It’s a well-known fact that moving light manufacturers include a set of stock gobos in every unit they make. With that in mind, it’s good to remember that those gobos can be replaced with patterns that fit the need of your design. Between the Rosco and GAM libraries, we’ve got over 2,700 patterns to choose from. Any of the steel designs can be affordably made into moving-light sized glass patterns and the range also includes Rotation Gobos and Colorwaves – both of which were created to be installed into automated fixtures that could rotate and change the focus of the pattern. This Spectrum post focuses on how Declan Randall not only used different gobos in his recent design for “Starlight Express,” but also custom glass gobos to project scenic elements onto the stage.
Using Rosco custom gobos for “Starlight Express” – By Declan Randall
As a lighting designer, texture in light is extremely important to me. In fact, I think I would really struggle to light without gobos and textured light. Gobos, to me, are so much more than simple projected images. Gobos can tell a story, they can support the artistic intent of the performance and they can add layer upon layer of softly textured and coloured light to any scene.
Designing the lighting for an all-new production of Starlight Express in Johannesburg was a great opportunity to use gobos for both texture and story-telling. The production was staged at the Nelson Mandela Theatre in Johannesburg and was directed by Janice Honeyman with scenic design by James MacNamara. One of the key concepts for me right from the start was to use the lighting to help create a sense of motion on stage – the cast were already on wheels (of course) but we wanted to use the lighting to help create the illusion of speed. One of the ways we did this was through the use of a number of dynamic effects using intensity, colour, movement and most importantly – texture. For anyone who has ever been on a train or who has even watched a train go by, you will have noticed how the light effects caused by the trains movement and light through the windows is almost stroboscopic – several flashes of light and dark. I often used break-ups that offered but chunks of light and shadow so that as the cast skated around it would enhance the illusion of motion as they “flashed” in and out of the light. It was important to use gobos that were geometric and symmetrical as we needed the rhythms created to be consistent and repetitive.
We also used gobos to pick up on textures that were reflected in the scenery – for Dinah’s song “U.N.C.O.U.P.L.E.D.” I picked a pattern that mimicked the panels on the flown archway that way used in the number. The “station yard” scenes between musical numbers was also quite heavily textured – we wanted to create an industrial feel and as the stage floor was painted in varying railroad textures, we helped to enhance this feel by layering both soft-edged and hard-edged gobo washes. Simple shifts in focus could quickly change the feel of the space as the story progressed.
The races are a big part of the show – the trains have to race against each other in a series of heats to find the overall winner. Each race is bigger and more spectacular than the last. Right from the first time I saw the set design I knew that I was going to want to create train tracks out of light. These we would use for the races to add a bit of extra sparkle to the race tracks. To this end, I designed a pair of “train track” gobos – one curved and one straight – and we would use these in different configurations to build the race courses that the trains would follow for each race. We had great fun coming up with different ways to “assemble” the tracks for each race. There is also a big crash just at the start of Race Three and the sections of track went flying out into the auditorium.
Rosco made and supplied the custom train track gobos for the show and they worked really well. We used them in Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 spots and they were a real feature and talking point of the show. The precision of the artwork was critical for the effect to work – there were three trains in each race, each in their own track which was only 800mm wide, so by the time you scale that down to a gobo less than 35mm in diameter, it makes for a super tiny and precise etching of the glass.
The title song of the show (“Starlight Express”) is also used three times during the performance, each one growing and becoming more spectacular, both musically and lighting-wise. For these moments, we wanted to transport Rusty (and by the last refrain, the audience) into a magical world of star light. Night-Sky gobos and another custom star field gobos were used extensively for this effect and were added in layer by layer from both the generic profiles as well as our large moving light rig.
The gobos were a huge part of my design for the show and I cannot imagine having to light the show without them. Tunnels, train tracks, art-deco break-ups, and starry starry nights – textures and images that would not have been possible without Rosco gobos.
Starlight Express – Nelson Mandela Theatre, Johannesburg, South Africa 2013
Produced by Bernard Jay, Directed by Janice Honeyman
Lighting by Declan Randall, Design by James MacNamara, Costumes by Sarah Roberts
Declan Randall is a UK-based lighting designer with more than 275 productions to his credit from all genres of the performing arts including musicals, opera and theatre. In South Africa, Declan served as Resident Lighting Designer for the Market Theatre, Black Ties Ensemble and Opera Africa. Since moving to the UK in 2009, Declan has designed regularly for Mid Wales Opera, Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Guildford Shakespeare Company.