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Notes On Creating Texture With Beam Shaping

Gobos: Texture And Beam Control

Experienced designers know that color has an immense effect on an audience’s perception but they also use texture and beam shaping to illuminate the stage with light that reinforces setting, enhances dimension, and promotes the production’s theme or mood. New designers may feel that choosing gobos can be a difficult task. Gobo manufacturers design and build large volumes of gobos to address a variety of needs related to stage lighting design. Some productions will call for naturalistic projections while others require abstract patterns or non-descript breakups. Learning where and how to use gobos will increase the impact of your lighting design and helps to improve the overall production value of your shows. In order to get comfortable with the concepts involved in choosing gobos for your theatrical design, here are two common gobo applications.

Naturalistic Projection: Gobos To Mimic Natural Light

Naturalistic projections are in order when a production requires realism. Some of the most common projection applications involve the creation of shadows from foliage in outdoor scenes, projecting window patterns into indoor settings, and projecting scenic elements onto the stage. Designers can manipulate the focus to imply proximity and to adjust the definition of the projection. Shadows near the object casting the shadow tend to be sharper, while objects further from the surface exhibit softer edges. 

Indoor scenes rarely require a leafy gobo, but they often employ window or door patterns. These gobos allow designers to create the effect of external light entering a location. Attention to hanging angle is important as the angle of the projection should be consistent with the intended source and the construction and position of the set. Using a zoom-optic spotlight or having a few lens choices for your lighting fixture will help you to manage the size of the projection. Tighter beam angles create smaller projected images, while wider beam angles allow for larger projections. When image size, projection focus, and keystone angles come together properly, the result is a window shaped pool of illumination that represents light naturally entering the scene.

Abstract Projection: Gobos For Unique Lighting Design

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, Directed by Will Davis. Lighting Design and photo courtesy of: Kate Leahy, www.kateleahydesign.com; Scenic Design: Rowan Doyle; Costume Design: Yao ChenAbstract patterns and breakups are used in a similar fashion as their more naturalistic cousins. Abstract gobo designs have a variety of uses in aerial beam effects, but are more commonly used to create surreal texture or shapes in fantasy stories, dream sequences, or productions requiring out-of-this-world settings. Designers use abstract templates to conjure geometric imagery, create isolation, and to separate the world of the production from the world we know. Breakup patterns can be used in conjunction with abstract or naturalistic gobos. Breakup gobos provide texture and shape to enhance large area washes or to make scenic pieces fit into the production more seamlessly. A leafy breakup projected across a scenic façade will disrupt the viewer’s gaze and can enhance scenic painting applications with subtle variations of intensity and shape.

Frost And Diffusion: Filters For Soft Light

Lighting Designers also know when not to use a gobo. Some scenes will call for soft light, or light that does not cast visible shadows. Frost and Diffusion filters can be applied to the color filter slot in an effort to soften the beam. Frost gently softens edges while diffusion disrupts the directionality of a beam. These tools are very useful when you want to create an effect of reflected light, or a soft glow.


Photo Credit: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, Directed by Will Davis. Lighting Design and photo courtesy of: Kate Leahy. Scenic Design: Rowan Doyle; Costume Design: Yao Chen