Collyns Stenzel, Production Director and Lighting Designer
EDM festivals have taken center stage in the entertainment world, not just for their music, but also because of the dazzling experience created by their light shows. Few of these gems glitter as brightly as Life in Color. Launched in 2006 as “Dayglow,” this multi-city tour, which bills itself as “the world’s largest paint party,” has drawn millions of fans, and international acclaim for its heady mix of superstar performers and stunning visual displays.
Collyns Stenzel has had a big hand in making the visual part of this winning formula work. In April 2010, Stenzel was the production manager at the now-gone Congress Theater in Chicago when what is now Life in Color booked a show there. Stenzel served as the LD for that concert. His work was so impressive that a few months later he was made production director and lighting designer for the tour; neither he nor Life in Color have looked back since.
We caught up with Stenzel on the eve of the Life in Color concert at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium and asked him to share some of his insights into festival lighting. He graciously agreed.
Your designs for Life in Color have won a lot of praise for their originality and nonstop sense of excitement. You almost make it look easy, but we know it isn’t. So what’s the biggest challenge in designing for a festival?
“Everything about a festival design is challenging. But the most challenging part is to create a design that utilizes 100-percent or close to 100-percent of the potential your lights have to offer.”
Control and logistics of the rig at an event like Life in Color must also be a real challenge because you have so much going on; do you program with Ethernet or DMX?
“Advances in technology have made this job much easier than it was back in the day. I use the grandMA2, which makes programming much more detailed and precise. I export my shows from Vectorworks directly to the MA2. It’s patched and spatially perfect with two macros thanks to Matt Peel. (He wrote the software to make this simple and it’s available for donations at Mattpeel.com) After all of this the technical work is done, the artistic side of my brain takes over and the lighting just flows.
Speaking of your artistic side, your festival designs really make spectacular use of video panels and play them off well against intense beam effects. So, how do you achieve the balance between video and this super bright light?
“I’m using the Chauvet MVP 18 video panels for my Life in Color design. It’s a good thing the MVP 18 panels are bright enough to keep up with the lights. In fact they’re almost too bright to use with large format 1200w movers!
“A key to using videos successfully is to have a good relationship with your VJ. The VJ Max Troyak and I have to have a good working relationship to make it look good. Knowing when to let video take over and when to let lighting take over and who’s going to call the next color combo is all part of our delicate FOH performance. I don’t think that can be taught, it can only be learned through experience.”
When you have a touring festival like Life In Color, do you have the same design for each venue or does it vary from place to place?
“In the beginning we were changing the design every six months. But this past year we have held onto the Rebirth design for almost a year. We’re moving to a new design in the 2014 year. We have been designing the shows to fit on an SL320 mobile stage because that seems to be the most restrictive stage that still fits the show. It’s a great model; some of the most restrictive venues will still be able to hold the rigging plot to match an SL320.
It may be impossible to answer, but can you walk us through how you create a massive design like this?
“Sure I’ll try!”
Ok, so tell us — do you scope out the site first?
“For the site planning portion, yes I’ll need to scout the area, but for the stage portion I just have to know which size stage we are going to be working with.”
Then do you look at whose performing?
“No, not usually.”
Do you get a theme from the producers?
“The beauty of Life in Color is that it’s technically not about who’s on stage performing. It’s more of a whole experience design. It doesn’t matter if we have an act like Afrojack, Calvin Harris or Krewella; it’s always the same design because our paint last videos are designed specifically for the LED wall design. That leaves little room for changes once the design is set in place. For the festivals I simply expand on the design.
We know you used some Chauvet gear on your 2013 Life in Color tour – thank you for that! We hope this gear worked out well for you.
“The MVP panels we used were great all around. I see people at large gigs fussing with little cables and loose clips to install their panels and I just chuckle, because I don’t have these issues with the MVP. The MVP is a solid product, literally; its rigid frame design makes it ideal for literally any application. I believe our record for a 300 MVP panel wall setup is one hour and 20 minutes — and the out was 45 minutes This was the Russian show at the Taj Mahal Atlantic City. I really couldn’t ask for a better design than I get with the MVP.
“The COLORado battens were an after thought to the design, but they fit in nicely. They’re a super bright effect that commands the stage when used. The three zones break it up just enough to do very low res mapping. It was exactly what we were looking for in Life in Color. I’m also a big fan of the Chauvet Legend washes, which have proven to be extremely road worthy.”
So when you begin working on a design for something like Life in Color do you start by looking at which lights you’re going to use?
“I wish we could start with lighting! That would be great! Unfortunately lighting has become an integrated part of the show so everything is plotted at once based on the tour’s theme. The Life in Color Rebirth Tour went through seven revisions before it was ready to tour. In festival designs it isn’t really about any one element whether it’s the lighting or the performers; it’s really all about putting everything together to create the whole experience.”