Tips & Tricks

Top 40 Rules of the Road

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Top 40 Rules of the Road

01. Think about what the system needs while you’re in rehearsal–not the day of the first show. We really find no pleasure in shipping tons of cable a thousand miles overnight, unless you’re going to ship your butt back in the same case…

10. In every situation, please try and remember these two somewhat metaphorical tenets for a successful operation; they also work for relationships and other emergencies:

a. Clearly establish and respect your chain of command, lines of communication and plan of attack before you embark on your mission.

b. Secure your base, establish your coordinates and guarantee an escape route. (In other words, figure out the best location for your equipment placement, find the safest and cleanest route for all signal paths, and lay it all down for the most efficient load-out.)

38. These rules are numbered for reference—not priority. Whichever one you screw up first automatically becomes #1. Do not see this as a challenge for how many infractions you can accumulate in the length of the tour. You will not last that long.

40. Be nice, be great, and have fun.

—From “The Official 2013 Edition,” by Bob Higgins. For the other Top 40 Rules of the Road, read the reprinted version of the original 2003 article in PLSN, March 2013, page 44.

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Making the Most of Vectorworks Spotlight

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Event planners may not be aware that a series of commands and interactive objects make it simple to document commercial events, such as business meetings, in a straightforward manner. This functionality includes tracing out and scaling the venue from an imported image or PDF, creating the stage, populating it with video screens and lecterns and creating various seating layouts. This is topped off by an automatic command to create plans, side and front views and a perspective of the entire event. Vectorworks has two-way database worksheets that capture the information from the light plot that is necessary to produce all the standard lighting paperwork documentation that lighting designers need. The software also lets users visit the default content that comes with Vectorworks Spotlight to add interactive versions of the paperwork worksheets as favorites in the Resource Browser. In addition to these functions within the software, users can take advantage of several third-party products, such as pre-visualization tools and interactive lighting paperwork management on top of the onboard paperwork functionality mentioned earlier. Examples include ESP Vision, Lightwright, Cinema 4D and Light Converse.

—From “Focus on Fundamentals” by Nemetschek Vectorworks’ Frank Brault, PLSN, March 2013, page 54.

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Automated Fixtures: Smooth Movement vs. Speed

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Automated lighting fixtures are extremely sophisticated, including movement of pan/tilt or other features. Fixtures and consoles provide a multitude of methods to ensure that these movements are either perfectly smooth or extremely quick… Once programmed into the console, the rate of changing DMX values becomes consistent during a programmed crossfade, and thus the fixture software can better anticipate the changes and move in a very smooth manner… Fixture designers also provide us with tools to change the behavior of the fixture and allow it to move differently. The most common method is to provide a DMX value to “turn off” the smoothing algorithm. Several manufacturers accomplish this by providing a “toggle” within the fixture’s movement timing channel. With a DMX value of 255, for example, the fixture will move smoothly, but not as fast as possible…There is yet another piece of the puzzle involved. Your lighting console will typically use a fixture library (or profile), which defines default values for each and every DMX parameter used by the fixture. If your console defaults the particular movement timing channel to DMX zero, then your fixtures are going to move quickly, but may not be smooth. On the other hand, if the console defaults your timing channel to DMX 255, then the fixture will move smoothly, but not as fast as physically possible. It is essential that you understand the timing channel options and how they are defaulted within your console’s fixture library

—From Brad Schiller, “Feeding the Machines,” PLSN, March 2013

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Top Five Tools for Video Pros

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Recently I posed a question to a group of fellow professionals involved in video production: “What are your top five most valuable video tools (hardware, software or otherwise) that you use for setting up and running a show?” I wasn’t interested in just the laundry list — I also wanted to know “why” a particular tool was indispensable. It’s interesting to see the general consensus, particularly with a group of technicians whose main job is to get the show running as quickly as possible, and solve as many problems as possible backstage. The key is “armed and ready,” plus a healthy dose of experience on the road. You’ll need light, multi-tools, every video adapter known to mankind, your trusty laptop and a smartphone, plenty of documentation — not to mention over-the-counter headache remedies, a comfy chair and a sarcastic sense of humor.

—For the full list of responses, see Paul Berliner’s “Video World,” PLSN, Feb. 2013.

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Under the Gun

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A true professional must be prepared and know how to make the best of situations where there is little or no programming time before an event. For starters, you must ensure that the lights are properly hung, cabled, addressed and powered. For any automated lighting console, you’ll also need to patch the fixtures so that you can select and communicate commands to them. This means that you will need to enter in the fixtures’ DMX start addresses and designate the proper DMX lines to the proper fixtures, and to assign user/channel/fixture numbers to the fixtures, and you’ll need five minutes to ensure that all fixtures are working from their individual controls. After that, if you have any time at all, you should create some basic groups and build six to 10 position palette/presets with all fixtures pointing at the stage, audience, backdrop, drums, singer or podium. Once the doors are open, hopefully you have a few minutes to continue working in blind mode to build palette/presets and throw together some essential playbacks. It is amazing what can be achieved with no pre-programming and just good timing and skills. Above all else, have fun and keep it simple.

—From “Feeding the Machines,” PLSN, Feb. 2013

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Dealing with the Prima Donna

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I try my best to avoid being a prima donna, and I believe I have succeeded in that. The dictionary defines a prima donna as “a vain or undisciplined person who finds it difficult to work under direction or as part of a team.” I think of them as know-it-alls who do not believe anyone is better than them. Of course, they exist everywhere in our business, but thank goodness I do not have to work with many of them, and I downright refuse to hire any of them. (For a few anecdotes on Nook’s run-ins with these loftier-than-thou types, check out the last page of the Feb. 2013 PLSN).

—From “LD-at-Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, Feb. 2013, page 44

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New Fixtures Let Designers Crown a Castle with Regal Looks - Without Haze

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Along with a bevy of Albanian beauties, the 2012 Miss Shqipëria pageant featured Bashtovë Castle, located in Vilë-Bashtovë near the banks of the Shkumbin River. The pageant, noted director/producer Petri Bozo, is “first and foremost a cultural event.” Italian director of photography Franco Ferrari agreed. “The Albanian people are proud of their history, and want to communicate it to the world,” he said. “The decision to hold the event in a different castle every year is a step in this direction.” The 2012 event’s challenges included the need for beams to extend skyward from the castle in the open air, where atmosphere effects would be limited. “Even a light breeze makes them totally useless,” Ferrari noted. Ferrari chose Sharpys and other Clay Paky fixtures from Albania-based ASLV for striking beam effects without haze.

—From “Global News,” PLSN, Jan. 2013

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Visual Support for Elton John Focuses on the Artist and His Piano

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Mark Fisher and Patrick Woodroffe developed the scenic and lighting design for Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano engagement at Caesars Palace Colosseum in Las Vegas to start with an over-the-top design linked to the artist’s penchant for glorious excess, then to focus in on two key elements — the artist and his piano.

“Patrick and I wanted the show to reflect the whole range of his talent.  To me, this meant starting the show by presenting Elton as the Sun King in a stage environment that was more over-the-top than anything in Versailles, richer in symbolism than anything in the great Italian churches, all warped and twisted into the most Baroque distortion I could invent.  The big idea being to strip away the extravagant decorations during the show so that the finale would leave only Elton and his band alone on an empty stage with only the huge Colosseum LED screen for company.” —Mark Fisher

“In many ways, the venue’s screen was as much of a challenge to work into the show as it was a opportunity. It gave enormous scope for the design, of course, but it also meant that we had to be quite certain that what we put up there was the right thing, and that it completely complemented everything else that was going on stage…Everything points to the piano, whether it’s the composition of the arched pieces that draw you to the center of the stage, or the composition of the lighting states that all focus towards center.” —Patrick Woodroffe

—From “Designer Insights” with photos and text by Steve Jennings, PLSN, Jan. 2013

 

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Masking with an IR Camera

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Since an infrared camera measures the variances in heat or heat energy to create an image (called infrared radiation), there are some details to consider when using an IR camera, including distance from camera to target, camera operating temperatures, the temperature of the target and the camera’s accuracy and sensitivity to high and low temperatures. If the distance is 20 feet or less from the target, then most standard lenses will work. If it’s greater than 20 feet, then a telephoto lens will be needed to capture detail. Normal operating temperatures for the camera will be listed on the spec sheets, and they are important to know. These indicate the maximum and minimum temperatures at which the camera can accurately function. And Infrared technology uses variances in temperature to define an image. Therefore, your target must have some difference in temperature to relative to its surroundings. IR technology does have its limitations, including the fact that it tends to work better in darker environments. But with a little experimenting and creative thinking, it can be used in typical performances with moderate levels of stage light as well.

—From “Video Digerati” by Vickie Claiborne, PLSN, Jan. 2013

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Corporate AV Focus Turns to New Technologies

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Last November, Kelso & Co., the holding company for PSAV, which provides AV and related services to more than 800 hotels in the U.S. and elsewhere, acquired Swank Audio Visuals, which supplied similar services to another 375 hotels in the U.S. The combined new company, known as PSAV, has revenues estimated near $1 billion and contracts in place with about 1,200 hotels…I asked Steve Dumond, who was divisional sales manager at Swank AV and retains that title for new PSAV, how the company will approach this tenuously resurgent market. He says that it will be a combination of customer service and technology. New platforms will be getting additional investment, particularly video mapping, which Dumond says is going to replace the conventional pipe-and-drape stage for events and trade shows. Using software systems like Red Hen and coolux, and applying new stage technologies like Atomic Design’s modular Pillows and Wafers will achieve what he says has to be the equation for success emerging from recession. Corporate customers, he says, are asking for “something new, something cutting edge, something that they can use to differentiate themselves, but they also want cost-effectiveness. To deliver that, we need to invest in and rely on new technologies.”

—From “The Biz” by Dan Daley, PLSN, Jan. 2013


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