Tips & Tricks

You Got Served

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There are a few essentials in preparing for a programming session with a digital media server. For instance, the content should be organized ahead of time. Whether the source is the producer of the show or an online content creation company, all the content should be properly formatted according to the server’s recommendations, which means you must get the content from the source well before the day of the show. Specific formatting information for all media servers is readily available online, so definitely consult the manufacturer’s technical support Web site for that particular media server, because all servers have different recommendations for file resolution, file type and codecs. A piece of content optimized for one media server may or may not playback the same on another server, so it’s not worth the risk to let it go unchecked. Not sure how to properly format your content? Many software programs are available in a variety of price ranges that you can use to change formats, including Quicktime Pro, Final Cut Pro and Riverpast, for starters.

– From Vickie Claiborne's Video Digerati column in the February issue of PLSN
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DMX FYI

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In order to fully understand the purpose of patching, you must have a notion of the basics for DMX communication. The automated lighting console outputs 512 distinctive DMX channels per universe of DMX. Each of these channels is capable of 256 unique values between 0 and 255. A DMX-controlled lighting fixture will respond to a pre-assigned number of DMX channels and relate their values to the various parameters of the fixture. For example, a simple fixture might use seven DMX channels to control all its functions, with one channel controlling each parameter (pan, tilt, cyan, magenta, yellow, zoom and dimmer). This mapping is known as the fixture’s DMX protocol. The specific DMX values of each channel relate directly to the associated mechanical function. So a DMX value of 0 on the seventh channel will cause no light output, while a value of 255 will result in full light output.

– From Brad Schiller's Feeding the Machines column in the February issue of PLSN
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Roll Cables to Maximize Space

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For smaller cables like XLR data cables, I teach my cable-rolling helpers to coil in about 7-inch circles using the over/under technique. The technique is better shown than described, but uses a lot of common sense and a bit of Navy seamanship. Generally, you will attempt to get the cable loose from all others and lay it out in somewhat of a straight line. Then, grab one end with your left hand (if you’re right-handed), and with the other hand, grab the cable about 2 feet in front of you. Coil the cable one loop at a time, alternately twisting the cable one way and then the other. With your thumb and fingers, you should make the cable turn as each coil is formed. Alternatively, you can grab the cable with your left hand (if you’re right-handed) and using your right hand, grab the cable a couple of feet in front of you. Then twist your wrist 180º so that the loop goes under the previous loop. Alternate between twisting and not twisting. You will notice that the far end of the cable will not be twisting if this is done correctly, as it prevents looping and tangles.

– From Mark Amundson's Focus on Technology column in the January issue of PLSN
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Double Duty

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We can’t allow the quality of the show to suffer just because technology allows us to achieve certain things. Ultimately, in every case where lighting and video is used in a production, it must be decided how both aspects will be integrated into the show, and then it can be decided whether or not one person should be responsible for wearing both hats, or whether the production as a whole would benefit from dividing the two roles and allowing techs to focus on each aspect individually. There are no easy answers because no two shows are alike. There are programmers who are experienced in video and can easily handle both roles. Those programmers are keenly aware of balancing video and lighting in a show, and therefore, the show will have a cohesive look that is sometimes harder to achieve when you have separate personnel running each aspect of the show. If the communication between the lighting team and video team isn’t well-established, the end result can be disastrous for both aspects.

– From Vickie Claiborne's Video Digerati column in the January issue of PLSN
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Don't Be Like That

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I’ve noticed a downward trend in lighting techs over the last few years. When I was young and new, I was taught to respect the LD and production personnel. I was in awe of these people and wanted to learn by example. I didn’t complain when they ask me to do something, I just did it. I was proud to have people notice me as a guy who could take care of things when asked. When I ask for something to get done, I don’t need a “Yes sir, I’m right on it.” I just want to hear them say, “OK Nook, we’ll get to it as soon as we can.” I earn respect because of a good attitude and I demand my techs maintain one.

– From Nook Schoenfeld's LD-at-Large column in the January issue of PLSN
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Shake It Up

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I know many programmers who carry around a disk loaded with palettes or presets of their favorite color mix combinations. Some of these combinations are made to match gel colors, while others are just favorites. Either way, I often can tell that the shows are programmed by certain people by their color palette. I personally like to take the time to custom-mix colors for each production (unless I have very limited programming time). This way I am creating a different light green that better suits the actual fixture, set, costumes, act, etc. OK, so maybe it is hard to tell the difference between 20% magenta and 25% magenta, but I know that my colors are unique for each production. Just imagine what new shades or hues you might find if you spend 10 minutes and explore the possibilities in the amber range of a fixture. If you can not let go of your standard colors, then at least take the time to see what new colors you can add to your good ol’ palette.

– From Brad Schiller's Feeding the Machines column in the January 2006 issue of PLSN
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Coming Soon to a Living Room Near You

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Now, there is nothing in today’s world that is shot in 1,080 pixels—no cameras that can shoot it, no televisions that can receive it, and for that matter, no bandwidth that can hold it! So how is it that there is a 1,080 progressive scan TV? The signal is up-converted inside the DLP TV and gives the eye the illusion of 1,080-pixel HDTV. And even though I’m sure “real” 1,080-pixel TV would look much more amazing, especially if it was shot with a camera from the future that was capable of capturing the format, what I saw was just fantastic. Every videophile should go see one of these new products, which is made with technology from Texas Instruments. Mitsubishi, Toshiba and a select few other manufacturers market the product. But as with any projection display, once you move off of the center axis, or “sweet spot,” it loses clarity and brightness. I do have to say though, that in that “sweet spot,” its color, contrast and black levels rivaled anything I have seen.

– From Mark Haney's Video Digerati column in the December issue of PLSN
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Depth of (the) Field

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Consider a digital light with an onboard media server such as the DL2. Suddenly we’ve gone to 170 channels per fixture, and each channel has a number of individual functions. All told, there are almost 1,000 individual functions within those 170 channels. That’s a lot of information by any measure. How does that affect me, Joe Lighting Designer? I submit that such complexity in luminaires makes console selection all the more important. Fixture libraries, that ingenious creation of the late second millennium is going to be more important than ever, and those console developers who are extremely careful about creating detailed and accurate fixture libraries are the ones who will be most successful.

– From Richard Cadena's Focus on Technology column in the December issue of PLSN
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Fashionable Lighting

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Next, I had to figure out some key positions to highlight. We all know that models walk to spots on the runway, stop, pirouette and walk away. My client pointed out a half-dozen spots where the models would be doing this. I focused Lekos on these areas. I needed enough white light so that a model could stand out in those positions, despite the fact that there would be strobes, gobos and flashing colors going on all around them. For floor lighting, I wanted something different. Moving lights on the runway would be distracting as well as physically hot. Marquee-style runway lighting with little golf ball lights bore me. So I chose a bright LED fixture housed in a PAR-style body. These lights were the workhorse of the show. They were plain sexy as a color wash, but I had them running every kind of chase available when I needed more eye candy. Besides those, I placed a few wash lights on the stage to silhouette models and fill some dark holes in the set.

– From Nook Schoenfeld's LD-at-Large column in the December issue of PLSN
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Getting Paid

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When the production is complete (or according to your agreed terms), you should submit an invoice to the client. This invoice should include the total amount due and explain any overtime or additional expenses. In addition, the invoice needs to state the payment terms (usually 15 or 30 days). The best advice is to use an accounting program such as Intuit QuickBooks to organize your income, money due, expenses, etc. These programs will help you to create invoices, track payments and generally organize your accounting. If you work with an accountant, you can then provide him with the computer file and he can easily get a full record of your business. Probably the biggest question for freelancers is how to represent themselves. There seems to be many options, and the most popular tend to be: Under the table, self-employed, corporation and limited liability corporation (LLC). Other variations include sole proprietorship, partnerships and temporary employment. Each has their own benefits and limitations, and it is important that you study them all to determine the best choice for you.

– From Brad Schiller's Feeding the Machines column in the December issue of PLSN
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