Max Conwell is a lighting designer with long experience in architectural lighting, concerts and entertainment, fashion shows, television and DVD productions.
He works with internationally known artists such as Morrissey, Paul Weller and Manic Street Preachers.
His portfolio also includes fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Ralph Lauren, TV shows: Catchphrase and The Link and major corporate presentations for companies like Audi and HBOS.
From a Morrissey concert to ‘The Link’ quiz show, lighting design and setup are quite complex systems these days, with lots going on.
“The old days of a single light on a fader are kind of gone,” says Max. “We now have so many different control protocols coming out of a lighting desk. There will be potentially two different types of ethernet signal – we run video from lighting desks, also intermediate servers that then feed video systems. I do a lot of quiz shows so there’s a lot of MIDI control of light and video. Even on this show I’m doing at the moment which is fairly straight forward, you still have MIDI from two places merging in.”
The way I work
“We use Vectorworks, which is a kind of an industry standard program for the set-design people as well, so they send set drawings over and I put it straight into connectCAD, ” he continues.
“We produce a connectCAD data plan which shows pretty much what we’re doing in every show. In this way we always have something laid out within the drawing file and people can use
Vectorworks to reference the original file without having to print it out in pdf, and can see exactly how the system was put together.
“The reason why I use connectCAD here is to make it very clear – because when we come back in a year or six months from the show it helps us to see exactly how we laid things out and also helps with preplanning on system design as well. Obviously there’s flow-charting software you could do the same thing with, but with connectCAD we’re producing a data plan which is always in the drawing file so there’s always a good point of reference for the people who have not set up the system before and it just saves a lot of problems and a lot of time.”
What’s the key to successful lighting design?
For Max, successful lighting design is always trying to do something original and different.
“Certainly with music artists it’s to stretch the expectations people have of the artist and create an environment for the audience and for the artist as well. I think this is as important, probably more important these days, to have a good production design. People’s expectations when going to a concert are so much higher than before as far as sound and general quality of the design. It’s a challenge to always try to do something original and different. People do have very high standards and you’ve always got to try raising the bar of expectations, also doing what is right for the artist.
“When on tour, most artists will do a tour of a similar size of venue, so you plan the production around it, ” he advises. “But obviously there are curve balls every day so you play around with the design within the venue and in cases like Morrissey who’ll play a 2,000 capacity then the next day he’ll play an 8,000 capacity you may have to adapt the same system. So it’s always a matter of designing something which is flexible enough and good enough to work in both these venues and that happens with a lot of artists you know.”
Things that help – a design story
“During an architectural job for Under the Bridge, a music venue at Chelsea football club in London where I did the lighting, stage lighting, architectural lighting and video design, there was a lot going on and I was looking for a Mac-based sort of flowing chart software, ” he recalls.
“I wasn’t expecting anything that actually worked within Vectorworks and that was the first time I came across connectCAD – which was a real bonus for me. From a ‘pick-it up and using it straight away’ point of view, it’s pretty intuitive, easy to make device and its easy to link devices. It’s pretty much straight out of the box and obviously beyond there you can put in your own connector types and signal types and expand from there.
“I like it because it’s very simple to use, very quick to get a drawing together even without a huge amount of experience. I enjoy the support and also the fact that it is constantly evolving. Any questions or comments are sorted out straight away from connectCAD’s support team, which also welcomes new ideas. Last year for example, I asked: ‘will you do a jump over feature for connecting devices?’ and the said: ‘yes, like a hop-over command, it’s easy!’ and then in connectCAD 2015 it came in, and it’s one of the little things that make everything a little bit clearer and it’s great!
What’s exciting about being a lighting designer?
“It’s the unexpected, ” he says. “When the phone goes you never know what it will be – it could be a TV show, it could be a film, music tour, you never know. It’s constantly changing. It’s an interesting business to work in and I’m lucky that I like what I do. It’s the unexpected that I like the most I think, although sometimes the unexpected is bad! But for the most part the unexpected is good and that’s what I like about being a lighting designer. ”