Tips & Tricks

The Starting Point for Video Content

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“I start every project no differently than if I were lighting a show. It’s important to receive the necessary documents like the resolution of the screens and their respective placement onstage prior to doing any work. There’s not a lot I can do if I don’t have this information, and it can take some time to nail down the final specs, as it usually is in budgeting while I’m trying to begin my work. Once I listen to the music, I usually already have a clear idea of what I want to do. Sometimes I may get direction from the artist or creative in production; which is very helpful. Regardless, I then create rough sketches and breakdown the music into a visual narrative. I may also create renderings as a visual aid for myself, the animators and for discussion purposes. I also look closely at the production design to develop looks that complement the set and the overall feel of the show. I then approach the design team and/or artist with my design intent. If all goes well, I then begin producing the content.”

—Michael Zinman, owner of Zinman Co., as interviewed by Vickie Claiborne for PLSN’s “Video Interview,” May 2011

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Adjusting for Missing Color Syndrome

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The human eye (more accurately, the human brain) creates patterns. Add the evolution of the eye to see the full visible spectrum as white, and you end up with a piece of technology that expects to see all three primary colors in its field of vision at all times. A look on stage composed of only two of those colors leads the eye to turn the least saturated into that missing third color. Using only red and blue, the eye desperately searches for green, and will take liberties to turn non-green light green if it has to. The shadow color of a light is perceived to be its complement. Consider a sodium vapor (orange) streetlight. The shadow has a faint tinge of blue or cyan, depending on the exact color of the lamp. Missing color syndrome is the perceptual phenomenon that occurs when one or more lights with more saturated color plays against a less saturated or clear light. The less saturated light takes on the appearance of the shadow color of the more dominant light. Clear, intended as white, playing against L106, appears cyan. A pale tint of cyan, but cyan nonetheless. Using a pale pink (more precisely a minus green) like G108 or G109, the clear looks white again. This minus green is not a perfect white, but it is white in relationship to the red. It is a reference white.

—Lucas Benjaminh Krech, from “Focus on Fundamentals,” PLSN, May 2011

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Resurrecting Caesar, and Deciphering Ancient Software

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The Caesars Forum Shops have two animatronic fountain shows that involve talking statues.  The larger of the shows is rather involved, with water, fire, video effects and more.  They recently decided to update the installation with brand new, brighter fixtures, and I was brought in to handle the change over…I have hand-copied many shows in my time, and there are always errors that can occur.  Some data just does not translate from one fixture type to another; particularly when using an older console.  Most modern consoles have very sophisticated “change type” features that allow programmers to easily and instantly change from one fixture type to another while retaining all data.  Since this console was from the mid-1990s, it did not have such a feature.  After the data copying, I was left with spinning color wheels and invalid rotating gobo information throughout.  When hand-copying, I always leave the original fixtures in the show file so that I can refer back to the original data to see what they were doing compared to the newly cloned fixture.  This proved invaluable, as I was able to easily look back and understand what color or gobo was originally selected.

—Brad Schiller, from “Feeding the Machines,” PLSN, May 2011

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New Moving Light Features Expand Design Possibilities

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What’s revolutionary about the [Clay Paky] Alpha Spot HPE 1500 is its patent-pending Animated Star gobo. This is a new effect that consists of a secondary iris effect that is located about halfway up in the focal point of the lighting instrument so it focuses outside of the normal iris range. When you adjust the focus point of the light beam on this position, the designer gets a circular beam chopping effect, but instead of making the light beam larger and smaller like a normal iris, it seems to break the image apart and collapse it as it shrinks. You can actually feather a gobo pattern to make it look soft around the edges but sharp in the center. The built-in effects the light has for this feature are quite sparkling and add a new dimension to hard-edged fixtures.

—Nook Schoenfeld, from “Road Test,” PLSN, April 2011

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Japan's Disaster and the Lighting Industry Supply Chain

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Japan's earthquake-driven tsunami and the damage to several of the nuclear reactors that provide most of the country's electrical power will have long-term impact on Japan's ability to manufacture and deliver key components for an enormous range of products, including lighting and projection systems... Japan accounts for one-fifth of the world's semiconductor production, including about 40 per cent of the flash memory chips used in everything from smart phones and tablets to computers. Even if shipments of semiconductor parts affected by the quake were disrupted for only two weeks, shortages and their price impact were likely to linger until the third quarter of this year, iSuppli said. Key video and visual systems makers, including Sony, Canon and Toshiba (which supplies about one-third of the world's NAND flash memory chips), all said that short-term manufacturing and supply would be disrupted.

-Dan Daley, "The Biz," PLSN, April 2011

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Just Saying 'Yes' at New York City Center Fall for Dance Festival

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Clifton Taylor, who has "been there" as a guest LD at dance festivals where companies perform in quick succession, has noted the constraints and compromises often imposed on visiting lighting designers. For the Fall for Dance festival at New York City Center, by contrast, "we have done whatever we can to say ‘Yes' and to answer the companies' needs for seven years. We hung some companies' specific light plots. We put up huge sets - like a full trampoline set for Elizabeth Streb in 2004 - and we pulled down these sets during a pause. We put up trapeze rigs; took away all the masking. We want the audience to see the real vision of the companies. So to accomplish this, the light plot is necessarily large. We have nearly 40 moving lights and nearly 60 scrollers on various kinds of units so that we can do a lot of color changing and different focusing. If the moving lights cannot cover what the company needs for special focuses, we hang additional lights wherever they are needed. For instance, this year, for one 10-minute solo by Emanuel Gat, we hang 37 lights. In the past, we rented 10K lights or different kinds of moving lights like Martin 2Ks when somebody needed them for specific reasons. Russell Maliphant Company did a beautiful piece in the festival this year. Lighting for the piece was done with a 20,000-lumen projector hung facing straight down over the stage, and everything else was taken away. The projection was timed to the dancer, who followed the projection. We rented the Catalyst system and the projector for this piece."

-Clifton Taylor, interviewed by Tuce Yasak for "PLSN Interview," April 2011

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Game Shows R Us

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Working as an automated lighting programmer is actually a lot like being a contestant on a game show...In the popular Minute to Win It show, for example, contestants are given one minute to complete a task using common household items. The more rounds they complete, the more money they win. An automated lighting programmer usually has to work under extreme time constraints to complete the programming of a show. For instance, you might have to program 20 songs for a tour in just a few days. In many cases, the LD will describe the task at hand (a particular chase for instance) and expect it to be programmed in the next few minutes using the tools within your desk. If you cannot complete the programming to his expectations, then you will lose the round and likely not work with this LD again. However, if you complete all the programming tasks in the allotted time, then you become a champion and will get to move on to further rounds and possible continued employment.

-Brad Schiller, from "Feeding the Machines," PLSN, April 2011

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Budget for Enough Programming Time to Make Best Use of Lighting Rig

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It is quite strange to me when a large quantity of devices in shows are used just in a minimal way because the budget does not allow the proper programming time. So why spend a lot of resources to feed the machines? I'm not against the huge show - far from it. It is again a question of balance between the creative forces and the physical forces required.

-LD Aldo Visentin, as quoted by Debi Moen, PLSN Interview, March 2011

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Budget Enough Time for Digital Imagery

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One of the major hurdles for supporting the visuals for Colin Quinn: Long Story Short on Broadway was the time it took to create and render the images, according to David Gallo, scenic and visual designer for the production. He says that for a modest project in the Helen Hayes Theatre, there was a tremendous amount of computer power that went into it, and the rendering time was one of the things that made it so difficult. "You would come up with an idea and want to make a change, then it would take 24 hours or more to see what it was you were coming up with. We've gotten into a culture of immediacy with computers that people don't realize that when you're doing stuff on this massive a scale, it really takes some serious time to put into it."

-Bryan Reesman, from "Inside Theatre," PLSN, March 2011

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Using Alignment Rectangles for Faster Raster Mapping

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Many shows today involve combining multiple layers of video content, either on a single display screen or across multiple screens of various resolutions. When you're working with a media server, there are some tricks that you can take advantage of to set up the scale, aspect ratio, and X & Y position palettes to reduce the need to resize your content ahead of time...Since media servers are so flexible, they allow previously-rendered content to be quickly and cleanly resized to match almost any type of pixel configuration of a display device. The alignment rectangle feature of the Mbox EXtreme v3 greatly simplifies the process of mapping out the pixels within the raster of a display device. Give this feature a try the next time you are mapping content to a display if it requires sizing and scaling, and you'll free up more brain-time to dream up creative visuals for the stage.

-Vickie Claiborne, from "Video Digerati," PLSN, Marc 2011

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