Eastern Lighting Design, a leading international design firm specializing in broadcast, location and special events lighting, employed nearly 200 versatile, feature-rich Ayrton Diablo luminaires and compact Levante wash lights for Al Jazeera Media Network’s new Studio 5 sets in Doha, Qatar.
Eastern’s work on the project netted NewscastStudio’s Broadcast Production Award for International Lighting Design; the awards honor the best in creative production and technical achievement across news, sports and entertainment. ACT Entertainment is the exclusive distributor of Ayrton lighting in North America.
The extensive project, which marked Al Jazeera’s 25th anniversary rebrand of its Arabic news channel, began with designs for a single set for Studio 5, but the network liked so many of the proposals by Clickspring Design, which frequently collaborates with Eastern, that the job mushroomed to encompass three different sets. “Each space is incredibly different,” reports Eastern’s Vice President of Design, Mick Smith.
The massive Studio 5 serves as a newsroom for the network as well as acts as the primary news studio. Clickspring devised a way to subdivide the space creating two distinct newsroom areas along with three sets that fulfilled the client’s mandate of embracing technology and storytelling.
Eastern’s lighting design for the space features more than 1,200 lighting fixtures of which some 200 are Ayrton fixtures: about three-quarters of them are Diablos and the balance Levantes. “We realized pretty quickly that we needed to try to utilize intelligent lighting fixtures in order to reduce the overall fixture count and have one light be able to have multiple purposes,” explains President and Principal Designer, Matt Gordon. This flexibility enabled unique looks for different dayparts and programming, including shows that haven’t been developed yet.
Primary news reporting Set 1 features a spacious and organic curvilinear design with lighting fixtures that “embrace the natural curvature of the set,” says Smith. “We gravitate to the Ayrton line, whose fixtures give us the right shape and look coupled with exceptional performance and light quality. We collaborated with production and the set designers to stay true to the intended look of the studio and not litter it with fixtures that appear out of place.”
Diablos with white shells are built into lighting positions integrated within the set, such as an elevated curved panel, a suspended central ring and multi-tiered perimeter positions. “Diablos are the workhorse of the design,” Smith reports. “There’s no fixed desk position so the lights act as key lights, back lights and fill. High, wide and sweeping dolly camera shots open and close the shows and some light cues are choreographed to the speed of the camera shot before it lands on the presenter. Steadicam is the predominant moving shot during shows so viewers really see all the technology.”
The Studio 5 layout permits presenters to navigate from Set 1 to Set 2, if desired. Set 2 is a very tall set designed for the network’s “Al Hassad” flagship news and current affairs show. It has a permanent desk, but presenters are free to move about the space to various screens and to conduct interviews. Ayrton fixtures are mounted in a multi-tiered ceiling sculpture, above a huge LED screen and big circular screen, and in set walls and a balcony. Again, the lights form “part of the overall look of the room,” Smith says; most have white shells with a few black shells interspersed.
Set 3 is a combination newsroom and AR studio equipped with a shiny black floor, three tracking curved LED screens and three flanking high-resolution video screens four meters tall. “It’s a super-flexible space which allows them to create what they need without being tied to specific set elements,” notes Smith. “Blocking for multiple programs dictated fluid movement of presenters from position to position in the AR studio and walking from that space into the newsroom. The fixtures, for talent lighting, are exclusively Levantes and Diablos with some lighting appearing as set décor.”
Smith explains that the newsroom ceiling has brown linear wooden slats into which the Ayrton fixtures are neatly integrated. “We took the slat color of the wood to Ayrton and they created an entire rig of brown moving lights for us. We were able to give a color swatch to Ayrton and they’d create a shell to match.”
He also notes that quiet running was a big consideration in selecting the Ayrton fixtures for Studio 5. “After the demos we knew the light quality and appearance would work, but we had to make sure about the noise factor,” says Smith. “The Ayrtons’ dB rating and ability to be put into super-quiet mode were key. With the hard finishes of a lot of the set pieces and the floors, you can get into big trouble fast if the fixtures are not quiet.”
Gordon cites the “monumental scope and size of this project – the total amount of fixtures used – and the even bigger challenge of the hard deadline of the November 1, 2021 25th anniversary of the network. Seven of us were on site with a local team for more than 50 days, and most of those were 12-14 hour days – some were 20 hours with rehearsals and pilots. The Ayrton fixtures were some of the first to arrive on the property while we were still pivoting and reacting to other supply chain issues.”
Smith reports that, “the fixtures will get a lot of use – this is a 24-hour news network. The lights never turn off, which is impressive and worrisome at the same time!” He notes that, “I had not used these Ayrton fixtures before, but ACT Entertainment was great in turning me on to these products. Aaron Hubbard set me up with demos and was instrumental in getting real-time feedback with the manufacturer and the custom colors we needed. The resources of ACT were a tremendous asset to me on this project.”