Mack McLaughlin, Owner and Creative Director of FX Design in Ocoee, FL talks about best practices for news sets, trends and LED lighting conversion. FX just celebrated 25 years in the business and has a long history in broadcasting and beyond for creativity, customer service and design. Here is a Q&A that we conducted with Mack, which is a great tutorial for anyone looking to improve the quality of their news set.
Q: Europe is sometimes ahead of America in certain trends. What are the set trends that you see from around the world?
A: Typically lighter and brighter, less wood and natural materials. Also, they are very early adopters of Big Technology and Digital/Virtual Scenery. They don’t, however, seem as concerned with the “Realness” of the setting for News Delivery.
Q: It seems that more stations are cutting studio crews and then lighting suffers. What are some lighting “must-do’s” that should never be skipped?
A: Check for lamp burnouts daily, check focus weekly, and do a complete touch-up 2 – 4 times per year depending on the number of incandescent fixtures in the package. If you can convert to an LED / Fluorescent combo package, it will reduce maintenance and lamp costs considerably and keep things looking good with much less upkeep.
Q: FX is one of the few scenic designers that has its own shop and full construction crew. What is the advantage of that?
A: The Designers are literally 5 feet from the shop floor, so they are able to walk the shop floor and fix issues before they become major problems. We also have weekly meetings with Designers, Project Managers, Account Managers and Shop Managers to go over every project and also brainstorm new ideas / concepts. We are trying to build some more “Creative” downtime in the designer’s schedule so they can spend time creating new materials for our CNC (computer controlled router table) and Vaccuform (custom plastic forms) machines. And ultimately when something goes wrong, there is no finger pointing between separate companies looking to duck the issue. If it’s our mistake, and we own it and fix it.
Q: If you could have a station do one thing every week to enhance the set, anchors and overall newscast, what would it be?
A: Keep it clean, both from dust and fingerprints but also the clutter of papers and post its. This is why we supply every station with a Set Care Kit with cleaning supplies and touch-up kits. BTW it comes with FREE Lifetime (of the set) Refills.
Q: You have recently done some research with Magid that has important information. What did you discover about audiences and virtual sets?
A: Our number one question based on conversations with News Directors was “would the audience see them as too fake and ultimately believe and trust the Anchors reporting from them?” Our research found that when the designs were well done and rendered in True 3-D, the answer was a resounding YES. This holds true for both 3-D Digital as well as Virtual.
Q: What is a 3D Digital set and how do viewers react?
A: 3-D Digital is our own term for a set that has been drawn in 3-D Software and rendered at a high resolution, typically much higher resolution than virtual can currently produce. The one limitation is the cameras cannot move during a shot, but you can set up multiple cameras and shots on a 3-D Digital set. The beauty is there is no additional equipment costs and your designs are no longer limited by budget or reality . . . just your imagination.
Q: Why does it help for lighting designers to have a theatrical background?
A: I am probably biased here as my Degree is in Theater, but I think we add a little extra Drama to the lighting package in terms of color and contrast.
It is also equally important to light the scenic elements and balance between Backgrounds, Monitors and Anchors, I’ve seen many Lighting Designers only light the Anchors and not provide much lighting for the scenic elements.
Q: What do you think about the flat lighting that so many stations in cost cutting moves have undertaken?
A: Personally I don’t like it, especially now with HDTV. Flat lighting combined with the new HD cameras tends to flatten everything out and make the anchors look like they are plastered right onto the scenery. You need hard lighting to sculpt them and separate them from the scenery, similar to lighting for Dance.
Q: Is the future of LED studio lighting here?
A: I believe it is. There are a few Lighting Manufacturers that have done it right, they have used the fixture housings that have been the workhorses of the industry for years and found a way to put a single source LED lamp in them to create the same great lighting at a much lower power/heat rating. This makes it much easier for Designers to work with the same plots and lighting ratios. while giving the studios lower power consumption, HVAC costs and maintenance issues.
Q: You’ve been in business a long time Mack. As a business owner, how have you kept FX Design Group relevant and thriving?
A: We are not afraid of Change, we actually thrive on it and seek it out, and that’s why we’ve commissioned two Magid studies over the past 5 years.
We stay ahead of trends and since we also do projects outside of Broadcast, we have a front row seat to see new concepts in Theater, Live Events, Retail, and Architecture, as well as International and National Broadcast studios. Our Designers also have a varied background with degrees from Art School, Commercial Design, Architecture, and Theater and we ask them to collaborate to come up with New and Different concepts. Since we also have Lighting Designers, Technicians, Carpenters, Craftsmen and Craftswomen all in the same place, we are constantly R&D’ing new materials and processes to push ourselves and our clients.
We are also a very collaborative bunch. We ask lots of questions and really try to dig into the brains of the Station Teams, since we want them to be as involved in the Design Process as we are. After all, they will be living in this new design for 5 – 10 years and we want the design to stand the test of time.