December 26, 2010

Messin' with the Mailman

Came across this creative mailbox outside a home in Pukalani, Maui. You can't help but get a chuckle out of it. Obviously, the resident here has a great sense of humor and one idea probably led to another...

Now that I look at it more closely I have to wonder where the mailman actually puts the mail!

December 25, 2010

Wrapping up 2010

The past couple of months included working on the lighting for shows with Peter Frampton,
John Mayall (joined by Mick Fleetwood), Hiroshima, Three Dog Night, Gabriel Iglesias, Los Lobos, and Hal Holbrook doing his one-man show as Mark Twain, among others.  As you might expect, most of the links above to amateur Youtube videos aren't very good, but still give a sense of the shows, the venue and the lighting.  I operated the lights for some of these shows. Some artists came with their own lighting operators.

Just the other night I prepped my lighting rig for a sold out Bruno Mars concert.  This kid was #1 on the Billboard charts last week and this week he's got two songs at the #2 and #3 spots. He was ending his "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" tour here on Maui.  Below is a shot of him arriving at the Kahului airport.

I had decided to try adding a few more rows of lights upstage behind the band, including some MR16 strips on the floor.  In theater lighting terms, a truss or a batten pipe over the stage which has a row of lights attached to it is typically referred to as an electric, and they may be identified as 1st, 2nd, 3rd electric, and so on.  Each of my electrics has over 30 lights on it. I had 10 electrics for Bruno Mars, plus 50 side lights and another 100 lights over the audience pointed at him. That's about 450 lights which would probably total something like 400,000 watts. Not bad for a little theater on an island in the middle of the Pacific.

Yeah, I'm boasting about having that much power at my fingertips!  Of course, the lights are not all on at the same time, although I might slam on a good percentage of them on the last note of the final song. The squeals of the teenage girls have etched their memory into the walls of the hall.  I could still hear them reverberating in the rafters long after the show ended as I was wrapping up my cables.

But since the Burning Designer is about design, here's a creation for a one-night Christmas concert that had no budget and very little to work with.

I scrounged up some fabric and rope lights and hung them upstage from a batten in the shape of a Christmas tree. I focused some green lights on the fabric and then threw some fiber-optic cables in front of it so I could add some colorful little points of twinkles. My moving lights added pizazz when I rotated gobo shapes and colors on it. The lesson here is that: it's never about the flash and it's not about the latest gizmos... What it's all about is finding a way to add an emotional gush at just the appropriate moment.

To give it another name,  I'll call it... "romance".
Yeah, design is all about romance.

December 18, 2010

Retro Christmas Tree

Instead of the usual Christmas tree this year, I've opted for something a little different. It's completely fake and yet completely authentic all at the same time. It's not just one of those gaudy aluminum Christmas trees... well, yeah, it is, BUT... it's an original aluminum tree, a vintage tree made back in the 1950's.

But it's more than that... this is the very same tree I grew up with, the tree I helped set up every year as a little kid. After sitting in a box for decades and stored in the closet on top of the heating oil tank at mom's house in Massachusetts, I shipped it to the Maui homestead.

I used to play for hours under this tree by the picture window in the living room. Those cold wintry nights were spent warm and cozy by the two floor lights on each side with the rotating color wheels that made the shiny needles change colors and filled the living room with magical light and cast moving shadows on the ceiling and fireplace. I think I can even attribute my interest in stage lighting to these two lights with the motorized color wheels.

The years may have bent a few needles but the tree even brought a big smile to the wife. In fact, she enjoyed decorating it with her butterfly ornaments and the clear balls with the beach sand and seashells inside.

Christmas is a time for making memories. Don't just give a gift to those you love, make it a memory for them to keep always.

Happy Christmas!

December 07, 2010

The Ressurection of KAHEKILI

Artistic director Hokulani Holt created a stage production which tells the story of the great Hawaiian chief, Kahekili, who ruled most of the Hawaiian island chain in the 1700‘s.

Searching for a way to describe the show, she coined it a “hula drama”. While most people outside Hawaii might think of hula in terms of something they once saw at a luau party or in an old movie, this show let the public experience real hula, educating them in the process.

Audiences also got to see the members of her and other halau perform
authentic ceremonies and kahiko, and recite ancient chants. Speaking and singing in the native language they also acted out how the Hawaiians in Kahekili’s time lived before contact with the outside world. And then she went even further, to illustrate how they may have felt emotionally, how they may have thought and interacted with their king and with their environment, during times of war and times of peace.

This story gave a glimpse into the lives of the chiefs and chiefesses who were revered as gods, and the great Kahekili who raged war to gain political power. Precise attention was given to the costumes and weaponry, and the entire production was enhanced by live theatrical sound by Donald Nako’oka using a
top-o'-the-line Midas XL8 digital sound console. This baby probably cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000 ... a very respectable neighborhood.

As for me, the lighting console I used was an older and more modest
ETC Express, which you could probably buy for 1/100th the price of the XL8. But for this type of show, it was all that was needed.

Hokulani Holt, a Master Kumu Hula, also tapped other kumu like Keali’i Reichel and Pali Ahue to help with the authenticity of the dance and chants. A kumu hula is a highly respected teacher, a revered master in the art of hula. The discipline of hula is far more than just dancing. It is the study of the Hawaiian traditions, language and history. It is the heart of the Hawaiian culture. Achieving the status of a kumu hula is a recognition that is bestowed by his or her own personal kumu, a blessing given as a privilege to one who has earned the respect of peers. At one point, as many as ten kumu were involved with this production, an unprecedented amount.
Early on, the National Endowment for the Arts chose the Kahekili production as one of the grant recipients for their American Masterpieces Dance Initiative which allowed the entire cast to travel to New York City for a performance in Battery Park. That was followed by periodic tours to theaters throughout the Hawaiian islands and the west coast. In November of 2008, we flew to Europe to perform at two major events, the Internationales Tanzfestival in Essen, Germany and the International Tanzwochen in Neuss. The Tanzfestival was presented annually by the esteemed European choreographer of modern dance, Pina Bausch. I previously blogged about my experience in Cologne.
This year the show was brought in the other direction... three shows in Tokyo at JCB Hall in Tokyo Dome City.

The top floor of the JCB Hall is at ground level, so you ride escalators down four levels below ground to get to the main floor.
The Japanese tech crews are always first rate and I was pleased to see that each member of the lighting company had a copy of my lighting design plot. I arrived at 9:30 am and we had the entire rig hung, colored and focused by 1pm, just in time for rehearsal.
When the show begins, the houselights go to black… then comes the sound of howling wind and the rumbling of thunder. Misty clouds move across a cyclorama. Narrator Moses Goods appears from the blackness and begins to describe Kahekili, said to be a brawny athlete of nearly 300 pounds who would dare others to follow him as he would leap into the sea from cliffs hundreds of feet high. Over time, he had one entire half of his body tattooed completely black. Such a sight made him an imposing warrior to behold and magnified his mana. As the sacred chief of Maui, he was regarded as equal to a god. Objects he touched or used were burned afterwards to prevent his divine powers from being transferred or stolen.
He trained his Maui warriors to be ferocious in war and his conquests allowed him to rule for three decades.

I made use of the cyclorama to project images, moving clouds, a forest and evening stars as background. Red shadows of the fighting warriors filled the cyc during a war scene. I also uplit Kahekili as he stood on his riser and projected a moving, glowing aura around him.

The Kahekili production has been put away for the time being. He may rise again but there are new projects in the mind of Hokulani Holt that are being born. As cultural director of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, this kumu is at the forefront of the re-emergence of the Hawaiian culture. I can only hope to be involved in the next project.

November 06, 2010

A Garden in Tokyo

On my last day in Tokyo I remembered that there was some sort of park just behind the Tokyo Dome. I had to walk along the exterior walls for nearly a mile to find a way inside until I eventually came to a gate down a side street to enter "Koishikawa Korakuen". I paid the fee of 300 yen and was amazed to find a beautiful garden of nearly 18 acres located right there, smack in the middle of Tokyo.

It was like stepping into a different dimension. The noise of the city immediately faded away and the concrete and cars turned into strolling paths and plum trees. All I could hear were the leaves rustling in the wind and the faint cawing of distant crows. There were still the occasional screams from the nearby roller coaster, but the tension of a bustling metropolis had been abruptly transformed into a timeless, relaxed atmosphere of a Japanese garden... one that has existed in that same spot for nearly 400 years.

Designated as an important historical site, Koishikawa Korakuen is a blend of Japanese and Chinese influence. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the hotel room so these are my iphone pics.

This tree has been given special attention for many years using multiple supports on the limbs to help sculpt its wonderful shape.

A central pond is filled with koi and carp that swim up to you and blow bubbles with open mouths for bread crumbs.

Well-placed stones make up the cobbled pathways that wind throughout the garden and follow the meandering streams.

Stepping stones invite you to hop across the shallow end of the lake.

The bold vermilion color of Tsutenkyo Bridge glows in the shady forest.

Green tree trunks and gnarly roots caught my eye and gave a sense of the age of the land.

Nestled on a hill is the oldest structure in the garden, a shrine called Tokujindo. It was built by Tokugawa Mitsukuni, who lived in the 1600's, to house carved wooden statues that represent the characters Hakui and Shukusei from a classic Chinese story.

Its door may make you think it is car-garage size but it is actually only 4 or 5 feet square.

Another picturesque structure invites you to stop, walk up the steps, sit and contemplate the beauty of the area.

My favorite was Engetsu-kyo, or Full Moon bridge, so-called because it has a 180° arch that creates a moonlike circle when reflected in the water.  The circle would have been perfect if not for a couple of ducks playing beneath it.

Unlike the orange of Tsutenkyo Bridge, this one blends seamlessly into the background. The design is enhanced by the patina on its surface where multiple green shades of moss grow and tiny weeds poke out from cracks.

This weathered lion-dog statue still stands guard over a temple that disappeared long ago.

Just outside the garden, I snapped a picture of his bigger and brawnier brother. Carved many years ago from a single stone block, he is one of a pair that stand over 10' tall.

October 29, 2010

Tokyo Dome City

Back from a week in Tokyo, I plan to do a few posts on the show I was fortunate enough to design the lighting for, the venue, and other interesting things I saw in Japan.

The Tokyo Dome is in the heart of Tokyo and its big, pillowy roof can clearly be seen from space. It can seat about 50,000 people inside, which would only be a small portion of the 12.8 million populating the city.

I had a great view of Tokyo Dome City from the 24th floor of the Tokyo Dome Hotel, and when the sun went down, the lights from the amusement park lit up, flickered and changed colors. The trussing surrounding the outside roofing is beautiful and the triangular tile work on the floor extends into the amusement park area for acres.

Looking at the Google map, it occurs to me that they should take advantage of that big inflated roof and add some graphic symbol to it.  After all, most of Tokyo is a graphic overload to the eyes with the manga characters, bold colors and signage everywhere you look.

So maybe they should consider throwing an image of Hello Kitty or Doraemon or Godzilla up there.  Or maybe since the Dome itself is a symbol of Japan, it would be a perfect background for a "wa" character, since it's also symbolic of Japan...  Hey, I'm just sayin'...

There's a sense of place you get when you find yourself standing next to a famous object or in a famous location.  It's the type of feeling you might get as you're gazing across the Grand Canyon, or climbing the steps of the Capitol in Washington DC, or sipping a mocha latte in a Times Square coffee shop.  Having found my way to the hotel's 3rd floor breakfast buffet, I enjoyed this lovely view of the humongus Dome while eating raw fish with my eggs.

From the pictures you can see the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster. But notice that the Ferris wheel does not have spokes. And the roller coaster runs around the mall, pops through a hole in the building and then, as the track turns completely sideways, it goes through the center of the Ferris wheel.  The terrified rider's screaming was heard throughout the park every time it ran.

There's also a bowling alley, horse racing, a water slide, towers as high as 80 meters that you drop from, and a slew of more kiddie rides. I got another shot of a carousel horse, though I'm not sure why I'm drawn to them.

And I love this shot of the kid in mid air, who is playing where water squirts up from the ground at random moments and a mist pours up from beneath their feet, which just makes them want to run around and risk getting wet. It made me wish I was a kid again.

More to come in the next post...

October 14, 2010

Artsy pics from the Big Island

I took a flight over to Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii to do lighting for a show at the Performing Arts Center at the University of Hawaii, Hilo.  I got up at dawn because of the noise outside my hotel lanai.  At home on Maui all I can hear are the soothing ocean waves lapping the shore but now I was hearing hundreds of Coqui frogs, which have invaded the Big Island, peeping away loudly.  Still, I thought I was getting used to them.
But as the dawn broke, the minor birds began congregating in the trees with their on and off chirping. Turn up your sound to hear the video of them laughing and carousing like drunken chickens at 6am.

I went out for a walk and caught a glimpse of Hawaii's "Pride of America" cruise ship just pulling into the harbor. It was a peaceful scene. That sun reflection of the huge ship on the calm ocean caught my eye.

As I turned around I also noticed the big finned roots of this tree right there on the ocean's edge.

October 03, 2010


When a spammer invades a forum, somebody may point it out using one of these images or something similar, which lets everyone know there's a dirty low down spammin' skunk in their midst.

Well, I'm throwing a couple of my own out there for all to use since I keep seeing these same two over and over again.
Here's one to use when you catch a whiff of the stinking spammer.

And here's another that has Hillary Clinton ratting out that no-good spammin' scum!
Use 'em at will.