Lighting Design Without Borders
by Alfonso Parra

Good design knows no borders. This is especially true in lighting. Whether one is designing for the stage, movies or the small screen, a solid lighting design can transcend languages and cultural barriers, creating a truly universal understanding of the subject matter.

This month, Stage Research looks at this very issue with a special guest showcase from lighting designer and SoftPlot user, Alfonso Parra. Mr. Parra has been a lighting designer and DP on dozens of productions, both big and small including documentaries, feature films, TV shows and stage productions. Along the way. Mr. Parra has honed his SoftPlot skills by utilizing it on his productions. In his own words, and photos, Mr. Parra explains how SoftPlot has made his job easier and his own personal process of designing, using the show "El pasado es manana" as an example.

A shot of the lighting grid above the ste of El pasado es manana.

A scene from "Plauto" a feature film with lighting designed
by Parra and SoftPlot.

Designing for the small screen:
The SoftPlot designed grid for the show.

"El pasado es maņana is a daily drama that follows a family's ups and downs in the fashion industry. The action essentially takes place in six sets that represent the interior of the character's houses and the bar that is their meeting point. These sets were in two different studios, and they are generally quite spacious. The lighting was designed bearing in mind the speed at which daily shows are shot as well as the need to create images with volume and depth. To this end we set up individual lights for specific places such as tables, doors, corridors, windows, etc. and a general fill light that can be used from one place or another depending on the camera set-ups. All the lights are controlled from a console. To create the lighting design I used the design software SoftPlot. The art director sent me a floor plan in dxf format, which I captured on SoftPlot. Then I started preparing the different elements of the design on the floor plan, drawing the trusses where the kit had to be hung and sending it to the production and gaffer teams for them to hang them in the studio.

Later they had to place the kit to light specific areas or elements of the set, and finally place the fill lights. The ease with which SoftPlot allowed me to try specific lighting designs and modifying them as many times as necessary was complemented by the tool which allows you to calculate the intensity of the light on the set at any given distance, even with the different filters, all of these necessary to calculate aperture as well as contrast ratios. Whenever I've needed kit that wasn't in the inventory I resorted to drawing it directly on SoftPlot or using the editor, that's why I built light boxes for the set of Sara's house or the chinese lanterns used to light Marga's house.

Thanks to the side view, floorplan and render views I could check the result of the lighting design at every stage, visualizing the effect of the light on the set, locating areas that were not being covered and unnecessary shadows. Once the designs were finished I printed them in two different sizes; one in A4 for the dossier and in a larger size to use on the set. The software also allowed me to print the list of equipment needed as well as render views; all these elements were put together as part of the dossier that I presented to the production team.

During the set-up I confirmed how accurate the program's representation of the design was, as we only had to do the usual variations in relation to changes in furniture or structure of the set. As mentioned before, the kit was controlled through the console. The simplicity of the design plan was of great help to the gaffer, to the extent where he was able to set-up for the shoot without my presence, with only brief talks about changes and variations being necessary at the beginning and the end of each day. I have used SoftPlot for many years, mainly for work on TV as well as film, and it still proves to be an invaluable tool for my lighting designs."