Lighting the Locomotives is a Teamwork Triumph at National Railway Museum

The Great Hall at the National Railway Museum at York was the singularly impressive location for the 7th annual ‘Locos in a Different Light’ competition. Sponsored jointly by Ambersphere Solutions and Pulsar Light of Cambridge, the aim is to challenge six teams of students from different colleges across the UK who are studying technical lighting at Further and Higher education levels, to each light one of the iconic locomotives in the Museum’s Great Hall. Each team is given a selection of lighting fixtures, an MA dot2 console and two hours to rig and programme their chosen design.

Even for those not smitten by the sight and smell of these gigantic engines, there can be no doubting the very real challenge of successfully illuminating one of these heaving beasts of yesteryear. With a limited number of fixtures and with some of the locomotives up to sixty metres in length, not to mention being a 3600 canvas to cover, the teams had a real challenge on their hands.

To guide them on their way were Chris West, Ambersphere’s Training & Support Manager and Dave Cowan, International Sales Manager for the Architectural & Entertainment Department at Pulsar. A busy day began with an introductory talk from Chris and Dave. The teams were each allocated a locomotive: this year there were four steam engines ranging from the smaller Aerolite and Pannier Tank to the massive streamlined forms of Duchess of Hamilton and Winston Churchill. From the diesel age is the Western Fusilier and finally the 1st generation Eurostar train. Each team was given a set of lights from Pulsar and Ambersphere that comprised a combination of static architectural LED floodlights, battens and a PowerPix from Pulsar and moving fixtures from Ambersphere: Clay Paky K20 Washes and NandoBeams and MagicDots from Ayrton. There were also a selection of generic lights and a six-way dimmer pack if they wished to use them.

After a generous lunch kindly provided by the National Railway Museum, each team was given a timed tutorial by Chris and Dave, explaining the features of all the fixtures and showing each one in action. Dave was careful to describe the possibilities of each one. Then Chris spent the second stage of the tutorial running through the basics of the MA dot2 console and demonstrating how best to use the board to achieve their planned design.

The rest of the afternoon saw huddled groups of students looking over their allocated locomotive and then scribbling apace as they came up with a design. At 6pm the museum closed to the public and the teams began a frenetic couple of hours putting their ideas into practise watched over by West, Cowan and their accompanying tutors. “We are there to smooth any technical difficulties they may run into,” explains Cowan, “not to make any design suggestions. It is a real privilege to see how the students perform. You often see kit being utilised in a really fresh and innovative fashion as they are not influenced by years of conventional perspective on what to use where.”

“I jumped at the chance to be a part of this,” declares West, “and not simply because these machines present such unique challenge. In a few years some of these students may well be clients looking to invest in hardware or designing for productions that use our fixtures. A few of them have already attended some of the Ambersphere training we offer. Dave and I are part of the judging panel; the criteria include how the designs have reflected each locomotive’s history as well as effective use of their lights with consideration of their audience clearly demonstrated.”

The results proved their adherence to the guidelines and enthusiasm for the competition: Rose Bruford College used their colour choices to highlight the Winston Churchill as the locomotive that carried the great statesman home to Blenheim after his funeral in London. Their gobo was handmade from a drinks can. The University of South Wales had some distro issues with lighting the huge length of the Duchess of Hamilton but used their lights to delicately emphasise the art deco design of the locomotive.

But proving that teamwork was the all round winner of the day, it was a hybrid group of students from York College and Stratford who scooped first prize, using the dot2 to programme a sequence of different lighting scenes on the Pannier Tank engine that starred in the film ‘The Railway Children’.

“Ambersphere Solutions and Pulsar Lights both feel this is a very worthwhile project to be involved in,” concludes West, “And using a combination of the fixtures available from both companies offer the students a real insight into the choices they will have as designers of the future.”

Image Courtesy – Paul Kingston