Lighting Designer Luc Peumans Spotlights The Little Mermaid

by Michael Eddy
The lighting for The Little Mermaid was designed by Luc Peumans. Photos: Frank Lambrechts - Picturesk
The lighting for The Little Mermaid was designed by Luc Peumans. Photos: Frank Lambrechts - Picturesk

Lighting for The Little Mermaid – the first time the show has been staged in Belgium – was designed by Luc Peumans of Genk-based international design practice, Painting with Light, and lighting equipment was delivered by leading Benelux rental company, Phlippo Showlights together with audio and rigging. As a part of his design, Peumans worked with the Robe RoboSpot system, which was teched by Ilse Witlox, also the lead operator, who is an expert in the somewhat ‘black art’ of followspotting. Precise followspotting was absolutely crucial to a complex and visually rich production like this. 

 

The 11 Robe BMFL Blades, complete with 11 RoboSpot MotionCamera,s were positioned on a front truss, an advanced truss, and on two side trusses. The six on the front truss were positioned as three on the left and three on the right; the three on the advanced truss (‘behind’ the front truss and above the audience) were in the left, right, and center positions along that truss, and the other two were on short runs of truss just offstage to each side of the venue. The two side BMFLs were specifically utilized for spotting lead character Ariel as she flew out from stage to FOH.

Witlox and her two colleagues – Peter Pijnenburg and Emiel van Holderbeke – were all stationed at FOH with their RoboSpot Base Stations, so they had a clear visual of how the spots looked in reality, in addition to seeing the effect on the base station HD screen monitor, which enables a ‘first-person’ view of the performance. Line of sight vision – in addition to a remote screen – is also ideal for following the flying act and really helpful in keeping on top of the pace of the stage action, which in this case was fast and coming from multiple angles. The 11 BMFLs are divided up as two groups of four and one of three between the three RoboSpot base stations.

The RoboSpot crew at FOH on The Little Mermaid. Photos:  Frank Lambrechts - Picturesk

The RoboSpot systems were used in this case to control the pan / tilt, dimmer, and iris functionality of the BMFLs – via the handles and two programmable faders… with the operator’s movements instantly transferred to the luminaire via DMX… with no lag. The rest of the parameters were run from the grandMA2 console running the show lighting programmed by Niels Huybrechts and operated by Jochen Kerckhofs. While the operators could dim their BMFL followspots when necessary, the maximum intensity was always set by the console operator.

The RoboSpot systems were specified by Peumans after he saw a demo. The additional flexibility they brought to the production was a practical solution giving him the right amount of followspots in exactly the right places. It was also cost-efficient for production. For example, the two BMFLS used to spot Ariel flying out into the audience were only needed for five minutes of the show, ideal for a remote scenario rather than tying up two operators for the evening.

Phlippo Showlights committed to purchasing the three RoboSpot Systems for The Little Mermaid. Account Manager Joost Machiels commented, “Investing in innovative equipment is essential for a company like Phlippo … we always like to be one step ahead.” The Benelux-based rental company already has a substantial stock of BMFL Spot, Blade, and Wash luminaires.

As an experienced followspot operator, Witlox has also had experience with some of the other remote-controlled systems on the market and reckons that RoboSpot is “one of the better options” for a floor-based system. She appreciates the fact that you can grab luminaires and cameras on the system, that the lights react quickly to commands and that the control stations have been physically well designed, so operators can stand comfortable and relaxed for the performance session.

Witlox also mentions that while it takes some practice and concentration to master the RoboSpot system, those with no previous followspot experience can be trained to operate it quickly and competently. Training is available via Phlippo or Robe’s Benelux distributor, Controllux.

For Peumans, having the 11 RoboSpot controlled BMFL followspots brought a lot of additional flexibility, “which can potentially help in creating a better lighting design! You can program parameters like color and intensity etc. into the lighting console, so the (remote) spot operators can just focus on functions like iris and maximum intensity.

“Being able to control more fixtures as followspots is also useful. One of the most important elements in lighting any show, and especially a spectacular musical like this, is having sources coming from the right directions and angles. This system enables a greater choice of luminaires to be available – in a lot more colours which is also very helpful – for highlighting artists and performers.”

Further information from Robe: www.robe.cz
Here's a video of The Little Mermaid to see some of Peumans' lighting in action: https://vimeo.com/248159242