At the crossroads of technical dexterity and artistic ingenuity lies the craft of lighting design. Not only must these designers demonstrate a mastery of their tools, but they must also embrace the ever-changing, innovative ways in which lighting is expressed.

Three-time Emmy Award winner Oscar Dominguez has sparked both stage and screen in his prolific career. His company, Darkfire Lighting Design, is the light behind “The Bachelor,” “Shark Tank,” and “Beat Shazam” among others.

Dominguez has spent the last decade lighting the star-studded singing competition “The Voice,” which is a contender for “Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Series” this Emmy season. Awards Focus spoke with Dominguez about the modern art of lighting and what he sees in the future for Darkfire Lighting Design.

Awards Focus: How did you get into lighting design?

Oscar Dominguez: I was a 10th grade high school dropout and was sort of bumming around. My father ran a little Mexican restaurant in Van Nuys, California. It was frequented by a lot of folks who worked at Valley Production Center, which was a small studio facility in Van Nuys where they would shoot real estate training and small Television productions.

As TV people like to do, they would often frequent my father’s restaurant and enjoy a few cocktails. One night, my father approached them and said, “Hey, my son might like what it is you guys do, could you give him a chance?” They agreed to have me come in the following day. When I went in, I met their resident lighting director and overall boss, Dennis Weiler. I didn’t really have to interview, I was hired to clean floors and lights, things like that. Dennis said I did a nice job and asked me to come in again the next day.

A few months in, one of the electricians didn’t show up for a show, so they handed me a wrench and said, “Here you go. Get up the ladder and hang this light.” I said OK why not, and that’s where it all started. Dennis was my first mentor in the lighting and camera side of the industry, and is still a life long friend, and now the consigliere at Darkfire. I dabbled in photography in junior high school, and I was always interested in that, so I understood lighting.

It wasn’t a foreign concept for me. F-stops, exposure, and things of that nature weren’t that alien either, so as I would watch, and learn the fundamentals from Dennis, it all came to me very quickly. I realized that I liked lighting a lot. I never had great dexterity with my hands so I was never great with musical instruments, at that time I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag, so literary work wasn’t for me either. I realized lighting was the best way for me to express my creativity. Electrician to lighting designer is not a typical path, so I took the long, hard road.

The Darkfire Lighting Design team at the Emmys with Dominguez making his appearance via an iPhone

AF: How do you see your role as a lighting designer? Do you see it as more artistic, technical, or as a mix of both?

Dominguez: It is absolutely a mix of both. You must know about all the tools you are using. You must be able to utilize them. You can be the greatest artist in the world, but if you don’t know what brush to deploy, then how are you going to paint? To create new methods and canvases, you have to use new gear. There are so many innovative ways to go about lighting design, but you must know the function of each tool. Now that we have such advanced technologies, there is a massive amount of tech to use. It very much is both. Very much.

AF: When you first founded Darkfire Lighting Design, did you envision it would be as successful as it is? What are the goals for the future?

Dominguez: I had no idea it would be so successful. I knew that I needed to start a company, I suppose mostly for tax reasons as most of us do. It initially started with just me, but then grew to the team of talented people it is today. So, no, I had no idea. We just wanted to keep lighting. I’d like to see us expanding into different genres, such as architectural, and experiential design. Growing Darkfire into a safe space for designers to come and cohabitate and cross pollinate information would be a great advancement for us.

AF: What additional challenges did you face during this season of The Voice due to COVID-19?

Dominguez: Covid restrictions have made doing a show like this much more challenging from a creative standpoint for many reasons, including restrictions on the amount of personnel that are allowed on the sound stage at any given time. This makes it especially challenging as I unfortunately spend much less time on stage, adding a layer of disconnect between myself and the subject I am trying to light. Another factor is not being able to sit in the control room with the director. I find it more difficult getting a feel for timing certain calls, as I am isolated in a separate space.

AF: You and your team already have a few Emmy wins. What qualities do you and your team bring to the table that have made those wins possible?

Dominguez: If I were to define it in one word, it would be passion. It can be good or bad, but that drives me to do unconventional things.

AF: With the Emmys just around the corner, what would awards recognition for The Voice’s lighting mean to you?

Dominguez: It’s great just to be recognized. I just want the crew to win. This year we have a new member, a phenomenal programmer Tiffany Spicer Keys, and it was her first nomination. I just really want her to be able to get up there on stage and accept the award. She really brought a lot to the table. I want to see them get up there and be happy.

Learn more about Oscar and Darkfire Lighting Design at dfld.com.