Lighting designer Robb Pope of Digital Ambiance – who has created installations for Burning Man, auto maker Acura, the Light™ nightclub with Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas; and has worked on concerts for Justin Timberlake, Green Day, and No Doubt – discusses the role lighting plays in entertainment venues.
EnLIGHTenment Magazine: How did you get involved in the entertainment area of the lighting business?
Robb Pope: I got involved through my interest in VJing. From the age of 16 up until now I have been passionate about the art of matching video imagery and light with music. My first degree was at the Art Institutes in Boston for Digital Media, which is a fancy term for animation and video editing.
When I realized that I wanted to make VJing my career, I went back to school at FullSail University in Florida for a degree in Show Production. As far as I know it’s the only college in the U.S. that offers a degree in Concert Touring – and I made absolutely sure that I made it count! They weren’t teaching courses in the new video mixing technologies creeping into concerts, but I was determined. I found people who knew the tools and technology and taught myself. After that, I got picked up on a tour with the Black Eyed Peas and the rest is history.
EM: With concert tickets skyrocketing and each performer upping the ante in visual effects, how do you stay cutting edge?
RP: Tools and tech are constantly changing and that, in turn, affects the way ideas can manifest themselves in a show. The key to good design – whether it’s for a stage or for an interactive art piece – is to know what the latest technology allows, and then incorporate that into your creative thinking.
In the end, it’s the concept that counts. The best art is usually based around a simple and elegant concept. The best designers know how to use the latest technology in a tasteful way that makes sense for the installation’s environment.
EM: How has LED lighting made your job easier?
RP: I came into the industry with LED tech blossoming; I never knew anything else, really. It’s an amazing period to come up in, with the potential of intricately controllable lighting just unleashing amazing potential for new creations. LED technology allows lighting to become infinitely controllable and interactive; it blurs the lines between the art of video and lighting. Cheap LED is allowing everything to take on a nighttime personality. Everything glows, therefore everything has its own mystique, look, and feel when the sun goes down.
EM: Which of your installations are you the most proud of?
RP: If I had to choose just one, I’d probably have to pick the Unical Dragon installation in Los Angeles. It involved a client who was willing to do whatever it took to realize his vision and a team that really had a grasp of the technology required to make the installation come to life. We worked with a beautiful sculptural piece and, as I’m fond of saying, lighting only looks cool if you’re lighting something cool. This project also pushed us all to improvise, as it threw plenty of curve balls our way and made us rework our plans on the spot. That always makes a project more interesting!
EM: Is there an emerging technology or product that you want to try?
RP: I have not been asked to create a truly immersive environment – and I’m dying to get that opportunity! I’d like to use a dome and special projectors to create a virtual reality that an audience can explore and interact with. Imagine playing a video game inside the equivalent of a planetarium. The possibilities are endless!
EM: What do you think will the concert experience be like in five years?
RP: I definitely think audience immersion is the way things are headed. Who wants to just watch when you can be part of the show? Festivals such as Burning Man have shown the world that events that tap the creative potential of everyone involved end up being that much more spectacular than anything simply meant for passive consumption.
I see holographics, immersive environments, shows that involve all five senses, and audience participation becoming not only the norm, but being expected by the masses.
EM: Will technology become so compact and portable that a lot of effects can be done with a smaller “package” than ever before?
RP: Technology is getting smaller, less obtrusive, more pervasive, and ultimately integrated with the people using it. Technology will open up whole new areas of creativity – from immersion to extra sensory perception and more. I love thinking about the future because it’s [like] science fiction turning into science fact in front of our eyes.
EM: Do you have a dream project?
RP: It would probably be a large-scale interactive lighting installation that is completely new from the ground up and something that pushed me and my crew to the limits. Anything that pushes the boundaries and breaks new ground is a dream for me.
CP_Dragon_01 & Dragon_02
Robb Pope’s company – Digital Ambiance – was contracted by the aviation company UniCal to illuminate an 80-ft. acrylic dragon sculpture as the centerpiece of its new office. The client worked with our partner, 3form, to construct the dragon. They wanted the dragon lit from within in a way that allowed light to “flow from head to tail.” Digital Ambiance used 33,000 addressable LEDs to add life and motion to this amazing piece.
CP_Stairs_01 & Stairs_02
Digital Ambiance was commissioned by Photonic Bliss, Greco Décor, and Cirque Du Soleil to manage and produce a series of 30 infinity mirrors to line the entrance of Cirque Du Soleil’s new “Light” nightclub at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Using addressable LED strips, each mirror was equipped with infrared range finders so they react as people walk by, leaving a spiral of light in their path and giving the entry a surreal vibe.
The interior of the Light nightclub is awash with visual effects that are accomplished by the lighting design.