The NBA All-Star Game, held in Toronto this year, featured a number of all-star entertainment components courtside at Air Canada Centre. Lighting designer Otis Howard, of Otis Howard Design in St. Petersburg, Florida, turned to Prelite Studios to help envision the show's very diverse lighting needs.
Howard and his team were charged with lighting Cirque du Soleil's dynamic intro to Sunday night's 65th NBA All-Star Game, the first held outside the US, and the half-time show headlined by 16-time Grammy winner Sting.
Earlier they lit the new wave/rock band Walk the Moon for the half-time show during State Farm All-Star Saturday Night. They also lit the court as NBA players ramped up excitement among the fans the day before the big game with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge and the Verizon Slam Dunk competition. TNT and TBS televised the NBA All-Star events live in the US.
"The NBA All-Star Game is a unique combination of things," says Howard, who marked his sixth season with the event. "Over the years the entertainment component has become a bigger part of the show. Prelite has been on my radar for a long time, and this year I got to use them to help us with the sheer volume of things we had to do in the arena with a single lighting rig. Prelite's ability to quickly get people behind ideas in pre-production was also extremely valuable."
Using Cast's WSYIWIG software, Prelite host Mike Robertson created a previs model of Air Canada Centre that Howard and his team used to write show files for both Cirque du Soleil's intro and Sting's half-time set. Michael Appel, the lighting programmer for the half-time show, "fed me info as early as mid-January," Robertson says. "We worked on orientations for where lights would hang in space and the movement of set pieces so I could build a full arena model encompassing every aspect of production. Then they could enable or disable elements to optimize system performance as required for the intro and the half-time show."
Robertson points out that Prelite excels at "representing to the client what's hard to describe in words. It's a great tool for letting the client know the capabilities of the rig before it comes online. It can really relax the client and give them confidence in what they're about to see."
Several weeks before arriving at Air Canada Centre Howard and Cirque programmer Eric Belanger used Robertson's model to set up an offline system in Montreal so they could write the intro's show file.
"The Prelite model really helped Cirque wrap their heads around the rig," says Howard. One segment of the intro featured a giant set piece of blocks and platforms with hidden trampolines inside. As performers bounced from surface to surface, dynamic projections were mapped onto the set and choreographed to their bounces.
"Prelite helped us figure out how to light the set," says Howard. "We couldn't use follow spots, which would distract the performers; so we softly lit the underside of the trampolines so the performers weren't looking into a black hole when they bounced."
Prelite also enabled them "to change camera positions to see the projections and adjust things accordingly," Howard notes. The lighting designer had to accommodate 30-40 camera positions while being careful not to diminish the experience for fans in the arena. "Prelite helped us understand line-of-sight issues and cueing based on unconventional lighting positions" as the result of a large portion of FOH center being inaccessible due to Cirque's technical needs.
Once on site in Toronto Howard and Belanger used Prelite to further refine the five-minute intro "building new elements into the arena show beyond what they had planned," Robertson reports.
Prelite also proved valuable for Sting's half-time set showcasing his biggest hits. "He's such an iconic talent, and we wanted to give the songs their due," says Howard. "Prelite was really helpful when time was short. We programmed during rehearsal off the live console then went back to our Prelite suite in Toronto to finesse things."
With an event of this scale "quite a few things can change as you interface with everyone in the arena, including the entertainment for the audience that you don't see on TV," says Howard. "Everything needed cues, and Prelite helped us stay on target."
Howard predicts "a huge future" for Prelite Studios and its previsualization services. "We used about 1,200 lights for the NBA All-Star Game, but much bigger shows use several thousand lights plus specialty items. As a pre-production tool Prelite can only enhance what we do, and in the short windows we have on site it helps to keep costs down."
Rodd McLaughlin acted as assistant lighting designer for the NBA All-Star Game; Tiffany Keyes was the lighting programmer for Walk the Moon's half-time show. Steve Sakowski was the spot caller; Dave Feldman was the court-light LD to meet broadcast needs.
Prelite was founded in San Francisco February 2000 as a place for lighting designers and programmers to use technologies to previsualize lighting projects. The company provides studios where previsualization and creativity take center stage away from the distractions and interruptions of a chaotic work environment and where clients save time and money and minimize stress. Prelite also offers on-site previsualization services for those who prefer the convenience of working at the venue. For more information, visit www.prelite.com or contact Thomas Thompson at 415-883-7727.