Lunar Gala: Examining the show experience

A compilation and log of Lunar Gala 2016: Strain

1. An Introduction

2. Building a Team

3. Theme and Visual Language

4. Designers and Models

5. The Show Experience

6. Management and Budget

7. Show Deliverables

8. Rehearsals

9. Show Day

10. The Experience









Lunar Gala is a student-run organization at Carnegie Mellon University invested in cultivating inter-disciplinary creative talent within the community. Every February, student designers, models, dancers, videographers, motion designers, technicians and a creative team bring their skills together to produce a fashion show.

    I was given the opportunity to work with two other cmu students, Miriam Buchwald and Jibby Ani to direct and produce this show. The task requires the ability to connect all of these disciplines together to create a show. While the show has been done before, each year is done completely differently. The producers of the show create a visual and creative brand and theme that drives the show, and incorporate it in directing and planning the show. The show itself tells a story, and it is up to the producers to push and create that story through these different disciplines. I addressed designing this experience as well as search for the boundaries that can be reached with all of these disciplines.


2. Building a Team

After accepting the role, it was up to us to build a team.  The teams in Lunar Gala are built around specific parts of the show:  Design, Modeling, PR, Entertainment, and Tech.  We restructured the teams to better fit how we worked as producers.  Each team varied in size and had several roles:

The initial board for the 2015-2016 year

The initial board for the 2015-2016 year

executive producer (3)

design director (1)

design coordinators (2, one left)
design intern (1, became coordinator)

modeling director (1, but left to design)
modeling coordinators (3, one left but was replaced)

PR & Marketing: 
PR & Marketing Director (1)
Maketing Coordinator (1)
Social Media Coordinator (1)
Blog Coordinator (1, left due to commitment)
PR Photographer (2)
PR Intern (1)
Treasurer/Secretary (1)
Creative Liason (1, left due to commitment)

Director (1, chose to become coordinator after)
Print/Branding Coordinator (1)
Visual Designers (3)
Digital Coordinator (1)
Web Designers (2)
Video Coordinator (1)
Motion Designer (1)
Videographer (2, one left for a semester off)
Creative photographer (1)

Internal Relations:
Internal Relations Director (1)
Internal Relations Coordinator (1)

Technical Director (1)

Entertainment Director (1)

While several members left the board due to the amount of work involved, the board shifted and members took on multiple roles and ultimately we were able to put on a successful show.  Over the course of the year, we realized the lessening importance of the "Director" role for each team.  Because the coordinators were already responsible for specific tasks, directors seemed to act as a messenger for the producers.  Instead, it seemed to work best for the producers to act as directors for the teams.  The three of us had specific skill sets:  Jibby was heavily involved with Modeling, Miriam was involved with Design, PR, and Creative, and I was primarily involved in Creative, Tech, Entertainment, and PR. As a result, we oversaw the direction of each team.  For next year, we encouraged removing the director positions as well as the intern positions. 

We started off with a board meeting every two weeks, but eventually transitioned to meeting on a team by team basis as needed, as overall board meetings seemed to take up more time than needed.  We established several goals for the year:  To build a strong brand and media presence both at CMU and in Pittsburgh, and to go back to our roots and communicate with alumnae in celebration of the anniversary.


3.  Theme and visual language

Lunar Gala was created in 1996 in celebration of the Lunar New year.  Every year, the show theme is sparked from the Chinese zodiac animal for the year.  More often than not the theme strays from the initial idea, but embodies the spirit of that animal.  For example, the 2015 theme was "Vestige," or the feeling of something left behind, sparked from the practice of goat sacrifice.  The theme for 2013, "Venin" was more explicit, with its ties to snake venom. 


2008: Karma
2007: Vice Versa
2006: X
2005: Time
2004: Alter the Real
1996-2003: Unknown


Previous themes:

    2015: Vestige
    2014: Hypnose
    2013: Venin
2012: Blur
    2011: Melange
    2010: 20-Tension
    2009: Evolve


For our year, we chose the theme: Strain for the year of the Monkey.  This was inspired by our human evolutionary ties to primates.  We started off with ideas of origin, lineage, and mutation.  Ultimately, we settled on the word “Strain,” liking its multiple meanings.  One as a biological strain, or genetic variant, another, the stress and force one puts on an object or self, and finally,  the separation of types of matter to refine something.  Together these three meanings embodied our theme for the show.

Strain is the evolution of a form over time from the application of external forces – pressure, tension, and constriction. Strain is the struggle of an organism to survive. Through the past twenty years of growth, Lunar Gala has strained to evolve beyond the usual, the accepted, the proper, and will continue to do so for years to come.”

Branding plan for the year:   We followed three "brands" throughout the year.  One as the early branding for the twentieth year that embodied the celebration of the anniversary, one as the branding for Lunar Gala: Strain, and finally, the general Lunar Gala Brand that illustrates the personality of the organization.  


About the Lunar Gala Brand:  The Lunar Gala Brand was developed in 2012 by Jiwon Choi as part of Venin.  While it was intended to stand for the one year, it has since then become known as the logo for the organizationacross campus.  It establishes a feeling of professionalism and establishes a relative distance from the audience.  The basic Lunar Gala brand uses the typefaces DIN and Edition.  Edition is used primarily for the "LG", while DIN is used in all text.   It is extremely industrial and engineered, furthering the more sterile generic branding. 


The 20th Anniversary Branding:  For the 20th year anniversary, we chose to continue using the Lunar Gala logo and incorporate it more as part of a celebration of the twentieth year.  We used patterns and colors to encourage a more friendly appearance, while still incorporating the feel of mystery that Lunar Gala embodies.  This branding was primarily used at the beginning of the school year, as a way to welcome the 20th year.  We incorporated it into the promotional videos created as well by using muted color filters on our videos.  In the past, Lunar Gala videos have strictly been in black and white. 

Promotional video using the 20th year branding:


Strain:  The Strain branding was the most important and most developed, as it was the theme for the 2016 show.  This branding was incorporated into promotional videos, videos in the show, posters, social media photos, magazines, tickets, and more.  This branding continued the use of DIN for consistency with the LG brand, but brought in GT Cinetype as a structured typeface for the brand. 

We wanted to explore images that we could make on our own, but would embrace both the synthetic and the natural parts of the lunar gala brand and the theme.  To do so, we experimented with natural products at a small scale, filming liquids and materials interacting with each other.  We used materials like milk, ink, water, ferrofluid, cornstarch, oil, vinegar, and other substances, playing off the hydrophobic and magnetic properties of the materials.


On top of the images and video we collected and filmed, we created graphics to make the content specific to Lunar Gala: Strain.  This included a lot of iteration on the images, some with graphic shapes, outlines of the elements in images, and play with type.  We chose to stick with a bold, neon color palette to offset the softer nature of the images and video and give a feeling of the unnatural. 

Some iterations:

After months of iteration, we decided on several visual elements to follow, such as blurs, connected lines, and outlines.  We created the logo for Lunar Gala: Strain, and chose outlined graphics of the images connected by lines. For incorporation with the generic branding, we used the blur to give the audience a feeling of straining to read content. 

4. Finding Designers, Dancers, and Models


Aside from the theme of the show, Lunar Gala is of course, a fashion show.  Because the designers and models are made up of students and not just board members, Lunar Gala spent a large amount of time reviewing portfolios, watching models, and auditioning dancers.  A large part was increasing web presence, postering, and recruiting at the Student Activities Fair.   

Models: We first recruited models in order to give designers time to put together portfolios and to give models more time to practice their walks before presenting it to designers.  The model audition process consisted of a simple walk up and down a stage, and a few poses. We filmed each walk, and the modeling, design, and production teams rated each model individually after watching every video.  Models were rated on walking style and posing.  To preserve anonymity, we used numbers rather than names to choose models.  We looked at the top hundred, then hand picked the 40 female and 16 male models for the year.  A total of 267 students auditioned. 

Models attended practices every Monday and Thursday from 10pm-12am from the week after models were decided. 

Designers:  Choosing designers was more difficult due to the more complicated application process. Designers submitted applications that described their themes and inspirations, and included detailed drawings, color swatches, and a final page of all their looks.  Designers designing alone submitted around 8 designs, and designers designing as a group submitted around 10.  Portfolios were judged on consistency, feasibility, appearance, and skill levels of the designers.  The design team interviewed with individual applicants to gauge skill level, see swatches, and get more understanding about the lines, especially if drawings were unclear. 

examples of images from portfolios:

Dancers were picked by the entertainment director with an audition process consisting of a learning a few counts and performing them. 

To introduce the new members, our pro


5.  The show experience

The most important part for producers was the tech setup of the show.  As producers, we really wanted Lunar Gala to be thought of as a fashion show, and not as a student performance.  The organization has already built up a reputation as one of the most professional shows in the Pittsburgh area, and we really wanted to push its reputation as a professional fashion show.  We examined shows in the past to see how shows were perceived as more professional, more effective, or more well done.  Much of what we realized was that the more simple the setup, the better.  The previous year consisted of a complicated stage and colorful lights, that while impressive, didn't highlight the design pieces or artifacts of the show.  Rather the focus was on the production, not the content.  Looking at previous years, many used flashy effects like fog machines, colored, and strobe lights.  We studied more professional fashion shows and examined what made the more successful ones more successful.  

To focus on the content of the show, we created a simple t shaped stage with an LED wall backdrop.  The LED wall enabled quality video behind the runway.  We chose to follow fashion shows that we found successful and found that we were drawn to those with clean, white backdrops, drawing even more attention to the content produced by the designers of the show.  As a result, we chose to envelope the Weigand gym, surrounding as much as we could in order to take away from the idea of being in a gym.  Along those lines, we wanted to immerse the audience, removing any sense of the feeling of being in the gym.  By keeping lighting minimal in the audience and using like primarily only through the screens and white lights on the stage, we were able to draw all focus to the stage.  

However, we still wanted to break up the space.  During a show, the audience is often exhausted with the repetitive nature of shows such as Lunar Gala.  By diverting their attention from the stage every few lines and performances to a video on the screens in the back, we allowed the audience to move their attention around the room, while still directing and commanding their attention.  By giving the audience a break from repetitive content, it can actually make the show much more interesting and hold a better audience.  

In terms of deliverables for the show, we really wanted to go as far as we could without making the show about the content.  In the past, line videos behind the fashion lines were distracting and often irrelevant to the lines themselves.  They were also inconsistent, as two hours of constant video had to be made by many people.  Instead, we chose to write a program that would generate video from the music provided by the designers.  We combined footage of their fabrics and video from our branding photoshoots to create a cohesive backdrop.  

A personal goal for ourselves was also to create a magazine for the show that embodied the simplicity and focus of the show.  We used it as a show program as well.  

6. Management and Budget

While directing the show is a huge part of being a producer, managing the team is an even larger part of being a producer.  Managing the team involves keeping in contact with every team and making sure that all tasks are being done.  However a team of 3 managing a team of over a hundred students often means needing to know every single detail and deadline at any given moment.  It also required a lot of work to be done on our own.  Because many tasks required a knowledge of all teams, the producers needed to take on every role that involved deliverables from all teams.  As a result, we learned to delegate and manage as much as we could. 

At the same time, we also needed to keep up morale and encourage members to contribute.  A production as large as Lunar Gala requires extensive work from all members, and when any small group of members starts to feel less committed, a group mentality begins to form.  To rebuild the morale, we treated Lunar Gala more as the student organization that it should be, rather than the business that it often turns out to be.  We began to incorporate more fun into practices and meetings, adding events like a trash bag fashion show -- aiming to have fun while being productive.  




7. Promotional videos & Show Deliverables

Website & Blog:








Theme videos:
Promo, Opener, Pre-intermission, Act II, and Finale


Line background videos:







The show: