Lets talk about Gobos!

Historically Gobos have been used in theatre for decades and are now widely used by everyone from lighting designer, wedding DJ’s to FSTE 500 companies for branding, decoration, creating atmosphere, the list goes on and on. As 2015 is the International Year of Light I think we need to talk about gobos.

Custom Gobos Produced for ÅF Lighting Showing Finished Roundabout Project. Credit: Projected Image.

Custom Gobos Produced for ÅF Lighting Showing Finished Roundabout Project. Credit: Projected Image.

Typically Gobos are manufactured for events, shows and venues big or small. These can be anything from weddings, trade shows, corporate parties, and product launches to the theatre stage, like West End production such as Wicked or smaller community theatre with tight budgets.

However we are continuing to see Gobos being used in more unusual interesting and creative projects around the world.

Being based in the North East of England, the birthplace of Joseph Swan the inventor of the light bulb, it is apt that I work with light and lighting designers.

Joseph Swan is most famous for inventing the light bulb but began his career as a chemist working with ‘wet plate’ photographic processes. His work included carbon printing and eventually inventing a ‘dry plate’ process, which revolutionized the industry. Before Swan began on his journey to set the world alight, he took out over 70 patents in the field of photography.

Swan worked with filaments and developed the technology to successfully present his invention to the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society in 1879, this then became the first public building in the world to have electrical lighting.

Custom Design Light Bulb Gobo. Credit: Projected Image.

Custom Design Light Bulb Gobo. Credit: Projected Image.

By 1881 Swan’s lighting was first used in the Savoy Theatre and by 1933 stage lighting had began to use the ellipsoidal reflector spotlight (ERS). The ERS was built with slots for filters, shutters and objects to cast shapes or block off parts of the stage. These shutters eventually took the name Gobo, when stage managers called for the spot to “Go Blackout” (the common definition is now “GOes Before Optic”) and a shutter would be dropped down in front of the beam. After time stagehands experimented with cutting shapes in the shutters to create texture, shapes and depth and the lighting designer was born.

Gobos are an affordable, reliable, technology that have stood the test of time but as times have changed, so have the processes that go into making them and how lighting designers, venue staff and DJ’s are creating magic with light.

Increasingly, Gobos are being manufactured for new and inventive projects. As lighting equipment gets smaller and more robust we have found these are being used in all manner of places and situations.

We recently produced a gobo to display the resting place of Richard III skeleton in a new exhibition in Leicester, UK. The skeleton was found underneath a car park which was being excavated by a developer (much to his annoyance I would think), obviously the development was stopped and the remains removed, examined and placed in a museum.

However the car park was now of historical importance and the sight has become a tourist attraction. Rather than putting in a fake skeleton back in the ground the team decided to projector the image using one of our gobos. The Gobo was custom made and sized, this effect not only replicate the exact resting position of the dead king but illuminated this installation, which happened to be almos two meter under.

Image from the Gobo used at the Richard III display. Credit: Projected Image.

Image from the Gobo used at the Richard III display. Credit: Projected Image.

Another project we were involved in was with Lighting design by ÅF Lighting in Denmark, who wanted to light urban settings, turning normal everyday architectural features into works of art. The project brief was to create a visual link to the maritime history of Ishøj (Denmark) and the nearby Museum of Modern Art (Arken). The team at ÅF Lighting wanted to reflect the element of water in the surrounding architecture by lighting a roundabout in a petrol station with concentric circles of colour, the aim was to create that feeling and atmosphere of three different water rings.

A G spot Gobo projector would be mounted on the station forecourt roof and angled at the ground. This required some complicated keystoning to make sure the image wasn’t warped and the perspective was correct. One of the concerns was to light the roundabout avoiding glare for drivers and pedestrians, a Gobo was the perfect solution.

We are continuing to see Gobos used in unique ways in lighting design not just on the stage. If Joseph Swan could see the way his invention was being used to make the world more spectacular he would be a proud man.


Ian SpoorsIan Spoors is Marketing Manager at Projected Image. Projected Image was established in 1999 to address the need for a reliable and affordable custom Gobo manufacturer with a fast turnaround and great customer service. We are the UK and Europe’s premier gobo manufacturing company, our high standards of finished products, our dedication to customer service and providing leading edge products has made us a trusted and go to business name in the live event production industry. We supply gobos to a global market, of Theatre shows, Commercial trade shows, company launches, bespoke events, re-branding, Live music shows and intimate weddings.

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