How the lighting industry recovered post-Covid

After a tough two years and a live events boom, the lighting industry is experiencing a renaissance. Reece Webb casts a spotlight on the post-covid world of lighting design.

The world of lighting has undergone a trial by fire over the past two years, enduring a complete global shutdown of live events.

However, like many industries, a wave of demand is now being enjoyed after an abysmal two years. For lighting designers, the work has swelled to titanic proportions.

Light shows, concerts and other live events have boomed in the wake of easing Covid-19 related restrictions, creating something of a frenzy to host as many events as possible, with live crowds that have spent years yearning for live experiences.

Darius Ansari, field application engineer light technology, Adam Hall, explains: “After 28 months of ‘crisis mode’ and only streaming events, we saw that people wanted to experience something new again. They wanted to go out and come together. We really believe in live events and coming together, as humans are not meant to stay at home for our entire lives.”

The work boom we are seeing today mirrors other industries that experienced both a collapse in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic and a sudden boom in the aftermath, in the sense that demand has the potential to outstrip supply due to both underlying and Covid-related issues within the AV industry.

Dave Whitehouse, theatre products manager, Robe, adds: “We’re seeing a definite recovery as things are starting to return to normal. We haven’t stopped [over the pandemic]. and we found different ways of working to overcome the challenges during the pandemic.

“The biggest problem though, from an entertainment industry point of view, is that you can’t get the skilled labour. A lot of technicians left the industry during the pandemic and there is a severe skills shortage in a lot of areas within our industry. The industry is certainly in recovery mode, but there are still problems to overcome.”

The pandemic offered a mountain of challenges, but also new opportunities in new areas such as the broadcast and hybrid event world.

Let me entertain you  

Ansari adds: “Hybrid events, where you have people in the stadium and also have remote participants with different camera perspectives is a nice advantage that we have now, but it will never create the same feeling [as a live show]. There is a high backlog demand at the moment, with many concerts and events starting again right now, but there remains a lot of uncertainty around what will happen with the pandemic after the summer. Every production company is very cautious right now.”

What is it that makes lighting such a key part of an experience? What is it that makes a good lighting display work? Like many setups in this industry, it’s not just a question of what product you use, but how you use it, combining technical know how with nothing short of an artist’s unique touch.

Frederick Afif, international sales manager, Elation, explains: ““People want to be entertained and we can feel that more than ever. Naturally, we feel that lighting is the most important part of a show. If you had a concert with just the sound, you’d have a nice feeling, but visually it would be uninteresting. However, when you see an atmosphere created by beams and other lighting effects of various dimensions and in virtually any colour, all enhanced with haze and smoke, that is exciting and what people want to see.

“Big live event tours are coming back and the lighting is an integral part of the show; it creates emotion. One very important aspect of lighting is its measure of use – it should complement the show but not detract from the performance.

“Less can sometimes be more impactful. While a big show with hundreds of beams or strobes can look awesome it is often less lighting and the finer details that can be breathtaking. This is why we have lighting designers. They tailor the lighting for each show with the right products, which are adjusted the way they need them. If you have a designer thinking about every angle of the light, every shadow, etc. – that’s what really makes a light show tick.”

Whitehouse believes that innovations in the field of lighting has created audiences who demand greater experiences and equally grand lighting design. Whitehouse adds: “Over the last few years, shows have become more integrated. People have become used to and expect to see a fully integrated AV experience. When LED lights first entered the market, the aim was to make it bright enough to use. Once this was achieved, it became all about what colours can be achieved.

“There has been a big push to try and get LEDs to be more colour responsive, pushing higher CRI or TM3018 ratings to make the colour rendition better. That has led to some exciting developments over the last three years.”

Considering the range of applications, lighting effects and stage design, there is no one size fits all product that can perfectly address every scenario encountered in a real world environment, encouraging lighting designers to take a tenacious and artistic approach to their work.

Ansari adds: “Lighting design is a combination of art form and craftmanship and art doesn’t have any rules. In my view, there is not one single product that can fit every application perfectly, that is why there are certain portfolios for different applications.”

Today, audiences have come to expect a fully integrated AV experience that wows and amazes. Lighting technologies no longer enhance a show, but more than ever, come to define the experience of a show.

Sam Bowden, UK sales manager, Chauvet Lighting, explains: “The art behind the artist often encapsulates the event as a whole. As technology has progressed, lighting has become something that offers far more from an experiential perspective. When you look at sensory experiences, there’s far more done with production lighting than there ever was before, so lighting offers encapsulation. A stage can be small, but when you add the lights to it, it can become larger and all encompassing. It’s a combination of artistic approach and bringing the show to the audience.

“Bands often use lighting to reinforce their brands. Bands like the White Stripes like to be lit in red and white [to reinforce their brand], Royal Blood rely heavily on static, Tungsten lights to reinforce that heavy rock feel. An older band, Hope of the States, considered their AV technicians to be the sixth and seventh members of the band, as they felt that the lighting was as important as the music itself.”

A lighter future? 

Looking to the future, it is clear that the lighting world is trending towards products that are lighter, brighter and easier to maintain. One key development in the world of lighting leading the way in product design is the greater demand and supply of IP65 related products for indoor and outdoor environments, offering greater levels of protection for a more rugged product with greater endurance.

Bowden continues: “A big push that we have is to make products that are IP65 [rated] and lightweight. This means that you can use it indoors or outdoors and have one person rigging. Maintenance is reduced as not much dust gets into the unit. When you bring the unit back after a show, you can wipe it, test it and put it back in the flight case. If it’s not rated to that extent, you have to take off the filters and thoroughly clean the unit, so a five-minute process becomes a job which takes up to an hour. It’s not just about what you can deliver on stage, but what you can deliver in the background for your customers to make their lives easier as well.”

Afif concurs: “Sustainability is what people are looking for. This is something that our entire industry understands now and we see that more and more companies are investing in IP65 protected fixtures. Customers want to invest in something that they can earn money with up to five years in the future.

We are focusing on IP65 fixtures that are waterproof, dustproof and designed to endure adverse weather conditions. This development into sustainability and reliability will continue to be a big focus, with a greater focus on simplifying how products can be used.”

The future of lighting design and the products that fuel this market, will continue to rely on rapid, easily accomplished maintenance to keep fixtures operational long term and to reduce down time across the board.

Whitehouse closes: “Although sustainability has always been high on the Robe agenda, it is becoming even more important. Customers want to invest in something that they can get even greater returns on investment in the future.

“Ease of maintenance is a big thing. Being able to maintain these fixtures quickly is very important, and the ability to change task specific LED engines on site without taking them to a workshop. Having ease of maintenance with interchangeable source choices is a big plus for rental companies.

“Flexibility is becoming more important, with a big focus on maintenance and higher quality of light. I think fixtures will become brighter, but whether they need to become brighter is another debate. The quality of light and flexibility of fixtures is going to become more and more important as time goes on.”

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