• 21Mar

    Behind the Scenes of Winter City Snow Glow with JJ Neufeld

    By: Katie Blackburn-Dust
    Category: #BehindtheScenes Blog

    Hi, YXE! Welcome to the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan #BehindtheScenes blog! In this series, we’re hoping to draw you into our process and show you what we do and how we do it. My name is Katie, I’m an intern with SOTS –and I’ll be on a mission to learn with you as we hunt down the how-tos of our festival. Join me on this journey and connect with me on our social media if there is something specific you want to learn about! 

    This month, we’re chatting with our #WinterCitySnowGlow lighting designer JJ Neufeld to get some insight into his process as he imagines, designs, and creates the beautiful installations on the SOTS site this winter. Come along as we dive right into a conversation about how the magic happens! 

    Can you walk us through your process when you’re creating a ‘look’?

    Well, you set your colours that you’re working with and figure out what they’re going to do to get the feeling you want. For example, there’s one that I really like – some lights are kind of blue, and then there is one purple in the distance [that] appears and starts coming towards you and it’s like an old horror movie where [something] starts coming down the hallway towards you – but it’s a nicer feeling [laughs]. If you move the lights too fast, you won’t even see it. [And if you] move it too slow, you won’t catch it. But if you get it just right, you’ll feel like something is really approaching. And that is something I’m always going for. I usually program two or three different speeds and then go out and take a look at them, [see] what looks best, pick that one, and tweak it a little bit. It’s essentially figuring out how to animate these things. 

    We’ve heard you talk a bit about programming something here and then running out into the amphitheatre to take a look at it – can you tell us about that process?

    Yeah! This is probably the joy of almost all artists – when you can kind of secretly watch people observing what you’ve done when they don’t know you’re there – their reactions are honest. Watching kids take in the lights [and] even more so adults! There are a lot of effects that I thought might be too much, but some people see, and it really lights up their eyes! And I go ‘okay!’ and try to learn from that. To watch someone else see it and see what reactions they have, and then I can go back and say ‘oh that they really liked, so I’m going to make sure that happens at least once every five minutes’ sort of thing, or something like that. Yeah, that’s what I really love about that – to be able to see reactions and to ‘tune’ it, as you will. 

    Well, we certainly are loving the effects! When you’re creating these effects, do you have a favourite instrument or piece of equipment you like to use? 

    Oh well, I definitely would say the LEDs and the colour changing [lights]. As you might know, in the ‘olden days’ if you wanted colours, you would have to have one [light] with a bit of green stuff on it, and one [light] with a bit of red stuff on it, one [light] with a bit of blue stuff on it – all three side by side, and you’d have to mix the colours. Now it’s all in one! It’s one thing and you’ve got so much you can shift - you can go from pink to blue, etc. They can also strobe at nearly 2 hertz – nearly two or three times a second. They can be really crisp, or they can be really soft. They don’t move, but they have a lot of character! 

    What is your favourite look that you’ve created in the #WinterCitySnowGlow series that we have or maybe that we haven’t seen yet? Maybe a favourite design or a favourite moment?

    Hmmm, I really like the one bit in the fire where if you’re not by the Contemplation Circle or in the Amphitheatre it just kind of goes dark—and it doesn’t come back up, and you’re like 3 seconds…4 seconds…wait, is it broken? And as you look around you see other things [working] you’re like, ‘oh! Maybe I should go over there!’ I really like the way it just drops out like that. I also like when on the far side of the river you’re looking at it and you can see this sort of pink blob as it moves along the path and you can really see [the blob] clearly. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s all around you, but from a distance I really like seeing things move and going ‘oh yeah, that one actually does look like a storm cloud!’  

    What is your favourite part of the design process in a project like this? 

    Being done [laughs] – no, but really, looking at it when it is done and going oh, that works – that really works! Or sometimes when you find a surprise! Like there are stair lights outside, and they’re just simple white lights that come on - they’re for safety so you can see to walk down the stairs. They’re not supposed to have any character, they’re supposed to go on and off. But! If you can send these relays an on and off signal at just the right frequency - like, .6 seconds on, .6 seconds off - it confuses the relay and they don’t all light up at the same time. They kind of sparkle like they’re malfunctioning – and maybe they are malfunctioning – but it looks cool! So, you build that in. I really like when you find those unexpected sorts of happy accidents. 

    That’s so cool! When your process is complete and people walk through the installation, what do you want them to feel?

    I would say that they are somewhere else, that things are different. Some people have said ‘Hey it’s like being on a movie set,’ and yeah, I’ll take that for sure. Anything that sort of makes [things] a little different. During the Christmas season you get all the colours, but sometimes around February/March you still want those colours! I want them to feel a bit of joy, a bit of wonder! Something whimsical! 

    What would you say to a person who sees the lights and says, ‘oh I want to do that!’ What would be your advice to an aspiring lighting person?

    I’d say to get into microprocessors! Like these things [gestures to equipment in front of him] that when you wave your hand in front of [it], something happens [waves hand in front of a sensor that lights up green] and just has that extra step of not just a switch but waving your hand. Get into that! Also, in the world right now there so many different lights that can change colour and you can program them. Even if you don’t have access to the big stuff like this, there are still lots of toys and even Christmas lights – do your Christmas lights! That’s really it! Take a look at where the lights and shadows fall. Just start looking at lights! 


    There you have it, YXE! A peak into the process of the #WinterCitySnowGlow displays! Remember to check out ‘Welcome to the O’ – an activatable light and sound installation running from 6am – sunrise and sunset – 11pm daily* now through March 16th and share your pictures with us by tagging us on social media and using the #WinterCitySnowGlow. We love to connect with you YXE, and we’ll be back soon with another #BehindtheScenes blog! 

    *Please note that Welcome to the O will not be running on March 13th, but feel free to come down to check out past design, ‘Otherworldly Forest’ as Free Flow Dance Theatre Company rehearses for their upcoming performance on the SOTS site.

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