Steve Comer, LD for Jackson Browne’s tour earlier this year, discussed the virtues of “lighting the music” and the artist’s all-LED touring rig. “I don’t like flashing-in-your-face lighting. At first, Jackson didn’t want any rotating gobos or strobes. He didn’t want light to be on cue; he wanted it to be music driven. He would tell the spotlight ops to turn them off, as he felt like a train was coming at him. Finally, we just cut spotlights three years ago.” Besides saving energy, Comer can pack more LED fixtures into his restricted eight feet of truck space. “I’m 100 percent LED on tour, although I do use the house front lights. I appreciate LEDs in a different way. Their intensities snap on. LEDs are more functional — you get more punch with LEDs. They have an extensive color palette and color intensity.” Working with an all-LED rig has also changed his perspective on how massive lighting rigs as a whole can be pared down. “I see shows with 200 lights in the rig, and only half of them would be on, and many were not used until the encore,” he says.
—From “Designer Watch” by Debi Moen, PLSN, Dec. 2012
Safety concerns have been brought to the forefront of many designs this year, and for good reason. Things that were once generally accepted as being safe are now being closely monitored. Whether it’s OSHA, a particular state’s commission or a self-appointed safety czar with a website, someone is watching your production. But I have to wonder if these people are looking in all the correct places. Reputable lighting companies have spent a fortune replacing spansets with gakflex. They have updated motor systems to make them comply with the standards outside of America. All these things have a direct effect on your show’s budget, and we must factor them in. Production managers demand fire certificates for soft goods. But do they ask for my motor certificates that authenticate that each winch has passed its yearly physical? Everywhere I hang a rope ladder, I am required to hang a fall arrestor. But every day I watch unprotected video techs climbing the back of their walls to troubleshoot. Last month I watched audio guys climb up the sides of speaker arrays to plug in a cable or put a chain back in a motor bag. These guys are 30 feet in the air with no lifelines attached, but nobody is bitching. Won’t be long until audio engineers have to sacrifice a couple sub bass cabinets on their show to pay for the safety equipment.
—From “LD at Large” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, Dec. 2012
When working alongside a lighting designer, the relationship between the two of you becomes very important. It’s important to keep in mind some secrets that the LD will not tell you. Here are just a few of the 25 listed in the Dec. 2012 issue of PLSN: #1: Don’t assume your LD selected the fixtures in the plot. Many times they are swapped out by the rental company or provided directly by a manufacturer. #4: If something is not going to work (it is not bright enough, missing an important feature, or is in the wrong place), let your LD know as soon as possible. They don’t want to be faced with these sorts of problems once programming has begun. #15: The LD’s deal is the LD’s deal. Do not ask LDs how much they are making for a gig. #19: Except in rare cases, the LD will not let you know how to dress during programming and rehearsals…I once saw a tech come to FOH at a band rehearsal wearing no shirt and no shoes. The LD promptly fired him.
—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Dec. 2012
From the early days of DMX-controlled media servers, something has been missing. Missing, that is, until recently. Two of the more recently launched media servers (the Ai media server from Avolites and the d3 media server from d3 Technologies) take video control into the next generation by adding the missing link: real-time video visualization. Using the media servers’ own Device profiles for projectors, screens and LED fixtures, the entire video and LED “picture” can be created directly on the media server. Once this has been done, cues can be programmed directly on the server and then either triggered via internal timelines or external DMX or timecode triggers. Now, instead of using one server for the media, then feeding the video output of that system into another system for pre-viz programming, everything can all be in one machine. This greatly simplifies the setup, reduces the FOH footprint and has the additional benefit of better performance.
—From “Video Digerati” by Vickie Claiborne, PLSN, Nov. 2012
I was talking with Edward Marks, co-CEO of The Producers Group, a kind of collective-turned-corporation that pools its multiple event technology resources for large-scale projects such as The Crane Dance in Singapore — one of the world’s largest animatronics installations - along with events and installation projects at Hong Kong Disneyland and Six Flags Dubai. He outlined his procurement strategy, which he called the “bulls-eye approach.” It calls for sourcing products such as lighting, video, projection and other staging technologies starting from the center of the bulls-eye, which is always located directly over the project itself. Successive rings around the bulls-eye are breached when they have to go further afield for what they need. When the U.S. was the locus of this kind of large event, this economic Norden bomb sight was dialed in squarely over Orange County and Orlando. Its scope broadened to include Europe a few decades ago, but since then, the center of activity has moved east, as has the center of gravity for manufacturing. This, says Edwards, will be one of the trends for professionals in this business to keep an eye on.
—From “The Biz” by Dan Daley, PLSN, Nov. 2012
Automated lighting manufactures go out of their way to provide us with outstanding fixtures that are packed with hardware and software features. One example includes the ability of color mixing fixtures to automatically cycle through a rainbow of colors. This can provide a quick, easy color chase that is defined by the fixtures themselves and not your lighting console. Another example: the color-based and pixel-based effects added into LED wash lights. Many allow you to select a particular effect and then use another channel (or channels) to modify the effect — perhaps different segments of light, or pixel shapes. Some of these effects will use your base color mixes to apply various type of chases within zones of the light. For instance, if you create three different colors on a unit, you can then have it chase between these colors, or swipe from the center out using each of your colors. It would be a shame to never use some of the tools that their engineers work hard to provide to end-users. Take it upon yourself to read the user manual and DMX protocol for every fixture you are using on your next production. See if there are unknown features for working with color (or other attributes) that you are not aware of. I bet you will find something new.
—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Nov. 2012
Last month, I questioned a vendor on why he still wants to charge me $250 per week for the Vari*Lite VL3000 spot on tour. These fixtures have been workhorses over the years for this company and have been paid off several times over. His reply was simple. “The $250 I charge is not paying for this sexy fixture. That money is applied to all the other facets of this organization to keep it running. It’s paying off those certain lights we bought for designers two years ago that nobody else wants now. It’s paying for all the non-sexy stuff I have to buy to keep you happy.” …Along with different types of gear, there are a lot of expensive, non-sexy items that it takes to put a show together. It takes a crack team of guys in the lighting warehouses to keep gear working. Certain rental houses are notorious for providing multi cables with bad circuits. Or having constant troubles with bad motor cables. Any new guy can be taught to tape cable hods together, but will they care enough to test every XLR cable, twist lock 208 and multi cable going out on a show? Good guys need to be paid accordingly.
—From “LD at Large,” by Nook Schoenfeld, PLSN, Nov. 2012
You might think that LED sources would be more consistent, but the truth is that it is very difficult (and expensive) to get perfectly-matching LED light sources. To keep the pricing affordable, when a lighting fixture manufacturer purchases LEDs, they do not just order 10,000 red LEDs with a particular wavelength. Instead, they order 10,000 red LEDs from a certain “bin. Color calibration systems are designed to ensure that all products coming off the production line will mix to the same set of colors, regardless of the LEDs installed and the binning selection. The downside is that some of the most saturated colors that a given LED fixture might be able to achieve will never be revealed when color calibration is turned on. Because the algorithms are restricting output for the sake of uniformity, they might also be blocking a range of unique wavelengths that might yield a deeper color. This is why it is essential that lighting programmers are aware of fixtures that have calibration features — and that they understand how to turn color calibration on or off.
—From “Feeding the Machines” by Brad Schiller, PLSN, Oct. 2012
Anyone in the business for a number of years knows Phay MacMahon. After all, he’s “Phaymous” — his nickname for the past 32 years or so. As the authority in charge of hiring crew, MacMahon is hard on everyone when it comes to safety. He gives each crew member a detailed job description, outlining every single duty that’s expected of them. And with the recent spate of accidents hitting the headlines, MacMahon has also devised extra safety procedures in the form of accountability. Once production is set up, and before each and every showtime, each crew chief signs a document swearing that they have all inspected their areas. “Each crew chief has to sign off to show that elements of safety have been adopted and enforced,” he says. Although the production manager holds the ultimate responsibility, he says, everyone in the production family has to work together to make the team strong.
—From “Designer Watch” by Debi Moen, PLSN, Oct. 2012
What do you do with 20-year-old fixtures now? Can you even get 10 cents on the dollar, or should you just throw them in a dumpster? Personally, I wish all the gear that’s been paid off three times over went in that bin, because I don’t ever want to see them again…Then there’s the other side of the coin. Marcel Fairbairn’s company, GearSource, out of Florida, specializes in selling quality used gear. Marcel can be a godsend to the companies who have limited budgets. He checks out the gear before it’s on his website. He may even guarantee it, I don’t know. If you need those three-year-old LED fixtures that you know will still get you a lot of miles, you love this time of year. You can make an offer.
—From “New vs. Old Gear,” LD-at-Large, PLSN, Oct. 2012