Designing By Content

by Justin Lang

Even when designing for corporate theatre, like this Microsoft Xbox product reveal, NYX Design still focuses on the content and its narrative.
Even when designing for corporate theatre, like this Microsoft Xbox product reveal, NYX Design still focuses on the content and its narrative.
NYX Design uses a three-headed approach to strike up inspiration and design

The three principle design partners and founders of NYX Design, Emanuel Treeson, Abigail Rosen Holmes and Brian Gale, started their careers in very different places.

Treeson started his career in theatre, then ventured into live event and television lighting. He now has a long list of credits, including the movie premieres of Pearl Harbor, Shark Tale, and the world tour for Fantasia 2000, as well as corporate presentations for clients including Microsoft, Toyota, Ford, DreamWorks, The Walt Disney Company, Suzuki, Mazda and Paramount.

Gale, on the other hand, began in regional theatre lighting design and then spent 24 years with the Walt Disney Company. A portion of his later career working at Disney was with the Imagineering division. He designed the lighting for the Los Angeles Opera’s three-year mounting of Wagner’s Ring Cycle as well as the movie premieres of Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Tarzan.

Holmes began her career in the live event and concert lighting world with such notable designs as “The Wall Live in Berlin” in 1990, and including tours for Shakira, The Cure, Janet Jackson, Cher, Peter Gabriel and Pet Shop Boys. She has also designed for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, The Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: The Best of Both Worlds Tour.

They started to come together in the ‘90s, when they all found their work intersecting. Shortly after LDI in 2002 they made it official and started searching for a name for their new company. A search through some literature gave them the name “Nyx,” from Greek mythology. Nyx was the daughter of Chaos and the goddess of the night, and held exceptional power and beauty. The name seemed to fit the philosophy and spirit of all three designers, thus NYX Design was formed in January of 2003.

A moment from Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Center Theatre Group, with lighting design by Brian Gale of NYX Design.
A moment from Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Center Theatre Group, with lighting design by Brian Gale of NYX Design.
Three-Headed Inspiration
While each designer typically has his or her own projects at NYX Design, there are times when two heads—or even three—are better than one. Working together like this allows Treeson, Gale and Holmes to pool their resources and bounce design ideas off of each other, and share moments of inspiration.

Treeson’s favorite example comes from driving on an L.A. freeway—or, as he corrected himself, “parked on an L.A. freeway.” He noticed the interchange ahead of him, and the shape and form of the curved concrete pathways opened his eyes to its inherent beauty amidst the smog.

Between the three of them, Treeson, Gale and Holmes have a range of credits and clients that covers almost every aspect of lighting. This range and versatility gives NYX Design, or, as Gale calls it, the “brain hive,” their edge in the industry. As a firm, they have used their skills to light theatre productions, architectural or movie premieres and corporate events. They don’t limit themselves to one particular type of lighting. Instead, they’re increasingly looking for opportunities to work and explore new and different realms—wherever the inspiration strikes.

One such area is corporate work. NYX Designs now handles all of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 corporate communication work, including media and press events. What’s so special about these types of events is that not only do they have to be lit for the audience, but for camera as well. In addition to designing the lighting, NYX also handles the digital content and projection work for the events.

Another unique project that NYX worked on was the YouTube Play Biannual Video Art Competition held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.  Holmes worked closely with event producer Salli Frattini from Sunset Lane Entertainment and Obscura Digital projection designers to bring the video art entries to life in the museum. With Holmes in the lead, the NYX team worked together to design a dramatic lighting scheme for the event that helped carry the message and feel of the entire event. A big challenge was to light multiple live performances from bands like OK Go for live YouTube broadcast, while protecting museum’s precious artwork and ensuring overall visibility of the projection all at the same time.

Much like Randy Newman, the writer of Harps and Angels (starring Michael McKean in its world premiere), members of NYX Design find their inspiration everywhere, including the urban environment of L.A.
Much like Randy Newman, the writer of Harps and Angels (starring Michael McKean in its world premiere), members of NYX Design find their inspiration everywhere, including the urban environment of L.A.
Technology in the Arts (Design)
With offices on both the east and west coast, it can be challenging to keep the communication and work flow open across almost 3,000 miles. But with modern technology, collaboration between the team and their client base is simple. NYX Design incorporates a wide range of traditional and new technologies to keep in constant connection with each other and clients. The partners are never more than a phone call, e-mail, Skype, or text away from each other—they’ve formed what Treeson, Gale and Holmes call the “virtual cubicle.”

It isn’t uncommon for the team to leave a voice Skype conversation open for hours at a time. “It gives us the ability to talk to each other as though we were right there,” says Gale. Doing so gives the partners who are thousands of miles apart the ability to talk and exchange ideas as if they were sitting a cubicle apart.
NYX Design also uses DropBox, a cloud-based file storage utility that offers the ability to sync files across a local drive and the internet. When a file is saved to your local DropBox folder, it is automatically synced and saved to your cloud drive. When you use another computer or device, the files are automatically synced and available as a local file.

Being a remote team and working with clients from all over the country means NYX takes full advantage of DropBox by sharing specific folders from their account to share files and comps with their clients for approvals. Once a new file is loaded to a client’s shared folder, a quick notification is sent so that the client knows when a new file has been added and downloaded to their local folder. From there, clients can comment and share their thoughts by uploading an updated file.

When it comes to entertainment technology, NYX Design doesn’t limit itself to any particular CAD software, media server, or type of control. It all goes back to the needs of the production and what will work best for the given project. While the firm uses a wide array of technologies throughout the design process and into the production, it is never about the tools, but what helps deliver the message quickly and easily in the end.

It has been asked and discussed many times throughout the entertainment lighting industry, where is the line drawn between lighting and video? NYX Design has a clear understanding that the line is being blurred by advances in LED, projection and video display technology.

Still, “It is never about the technology, but the end results and keeping with the narrative of the project” says Holmes. NYX uses all three to help convey the message set forth by the project. They interchange lighting and projection to create and enhance the narrative of the project to a point where they seem as one. But NYX Design still believes that a screen is there for projection of content. Video and projection used on scenery, set pieces and talent are an extension of lighting to help create movement, texture and effects to help establish the narrative.

This brings us back to the very core philosophy that drives NYX Design and its founders, Emanuel Treeson, Abigail Holmes and Brian Gale: It not the glamor or glitz of the production that matters most; it’s about creating meaningful, beautiful designs driven by the message.