dress-up a room without a lot of heavy props and tooling. Small spotlights were focused on things like the wedding cake and ice sculpture, and might even be fitted with a colored gel, to match the colors of the bridal party.

That Was Then, This Is Now

Until recently, DJs were unconcerned with décor and would leave these details up to the venue or decorator hired by their clients. (Many still do.) Yet technology has presented the forward-thinking DJ with some new possibilities for both income and entertainment. The first step was the advent of DMX lighting control. This gave the single DJ the ability to make their lights work in unison, literally dancing to the tunes he or she played. It’s been in use for years by bands and DJs who run intelligent lighting effects.

What opened the floodgates for total immersion, though, was the introduction of LED lighting technology. At long last, LED lamps were bright enough to replace such old standby fixtures as PAR cans and moving yoke scanners, yet consume far less electricity. More importantly, many can also change color and are dimmable. In short, one can accomplish the same task of decorating, only doing it with light…with the potential to ratchet up the overall effect, taking it to the next level: total audience immersion.

“Surround” lighting?

By taking on the responsibility for lighting décor, not only can the DJ sometimes double their usual fee, but he or she can gain greater or total control over the atmosphere of the room. At first, it might appear exactly as before, but the fun truly begins once the dancing portion of the evening starts.

During the First Dance, some DJs have gotten into the habit of having a custom gobo created with the couple’s names on them, which they can project onto the dance floor or ceiling. These can be made relatively quickly and cheaply and make great after-the-event souvenirs. The Martin Mania PR1 is a great light for this application, and a custom gobo for it runs between $20 and $50 depending on how fast you need it. Your dealer should have details, or check out www.gobosource.com.

When the high-energy dancing begins, those seemingly “in-the-background” PAR cans start grabbing attention as their colors and intensity begin to match the beat, colors and movement of the lights on the stage and dance floor! In effect, the entire room conveys the mood and energy of the moment

As you can imagine, wiring-up an entire room with DMX cable could be difficult, or even impossible, depending on how far away fixtures need to be. Essential, then, is one more new technology: wireless DMX. One specialized supplier is the Wireless Solution (www.wirelessdmx.com). No more trying to hang cables over doorways or carrying around heavy cord tunnels or mats. Plug your fixture into the closest electrical outlet, plug the DMX receiver into the fixture’s input and you’re good to go!

Leave No Surface Unlit

You might recall a previous article in these pages about a new technology called CeeLite (www.ceelite.com). CeeLite, which is both the name of the company and their product, refers to LEC, or Light Emitting Capacitor technology. This results in extremely thin lighting panels that, while none currently change color, are dimmable and DMX controllable. They can also provide custom shapes if ordered in advance. Extremely durable, these panels don’t crush easily and are flexible, which opens up a lot of possibilities. A CeeLite panel under the ice sculpture, or under the chocolate fountain, or on any surface whatsoever could flash and pulsate in time with the music! Keeping round and rectangular panels in popular table sizes on hand would leave you prepared for just about anything, and colored films can be applied to make them match any color your event’s theme might require.

One neat application I found for CeeLite was the easel photo. If you’ve ever been to a wedding where, instead of a guest book, the couple has everyone sign the border of a large photo of themselves that they can then keep as a souvenir, then imagine that photo completely lit! This will take some collaboration between you, the couple and their photographer, but essentially it means making a full-sized photo transparency of the picture and attaching it to the white CeeLite panel (which actually looks pink when turned off). Then the whole thing is attached to a matte backing and framed as usual. A Sharpie® pen works very well for signatures. Also worth mentioning is that CeeLite runs very cool, making it safe for use just about anywhere! At the moment the panels are a bit pricey, but last for an incredibly long time.

Reach for the Sky

Now that you’ve got the entire banquet room covered, there’s one other detail to consider. Every experience begins with anticipation; a sense of something “just over the horizon.” So why not reach out PAST that horizon? For events beginning in the evening, during or just after sunset, then why not ink a deal with your local Sky Tracker rental and offer your clients moving searchlights? You’ve seen these at just about every grand opening, movie premier or superstore sale; a self-contained trailer with a generator and two or four searchlights that are motorized, “scanning” the sky in big, looping circles. These beams are powerful enough to be seen for miles. Imagine the impression that guests will have, following those light beams for miles and realizing that it’s for THEIR party! At about $500.00 on average pre night, this is one effect that is truly “over the top.”

Automatic Interaction

The effective use of lighting technologies both new and old can give your audience a sense that they’re totally immersed and involved in the party, even if they never come anywhere near the dance floor. At the very least it can brighten up a dull room, and when done well, makes an event truly unforgettable. If that is your goal, then don’t think “hall” or “venue.” Think “lightscape.” Until next time, safe spinnin’!

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Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (45 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.


Filed Under: Issues from 2009, Lighting