Situated in a quiet area in the San Fernando valley is a very busy company that handles some of the biggest feature films, special events, Broadcast events, and television series, including NFL Super Bowl, The X Games, ABC’s Bachelor/Bachelorette series and NBC’s The Voice.
Q&A with Oscar Dominguez, LD for The Voice
When I visited Illumination Dynamic’s headquarters facility in San Fernando, CA recently, the company arranged for a meeting with Mark Rudge, who oversees the company’s Automated Lighting division, and Oscar Dominguez, LD for NBC’s The Voice.
Joining Rudge, Dominguez and myself for lunch was Oscar’s assistant Joanne Bissett-Avalos and ID marketing coordinator Alison Rice. In the midst of all of these friends, we did, somehow manage to talk about the business of lighting for TV during the afternoon of French food and Jumbaco references.
Rudge and Dominguez have known each other and worked on a variety of projects together since 1999. “That’s when it started,” Oscar says, “and now it’s pretty much every day — ‘Hey, Hey,’” he says, while making gesture of using phone. I settled in with the group and began firing away at Dominguez for the inside scoop on lighting The Voice. What follows are my questions and Oscar Dominguez’s responses.
PLSN: What are some of the challenges of doing a show like that, with different setups, different segments?
Oscar Dominguez: It’s basically broken down into three components. There are the Blind Auditions, then what they call the Battle Rounds, and then the Live [component]. Basically, the last one-third is all Live, the last five to six weeks. The other shows out there, especially a show like American Idol, all set the bar pretty high, you know, Kieran [Healy] does an amazing job, it’s just a beautiful looking show, so it’s like ‘Okay, we have to at least try and get something within the same caliber,’ and that was quite a big challenge because we didn’t have a whole lot of time. To try and establish a look that was unique and a bit different than everything else than what you were seeing, because you want to try and craft something that’s very individual to the show, and that’s something that the network was looking for, and definitely it’s something that [executive producer] Mark Burnett always looks for — a very crafted, a very unique individual look. We’ve done a lot of shows for him, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader being one of them, which has a very distinctive look, it’s very different than everything else. So that was the biggest challenge.
On the new season of The Voice, how much will the set change from last year?
Lighting will change a little bit. The Blind Auditions just got a little bit sexier. The production designer took some of the things he didn’t really like as much, modified them, and made them better. The Battle [Round component] is significantly different this time around, it’s much more lighting-heavy than it was before. And we’re still currently in the process of designing the live show; it will be an even more massive set.
I’ve seen the light plot for The Voice. How many automated fixtures do you use in the plot?
Well, it varies from round to round, but I’d say that between Automated and LEDs we were at about 963.
When you begin a plot for a show, what’s the first thing you think about, equipment-wise, as in, “I need 10 of these, 10 of those,” etc.?
Really, my go-to light has always been the VL3000. It’s a great work horse, a really beautiful light. It’s very well-built, very reliable, very robust. I pretty much at least have one 3K in everything I do.
What kinds of LED fixtures do you use on the show?
We run the gamut — Chauvet came out with this really great little batten [COLORdash Batten TRI ]; it’s got eight cells, and they are individually addressable, so all of a sudden you can sort of put a few of them together and you have a very coarse video wall — you can pixel-map. I saw it and I said, ‘This would look really great.’ It’s bright, and it’s very reliable. We’ve had them out on WipeOut, in conditions that I was sure they would be destroyed in, but for some reason they keep working, and I’m not exactly sure why!” (laughs). They are a cool little light. So we have about 120 of those, a bunch of Color Kinetics products, you know like iColor Coves, ColorBlazes, stuff like that.
Do you think LED fixtures will become more and more integrated into television lighting?
I do. I’m not really worried about how much power a fixture uses, I’m more concerned about the quality of light it outputs. And the thing that I really love about LEDs is the velocity of color change. Before you were relying on mechanisms, but the velocity you get from LEDs, the utter instantaneous color changes, and the additive quality of that light is great. That’s what I’m after. I’m not as concerned about saving power, the power will always be there, it’s about performance. And what it does better than other fixtures is change color really really fast.
So as far as using them as key lights?
Oh, that’s a ways off. The quality of light that you can yield, whether it’s an arc source or coming out of a quartz tungsten source — the LEDs are just not quite there…and it’s not quite there in the sensitivity of the CRI; the CRI is just not there yet. And the quality, the feel of that light is just not there — you cannot replicate, or, at least, I haven’t seen an LED that can replicate the beautiful warmth of how a large Fresnel can wrap around a face and just embrace that face. There’s a certain quality to it that it can’t be reproduced. I can be wrong, but I just haven’t seen it. It’s like fire — it’s the best keylight ever. That’s about as organic as you can get. And it’s difficult to match the beauty of a nice candlelight.
We’ve heard many people say they don’t like LEDs on camera because they flicker. Have you seen this?
Yeah, we’ve encountered that quite a bit. Luckily we’ve never had a problem with any of the Color Kinetics products, they’ve always been quite stable. I just hope that they develop something else. We’re at that point where we’re looking at the end of being able to see the individual color sources — we’ve got to go to a homogenized source. That is the future. [When you’re able to see the individual sources,] it’s like Skittles, when you’re looking at the lamp, and it’s just not attractive on camera. I see it happening, as it’s becoming more prevalent; it’s just a matter of time, before you get a nice homogenized source, an RGBW type.
How challenging is it to white-balance everything when you’re working with so many different color temperatures and sources?
Well, what we’ve done is balancing to a slightly higher color temperature, which brings the white point up to where the arc sources are not quite so arc-y and scary. So we get better reproductions of cyans and blues, and you get a broader palette of color. That’s how we sort of cheat that for these cameras, which always seem to be very hyper-blue sensitive, especially with Sonys. Instead of balancing at the typically 3300, we’ll balance to sometimes 4300 or 5000° K if we’re using a lot of arc sources, to get them closer to that white point, so you can see the subtlety, especially in the cool range.
You mentioned pixel mapping. Do you map video to the Chauvet wall?
What’s your choice of media server?
We use ArKaos and [Green] Hippo [Hippotizer].
Where does your content usually come from? Is it stock content or custom?
Typically it’s stock content, but depending on the show, if they have a particular something that they want, it comes from various houses. They’ll generate some bit of footage, and that’s what they want to see on the screens.
As for your lighting console what do you use?
[MA Lighting] grandMA 2, 100 percent. It’s very cool. I like it because it seems that it’s almost built to military specifications. It’s a tank of a desk. And I have a BMW, and I like German products. So yeah, it’s cool.
Do you do your own programming?
No, we have programmers that we utilize, we use a lot of different people.
Do you use followspots on The Voice?
I do. It varies for each separate part of the show — the Blinds, the Battle, the Live show. It’s like three separate shows. When we did the live show last season we were at 10 followspots, and we’re using [Strong Super Trouper] short throws, and what do we have in the back Mark? [Lycian] M2s. very light.
Tell me what you like about lighting projects like The Voice?
What I have enjoyed is the freedom that we’ve had to craft something that is unique. We’ve been allowed to experiment a bit, with not lighting somebody, or maybe lighting them with just backlighting, or using different colors or blacking everything out, and just using a single light. Producers will sometimes tend to panic a little bit, if they see something that’s a bit too different, but what’s been great about this show is that we’ve been allowed to really sort of push the envelope. NBC has been really, really good about that, they’re a great network to work for. They love it. They like the sort of unique character, and it gives it a bit of rawness, which is different than being too-polished or too over-produced, or too picture-perfect.
When you’re working on a project like this, are lighting looks a collaboration, or what you say goes?
The whole process is a very collaborative thing. We’ll put something together, and not everyone in the booth will like it. They may say this or that, and you compromise. And you say, ‘Well, I did this because of this,’ and they will say whether it’s great or it’s not. But do I wish that whatever I say goes? Sure, that would be great, but that’s not the case. The network needs to be satisfied, and happy with what they see; the production company needs to be happy, and it’d be nice if I’m happy too. And typically I am. (laughs).
Describe your working relationship with Mark Rudge and ID.
I can’t do what I do without ID, and the way that Mark does business. It’s a very symbiotic relationship; it’s very tightly woven, it works like clockwork. What’s great about ID is that I can phone Mark up on Sunday at 3 p.m. and say ‘Hey, I need this,’ and he’s like, ‘Okay, we’ll make it happen.’ He somehow makes it work. And that’s the beauty of it, and that’s what allows us to really deliver.
What are some of the other shows that you have done recently, or are currently working on?
Video Game Awards (VGA), Wipeout, Shark Tank, Fear Factor, 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show, It’s Worth What?
What drew you toward TV lighting as opposed to rock ‘n’ roll, film, or some other genre?
I’m a TV baby, it’s what I do. Multi-camera television is all I’ve done from day one, it’s all I know, it’s what I love. Although all those other genres are beautiful, and I draw inspiration from watching them, TV’s what I do. It’s a very small group of us, we’re sort of like a TV-only crowd — a very, very small crowd of us. There’s not a whole lot of us.
What would you consider your trademark look, something that says, ‘That’s an Oscar design?’
I think, being Latino, I’m sort of into the very heavy use of color. Sometimes I take it a little overboard, but I just love saturation, and I always like to have black in the picture. It’s very important to get light contrast and color contrast. If anything, it’s very dark and saturated.