Where is the Indusrty Heading: Interview with Jim Hutchison

In our continuing column called Where is the Industry Heading, we bring you another interview of a professional lighting design, Jim Hutchison with Alive Lighting.  Mr. Hutchison is the Chief Design Consultant and founder of Alive Lighting. Jim has years of experience in the Entertainment Lighting industry, and has years of collegiate teaching experience, helping young designers visualize their careers in design. Jim is also a member of United Scenic Artists of America Local 829.

Click read more to read the entire interview.

In regards to paperwork, how has that changed from when you started to where you are now?

Oh wow.  I’ve always been a bit of a paperwork perfectionist, but I started out with writing with a pencil on a form generated by my undergrad lighting professor, Tim Kupka.  Tim was always very adamant about paperwork being right, error checked, and readable; the man taught me that wasting other people’s time was unacceptable.  At some point in my undergrad education I realized that it was a major pain to redo paperwork every time it needed amending (go figure), and I moved to Excel for paperwork.  Digital error checking and formulas?  How novel!

When I went to USITT for the first time back in the late 90’s I met John McKernon and got introduced to LightWright – I remember hearing angels singing or a beam of light or something like that when I learned how to enter shows into a program that would calculate aspects of the data that I needed specifically calculated.  Funny enough, I still use LightWright now.  I remember how big of a deal it was when LightWright would automate grabbing fixture data from an AutoCAD drawing.  It’s been a long time.  I’ve used AutoCAD and Vectorworks extensively, and I use WYSIWYG in my studio – but for some reason I still use LightWright to generate my paperwork.  There’s something about that extra step that makes me feel closer to the numbers in the plot.  I always felt that way with hand drafting, too.

What are your thoughts on LED’s in general for use within the industry?

I think that LED fixtures have come a long, long way.  I also think they have a long, long way to go.  There are some pretty bright fixtures using LEDs right now, and I haven’t seen the [Vari-Lite] VLX yet, but as soon as HID output is matched, there will be no reason not to use LEDs.  Some of the LED colors are amazing – the congo and deep lavendar LED colors are so precise with regard to wavelength that it leaves my eye feeling so used and confused, and I love it.  I am excited for new technology, especially when OLEDs are mastered for video.

What challenges do you face with the ever changing console architecture?

I think that it’s really a complex slope.  I’ve never been someone who couldn’t figure out a console in an afternoon, but it takes long stretches of time to *really* get to know the ins and outs of a console.  For instance, ETC’s Express was, with the exception of a few updates here and there, the same for a long time.  So was the Hog OS, so was Avolites, etc.  We had a really long time to spend with a console, learn what it likes and what kills it, and figure out eleventy different ways to perform each function.  I am all for advancement and change in technology, don’t get me wrong.  The new desks that are out are pretty great, and that’s how I think they should be.  The challenge comes when you need to keep up with emergent control technology to paint new pictures, per se.  You will probably learn something about yourself as a designer as you learn new console functions.

Does 3D rendering provide a reliable method for developing a concept while designing out a production?

It certainly doesn’t hurt!  It’s the best way for me at least to sit in the dark in a venue and program or experiment to create new ideas without sitting in the dark in a venue and spending client money.  WYSIWYG has been one of the biggest confidence boosters in my design career because it has given me the ability to try out new stuff without the consequence of time and money.  I can still nickel and dime channel percentages in a cue in the virtual world just like I can in reality, too!  A two percent change? Oh yes!

Do you feel that projection media is a form of lighting or should it be considered a separate field?

Completely separate, but that’s my opinion.  You can certainly do both of course, but I think it deserves its own entity.  Well done projections are a thing of beauty and magic; I try hard to keep the audience interested in my lighting design work by not letting their retinas get tired, and often that is an art of texture and intensity.  With projection work you have the ability to add a completely unpredictable fourth dimension for your viewer, both on stage and in architectural lighting.  I highly respect the field.  Something that I have been venturing into as of late is video jockey art – there are some very talented people working as video projection artists, VJs, and video installation artists.

Looking back at a past production, how would you change it with some of the latest technology out on the market today?

I bet we can all come up with a million examples of that scenario – if I were to think generally, I would say intensity technology.  The plasma lamps are really piquing my curiosity lately – and as that technology improves and gets more and more wonderful, we’re going to see new innovations in fixture technology as well.  As the main manufacturers battle it out for the best product, I think we’re going to see some amazing innovations.

What new or upcoming technology has the potential to change the lighting industry?

I think that the biggest innovations are going to come from LED lamps versus HID lamps  Technologies like the plasma column lamps are going to hold their title as brightest and LEDs are going to catch up at some point.  Then the HID sources are going to come up with new ways to be better than LED sources, and vice versa, for a while I bet.  As solid state lighting technology starts to make designers mindful of lumen depreciation and how important it is, we’re also going to see new technologies and innovations emerge.  All of this is revolutionizing technology already – it’s just going to get even more awesome!

What advice can you give to a beginner looking to make it in the industry?

Make sure that you really love light, because it won’t be for the money for a long, long time!

Mostly I would say that you not only need to be awesome the art of being a lighting designer, but you have to know the craft just as much.  You also need to be very mindful of your attitude – all that an entitled attitude in the lighting industry will teach you is how to work in a field other than the lighting industry.  There’s no reason to act like a jerkface at a gig.  Don’t you want to be remembered for being the nice person that got the work done, and was pleasant to deal with?  You certainly don’t want to have the reputation of being the smart mouthed know-it-all kid that had something sarcastic to say for every order you were given, and that no one liked.  Also, have a little respect for the people that you work with and don’t be late.  If the call is at 8am, make sure that at 8am you’re ready to execute the work.  Everyone else had to get out of bed and be on time, too.  Being late means you’re wasting someone else’s money.

Do you have any tech-table rituals or traditions?

I try to have cold water not further than two feet from me at the tech table.  I used to make sure that I had something savory, like Gardettos, at the tech table at all times.  That lead to fatness, so I decided water was good enough.  Peanuts and raisins is an occasional snack if I’m doing an overnighter, and lots of coffee.  However, the older I get the more I notice that my stomach isn’t as iron clad as it used to be!

I don’t know about other people, but Red Bull and energy drinks make me hyper for about 30 minutes and then depress me into a pile, all the while removing my ability to be creative.  I stay away from them.  Try some ginseng in its place – that’s what works for me!

What is your favorite gel color and why?

Too hard to pick!  I seem to change this answer weekly, but this week it’s Lee 201.  Lee 201 just made the most beautiful moonlight on stage that I’ve ever seen.


jim-headshot-miniJim Hutchison is the Chief Design Consultant for Alive Lighting and a member of USA Local 829. Located in Denver, Colorado, Alive Lighting’s Design and Lighting Direction credits extend the gamut of venues and styles across the industry – from Corporate Theatre and Industrial Events to Theatre and Musical Theatre, from broadcast gameshows to concert design and touring productions.

Jim also writes a Lighting and Tech blog called JimOnLight.com.

*All views and thoughts are those of the interviewe and not of iSquint.net