University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts

Los Angeles, California, USA


The USC School of Cinematic Arts Opened this month thanks to the generous contributions of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas who together donated over $300 million dollars to build this four building complex of classrooms, screening rooms, shops and production studios.

There are four sound stages two for film production and two for digital video production which join the schools other two production centers—the Richard Zemeckis School of Digital Arts and the Johnny Carson Television Center.

Each of the new stages features motorized rigging, Light Palette consoles and C21 dimming including standard 2.4kW , 6kW and 12kW dimmers as well as 2.4kW Sinewave dimmers for use on audio recording stages. Strand Lighting and Forman and Associates have had a long association with USC supplying them with CD80 dimmers and the original Light Palette consoles nearly 30 years ago for the Carson stages, CD80SV and 500 series consoles for the Zemeckis complex and now Light Palette and C21 for the newest facilities. Forman and Associates also supplied the motorized rigging systems and power distribution panels on the project. Dean Dove and Julie Smith’s team managed the project from Dallas.

We went to USC to learn from the staff and administration about the facility.

“To get the full story, we need to start at the beginning,”

said Doug Wellman, Assistant Dean, Facilities and Operations,

“Our head of staging, Herb Hughes, and our local Strand Representative, Harry Forman, were instrumental in the original building of the Robert Zemeckis Center here at USC. In the original build, they did a retrofit conversion of all the dimming systems to a Strand Lighting system and it worked so well that we wanted to have the same dimming in our new sound stages.”
“When we started planning the new complex, we wanted to again work with Forman and Associates for the dimming and controls systems,” added Herb Hughes. “Knowing that they were familiar with us and our existing setup we were able to have all the correct systems in place from the very start.”

With the planning underway, one of the criteria of the controls package chosen was that it had to be future-proof. With the introduction of new technologies, Hughes wanted to make sure that the controls package chosen could adapt as more lighting equipment is acquired by the school over time.

Hughes explained,

“I have been with USC for 15 years and the students here are just beginning to experience lighting and doing artistic work with light. When we set up our control consoles and dimming, we try to set them up for the application of all lighting technologies they will see in the field because while we may not have them now, we most likely will acquire them as some of the older models become obsolete in the rental houses and studios. So when setting up the new sound stages, we had to set them for today’s lighting, even though we may not use it until tomorrow.” “About every six months we get a new bunch of students and we need to be able to show them quickly how to pick a light off the grid, relate that to the dimmer, patch it in, and then set its density,” explained Hughes. “We do a lot of single camera and some multi-camera looks and while we don’t have the opportunity to use a lot of moving lights, with the controls sophistication, it is a great tool to teach them for when they start working in a commercial application.”
“We have both undergraduate and graduate production programs,” added Wellman. “There are typically 600 students between the two and as they progress they find which education path they would like to take. The lighting programs are attached to the Cinematography path which is where they are able to work with the lighting and dimming systems. The Strand Light Palette consoles do exactly what they are supposed to do in that they provide the student with whatever they want, without getting in the way of their creativity. The set-up and operation of the boards is relatively easy which allows them time to focus on how they are getting their lighting looks and working with light itself. So they idea that a board can be both versatile and simple at the same time is a big advantage.”

Now fully complete, the 200,000-square foot Cinematic Arts Complex includes two 2600-square foot studios and two 3200-square foot studios, one of which is designed specifically for multi-camera applications with four HD cameras, built-in seating for 60 people and a separate control room with complete with controls and monitors. And as the students have now begun working and producing, the USC School of Cinematic Arts is once again pleased with their decision to utilize a dimming and controls system from Philips Strand Lighting.

Hughes concluded,

“Of course there are competitive products and manufacturers, and the question did come up of ‘why we wanted a Strand system’. And my answer to this was very simple, pick up the phone and call any studio in Hollywood; Fox, Paramount, Disney, Universal, Studio City, Culver City; and find me one studio that does not have a Strand dimming system. And as for how the students are picking up the Light Palette console, I recently walked into Stage 1 and it seriously felt like I had gone back to Disney. The student production was as well-done as any I had worked on at my 42 years at Disney and the lighting looked great. These are the perfect compliments for any dimming and controls system.”

Forman and Associates is proud of their long association with USC and look forward to many years of working with them in the future.

Project Credit to: Doug Wellman, USC and Herb Hughes, USC