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Sebastián Cepeda : The vision of a young Light Designer

sebastian cepeda
sebastian cepeda

Sebastián Cepeda interview by Fabio Garcia – Musician by passion (bass player, as he claims: « … those who play what every song need »), teacher of Technology and Computer, freelance writer of articles related to music production in traditional and digital medias. Continually seeks to improve the sound of your last song. Time flies in his home studio.

Unlike other opportunities, this time I wanted to present the work of a young light designer – even if Sebastian has been working in the world of lighting for 10 years. Following in the footsteps of his father, he found his passion for his work that can also be seen in each of the responses shared in this interview.

Like many colleagues, he started his activity from the bottom, learning from those who worked, up to become a lighting designer of one the most prominent artists of Argentina: Marcela Morelo.
Active forum participant, Sebastian tries to help as much as possible, citing references to tools he knows as solutions to the issues raised.
With great detail and kindness, Sebastian speaks at length on each topic, highlighting his appreciation for the use of current resources at different stages of his work. So readers, let’s take a look and maybe share the vision of a young professional who walk stages, enabling the work of artists to excel in each show. did you start in lighting?
Sebastián Cepeda: I started 10 years ago, thanks to my father. He had always worked in theaters; he was one of the first in my family to enter the world of entertainment. For me it was something totally unknown. Thanks to him I started working at the Auditorium Theatre of San Isidro. The place did not have much lighting equipment; only conventional lights. If a light it was removed from a place, it meant no lighting was there (laughing). I had to work and use a lot of my imagination and employing an analog console NUBAR 24/48 I had to quickly assemble the scenes.
The theater did not have moving heads, in fact, they were totally unknown for me. Diego Britti (theater staff) was the first person to teach me about PAR 1000, lamps, colors; how to create a staging, a climate, and how to represent what the artist is trying to express on stage with lights.
After two years of working in the theater I went to work for a lighting company (Juan Inclan Lighting Company), where I worked as a technical manager. In this company I continued to keep myself updated on the lighting world with its many types of fixtures, equipment, trusses, etc.
Here I met another person who helped me a lot – for me one of the most important in this area – Fernando Benetti (now LD for Axel and other artists). He taught me to understand what the color temperature was. He taught me to design; what colors to use according to staging; how to program, how to operate. I’m very thankful for that as some years ago it was very difficult to find someone willing to teach you something, because there was a lot of competition. There was not – like today – so much information available; there was no software.
The company had a technical repair area where I became interested in finding out why equipment breaks. Being a technician, for me it is essential to know how things work and know how to solve problems in the middle of a show.
Over the years I went on to refine in the use of consoles and shows design. It is a process that takes years. I always say that knowing how to use a console is not the only thing that makes someone an illuminator; it also takes time and effort. How did you start working with Marcela Morelo? Do you work exclusively for her?
Sebastián Cepeda: It was thanks to a sound area colleague (who is, currently, the monitors operator for the band). Anyway, the owner of the company I work for was Marcela’s illuminator for many years, but a few years ago, he had to stop working with her to dedicate more time to the company.
In November 2013 they contacted me as they wanted to try several LDs to see which better suited the style of the band. So this is how I did my first two shows, even with little knowledge of the style of the band; however everything went well and after finishing the show I was asked if I wanted to work on the next show, the next week.
Everyone liked the show. I already had an idea of the band’s musical style, and I could create multiple climates and work hard with shadows and backlighting. Marcela really likes the way I work and from that moment I was hired as her LD.
However, I do not work exclusively for Marcela, and I work for other companies as either LD or Technical Director. I also take over for colleagues when they cannot travel with the artist on tour; I help a lot in technical forums, explaining the use of software or consoles, which has allowed me to be known in the environment. How is the lighting design of Marcela’s current show integrated?
Sebastián Cepeda: It consists of 3 bridges: front, middle and rear, where conventional equipment such as 10 Leko, 80 Par 64 (VNSP), 12 Minibrut, 8 megaflashes are placed. The backlight is composed of 6 mobile CMY 1200, and the medium has another 4. Moreover, the design has two V-shaped diagonals complemented by another two straight sections. It also has 4 totems of approximately 2.5 m, in which I place 12 distributed mobile beams. All structures have a Pair LED to paint the structures (toners), and 2 follow spots (2500). Everything is controlled with two consoles, one for fixed fixtures and the other for mobile luminaires. Ultimately, I added LED tubes windows-shaped and other bars to this design, passing some images on them. Where do you find inspiration to create a new lighting design?
Sebastián Cepeda: I’m very inspired by everyday life. The good thing about this profession is that everything you can imagine you can create as there are no obstacles. I design in my head, I think, I analyze, I search for different ways, drawing on paper and lately I ‘ve started to use WYSIWYG. This software is very useful to me; I can see how the final design will be and also present it to the client or artist and then make it a reality. What is the process to create the lighting design of a new show?
Sebastián Cepeda: The first step is to have an idea; then talk to the artist to speak about what I try to express with lights – lights in a show are everything; with a given climate one can express pain, joy, you can divide the day from the night; lights are the beginning of everything. I try to make the artist feel comfortable on stage. Fortunately, Marcela gives me complete freedoms to create. She listens to me and then gives me her point of view. Honestly, I feel privileged to work with an artist that allows me to create according to my own way and style, something that does not always happen. I also pay close attention to the style of the band, their clothes, the energy dumped onto the stage. I try to draw with lights what the artist wants to represent with every song and with all that, I start to draw and create on stage. Do you use real-time control or do you like to program the show?
Sebastián Cepeda: I use real time really a lot, since I do not like to present the same show everywhere. I am very innovative. In addition, each site has different types and brands of luminaires, different sizes or stages; for that reason the lights and the band are located in different ways, and this allows new ideas to emerge continuously.
I’m not monotonous; I like to create different climates; I’m not used to programming the whole show and then triggering it from a cue list. I want to show my ability in real time. In live situations you feel the adrenaline; you demonstrate your capability. For me, every show is a new challenge. What is the most important stage during the design of a lighting scheme?
Sebastián Cepeda: For me the most important component is imagination; the idea that arises from the first moment. Observing something, using it and trying to make what you imagined real; finding the possible way to translate it into a stage and into a light scheme. I rely a lot on the melody of the songs to create climates. I try to connect with the artists, discover their tastes. And of course, it is also important that the public is satisfied, I’m very involved in that too. What kind of lights do you like working with?
Sebastián Cepeda: I prefer moving lights as they allow me to add a lot more effects that other lights cannot achieve. Anyway, as my basis comes from the theater, I like to work with conventional lights as they give you an extra set to “spice.” I really enjoy working with Par 64, Leko, ACL, Par 36. I’m interested in investigation and working with different conventional lights or the latest technology, and trying to make the show different and not monotonous. I try to show something different in each place. What consoles do you prefer to work with?
Sebastián Cepeda: Generally, I use Avolites consoles. I’ve also worked with SGM consoles, MA Lighting, Jands, among others. Also, since I do not have my own console I have to adapt to the model provided by the company contracted for the show (it is not always the console requested in the rider).
In recent years, Avolites has become very versatile, very easy to use and the software does not change much from one version to the other. With Titan consoles and other technologies, Avolites started at the same level as other well-known brands. They are very practical. At this time, in Argentina, Avolites is one of the most used consoles.
However, one of the best consoles – I think many of my colleagues will agree with me – is MA Lighting due to the many things that the user can achieve with it. Sometimes, for reasons of cost or other issues, we don’t have the privilege of working with this amazing console. Anyway, thanks to the fact that I’ve been touring a long time and I’ve been able to work with all consoles and brands, I think each one has something to offer; one must know how to get the most out each one. How has technology been helping you in your job?
Sebastián Cepeda: It has helped me tremendously. 10 years ago, it was very difficult to learn to use a console or learn about lighting. Today, there are many types of software, 3D simulators of consoles, manuals and online forums where you can discuss with other colleagues, ask and answer questions and learn. Currently it is possible to learn how to use a console directly from your home. LED technology has also helped greatly with respect to the amount of lights and consumption. In short, technology makes our work easier and shows us that nothing is impossible. Do you enjoy design and operation equally?
Sebastián Cepeda: Generally, I enjoy more the design time. I like to sit, think and write down ideas. I think it’s great to create something in my head, and represent it in 3D and finally see it come true on stage; it’s a unique satisfaction.
For me operation is something more personal. It depends on each illuminator; how he/she feels at that time; how the artist and public are, among other factors. Both times can be enjoyed as they give different sensations. In my case, I enjoy design more. I like to create! What are your tasks the day of the show?
Sebastián Cepeda: Mainly, I get to the stage at the agreed time to verify the set requested previously in the rider (because sometimes, for some issues, it is not fully respected), and I try as far to have the luminaires as well located and within range as possible. And, if not, I have to ask the technicians – the best way possible – to adapt the lighting plant as close as possible to the indications in the rider.
Then, I have 4 hours to program and solve the problems that arise, so during show time, everything is gratifying for the public and, of course, for the artist. What aspects have you improved over the years?
Sebastián Cepeda: Above all, the incorporation of new technologies, new knowledge, experience in both design and programming. Today, with so many tools to work with, everything is much more enjoyable.
There is nothing more pleasurable than designing on your couch at home; seeing the layout in 3D before the show; programming it and getting to the venue with everything ready to make a good show, maximizing the light plan. These elements enable to improve and evolve continuously. Do you meet with colleagues? Are there meetings where they and you share experiences?
Sebastián Cepeda: I like being in touch with my colleagues, always treating them in the best way and with the utmost respect. I have also worked as a technician, so I put myself in their position. In the case that any technical issue arises, I can help as much as possible.
Of course there are meetings where experiences are shared, and there are also forums. Forums allow us to acquire knowledge since many users provide information (I am one of them). I like to help and provide the tools that I know are useful, so that everyone can give their personal touch, even though it is the same material. What would you say to a boy / girl who wants to be a light designer/operator?
Sebastián Cepeda: They have to study. Lighting has its theoretical part, despite relying on practice. I could say that this is a beautiful job that allows us to express our artistic side. At the same time, it is not easy; and you have to like getting pleasure from your job. We leave many things aside for this: family, friends, parties. But it’s very satisfying!
I have bern working on lighting for 10 years, and honestly, it is not at all a routine job; every day is a different scenario, new people, new places, traveling, meeting wonderful people.
But we must learn to do many differrnt jobs: technician, illuminator, etc. Also, we must never believe that we are more or less than the others; we are all equal, some with more/less knowledge.
Above all I would say: you can reach high levels if you want to. It takes years, but it is possible. And a very important thing: just because you know how to use a console doesn’t mean that you can become an LD; there are still many things to learn.
We who work in this beautiful and crazy world are enlightened!

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Sebastián can be contacted at [email protected]