Tips & Tricks

A Little Help From the House Programmer

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This year I’ve opted to spend the summer lighting one offs for my bands. If I want these gigs to go smoothly, I am going to need some cooperation from the house programmers at all these venues. I actually don’t need a programmer as much as I need someone to set up a light board in advance so all the fixture attributes are in the console before I arrive. What helps me is if they have some generic focus positions already in the console along with the usual basic color palettes. This is not much to ask. I can take 150 movers and come up with six focus positions for all of them in one hour. So can most programmers, if they’re good. These programmers are there days before I get there. I may show up on a plane at 11 a.m. and walk into the gig at 1 p.m. for a 3 p.m. sound check and dinner at 6 p.m. I don’t necessarily have that hour to focus and generate color palettes. But I know the local guy did over the last couple days. If not, they should skip the hour lunch that day and work while somebody brings them a sandwich. That’s what pros do.

From “LD at Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, May 2014

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Advanced Planning Helps Newcomers Learn the Ropes

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Hello, my name is Matthew Schiller, Brad’s son, and I have taken over my dad’s column to tell you about my first programming experience. My high school in Austin, Texas put on a production of Miss Saigon, and I was assigned the position of automated lighting programmer for the show. I programmed this show with new LED technology on a board over 15 years old. Throughout the first few runs of the show, multiple issues happened when a light got stuck or came on or went off at the wrong time. This became very frustrating and took hours of reprogramming or tweaking the lights to fix. But in the end, it was all resolved. By the last show, I had become a pro at running my cues with nothing going wrong. Overall, I had a fun experience programming, and I would love to do it again.  I am glad that I took the time to study how to program and practiced with the board prior to the very busy production schedule.  I definitely gained a greater understanding about the position of the automated lighting programmer.

From “Feeding the Machines” by Matthew Schiller, PLSN, April 2014

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China-Sourced LED Panels Backed with More Service, Support

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Paul Motal and the company he founded, Matrix Visual Solutions, are involved in nearly 800 events per year, either as the producer or as the full-service provider of audio-visual gear and expertise through rentals and sales. Motal is an evangelist for customer service. “To build a brand in the U.S., good service is paramount. If you can back the product and you can provide the service to take care of the customer, it builds your brand. The word gets out. That has helped us to grow.” He mentioned two customers who had called the week before speaking with PLSN. Both had high-profile events — one involved an automotive racing event in New Orleans; the other was a hotel opening in Houston. Both needed some guidance to feel as comfortable as they could with the product. So Matrix flew engineers to their locations at no charge. “If you take care of the people, positive word of mouth will come from it. It costs us a little to send out engineers to do on-site service, but no one else does it. It really distinguishes us.”

From “Company 411” by Tim Bradley, PLSN, April 2014

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App Brings Smartphones Into LD's Visual Design

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Cory FitzGerald, production designer for Demi Lovato’s Neon Lights tour, notes that the set, which is based on a “neon-like concept full of Video Blades in smoke colored covers…essentially tubes of single pixel video elements diffused by the plastic covers,” is complemented by a phone app developed by Wham City Lights “to let the audience participate.” The app turns smartphones into handheld lighting effects by flashing color, text and imagery to the music. Songs for the interactive experience are selected in advance, and the resulting effect can be created by the App’s developers or using the App’s online lightshow editor program. When the inaudible ultrasonic Wham Waves signal is made active through the sound system, the Wham Waves can be embedded into the song, click track or played on its own to sync the phones in the audience. Once the Wham Waves are played, every app-enabled phone bursts into color and syncopated flashing with the music.

From “Designer Watch” by Debi Moen, PLSN, April 2014, page 50

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Don’t Blind the Audience

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For years, lighting designers have been matching lumens between the lighting and video elements. The video was always brighter. In the last couple years, much of that has suddenly changed. That’s because we lighting guys now have some powerful weapons in our fight against video dominance. One problem I noticed with the advent of all these new bright lights is that lighting designers have gotten use to focusing lights directly into the crowds’ eyes. In the days of old, this wasn’t so harsh. One could put a gobo in the light beam or soften it up with a diffuser so it wasn’t so blinding. I see shots of people with their hands in front of their face constantly. To me, that’s bad. I can take 40 Sharpys and make amazing “Matrix” style focuses of light beams in an arena. Yet not a single beam will terminate in a spectators face.
—Nook Schoenfeld, from LD-at-Large, PLSN, April 2014


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Understanding Your Console’s Patch Window

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Every lighting programmer should have an understanding of the common types of windows and their uses. One of these is the Patch Window. All automated lighting consoles must provide a method for the programmer to assign DMX addresses and universe assignments to console specific fixture numbers. Typically it is one of the first windows that must be used, as it is required to properly configure the console to communicate with the luminaires. Once the fixtures are patched, this window is rarely used again during the show programming and operation. The patch window will contain various fields including fixture number, fixture type, DMX universe and DMX address. Often, console software provides additional settings per fixture in the patch window. These can include pan/tilt swap or invert, dimming curves, fixture modes and more. Be sure to understand the various parameters that your console provides you access to in the patch window, as they often have ramifications that can affect data throughout your entire show.

From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, March 2014

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Power of the Pen

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When I’m mad about something petty, I think of how to relieve that stress in the best way. Last month, I got back close to $200 worth of rebates and credits by applying myself for no more than five minutes. Last week I rented a car at LAX for three days. The total came out to $119 — not a bad deal for a major city. Upon driving the car that evening, I detected the odor of cigarettes. I could live with it, but I don’t have to. I look at my online reservation confirmation and notice there is a spot where I can leave comments. So I expressed my concern that I was a valued, preferred client, and they gave me a car that stinks. I hate it, and just want to let them know I was upset. Within 24 hours, I receive a nice courtesy apology email along with a $50 voucher for my next rental. When I get home, I found an additional survey they sent me, asking about my rental experience. I filled it out. The next day, I am credited another $30 to the Amex card that I used for the reservation. That’s $80 (two-thirds what I paid) that I get back for using Avis. All I did was use a pen for two minutes.

From “LD-at-Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, March 2014

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Mirrors and Moving Yokes Create “Wall of Light” for Beyoncé Tour

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For Beyonce’s Mrs. Carter Show World Tour, production and lighting designer Roy Bennett noted that, in the initial meeting with the artist, “we came up with the concept that the show would be lighting-based vs. being video-heavy, as in the past. I came up with the idea of making a wall of light that consisted mostly of mirrors on moving yokes (based on the old Vari-Lite VLM) and SGM strobes. The mirrors have two different surfaces. One side is flat, and the other is a faceted convex mirror-ball-type surface. Her show has two different stages. There’s the main stage, and then Beyoncé is flown over the audience and lands at the B-stage, the idea based on allowing her to have a place to perform out in the audience as so many performers like these days. The stage is behind the FOH position [and] has ramps and walkways with VIP audience members enclosed. It’s almost as big as most artists’ main stage. Most of the lighting for the B-stage was floor-based and bounced off of the moving mirrors overhead.”
From “Designer Insights” by Steve Jennings, PLSN, March 2014

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Media Players Good Fit with Big, Complex Events

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WATCHPAX units are solid-state media players designed to work in conjunction with Dataton’s WATCHOUT networked multi-display software. I am impressed with the power and scalability of the product, and I would imagine that these types of standalone media players have a huge advantage over using dedicated display computers in the digital signage and trade show markets. They promise to eliminate the need for computers to be located at display devices along with long runs of video cables between display devices. Operated either in standalone mode or via external control, they can work in tandem with the WATCHOUT system’s unlimited scalability. If you need to add more display devices to your booth or show, simply add another WATCHPAX for each unit.

From “Video Road Test” by Vickie Claiborne, PLSN, Feb. 2014, page 54

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Intensity Adjustments: Absolute vs. Relative

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Intensity adjustment is seen as so very important that many console manufactures include a dedicated intensity wheel on their desks. This wheel is always active for dynamically adjusting intensity anytime a fixture or group of fixtures is selected. Typically, this will be an absolute adjustment, but most consoles also come with a key that can be held when adjusting the intensity wheel. This key will change its behavior to a relative adjustment. With relative adjustment enabled, turning the wheel 10 percent of its range will increase all selected fixtures intensities by 10 percent of their current value. So a fixture with no intensity will not increase, while a fixture with an intensity of 50 percent will increase to 55 percent. Conversely, if you had instead used a traditional absolute adjustment, you would have seen the fixture with no intensity rise to 10 percent and the 50 percent fixture rise to 60 percent.

—Brad Schiller, from “Feeding the Machines," PLSN, Feb. 2014

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