The live events industry - including music concerts, DJ events, official opening ceremonies at sporting events, conferences and corporate events - is a multibillion-dollar business that continues to grow in size, stature, sophistication and proficiency. Much of this development is being driven by the need for companies to unlock new sources of revenue growth for their brands.
The live events industry has responded by raising the bar and delivering mind-blowingly creative spectaculars that are theatrically innovative and just a few years back would have been improbable; hard to imagine - let alone deliver technologically. Reflecting on the state of the industry, Rob Izzett from lighting distribution company, DWR, says that no one would argue that lighting and sound is at the epicentre of this creative explosion and it is technology that's enabling creativity: "When it comes to lighting events today - anything that the mind can imagine - we can create."
Having recently attended Prolight + Sound, the international trade fair of technologies and services for entertainment, integrated systems and creation in Frankfurt, Izett says that South Africa is as technologically advanced as the rest of the world. "We have the best of the best and incredible skill and local talent.
The difference is in the volumes and budgets being put behind our shows. It's true we are nowhere near the size of the established European market and produce shows on a smaller scale with less kit - but our productions are as ground-breaking. At an international concert there may be 1000 moving lights on a show and in South Africa just 100 - but the tech will be the same."
Looking at the trends evident at the show, Izett says: "The one thing that was most apparent at the show was the move to more power saving and sustainable lighting solutions which has prompted a lot of development on the LED side. So there's almost an LED replacement for every type of lighting fixture on the market which indicates dramatic growth over the last five years. More than that, nearly all the manufacturers of moving lights released LED profiles.
Traditionally we haven't achieved the output we need with LED and used conventional bulbs, but this is now all set to change which is a big milestone. Running costs will come down - and these big units could cost a 1/10th of what it would normally to maintain - so there are tremendous benefits associated with this new technology."
The most impressive change that Izett saw at Prolight+Sound was in the realm of safety.
"Where our approach to safety five years ago may have been considered a bit iffy - both in South Africa and the world - now there are countless safety precautions in place. With rigging we move tons of equipment above people's heads and today this is accomplished with better safety protocols and much more creativity can go into shows because these safety nets are now in place," says Izett.
Mediatech exhibition director Simon Robinson who also attended the show added that there was a lot more use of moving truss. "Trussing has traditionally been static and on a rigid scale. Today there's a lot more movement and a lot of fixtures are clamped onto the trussing; far more can be achieved creatively because of this. All of this progress has only been made possible because the safety boxes have been ticked which provides greater control and safety."
Video mapping is another trend that while not new has definitely grown over the last few years. Izett says the reason for the increase in its popularity is because there are no limitations - except those of the imagination.
"The advances in the software that enable us to project images onto the sides of buildings have come a long way. Because the building is not a flat canvas, with windows, doors, and columns, we map every surface of the building using software to create a seamless image, or even manipulate the building to look quite different: columns can fall away or change colour. With the new tech, anything that the mind can imagine we can reproduce in video and then project it onto a building, a set piece in a theatre, in a corporate environment, or for a car launch. We are able to map the angle and shape of that surface so that we can digitally change it two whatever shape or form is needed," he adds.
Addressing change in the theatre environment, Robinson says, "An advance we can expect to see soon is the availability of automated follow spots which up until as recently as last year, were manually moved. This year we saw at least six different versions of new software which enables one operator to control 10 automated follow spots by using moving lights on stage. This is a significant change and will avoid some of the human error because control is now more spontaneous. Each new version of the technology we saw was in essence each manufacturer's unique take or interpretation of the changeover to automation."
Lighting is an essential element in creating atmosphere at lives events and has the potential to make or break the show. While technologically challenging, light is a necessary medium requiring the mastery of varied and continuously evolving disciplines. The specialists in live event and entertainment technology bring a varied skillset to the sector incorporating audio engineering, working to stringent safety standards for complex rigging and trussing set-ups; and conceptualising and designing breath-taking sets and staging to make the event successful.
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