Tag Archives: show

!nsp!re: Read These Books

I get asked, pretty frequently, to recommend reading resources for my line of work (entertainment live show design). Here you will find a constantly updated list of the books and I have found useful, across a variety of related subjects. They are grouped by category.  Enjoy!


The Accidental Creative – Todd Henry

Art Before Breakfast – Danny Gregory

The Artist Within: A Guide to Becoming Creatively Fit – Whitney Ferre

Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self – Don Hahn

The Collaborative Habit: Life lessons for Working Together – Twyla Tharp

The Creative Fight – Chris Orwig

The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

Drive – Daniel H. Pink

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything – Sir Ken Robinson

One Little Spark – Marty Sklar

Start With Why – Simon Sinek

Steal Like An Artist – Austin Kleon

Taking The Leap – Cay Lang



Backstage Handbook – Paul Carter

The Business of Theatrical Design – James L. Moody

Careers in Technical Theatre – Mike Lawler

Digital Technical Theater Simplified – Drew Campbell

Stagecraft Fundamentals – Rita Kogler Carver

Starting Your Career as a Theatrical Designer – Michael J. Riha



Live Sound Mixing – Duncan R. Fry

Sound Check: The Basics of Sound and Sound Systems – Tony Moscal

Sound Systems: Design and Optimization – Bob McCarthy



Automation in the Entertainment Industry – Mark Ager & John Hastie

Mechanical Design for the Stage – Alan Hendrickson

Theatre Engineering and Stage Machinery – Toshiro Ogawa



Access All Areas: A Real World Guide to Gigging and Touring – Trev Wilkins

Concert Lighting: Techniques, Art, and Business (third edition) – James L. Moody

Freelancer’s Guide to Corporate Event Design – Troy Halsey



Control Freak: A Real World Guide to DMX512 and Remote Device Management – Wayne Howell

Lighting Control: Technology and Applications – Robert S. Simpson

Practical DMX – Nick Mobsby

Show Networks and Control Systems – John Huntington

Rock Solid Ethernet – Wayne Howell



Costume Design – Barbara Anderson & Cletus R. Anderson

Costume Design: Techniques of Modern Masters – Lynn Pecktal

Costume Designer’s Handbook – Rosemary Ingham & Liz Covey

Costume Craftwork On A Budget – Tan Huaixiang

Character Costume Figure Drawing – Tan Huaixiang



Autocad: A Handbook for Theatre Users – David Ripley

Computer Visualization for the Theatre – Gavin Carver & Christine White

Designer Drafting for the Entertainment World – Patricia Woodbridge & Hal Tine

Drawing and Rendering for the Theatre – Clare P. Rowe

From Page to Stage: How Theatre Designers Make Connections Between Scripts and Images – Rosemary Ingham

Fundamentals of Theatrical Design – Karen Brewster & Melissa Shafer

Scenic Design and Lighting Techniques: A Basic Guide For Theatre – Chuck Gloman and Rob Napoli

Showcase: Developing, Maintaining, & Presenting A Design-Tech Portfolio for Theatre and Allied Fields – Rafael Jaen

The Handbook of Techniques for Theatre Designers – Colin Winslow

Scene Painting Projects for Theatre – Stephen Shirwin



Electricity for the Entertainment Electrician and Technician – Richard Cadena

Ugly’s Electrical References – George V. Hart

Wiring Simplified – HP Richter and WC Shawn



Automated Lighting: The Art and Science of Moving Light – Richard Cadena

The Automated Lighting Programmers Handbook – Brad Schiller

Basics: A Beginner’s Guide to Stage Lighting – Peter Coleman

A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting (Second Edition) – Steven Louis Shelley

Stage Lighting Design: The Art, The Craft, The Life – Richard Pilbrow

Media Servers for Lighting Programmers – Vickie Claiborne

The Assistant Lighting Designer’s Toolkit – Anne McMills



The Makeup Artist Handbook – Gretchen Davis & Mindy Hall

Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen – Todd Debreceni

Wig Making and Styling – Martha Ruskai & Allison Lowery



Entertainment Rigging: A Practical Guide for Riggers and Designers – Harry Donovan

An Introduction to Rigging in the Entertainment Industry – Chris Higgs

Stage Rigging Handbook – Jay O. Glerum



Stock Scenery Construction Handbook – Bill Raoul

Scenic Art for the Theatre – Susan Crabtree & Peter Beudert

Structural Design for the Stage – Alys Holden & Ben Sammler


Special Effects

Basics: A Beginners Guide to Special Effects – Peter Coleman


!nsp!re – U2 iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour

With the roar of last nights crowd still ringing in my ears, I thought I’d share some observations about U2’s current tour. This was my first time seeing the band, though I do own most of their tours on DVD, as well as several of the books that have been published about their shows and production. I hold their show designer, Willie Williams, in very high esteem; as a pioneering creative artist in the concert touring industry.

This tour returns U2 to arenas after the overwhelming scale of the U2360º Tour, which toured the world’s stadiums for about 2 years. The smaller environs of an arena suit the band, allowing them to connect with fans in a more accessible way. But just because the scale is smaller, it doesn’t mean the show is less high-tech. U2 have always been at the forefront of concert and entertainment technology; and i+e is no exception.

The first thing I noticed upon walking into the Los Angeles Forum was just how clean everything appeared. Most rock tours are a cluster of cables and gack. I could see clearly into the backstage area where it appeared someone had taken great care to make sure everything the audience could see was meticulous.

The area behind the stage, about an hour before the show.
The area behind the stage, about an hour before the show.

The tour is wrapped around songs of innocence and songs of experience. The set up reflects that idea, and consists of the “i” stage and the “e”stage. The two stages are connected by a catwalk. Suspended above the catwalk, bisecting the arena, is an enormous double-sided low-resolution LED display surface which raises and lowers throughout the show. Set into the floor of the stage is a ribbon of light that glows, reinforcing the “i-e” shape.

Until the End of the World
Until the End of the World

Sandwiched between the LED wall is a catwalk bridge. Contained within the LED wall is additional lighting, strobes, and cameras. When lit from within, the LED wall becomes semi-transparent (similar to a theatrical scrim) allowing the band to be seen playing inside the bridge as images cascade over them. This was especially effective in “Cedarwood Road” (with Bono walking through the streets of Dublin) and “Until The End of the World” (with Bono superimposed over The Edge – perfectly fitting, given the Judas/Jesus nature of the song).

Cedarwood Road
Cedarwood Road

During one sequence, the LED wall rises and four mirror balls lower from beneath it to form a different look for “Mysterious Ways”. Show designer Willie Williams always finds a way to use mirror balls and seeing them show up in such an unexpected way was delightful.

There were also a number of lights used as architectural interest, lying horizontal on the stage and catwalk floor. These units rose during “City of Blinding Lights” to form brilliant pillars of light. They were joined by similar fixtures which flew in from above. These units combined creatively with the video content on the LED wall, rendering an incredibly beautiful scene.

City of Blinding Lights
City of Blinding Lights

Surrounding the upstage side of the “i” stage were lighting fixtures and strobes, all placed very low to backlight the band. These were especially effective in “Vertigo”. Perhaps what struck me most about the show was how “minimal” it was. I know – how can a show with this much tech be considered minimal?

I suppose it’s in the approach. The lines of the stages are super clean. There is no color on the set, only black.The use of color in the lighting is minimal, with very little saturation (a touch of blue here, a light addition of amber there). The only songs with any real “color” were “Mysterious Ways” and “Where The Streets Have No Name”. Even the cues were minimal. I remember seeing Willie Williams at a conference a few years ago and he mentioned then that he didn’t really do lots of cues. He said something along the lines of, ” I just set a look I like and then live in that for a while”.

The massive screen/catwalk
The massive screen/catwalk

One would think that approach would result in cueing and stage “looks” that are boring. But it doesn’t. It works in a magnificent way; allowing the band to inhabit the space and the audience to not be distracted by the constant changing of lights. The creative blend of music, lighting, and video is elevated by using a light hand. Practicing such restraint and putting in only what needs to be there is one of the hallmarks of a true artist.

If you have the chance, it’s definitely a show worth seeing. If not, here’s a great video of the entire show from May 26th, 2015.

!nsp!re – The Best Projection Mapping of 2014

Katy Perry, with projection mapped floor.
Katy Perry, with projection mapped floor.

If you saw Katy Perry’s half-time performance at the Super bowl, you saw a pretty good example of large-scale projection on a giant surface that covered much of the football field (similar to Madonna’s half-time performance several years ago).

This sort of large-scale 3D projection presentation has become trendy in recent years; used most often on the sides of buildings or in stadiums for large sporting events like the Olympics.

However, It’s important to distinguish between 3D projection and projection mapping.

Katy’s setup allowed for content that was created to look three-dimensional to be projected onto a flat surface.

By contrast, projection mapping uses lasers to map the specific surface being projected. The surface is often comprised of different shapes and sizes, not all of which are on the same plane. That laser map is then used to place content (still or animated) into very specific locations. Using specialized software, multiple projectors are stacked together and all of the edges are blended together to create one gigantic image. Combining the mapping software with custom created content allows for eye-popping imagery and great depth. Mapping 3D content into an actual 3D surface increases the dimensional effect and creates jaw-dropping imagery. Of course, it’s more difficult (and FAR more time consuming) than my cursory description would indicate.

To give you an idea of what can be done in this field, check out The Best of 2014 – The Year In Projection Mapping over at The Creators Project.

GO DO – Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM

Totem 01

I had the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil’s Totem recently. I have a fondness for the unique sort of entertainment for which Cirque is  known. While I prefer their installation shows in  Las Vegas, I still enjoy the touring shows as well.

The Crystal Man
The Crystal Man

Totem is currently on tour under the “Grand Chapiteau” after having opened in Montreal in 2010. Director Robert LePage weaves a tale that seems to have been inspired by various origin stories surrounding humanity and evolution.

The Carapace
The Carapace

As with all Cirque shows, the story is really only just suggested and provides a backdrop for spectacular acrobatic acts and incredibly good-looking, very fit humans doing incredible things.

Totem 04

One of the more remarkable visual effects in this show is a floor which is projected upon. The video interacts with the performers in real time. For example, there is a scene where the video is footage of the waters edge. Performers descend down a ramp and “enter” the water. As they do, the footage of the water “pools” where they walk. It’s a wonderfully executed effect that carries you into the next moment of the show.

Fixed Trapeze Act
Fixed Trapeze Act

The fixed trapeze act was especially good, with the performers exhibiting quite a bit of character in addition to their athletic prowess.

The Amerindian Dancer
The Amerindian Dancer

Also good was the Amerindian Dancer, who performed an energetic hoop act.

Unicycles and Bowls
Unicycles and Bowlst

The five Asian girls on seven-foot-tall Unicycles juggling bowls was a huge crowd favorite, as was the foot-juggling act. These two performers juggled fabric squares in a variety of contorted positions (backwards, upside down, balancing on each other).

Foot Juggling
Foot Juggling

As usual, the music was a combination of unique instruments with a lot of  “world” influences. One of the big differences for this show is that it features a  number of vocalists and they are often integrated into some of the performances

The Cast of Totem
The Cast of Totem

I think it’s important to get out and see different forms of entertainment. I think a steady diet of just plays or just movies would be come quite stale after a while. I like changing it up; and seeing a Cirque show is a great way to do that. The shows are  always well-presented,  thoughtful, and definitely remind you  what humans are capable of doing when they focus and train. They are also invariably full of beautiful technical moments that are intricately woven into the story.

If you have the opportunity to see Totem, I highly recommend it.