Painting Rubens with Light

Creative design practice Painting with Light presented a stunning lighting and video design together with bespoke video content for “Rubens the Musical”, a production of spectacular proportions staged by Historalia on a series of pontoons floating in the moat of the magnificent (old) Westerlo Castle in Belgium.

The magical setting was fitting for the show, which featured Rubens, master painter of the Flemish Baroque movement, as the central character in a unique performance that ran for two and a half weeks, proving so popular that more shows were added.

Painting with Light also supplied the lighting and video control package, including one of their new disguise servers to run the impressive 50-metre-wide canvas that formed a dramatic backdrop to the stage.

Painting the Light

Painting with Light’s Luc Peumans created the lighting design in close collaboration with Paco Mispelters, who also worked as the lighting director on site, while Arthur Claesen worked with set designer Marnik Baert to create the intricate video content, all of it derived from and inspired by Rubens’ original art.

This digital scenery set the atmosphere, scenes and locations underpinning the narrative as well as defining the whole visual aesthetic.

Luc and Paco took the video images of Rubens’ art – known for their colour, sensuality and fluidity – as the starting point for the lighting, together with the direction of Luc Stevens.

A tensile roof was erected to protect the stage from rain, however this didn’t offer up any flying facilities, so all the lighting positions were rigged onto the upstage scaffolding structure supporting the set and video elements, resulting in a heavily backlit show.

The front lighting positions were facilitated by the tent structure covering the audience seating tribune and by a scaffolding tower with a trim of 13 metres.

With such a large stage and performance space, it was essential to have a lot of general lighting, and the principal characters were highlighted by follow spots.

The main moving lights used were Robe, with 16 x BMFL Blades for front lighting and to illuminate a pathway immediately in front of the stage, where some of the action also took place. The Painting with Light team made use of the power and accurate shuttering of these to create precision key lighting looks.

The Blades were complimented with seven BMFL WashBeams, effectively the core back- and sidelight fixtures.

The bulk of the stage and set washing was achieved with 30 Robe Spiider LED wash beam luminaires rigged from the set scaffolding, and these also lit across the stage and the band, who were positioned inside the set.

Twenty-four Robe LEDWash 600s were used to pick out the cast and to augment the band, leaving around 100 x strategically positioned LED PARs to illuminate the set and stage from the front and side footlights positions.

Two follow spots were deployed out front and used to pick up the principals at various times.

Time on site was pressured – and although no-one is complaining about the gloriously sunny and hot summer weather, the lighting department could not realistically work during the day, so programming was completed during a series of overnighters.

Balancing the lighting and video looks and cues and creating sumptuous, animated looks that emphasised a minutiae of detail was a meticulous process undertaken with care and diligence.

As with all Painting with Light projects, the control system of choice was a grandMA2 for lighting, programmed and operated for the run of shows by Painting with Light’s Ivar van Dijk. The console also triggered the video cues stored on the disguise 4×4 pro media server – programmed by Dries Mees – as well as varying the intensity of the LED screen.

All the lighting equipment – and the audio – was supplied by L&L Stage Services and Demon, and the LED screens were from Pixelscreen.

Painting the Set & Video

Arthur Claesen, assisted by Wouter Verhulst, specified the impressive 250 square metres of 10 mm LED screen which made up such a substantial element of the multi-layered set. With the audience seated 30-40 metres away, 10 mm was a good option as super HD was not necessary.

With this huge digital canvas as an integral part of Marnik’s gallery-style set design, the screen layout featured 14 striking columns each 7 metres high by 2 metres wide with a 9-metre-wide by 3.5-metre-high landscape orientated centrepiece LED divided into two.

The full pixel map to which all the content was worked totalled 3552 pixels wide by 672 high, and Arthur optimised all the images in HD to that exact size.

Director Luc Stevens gave him a clear brief once the storyboard was completed, and Arthur then sourced and compiled the content. This was an extraordinary challenge!

Each location in the musical was based on a reference somewhere in Ruben’s work, so when the action took place in a bar – for example – as Rubens specialized in painting altarpieces, portraits, landscapes and mythological or allegorical subjects, Arthur had to use his imagination and improvisational skills …. to imagine what a Rubens-painted drinking place would look like!

As an art school graduate, a painter and prolific visual artist in his own right, Arthur’s training and background were a massive asset to the project!

He is familiar with many famous paintings, so this knowledge was incredibly useful and in fact, he relished the task! “It was absolutely the most challenging and the most enjoyable part of the work” he stated, revealing that the research was painstaking and took him a complete month, with another two weeks for composting images and tweaking.

As a painter, he was able to hit the exact rhythm of the ambience required, although finding high resolution originals of some images was also exacting

Video ran through the entire show apart from a few short moments, so for Painting with Light, being able to deliver the full visual package ensured continuity as well as a coherent and beautifully harmonious visual experience which was a big hit with the producers and the public.

Photos: Elke Briers

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