QolorTOPIX Light Conversations by City Theatrical

QolorTOPIX Podcast Episode 3: Life of Pi Broadway Lighting Team, Including Tim Lutkin, Tim Reed, and Paul Toben

June 29, 2023 Al Crawford, City Theatrical Season 1 Episode 3
QolorTOPIX Podcast Episode 3: Life of Pi Broadway Lighting Team, Including Tim Lutkin, Tim Reed, and Paul Toben
QolorTOPIX Light Conversations by City Theatrical
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QolorTOPIX Light Conversations by City Theatrical
QolorTOPIX Podcast Episode 3: Life of Pi Broadway Lighting Team, Including Tim Lutkin, Tim Reed, and Paul Toben
Jun 29, 2023 Season 1 Episode 3
Al Crawford, City Theatrical

Explore Life of Pi on Broadway from the perspective of the lighting design team! This conversation features the show's Tony Award winning lighting designer Tim Lutkin, and the show's Associate Lighting Designers Tim Reed and Paul Toben. The team will discuss the behind-the-scenes moments, the lighting process, collaboration techniques, favorite cues, new lighting technologies, next projects, and what the designers see for the future of lighting on Broadway and beyond.

QolorTOPIX Light Conversions podcast series by City Theatrical features some of the most unique lighting professionals in the entertainment lighting business. QolorTOPIX conversations range from every sector of light, from film & video, to television, theatre, dance, music, themed entertainment, art, architecture and more. QolorTOPIX is hosted by the City Theatrical Marketing team. The podcast series explores the lives of amazing practitioners of light, by discussing their careers.

Thank you for listening to this episode of QolorTOPIX Light Conversations podcast series. Please join us next time for another exciting conversation with one of our customers or collaborators. Have a great day!

QolorTOPIX is hosted by the City Theatrical Marketing team. The podcast series will explore the lives of amazing practitioners of light, with the goal of discussing their careers, projects, favorite tools, and vision for the future of the lighting industry.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Explore Life of Pi on Broadway from the perspective of the lighting design team! This conversation features the show's Tony Award winning lighting designer Tim Lutkin, and the show's Associate Lighting Designers Tim Reed and Paul Toben. The team will discuss the behind-the-scenes moments, the lighting process, collaboration techniques, favorite cues, new lighting technologies, next projects, and what the designers see for the future of lighting on Broadway and beyond.

QolorTOPIX Light Conversions podcast series by City Theatrical features some of the most unique lighting professionals in the entertainment lighting business. QolorTOPIX conversations range from every sector of light, from film & video, to television, theatre, dance, music, themed entertainment, art, architecture and more. QolorTOPIX is hosted by the City Theatrical Marketing team. The podcast series explores the lives of amazing practitioners of light, by discussing their careers.

Thank you for listening to this episode of QolorTOPIX Light Conversations podcast series. Please join us next time for another exciting conversation with one of our customers or collaborators. Have a great day!

QolorTOPIX is hosted by the City Theatrical Marketing team. The podcast series will explore the lives of amazing practitioners of light, with the goal of discussing their careers, projects, favorite tools, and vision for the future of the lighting industry.

QolorTOPIX Podcast Episode 3: Life of Pi Broadway Lighting Team, 

Including Tim Lutkin, Tim Reed, and Paul Toben

June 2023 Podcast Transcription

0:40 – CHAPTER 1: Introduction

Al Crawford: Welcome to QolorTOPIX, City Theatrical’s podcast. We have some amazing guests with us today. This is the lighting team from Life of Pi on Broadway. We have on the call Tim Lutkin, lighting designer, Paul Tobin and Tim Reed of the team for Life of Pi. It's great to have all three of you on the call. Today, thanks for joining us on QolorTOPIX.

Tim Lutkin: Thank you, Al.

Al Crawford: I'd just love to learn a little bit about all three of you, your roles, how you're working together and maybe Tim Lutkin, you could start us out, and tell us a little bit about your background.



01:16 – CHAPTER 2: Tim Lutkin’s Background

Tim Lutkin: I am the main lighting designer on the show, although because it's been a complex show to light, I think all three of us have had a lot to do, and I've been very lucky to have Paul and Tim's input. Paul was with me in Boston as the associate. Tim joined us for New York. So that's our team. 

My background is really in plays and musicals, but I also do lots of things for the Disney Parks. I started in theater, like lots of people do, at high school. When I was 12 years old, we had a big strand old lever lighting desk in the school hall, and that was what I used, and loved it. Then by the time I was about 15-16, I became an electrician at our local theatre, which was in Yorkshire, England. 

I moved to London to go to Guild Hall School of Music and drama, where I studied a general technical theatre and stage management degree, which had lighting design elements to it. The reason I wanted to do that is the location of Guild Hall and the facilities was fantastic. I just thought it would be good to be in a building that had the right energy as opposed to a building that was purely lighting design as a course like Central is in London. 

Then I started working for Hugh Vanstone in my second year of university as an assistant, drawing plans and then later as an Associate. We did lots of plays and musicals together. By the time I was about 25, I started to take on enough of my own work to sustain my own what became a career. 


In 2016 I started my relationship with Disney. That’s quite an important part of Life of Pi, because the third show I did there was introducing ZacTrack onto a Marvel superheroes show. We used it in a very different way to what people might perceive as purely replacing front of house follow spots. The reason is there were 10 superheroes jumping around a stunt show. I'd come in obviously to do a brand new layer of lighting to the show, or it preexisted. There were no follow spots at all on the show. There was lots of trouble trying to get the audience to focus in the right place, etcetera, etcetera. And how do you light a battle of four people, without having 4 operators, and would that even look good with four front lights? 

So on that production, we ended up with a whole layer of moving lights that covered each superhero from every angle possible. I was skeptical about the system, thinking this is not going to work well, because it'll lag and it won't track well, and it will be constantly missing the right performer because they're moving so quickly. I was pleasantly surprised that when the system was used on small moving wash lights, it was super-fast. 



5:05 CHAPTER 3: Life of Pi beginnings in the UK

Tim Lutkin: I thought I'd tell you that little bit of history, because then as I took on Life of Pi in Sheffield, the history of that show was we had two follow spot operators in Sheffield. It was a small, regional version of the show, although it looked very similar to what we have in New York. Then in London, we had the ability to do very high side follow spots, because not all Victorian theatres having high boxes. So we opted for that with two operators. 

There was still a layer of Pi lacking which was following around all the animals, puppets and other performers against video. Then came to America and the solution was, Can we give ZacTrack a go? And that's where Paul Toben really came into his own. Paul was my Associate in Boston, but also really got into how best to use ZacTrack with all of its scenes and how to manipulate it, which fixtures work, etcetera, etcetera. That became a huge part, as you'll see of why, we ended up with quite a clean version of lighting Pi in New York.


Al Crawford: That's wonderful. I was able to see the production about a week ago and I will tell you the thing that I was taken by it the most is the control of light, the ability to carve out the storytelling from the faces of these actors and these puppets and still have projection be so clean and crisp. And so, it sounds like your implementation and the queuing of that was crucial to this.



7:00 – CHAPTER 4: Life of Pi Implementation and Technology

Tim Lutkin: We also had this lovely thing of being in Boston. The team at ART, were very supportive of us moving things, trying things out, adding trackers onto actors and puppets randomly. We'd say, wouldn't it be lovely if the turtle had a tracker? Then they suddenly added another turtle puppet because there's two in the show. Then we were like, actually can we be cheeky and have another one on the turtle #2? And they were great at supporting that and that gave us the ability to work out when it is good to have a really flat soft light. Are there in a saturated colour or something pastorally that pulls out a face or a puppet against everything else? In its kind of 2D form and when. Is it good? To sculpt something from a steep angle, and what are the settings in ZacTrack that supports that nature of life and it meant that by the time we came to New York. 

Me and Paul must have had a million conversations on where we should put the Aura PXLs. It became like a bit of a thing, like every morning we talk about that for an hour over about four-week period. 

Then we settled on what you see in New York, which is a couple of steep angles around the proscenium, lots of things overhead, to the sides of LX1 and X2, which is very, very helpful, and also a central flat position of five or PXL's that gave you actually quite a lovely steep forest port angle in there. It was all of that crafting and all of the kind of positive that you mentioned about actors and video and how to manipulate it and how to sculpt it? Really came from that time in Boston. Obviously, the system. I've used quite a lot now because. It was a big hit at Disneyland Paris. Then we reopened The Lion King show, which is a very big wide space. It's got a proscenium that's 36 meters, and I added 16 sharpy washes front of house in three areas, and they became the follow spot system. With a you know the addition of a few backlights that follow Simba and Nala around as well, but that flat front, steep coverage with moving wash lights became the way I used the system. 

When the general managers from ZacTrack came to Paris to see it used, they were like, That's what we want to want to tell. People to do. Because all they've had really is somebody getting a hard-edge profile moving like fixture, usually quite big and bulky because it needs to be bright and then, Ohh yeah, show us what it does, and they put somebody on stage and it's always slightly odd because it's not human moving it. Actually, that's not what I see at all. I don't see the tools future in replacing genuine hard edge, full body follow sports. It might be one day, but right now, it's a much more creative tool, if that makes sense.


Al Crawford: That absolutely sets up the story. And you know what I saw in the performance, was a marriage of projection and light where there was often times I couldn't quite discern what was projection and what was like. And often it's very clear what's the difference. And that becomes the thing that takes me out of it. So bravo to all of you really, really beautiful work. 

Just to introduce our rest of our gang here. Tim, you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?



11:10 – CHAPTER 5: Tim Reed’s Background

Tim Reed: My name is Timothy Reed and I'm a lighting designer as well. I grew up in a small town in Utah in the theater from the age of five years old, so I've been doing it for a very long time now, and I've been in New York City for about 10 years, doing lighting, primarily working as an associate on Broadway, and designing my own things at regional theatres. And cruise ships and parks around the world as well. So it's been great to join this team and be the associate for Life of Pi on Broadway.


Al Crawford: Excellent, Tim, thanks for joining us. And Paul, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?



11:45 – CHAPTER 6: Paul Toben’s Background

Paul Toben: I am a lighting designer and programmer. I'm now based in Chicago, although I used to live in New York. Most of my work is probably national tours, corporate events and some regional work as well. 

Both Tim and I worked on SiX a few years ago, was led by another Tim named Tim Deiling. Tim is friends with Tim Lutkin. So when I was over in the UK in October of 2020, we were putting the changes from the Broadway company into the West End show. I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Lutkin then and very lucky to have, because now this little group of us have we did life with pie and now we're all together again for Back to the Future, which is a great joy. So that's a little bit about me and how I came to this this ragtag group.


Al Crawford: How did you all get together? How this trio of three find your way to each other?


Tim Lutkin: 

I was going to say is, if you hang around with us a lot, there's a lot of Tims knocking about. Tims just kind of appear from everywhere. I don’t know how Paul manages it.



13:12 – CHAPTER 7: How did the team start working together?

Paul Toben: Tim Reed and I have been working together for, I don't know, seven or eight years.

Tim Reed: Yeah, probably right around there.

Paul Toben: On all kinds of different shows. Ken Posner introduced us originally. I won't speak for how Tim feels about this, but I feel like we worked really well together because we have complementary skill sets.

I started this journey as an assistant like I think a lot of people do. Now I'm mostly programming, on a show like Life of Pi, the line between what is lighting design and what is the technical implementation of the lighting design, I think can be really helpful. Where that line is blurry, I think it can be really helpful to have the programmer involved in the layout of the show from as early as possible, and this is the thing Tim Reed and I have done it a few times where I wear an associate designer hat for the prep part of the show, and then Tim comes in and takes it across the finish line when I move over and focus more on the programming.

Especially for this show as Tim Lutkin said, we did an enormous amount of back and forth on how to best set up the system. For the goal here, it ended up being a really positive way of working. It's quite common in the UK to have your programmer be your associate. It's becoming more common in the US and I think that's partially because this shows get bigger and more technology, it's difficult to do the handoff between the associate lighting designer and the programmer as late as is, as it's normally done in the in the process. It's too late to just show up a week before stage and try to download the entire intent of the rig to a programmer.


Al Crawford: No, I agree. I think there's something. Really interesting about the progression and evolution of the Broadway process. You know, I feel like maybe 20 years ago you would see the Jules + Peggy of the world, you know, that sort of collaborative design process was very much a thing in the. 80s and 90s. Fast forward to now, it's come back. I feel like we're seeing more collaborative teams and I think there's something very powerful about your combined skill sets, experience, voices, vision, approach. You’re inevitably going to get a more complex and detailed product in the end, so you put that kind of team together. 



16:15 – CHAPTER 7: The collaborative process

Tim Lutkin: From my point of view, having Tim and Paul with me on the project, it really was like the three lighting designers in the room. That, for me, was an absolute joy because in the UK, part of the reason, although Paul's pointed out some real great positives about it, but one of the reasons there is the associate programmer role appears is, most of the time, the budget. So when we do a big musical, we will have an assistant or an associate separate, but quite often the role and responsibilities get very blurred because you end up putting too much on one person. But actually in this scenario, I felt I could genuinely have a creative conversation with either Tim or Paul, and they would make it manifest on the stage. I didn't feel like I had to manage every single nut and bolt and focus and describe, Ohh it should be channel 21 at 10% etcetera, etcetera. There was a tiger cage scene where we decided we just need to track everybody like old fashioned follow spots, turning on and off and I said to the boys, can you just make that work for, you know, when you get some time and came in the next? Day it was brilliant. And I was like, oh, it's such a relief and it's such a lovely thing to be able to work like that, and have that support.



17:54 – CHAPTER 8: Getting started with Life of Pi in Boston

Paul Toben: I'm always fascinated by when physical limitations result in more interesting design choices. The conversation that Tim Lutkin and I had early on in this process as we were trying to figure out how to light this show for the Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway. Thinking about the ART production in Boston as a pathway to the Broadway production, the false booth in the Schoenfeld is just physically too flat for the show. It's too low and we would have been if we put you know if we had put 7 fall spots in that booth, we would have been all over the wall all night long. There's just no way. There's just no way around it and it. Would have ruined the effect of the video and the thing I say about the video on this show always is that the reason we are all here is because the video is so beautiful. The content is just extraordinary.

So we immediately took that the ability to use the traditional follow spots off the table. It just wasn't an option for us on this production. And so suddenly we sort of had to go down this road of how can we use that tracks or a tracking system like ZacTracks? But in this case, ZacTracks to the best of its ability, and how does that then open up other opportunities? We wouldn't have. Had if we had gone the fall spot route right and there are scenes in the show where you know we're tracking somebody and we switch angles or we're tracking somebody in from 4 directions with four different colors and all of that helps tie into as you said what the video content is doing. Like, which direction is the sunset coming from now you suddenly have the opportunity to dust that in an actor and that's really powerful. So this was an instance where the simple fact that we couldn't have used a a traditional false but really pushed us in a in an exciting direction.


Al Crawford: In many ways, it's a new tool. It's not a follow spot replacement it. Is a new brush.

Paul Toben: Yeah. We have it on Back to the Future and we have follow spots on Back to the Future. But what's cool about it is we can take every light in the rig overhead and point it at an actor for a really emotional moment in the show.

You're going to get to a point a big, bright scene where they're you've pointed every follow spot and that you have available at an actor and it isn't quite bright enough. And so we now have the opportunity to just, you know, to do an overlay to take three lights from front of house and point them at an actor when it's just not quite bright enough. Things like that are really exciting and really interesting.

It's just a tool that is really nice to have in your back pocket. I wish I could literally have it on every show.



21:01 - CHAPTER 9: Life of Pi design process

Tim Lutkin: From a design perspective, I think every lighting designer goes through this process on their design, which is, if you're lucky enough to have the set on stage for any period of time to point lights at, whether it's dry tech or actual lighting time, before the cast is on stage, you have a lovely old time making the set look great. And the set design is your best friend and the floor looks fabulous and you do all of your key light. And then there’s the cast. The actors come on. Then suddenly you think, what do I do now? 

I think when you're a young lighting designer, like in your early 20s, and you're doing your first things at university, it can be a little jarring when the directors are going, I just can't see their faces. I need more face, and then you're thinking, Oh my God, I'm going to turn it all on and it's all bouncing off, and sometimes a white floor or it's all over the masking. You're thinking what do I do? I'm not even a lighting designer anymore, I'm just like putting like people's faces and it's ruining everything. 

It's a process. It’s a brilliant learning curve because you actually, if you do it properly, you spend your first five years working out, how do I light people's faces in and around tricky scenery, keeping some sense of atmosphere and emotion on the go? 

I've used it on shows like The Lion King and Disneyland Paris and the Marvel show and another show we've just opened, which is Disney Junior’s Dream Factory. For that show it's great in that space because it's an awkward kind of stage that's in the corner of a very round room. So it's actually multiple angles that we're coming in, but you can now genuinely like a beautiful, saturated, scenic design. Lots of practicals on the go, and then you can decide where would my key light be coming from, and that can now just be a number of very soft wash lights, all coming from a cross position. 

Or the end of an advanced bar for example, all in a colour you'd love to light the actors faces and then a steep angle from LX1 or even front of house from the other side. And in an opposite color, and then suddenly there's this beautiful, sculpted, toned light, the right hue that's gently following people around. We found that being bigger with the ZacTrack and softer in the end really supports that type of work. And it's possible to get to a stage where it doesn't feel like there's any forest spots on. hat's the dream of using the system.


Al Crawford: I will say that it's a beautiful thing when technology is integrated into a situation like this and the end result is actually artistic freedom. Which is not always the case. Here at City Theatrical, we're always trying to think: How do we create a product that's going to let the technology get out of the way? We have to make it so robust and so refined and repeatable that it actually feels effortless and gives the designer a tool that they never would have been able to use in a in that way.

One question I had for you is you had mentioned small moving lights as being very effective for this system. Would you see a mirrored base moving light? You know, being something that might in the future be a useful tool for this kind of system where you're not really dealing with XY, but point to point movement?

Tim Lutkin: That is definitely a Paul Tobin question.

Paul Toben: It's also a leading question, isn't it?

Al Crawford: We don't know yet. But for the greater good. You know, hope I hope some of our manufacturing friends are listening.



25:31 - CHAPTER 10: Life of Pi lighting technologies

Paul Toben: Just been having this conversation. The Zach tracks people are in. New York last week and some friends of mine went and saw their demo. 

They have done it with a Clay Paky. It's a moving mirror on a yoke.

At least to my knowledge, and again this is secondhand because I didn't get to go to the demo as we were busy in tech, is that they haven't done it with a Roscoe IQ or something like that. IQ has a little bit of a different motion system, and so it might be more difficult to calibrate that, or it might require some special calibration, but from a practical perspective. The less inertia the fixture has, the more direct the motor control can be. 

So instead of needing to smoothly ramp up power to the motors and then smoothly ramp down power. In order to comp or in order to protect this the Moving lights, motors and the gearing and all that from the. Now you know moving. Mass of the of the fixture head the smaller and lighter it is the less smoothing.

And so basically all that does in ZacTracks is reduce the amount of latency from getting position data from the trackers. Processing that data into 3-dimensional space and then sending it over a DMX Network to the light. And so any amount of latency in that system you can remove. And then ZacTracks does a great job of adding its own smoothing. It doesn't need the help of the fixture to make a smooth move. The difference being now, we use Martin MAC Ultras and MAC Aura PXLs both on Life of Pi and on Back to the Future and both fixture types are capable of tracking people. But there is a difference between the quality of the movement on the PXL and the quality of the movement on the Ultra and that's where I think a moving mirror would be really interesting. Especially a purpose-built one that is in that 1000-Watt category the way that the MAC Ultras are.



28:16 - CHAPTER 11: Life of Pi wins the Tony Award for Lighting Design

Al Crawford: I came up in the in the time of cyber lights and track spots. Clay Paky was a huge maker for golden scan products then. I loved the speed of them. It did change how we thought about moving light and architectural space, when suddenly there was a yoke. But it sounds like this is just the beginning of this technology being refined and getting better and better, so it's awesome. 

So you guys won a Tony Award! Congratulations! 

We all work very hard and being recognized in those arenas is really wonderful. So congratulations. If you could capture Life of Pi, Tim Lutkin, in one sentence of the things that you learned in the process of creating this piece. What would that be?



29:21 – CHAPTER 12: Learnings from Life of Pi

Tim Lutkin: That's a very tricky question. I can only really. Talk about the things that we learned as a team about the system, about what it really means to work as a team with video and scenic designers. And trying to sum up in a sentence.

Al Crawford: Doesn't have to be a sentence, but it does sound like the collaborative process was such a part of it.

Tim Lutkin: It was. And just going back to something Paul was saying about when you do have limitations technically or even schedule or whatever that is on a production, you are forced to work harder and to be more innovative and essentially, to be more creative.

When we were in Sheffield putting this thing together and we had a big boat coming up out of the floor and we had walls that were pushed around by the crew, we didn't even have automation back then. We did have the resolve, and everything was like the kind of what Tim Hadley described as like the poor theatre version, which is: How do we show a boy at sea with a tiger? 

And move it around in a little wooden boat, in Sheffield. 

From that, we learned, what are the core things? Looking at a design or the stage itself, what do you need? What are the ingredients and the texture of the water and color to take you from this cold hospital world? 

To the kind of more vivid imagination of Pi became very important. It was a process. At first, the tendency is to make things look, that when he's out on the boat, there is originally we were doing very soft, gentle kind of color correction tones that that really looked great and supported it. But in the end, when that turtle comes on, you want this kind of very vivid. Turquoise world to kind of sing out and support that, and I learned a lot about that. 

I learned a lot about color and how to support a bright white set with a lot of video content with saturated washes and tracking systems that draw your eye to the right place.

What I'd say for anybody out there that's got or is approaching the same challenges we have on this production, which is you are surrounded by video potentially on a very wide set or very bright sets and there's lots of moving parts is. And it will all depend on the story, of course. But don't be afraid of using deep saturated color. Because Andre, who's the video designer, just loved it. Whenever we came up with a deep amber, deep red, deep indigo, against the video. Because the projectors don't do those colors very well and they can't come in from multiple angles like we can. 

So don't be afraid as lighting designers to join in with the layers, with the spectacle, and don't feel pushed out by the fact that there's a ton of video there. Get on the party ring, we used to call it the party ring, which was on the canvas, all speaking together on headset, and get yourself involved with what's going on with the video. Don't ever feel that you can't be a part of that conversation. 

The more you throw things at it and try different things, the more exciting a collaboration becomes. That is what I learned.


Al Crawford: That's wonderful. Having seen the production, saturate color wash is coming in from the angles that you might not have considered in the first place, front light strong rich front light because you think about it, it's going to bounce up to that projection screen and become part of the mix of all of the lumens that are going on and all that color. So it's brilliant. I I enjoyed it very much. 

So now you're transitioning to something very different. You guys are obviously working on Back to the Future, anything that you're bringing with you from that experience of Life of Pi into the current production of Back to the Future?



34:20 - CHAPTER 13: Takeaways from Life of Pi 

Tim Lutkin:Tim Reed and Paul will be good candidates to talk about this in terms of things that we've transferred. 

How we work as a team, for me, I’ve been very lucky. It's felt like a little family. We just packed our bags and walked down the road to put on another show. And for that reason, it doesn't feel like I'm starting again, but there's lots of skills because we also use that track on that. 

We started using it for a very practical reason, which is the end sequence of the show that we call the clock tower sequence uses a scrim. We needed to follow sport people upstage for scrim. But now we've learned the system and me and Paul did that bit of development in Boston. Now Tim's a wizard on it as well, Tim Reed. We've been able to kind of start nursing it into that show in the same way. 

Because of the style and scale of that show, it doesn't require the subtlety of Pi actually, but I'm sure that in the next couple of weeks we we start previews on Saturday at the Winter Garden and during the next week and 1/2. I'm sure we'll start layering more ZacTrack, which is. The learned skills from Pi, really, and also Finn Ross, who's the video designer on Back to the Future, has a very similar collaborative energy about him to Andre and everything is up for discussion. Everything's up for grabs. He's great with jumping on. 

The party line and talking about colour and levels and all those things. So it's all of that energy that I think supports a unified look in the end, but of course. Back to the Future is a very different story to Life of Pi

What I was going to ask Al that's interesting, is for Tim Reed to just talk about, as I think this will be at the back of people's minds, is how that system and how we've used that technology that was kind of received by stage management and the cast and what was it like having trackers in? In the middle of rehearsal, etc.



36:50 - CHAPTER 14: How was Life of Pi technology received by the stage management and cast?

Tim Reed: It certainly is a new thing and on Broadway, sometimes people could be scared of that, and figuring out whose responsibility all the trackers are, how they get implemented in the show is quite challenging at times, right down to where the actors or performers have to wear them on their costumes, whether we find meeting one on their front and back is the most useful, or on their two shoulders. Sometimes if we only are using the trackers for a small element, we'll only use one tracker on the performer versus wanting the redundancy and all of that. The other real big challenge that you have on a show like Back to the Future as opposed to Life of Pi is there are so many moving parts and backdrops and everything else, and the trackers need to be able to communicate and see multiple anchors. And one of the challenges with our first. Electric that needs to fly in and light ladders that need to fly. Out is. It's really difficult to place all of those anchors on the set so that you can see multiple of them at the same time. Paul Tobin and I talked a lot about that, especially about our downstage area, which is where all the drops fly in the scrim and everything is in the way I'm fighting for that. Very important downstage center spot on the show.


Paul Toben: By the way, the first electric has two trims, so we can't hang any of our anchors off. The first electric. It's probably worth just saying very quickly that that exact track is a radio frequency tracking system, not an optical tracking system. The way that black tracks is and some others. And so it uses. A tracker? That's probably I don't know. At inch and. 1/2 by 3/4 of an inch by 1/4 of an inch thick and then up to eleven of these radio receivers called anchors that go that are on fixed points around the space to triangulate the location of the trackers. And so the radio frequency can go through most materials, but it cannot go through metal and it cannot go through water. So it can't go through the big bags of water that are wearing the trackers and wandering around the stage. You have to sort of always be considering. 

Ideally, we would put two trackers on the very top of every actor's head right underneath their wigs. That's not practical. For example, in Life of Pi, almost no one wore a wig and Back to the Future, Marty doesn't wear a wig, so it we go with a system that's mounted to their undergarments, basically to their undershirts. But it's yeah, it's always a balance of like where is the, where is the anchor located? Can you see four or five of them or six of them at a time? 

It's more of an art, honestly, than a science. 

We ran into some issues on Life of Pi and made a very small adjustment to the anchor placement. Which had a large impact on improving the system’s tracking ability. So that's part of it you sort of learn as you go right: What changes you can make to the system to make it behave better. I'm glad we're now on our third iteration. I think we've got a system pretty well worked out now.


Al Crawford:

That's fantastic, Paul. As you know, of course, City Theatrical’s Multiverse technology, which is a part of Back to the Future, you've got a variety of radio systems running on that show. Are you finding that everyone is playing nicely together?



40:35 - CHAPTER 15: Multiverse at Life of Pi

Paul Toben:Yeah, that's not an issue. ZacTracks uses millimeter wave transmitters. They're extremely sensitive to being occluded by metal and water. 

They don't operate on the same frequencies that you all do. Tim Reed would know more about. 

As far as I'm concerned, Multiverse has been working great. I know we thought maybe we were having issues with it earlier, but it ended up being a different problem.

Al Crawford: We like to hear that. I did hear about that, and was happy to hear the results of that test.

You did give our software engineer a really wonderful experience being at the tech, so thank you for that.


Paul Toben: We use Multiverse on everything now. I don't know of another system that's robust enough to use at that scale in Midtown Manhattan, which is probably the most challenging RF environment in the world. 

I know you all designed the system specifically for that market.



41:40 - CHAPTER 16: Quick Fire Questions

Al Crawford: That is correct. I have a few quick fire questions, appreciate all of the details of these two shows.

I'll give each of these questions to you. 

They are literally one word or a few word answers, so don't think too much. And so here we go. 

Tim Reed, favorite tech table snack.


Tim Reed: M&M's.

Al Crawford: Nice is everybody else like M&Ms, or just you?

Tim Reed: I love M&M's very much. That is my favorite.

Al Crawford: Tim! Favorite beam control accessory.

Tim Lutkin: Beam Bender.

Al Crawford: Beam Bender, good answer. Thank you, Tim.

Paul: Pizza or fish and chips?

Paul Toben: Ohh, probably pizza if I had to choose.

Al Crawford: Got a mixed continent team here. 

Tim Lutkin, Gel or LED? 

Tim Lutkin: LED.

Al Crawford: Leaning in, that's great. 

Tim Reed, pants or shorts?

Tim Reed: Pants! Theaters are cold in midtown.

Al Crawford: That's true.

Tim Reed: You have to wear 3 winter coats, just sitting there.

Tim Lutkin: Al, ask me the same question.

Al Crawford: OK, Tim. Pants are shorts?

Tim Lutkin: Shorts!

Al Crawford: OK, me too 4. 

Paul, favorite cue in Life of Pi?



43:16 - CHAPTER 17: Favorite Cue in Life of Pi

Paul Toben: Well, the joke would be to say, The Market, because we spent so much time lighting and relighting and relighting that show and it took forever. This is not going to be a two-word answer. I'm sorry, but this is important to say I think because it's indicative of how this process.

We found out the lighting in the market was not working. Tim Lutkin was not happy with. We worked on that on that scene. I don't know probably 40 times in between both venues. We put that scene on stage and Tim’s tenacity really cracked it. It took a while, but we got to a great place with it in the end. 

I think most leading designers would have said, Well, it's just one location. I can't figure it out. The challenges are too great and they would have moved on with a mediocre, certainly professional-looking cue. But in the end, you got to be really beautiful to look at. So that's the that's the answer that we would say in our department.

But my favorite cue is the sequence where Pi’s mother appears and we're at sunset and that there's just a bunch of just park hands with Amber gel in them that match the video color beautifully. That is where the light design really sings. They're really simple. They're really beautiful.

Al Crawford: I know the queue. Sometimes just a tungsten par 64 tells the whole thing.

Paul Toben: Yeah, there's nothing, nothing better.

Al Crawford: I love that. 

The last question which I'll ask all three of you. I'll start with Tim Reed, Your Monday day off ritual?

Tim Reed: Unfortunately, it's laundry and shopping for the week well.

Al Crawford: The rest of your team thanks you for that. And Paul?

Paul Toben: I have two kids, and they I they live in Chicago and so do I most of the time so frequently it's getting on an airplane flying home but it's to be with my family and so I'm happy to do it and that's what I did this weekend we had both Sunday and Monday off this weekend. I'm here in Chicago. You sleep, but if I'm if I'm stuck in New York, I will sleep till noon and then I will go take a walk and find a bagel.

Al Crawford: Nice. Brilliant. And Tim Lutkin?

Tim Lutkin: About a year and a half ago I got into going to the gym, which I've never done in all my life. Now I've got this thing where if I do an hour at the gym, it means I don't have to move for the rest of the day. I got this kind of thing where I get up early and I go for it. Then I get a shower and I lay on the sofa and then that's it. I feel really good about not moving for the day.

Al Crawford: Well, a lot of our job in the theater, we're sitting in the chair for hours and hours. That's wonderful. I think we're all we're all going to live vicariously through you, Tim, with your gym. Congratulations on that. 

My last question, just to finish out this great conversation to you all. (Tim, beyond the technology that we've talked about on this in this last hour, which could of course inform this.)

Tim, what do you see for the future of lighting?



47:00 - CHAPTER 18: Vision for the future of lighting?

Tim Lutkin: I see lots more collaboration with video. I think that's really what's really cool now. 

When a when a young lighting designer, student lighting designer comes into our spaces and most of the lights can change color instantly. When I was like 21 and I was doing my first designs, that just wasn't a thing and everything had to have a piece of color in it because. You couldn't afford moving lights like we do now. And especially like an LED source four, we thought that was a bit of a joke at first. Like, How is it that you're going to be bright enough?

That means that young lighting designers now aren't really getting to be close to light and how to handle it. What colour does, and what it means when a light's at 50% with a certain colour? etcetera, etcetera, which is all the things that make you understand light. 

I've come to realize that having more creative energy on the show, being able to change things quickly, and having that flexibility mean a quicker and better collaboration with the other departments. 

So I think the future of lighting will be more flexible, more video, potentially video and lighting designers amalgamating into one department. I'm talking 50 years time from now if things are going where they're going.

As lighting designers, we will be having projectors on our equipment lists to light bits of scenery in a certain way, and maybe vice versa. So that's where I see it. Kind of gently. 

With this production of Pi, when I'd said to a couple of friends of mine, another Tim Reed, or Tim Deiling, that I'm not going to use any follow spots, I'm just going to do the ZacTracks, everybody was like, Oh, oh my God, you’re crazy. In New York, you're going to use that system. You definitely need follow spot. 

I'd like to think that we've come together, with Tim and Paul, and at least put our best foot forward.

Breaking a little bit of a boundary to say there's another way of doing it. And this is what we've done. 

So maybe even this show itself is part of the future of lighting.



49:10 - CHAPTER 19: Closing

Al Crawford: Thank you very much, Tim. 

Thank you to all three of you, Tim, Paul, Tim, all for joining. 

This has been a wonderful chat and I know that many of our customers and dealers and collaborators are all going to love to listen to the journey that you guys had on Life of Pi and good luck with Back to the Future. As you know, we're here for you whenever you need us so.

Tim Lutkin: Thank you, Al.

Tim Reed: Thank you, Al. 

Paul Toben: Take care.

Life of Pi beginnings in the UK (Tim Lutkin)
Life of Pi Implementation and Technology (Tim Lutkin)
How did the team start working together? (Paul Toben)
The collaborative process (Tim Lutkin)
Getting started with Life of Pi in Boston (Paul Toben)
Life of Pi design process (Tim Lutkin)
Life of Pi lighting technologies (Paul Toben)
Learnings from Life of Pi (Tim Lutkin)
Takeaways from Life of Pi (Tim Lutkin)
How was Life of Pi technology received by the stage management and cast? (Tim Reed)
Multiverse wireless DMX/RDM at Life of Pi (Paul Toben)
Quick Fire Questions (all)
Favorite Cue in Life of Pi (Paul Toben)
Vision for the future of lighting? (Tim Lutkin)
Closing (Al Crawford)