Top lighting designer uses connectCAD addon to Vectorworks software when it comes to events, venues, TV shows, concert & stage lighting.
Lighting design today: The thrill of the unexpected and sorting it all out
An interview with Max Conwell from Naked Eye Lighting Ltd.
Max Conwell is an established lighting designer with long experience in architectural lighting, stage / concert lighting, events, fashion shows, television and DVD productions. He works with internationally known artists like Morrissey, Paul Weller, and Manic Street Preachers. His portfolio also includes fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Ralph Lauren, TV shows Catchphrase and The Link, and major corporate presentations for companies like Audi and HBOS. His work stands out for its original creative ideas, practical solutions, advanced technological knowledge, team collaboration and client satisfaction.
Max talks about lighting design
From a Morrissey concert to “The Link” quiz show, lighting design and set up are quite complex systems these days, and there's a lot going on. “The old days of a single light on a fader are kind of gone. We now have so many different control protocols coming out of a lighting desk. There will be potentially 2 different types of ethernet signal, we run video from lighting desks, also intermediate servers which then feed video systems.” Max continues, “I do a lot of quiz shows so there's a lot of MIDI control of light and video. Even on this show I’m doing at the moment which is fairly straight forward, you still have MIDI from 2 places merging in.”
“We use Vectorworks, which is a kind of an industry standard program for the set-design people as well, so they send set drawings over and I put it straight into connectCAD. We produce a connectCAD data plan which shows pretty much what we’re doing in every show. In this way we always have something laid out within the drawing file, and people can use Vectorworks to reference the original file without having to print it out in pdf, and can see exactly how the system was put together. The reason why I use connectCAD here, is to make it very clear - because when we come back in a year or 6 months from the show it helps us to see exactly how we laid things out and also helps with preplanning on system design as well. Obviously there’s flow-charting software you could do the same thing with, but with connectCAD we’re producing a data plan which is always in the drawing file so there’s always a good point of reference for the people who have not set up the system before and it just saves a lot of problems and a lot of time.”
What’s the key to successful lighting design
For Max, successful lighting design is always trying to do something original and different; “certainly with music artists it’s to stretch the expectations people have of the artist and create an environment for the audience and for the artist as well. I think this is as important, probably more important these days, to have a good production design. People’s expectations when going to a concert are so much higher than before as far as sound and general quality of the design. It’s a challenge to always try to do something original and different. People do have very high standards and you’ve always got to try raising that bar of expectations, and also doing what is right for the artist.”
“When on tour, most artists will do a tour of a similar size of venue, so you plan the production around it. But obviously there’s curve balls every day so you play around with the design within the venue, and in cases like Morrissey who’ll play a 2000 capacity then the next day he'll play an 8000 capacity you may have to adapt the same system. So it's always a matter of designing something which is flexible enough and good enough to work in both these venues and that happens with a lot of artists you know.”
Things that help – a design story
During an architectural job for Under the Bridge, a music venue at Chelseay football club in London, “where I did the lighting, stage lighting, architectural lighting and video design for it, there was again a lot going on and I was looking for a Mac-based sort of flowing chart software. I wasn’t expecting anything that actually worked within Vectorworks, and that was the first time I came across connectCAD - which was a real bonus for me. From a “pick-it up and using it straight away” point of view, it’s pretty intuitive, easy to make a device and easy to link devices and on that scale you’re working with it straight out of the box pretty much, and obviously beyond there you can put in your own connector types and signal types and expand from there. I like it because it’s very simple to use, very very quick to get a drawing together even without a huge amount of experience.
I enjoy the support and also the fact that it is constantly evolving. It’s not just - "there it is, I have a few things I use for Vectorworks and that it's - not going to move on.” Any questions or comments are sorted out straight away from connectCAD’s support team which also welcomes new ideas. Last year for example, “I asked will you do ‘a jump over feature for connecting devices?’ and they’re like ‘yeah yeah, like a hop-over command, it's easy!’, and then in the next version of connectCAD it came in, and it's like one of the little things that make everything a little bit clearer and it's great!
It’s the unexpected. When the phone goes you never know what it will be - it could be a TV show, it could be a film, music tour, you never know, it's constantly changing, it's an interesting business to work in and I'm lucky that I like what I do. It's the unexpected that I like the most I think… which - some of the unexpected is bad, but for the most part the unexpected is good so, that's what I like about being a lighting designer.
• See more of Max Conwell’s work: www.nakedeyelighting.com