In science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s famed “Three Laws,” written in Profiles of the Future, a book-length collection of essays that was first published in 1962, the third law stated: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
He must have foreseen today’s dizzying array of live event gear advancements, because the lighting rigs that I have been working on as of late have been reinforcing this law on a daily basis. We have entered the days of fully immersive lighting environments, 200-plus universe rigs, wireless DMX, instant downloads and truss spots that aren’t on the truss. We have clearly taken the red pill and fallen down the rabbit hole of technology. Like Neo, we need to embrace this world and prepare for the next level.
Here are four tips to making yourself at home in today’s lighting design matrix.
Implementing the newest technology in an artistic manner requires hours of forethought, study and preparation, and we need to accept that this is a never-ending process. So always be downloading that manual, attending that webinar and studying those online tutorials.
The resources are infinite. I recently got a call from Pat Little at PRG to program an Mbox Media server using Mbox Director. I received the call at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and the gig loaded in at 11:00 a.m. the next morning. I had 17 hours to learn Mbox Director, and at least eight of those hours would be spent sleeping, doing the dishes and tucking my children into bed. I was familiar with Mbox, but I had always used a console to program. Now I had to learn how to download the media files from the dropbox, get the media onto the servers in the proper format, play twelve separate clips for two different artists synced to time-code and do it all on a Friday night without tech support. Luckily, PRG has a ton of online tutorials demonstrating every single step that I needed to configure the Mbox and control it via Mbox Director. I was able to cram an entire training course worth of information into my brain in a night thanks to a high-speed Internet connection and a superhero wife who was able to keep the kids from distracting me for four hours.
Many companies have been smart enough to do the same. Martin has an entire YouTube channel dedicated to console training. I have used this several times when trying to figure out how to use an M1. Lighting Trainer is another great resource for online tutorials at lightingtrainer.com. It is all easily organized and includes everything from how to wrap cables to managing Media Servers. The Google Bar can be a huge asset to your further education.
Download Cool New Apps
I have an entire folder of apps that I call my Lighting Handbook. These apps allow me to leave the three-ring binders full of product manuals, power consumption charts and dipswitch cheat sheets in the closet on the shelf. These are a few of my favorites:
LX Handbook: This powerful app tells me the power consumption of most major fixtures. It also allows me to store unlimited product manuals, calculate power loads and keeps track of the attribute counts of my most used LED multi-part contraptions.
DipSwitch: Long gone are the days of carrying around a dipswitch chart to address 300 Martin Atomic Strobes. Now all I need is my smartphone and the ability to add four to an odd number. I usually have to set my phone to airplane mode to use this app because I get too distracted with Facebook notifications about crap while trying to tell which direction is on and which is off.
Patch Quick: When I am sitting at FOH and I need to give a series of addresses to my electrician I use Patch Quick. All I have to do is enter the first fixture number, the amount of attributes and the quantity of fixtures, and Patch Quick gives me all of the addresses I need. Then I can copy and paste that information into a text and send it off. No paper, no pen and no beer soaked napkins necessary (though that last one is always optional).
Discover Media Servers
Like most of us, media servers once intimidated me. I thought that media servers had no place in lighting as it is a video tool, but this is no longer the case.
A few years ago, I took a two-day training course on the Hippotizer at VER in Las Vegas. In two days, TMB’s Tim Nauss taught 15 novice copper tops how to navigate a media server from scratch. Barely a week later, I got my first call to come help out visual designer Fraser Kerrigan do a one-off for Cee Lo Green. I was upfront about being a novice on the Hippo, but I was the only person available. I had to call Nauss once or twice during the load-in, but we got through it.
Shortly after that, I was asked to cover on Def Leppard as the media programmer. I had to call Hippo support several more times, but TMB’s Raphael Ayala was happy to provide phone tech support at odd hours of the night. I picture Tank aboard the Nebuchadnezzar every time I call him. After people heard that I knew one media server, I got calls to program other types of media servers like Mbox, Axon, ArKaos and d3.
Media servers allow lighting designers to become scenic designers and video designers in order to add continuity to the grand vision. Don’t shy away from them just because they seem complicated.
Embrace Wireless DMX
Imagine a world without FOH Snakes, no tangled DMX lines, clean trusses and infinite possibilities.
Mötley Crüe lighting director Matt Mills says, “On Mötley Crüe, Tommy Lee’s drum kit flew to FOH on a roller coaster, and there was no way to have any type of wires connected to it during flight. I used three of the SHoW DMX units to handle 24 Solaris Mozarts as well as the LEDs mounted within his drums, a system called Bright Beats.”
“Wireless DMX for me is more of a luxury than anything else,” says wireless ninja and lighting designer Preston Hoffman (Further tour). “However, there are a few times it has solved problems, mainly by getting DMX someplace that I could not get it normally. For example, when I run a wireless DMX system in a festival atmosphere and there are lots of moving parts, often times in this scenario running a hard line is not always possible and so being able to drop a receiver where you need it is incredibly handy and time-efficient.”
For Preston’s last two tours, moe. and Grace Potter, he’s run wireless without a FOH snake. “I started using LumenRadio when I started using Robe products, because they use their cards in their fixtures,” he says. “Since February of 2014, I have not had a problem or single dropout using this system on tour. I have had many house LDs tell me that I’m either crazy or brave and that it will eventually ruin a show for me, but that has yet to happen. I have full confidence in my wireless.”
It’s a brave new world with options that we have never had before. Let technology add to your artistic vision. As Morpheus said: “I’m trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”
Chris Lose is a lighting director, content designer and programmer with Las Vegas-based Q3 Las Vegas. Reach him at www.q3lv.com.