Lonnie Juli has decades of experience, including 30 years at CBS News Network, so he knows what’s needed to make a broadcast stand out for all the right reasons. Recently NewscastStudio presented Lonnie with a Broadcast Production Award in the National Lighting Design category for his work on the “CBS Evening News/Face the Nation” studio projects in Washington DC. Litepanels Gemini 2x1s played a key part in the design, and so we caught up with Lonnie to find out more.
Describe your overall approach to Lighting Design.
It’s always important that lighting design captures the essence of time, location and atmosphere. Even in a news studio you try to relate to that, giving a different contrast level for the evening news versus the morning or signifying the home of a network through bolder lighting choices. My approach is very photographic – I see most television lighting as portraiture – and while it’s important to make the anchors feel comfortable, our team’s biggest concern is the viewer experience: ‘what are we saying to the audience’.
Working for a news organisation serious about its journalism, we have a duty to portray a similar credibility in the lighting. This means giving the on-air talent the best possible, believable, and professional look. At the Network we’re fortunate to have set high standards, but of course this means we must continue to work hard to match those standards year after year.
What were the goals for the “CBS Evening News/Face the Nation” project and were there any limitations to overcome?
The overall requirement was for an extremely versatile set with a contemporary, fresh look, where they can shoot from any angle, so we used every inch of studio space. The Creative Director has a very defined design sense and wanted a bright aesthetic which required us to light the floor intricately with many fixtures.
As with any major project, there were plenty of challenges. There was a very low grid. Twelve large video screens on the walls were LED – but the programme still wanted to keep light off them to maintain black blacks. Added to the screens were a video floor, and glossy metal and plexiglass materials used on the set and the news desk. Reflections are a part of everyday life, but the challenge here was because the surfaces give off a specular reflection, the intensity changes as the camera moves: at one angle you might see a dazzling reflection, and from another angle the reflection will disappear. But the challenge is a blast! The correct layout, cueing and instruments (and a great Master Electrician/Programmer) well equipped me to manage it.
How did you achieve those goals within those limitations?
Collaboration is the key: lots of conversations, lots of visits, lots of walk-throughs. Everyone worked around the limitations, and the inevitable occasional surprises. Our aim is to find the issue before it becomes a problem and talk around how to resolve it. It’s important to remember that everyone’s there for the same reason, and we all want the best audience experience.
Technology helps too. One additional limitation was a large ceiling piece in the set design. By talking to the design firm, Jack Morton, we could influence a more open design that allowed us place instruments inside the ceiling. We also added a ring of Litepanels Geminis that could provide a flexible and colour agile base light to the entire studio.
We love the collaboration and the technology; and that these studios are one off. I like to say we’re constantly building unique, fast and powerful race cars… as they are speeding around the track. The same group just did the CBS election studios, once again delivering on spec and of course on time.
What lights did you choose for the project?
We needed a large range of instruments for the project. The only directive was to use color agile lighting so we could change the temperature. In fact, we set at 4,100K because this makes it a little easier to fine tune the LED screens. I try to stay at that level because going to a higher temperature brings out the blue capillaries visible under the surface in some skin tones.
We chose DeSisti Bi-Color Fresnels and the ubiquitous ETC projector spotlights, but we still needed a magic bullet to get past the limitations of the set and provide base light. We had used Gemini 2x1s previously and a conversation with our programmer revealed that a recent firmware release had made significant improvements to the features and functionality. That enabled us to consider the Gemini, which from every other perspective gave us what we wanted.
As soft lights go, Gemini 2x1s have more output than is fair to expect – an iron fist in a velvet glove. Their linear color tracking gives a consistency that’s hugely important to us. The Gemini RGB control was also key on this project it allowed us to quickly color parts of the set and immediately repurpose them for other scenes and broadcasts. Beyond that, Geminis have a non-quantifiable but perceivable quality to the light that’s different from the competition and was a perfect fit for the lighting design as I conceived it.
What did Gemini allow you to do that you could not have done otherwise?
Geminis allowed me to light the talent, the set, and the visual elements all at once, to help achieve the goal of using every inch of the studio. Because of their form factor they fit seamlessly into a tight grid and they are an instrument with a very polished look, which makes a difference when they come in shot.
Litepanels has also proven to be a very responsive partner. In complex studio projects there will always be last-minute decisions, we’re always pushing the limit. It’s notable that Litepanels can deliver when needed.
What other projects have you been working on?
I’ve just done the CBS election studio, where I used an even larger amount of Gemini 2x1 Softs. Wherever I could use Geminis I did, and it really paid off. In the last few days of rehearsals there was a lot more movement around the set with talent walking on-air, and you could guarantee I’d be calling out the Geminis: I have their [DMX address] numbers memorized! The Gemini 2x1s offer a sweet spot between output and softness. Combined with the high light quality and high build quality, I have found nothing to match them.