How Do I Create Great Lighting Effects With Color?

Color is by far my favorite attribute of light.

Whether you’re a professional lighting designer, or just want a great show for your band, church, theater, or other type of performance, color is the most powerful tool you have to shape the mood of a room through light!

Before I get too high up on my soapbox, you can check out my other articles on color basics below, because today we are going to focus on the effects that you can create with color!

What Are The Rules to Using Color in Stage Lighting?

When Should I Use Color on My Stage?

How to Create Great Lighting Effects With Color

Often, I walk down a city street, through a shopping mall or drive past stores and I see some LED lights set to a rainbow fade effect…And I groan!

While the rainbow effect may be what you think of when you think of building effects with color, it’s FAR from the best thing you can do with lighting. And while it has it’s time and place, I can show you how to do better!

So what can you do with color?

When we think about color effects, we generally break them down into the controllable parts of color mixing systems that our lights have.

For LED’s, that Red, Green, and Blue (and sometimes more colors), and for white-sourced fixtures, it’s Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow.

Assuming no mechanical limitations (more on that later), we can snap between colors.

We can fade colors.

We can chase colors around our rig.

We can so some cool pops of color.

And we can do all of these things in various orders, groupings, and shapes – all within our console!

How to Create Color FX in Any Console

Once you’ve got an idea in your head of the effect that you want to create, it’s time to translate that effect into your console’s effects system.

While every lighting console is slightly different, there are pieces of creating effects that will not change, no matter what console you are on – it’s how our lights work!

Your first step is to select all of your fixtures and bring them into your programmer or effects system. In most consoles, the order that you select your fixtures in will be the order that the effect runs in.

In most consoles, the order that you select your fixtures in will be the order that the effect runs in.

Some of the FX curves in Onyx

Next, you want to think about and define the waveform that your effect will run. Most consoles will give you some options like “sine”, “cosine”, “step”, “ramp”, and others.

If you’re not sure exactly what waveform you want to use – don’t worry! Set a rough amount and speed and experiment until you find one that you like!

Once you’ve got that selected, it’s time to define your amount of effect. If you’re going to run your effect as an effects fader, you will define this as the maximum size that you want your effect to be.

If you’re programming your effect to a playback button, this is what you will get when you press go!

Next, you’re going to set your speed. Most consoles now express this in BPM, so you can match it up with the music your are lighting easily. Again, if you are going to have an effects speed fader in your console, this will be your maximum speed.

If you are using CMY mixing fixtures, as the effect gets faster, there will be a point where your lights mechanics simply can’t keep up. You’ll see the amount or size of the effect begin to decrease at that point if you keep going faster.

Last, you get to determine the offset of your effect across your fixtures, and how the effect moves across your fixtures.

Different consoles have a variety of ways to define this, and you may have the ability to mirror your effect, create “blocks” where your effects happen to multiples of fixtures at the same time or run your effect by group order.

The offset and grouping tools are the two places where consoles vary the most – so you’ll want to dive into your specific console to learn how to accomplish your color effect dreams!

Playing Back Effects Live

At the most basic level, we can simply record a full effect with speed and amount to a fader or button and play it back, getting exactly what we programmed.

Today, we’ve got more options than that!

Instead of programming hundreds of different effects at different speeds, amounts, and types, we can use faders (if you have them) to create the looks of hundreds of effects with just a few simple faders.

Just sticking to color, we can record 1 fader that has the speed of our effect, if your console supports it. Done! – Now we can run the effect at any speed we desire, slow or fast!

Next, build a sine-wave effect going from left to right on the blue or cyan color at full size. Put that on a fader as well.

The 3rd thing I want you to try is a red or magenta color effect, but let’s make this one a snap effect, right to left, and at full size on a fader.

Now, experiment with just using 1 of the effect faders. Move your speed up and down and see how it affects the mood of the room. Now, run 1 fader at full, and the other at 25 percent. Switch it up. Change speed. Run them both at 50%.

Congratulations, if you just tried these (4) different combinations of the two effect faders at (4) different speeds, you’ve just created what appears on stage as 16 different effects!

And that was just with color – we didn’t even touch intensity, focus or beam!

While I’m only scratching the surface here, at this point you are ready to go experiment and have fun! Program some lighting effects into your console, and let your creativity wander.

You can create great lighting with fun effects, no matter what console or lights you have!

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