Tips & Tricks

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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Making It Affordable: Shoji Panels vs. LED Automation

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In terms of video, I like to have panels that can move around and stagger heights for different songs. But renting a motion control system to move LED panels constantly was out of my budget, as were hi-def LED walls themselves. I thought about moving shoji panels, and projecting on them. Shojis are basically panels of rice paper with artistic drawn scenery on them. They’ve been used for years in Asia to separate larger rooms into smaller ones. Now if I combined them into some sort of airwall hanger apparatus, I may be onto something. What I came up with was eight custom Shoji panels measuring 14 by 6 feet (HxW) that hung on a series of traveler tracks. I needed simple travelers with no ropes or motors. A quick call over to Joe at Gallagher Staging solves everything. He quickly manufactures a simple metal piece that consists of five traveler tracks welded together into a single piece, which attaches to a stick of 20-inch truss. Then he rented it to me at an affordable price. Three 20K projectors on the front truss, some media servers and a video tech from PRG Nocturne finished it off. No automation necessary. The touring carp and a light guy would move the panels to various configurations during the show. With minimum practice, I had myself a giant 48-by-14-foot (WxH) video wall, all for $11,000 per week.

—Nook Schoenfeld, from LD-at-Large, PLSN, Feb. 2014

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A Double Jackknife Staging Solution for "The Snow Geese" on Broadway

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“We were all perplexed by the script because it goes so many places so quickly,” noted John Lee Beatty, set designer for The Snow Geese on Broadway. “Dan Sullivan, the director, said we couldn’t do the big outdoor scene where they’re shooting geese in the marsh as a drop or anything like that. He felt that just wasn’t going to work for him, so I started that way. The backstage is very small, so I had to be very quick on my toes to figure out a scenic scheme that could get enough scenery on and off. That’s how I came up with the double jackknife instead of a revolve, because I wanted to have the illusion of an open stage for the shooting scene. I worked backwards in design. It was quite a challenge in that small space.”

—Bryan Reesman, from “Inside Theatre,” PLSN, Jan. 2014

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Pros and Cons of Media Server Edge-Blending

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What I like about using a media server to create the blend instead of using another piece of gear is just that: outputting a signal to another device that processes and divides it means the potential for data loss and/or artifacts that could get introduced along the way. Using a media server in this way won’t always be possible, due to the size and overall scale of the project, but it is something to consider when designing a show. On the other hand, the downside of using a media server for edge blending is that as the media server itself takes on more responsibility for tasks typically reserved for the video production crew, the less likely it may be that the lighting programmer will have enough time to handle all the necessary tasks associated with both roles. For this reason, it’s probably best to have a dedicated media server programmer on these types of shows. That way, both lighting and video will look equally as impressive instead of both looking half as good as they could.

—From “Video Digerati” by Vickie Claiborne, PLSN, Jan. 2014

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The Glitch You See May Be Your Own

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Glitch happens, and it is important to realize that some unexpected results might just be your own fault. Maybe you tracked a timing value that is now causing the lights to move slower than expected.  (The most common programmer based mistakes are due to a lack of understanding of tracking.) You might have even recorded a cue in the wrong list or left out a palette/preset reference.  Often the glitch is of your own making.  These are the easiest to fix, but often the hardest to find.  And although you might be reluctant to explain your fault, you will find that most LDs respect your honesty when you explain that you corrected a mistake that you made.

—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Jan. 2014

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Lose the Lip

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I find myself in a theater in Florida that I have played on a few occasions. It’s a good load-in and the gig is actually a decent venue to play. But as we are driving up to the gig, I hear the production manager bellow, “Let’s just get this one over with.” I ask him why he doesn’t like this particular place. “The gig is just fine, but wait until the stagehands start in with their attitude.” I never recalled this being a problem when I walk in, but as the day goes by I get what the PM said. I’m getting back talk and snappy answers to many of my simple questions. I ask if they have a hole on the side of the stage — I have to run the snake through. I’m met with a snazzy reply. “Of course we have that,” the guy says, adding, “and we will get to it in our own time. We’re not like those crap theaters you guys have been playing, we are pros here. We’ll let you know when the time is right.” I just asked a simple question. I didn’t ask for any lip.

—From “LD-at-Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, Jan. 2014

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Weight Load Monitoring Offers Peace of Mind

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Weight load monitoring might still seem to be a novel concept to some, but not to Dart Rigging, which purchased its first Ron StageMaster (RSM) system from Eilon Engineering in 2005 — the same year the rigging company starting working with tours for Rammstein. Because Rammstein shows have grown in complexity over the years, their most recent shows would typically involve close to 20 truckloads of gear weighing close to 50 tons — and much of it ends up in the air. “We’ve used the RSM product for a long time,” says Dart co-owner Martin Gehring. “It’s a type of insurance and, at the end of the day, it gives peace of mind.

—From “A Rigging Assist for Rammstein” by Larry Beck, PLSN, Dec. 2013

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Using Flames Onstage? Plan Early

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David Leveaux’s new production of Romeo and Juliet starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad exemplifies the trend of Broadway productions becoming genuinely live action versions of Hollywood — in this case, flames onstage are creating the visceral impact. The production features two horizontal battens, each more than 40 feet long, and flame appears along 33 feet. A vertical batten is about 25 feet in height, with flames along 16 feet. The system is fueled by propane…When it comes to dealing with fire, special effects design consultant Jeremy Chernick cites early planning as a crucial element. “The earlier that flame is brought into the design, the more likely that it will work, and in a lot of ways the more savings will be available to the production. If the scenery is already built, then it’s harder to integrate into the set.”

—From “Inside Theatre” by Bryan Reesman, PLSN, Dec. 2013

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Prioritizing Tasks when You’re Under the Gun

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An automated lighting programmer must always be ready for the unexpected. Not every gig starts off with you preparing the show file, getting the time you need, and having everything run as planned. You must understand the time available and the work that is required…A recent corporate gig serves as a case in point. In that case I was helping a friend with an international gig with a very busy schedule. I looked at the required work and prioritized what needed to be done. This knowledge was only available to me due to my past experience with similar events. I made the choice to concentrate on the scenes and to put off programming all the “other” bits until later. I knew what it would take for me to create the operating layout and what I needed to build to cover anything that happened on stage or in the house. When appropriate, I spent the time to build these elements without jeopardizing the most important scenes. This allowed me to be ready when the client wanted to rehearse and not have them waiting for lighting.

—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Dec. 2013

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Football’s Skycam Depends on Human Operators

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Skycam is a high definition camera system that flies in three dimensions above a playing field. The system is computer controlled, driven by cables and powerful winches and, most importantly, operated by a highly skilled team of operators and technicians. The Skycam system took the sports industry by storm around 2001, because it offered a point-of-view never before seen and an opportunity for enhanced game analysis. ESPN was the first to use it for Sunday Night Football, and since that point, its use has grown to other networks and even to other sporting events. The system is operated by up to a nine-man crew, according to Skycam’s Stephen Wharton. “We have a full time five man crew that consists of the pilot, the camera operator, an EIC [Engineer in Charge], an E2 and a rigger. The pilot is responsible for flying the camera above the field. The operator, who you can think of as the gunner in an aircraft, is responsible for pan, tilt, focus and zoom — in other words, he’s the shooter. The EIC is responsible for managing the entire crew, including the E2 and the rigger. We also have an additional four people who are reel watchers.”

—From “Video World” by Paul Berliner, PLSN, Oct. 2013

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