Entertainment technology is evolving at a rapid pace, nowhere more so than in lighting. I enjoy nothing more than seeing what this industry can cook up to make lives easier, operate more safely and efficiently, and answer the age-old question, “How cool would that be?”
There are many such innovations on the horizon. DMX control protocol is almost 20 years old, and the race to come up with newer, more powerful controls is heating up. Remote Device Management (RDM) is getting close, as is Advanced Control Network (ACN), which should be ready for implementation in a few years. This is on top of the various lighting manufacturers' own networking standards, which some view as returning to the bad old days of each having a proprietary control standard.
Which brings us to networking. We as an industry rarely invent something completely new; rather, we adapt an existing technology and develop products around it to make our lives easier, and do our jobs faster, or at least more cost effectively. Ethernet is a perfect example of this. The computer industry has a great network structure as well as many cost effective products as off-the-shelf items. No entertainment technology manufacturer can bend the sheet metal for the price of a standard Ethernet hub or switch. A word of advice: Technicians in school, or working professionals who want to expand their skill sets, should pick up the requisite knowledge of Ethernet and networking. These skills will be more and more valuable as networks grow and proliferate in entertainment applications.
Other evolving areas are those of the light board operator and the programmer. Light board ops have many more tasks to learn and master since the days of autotransformers and preset consoles; most controllers have some form of memory control or memory-assist and some are coming closer to an all-in-one controller that more effectively controls both conventional dimmers as well as automated lighting products. When you get into the more sophisticated controllers, the operator is also a programmer. (I am not getting into the argument that all board ops are programmers; suffice it to say there are different levels.)
Today's programmers are working in conjunction with LDs to create lighting looks. Some LDs feel comfortable with intelligent luminaires and the attendant control, and program their own shows, but just as many, if not more, farm this work out. Many LDs will say to the programmer, “Here is the look I am going for,” and let the programmer do the requisite programming and manipulation to arrive at the desired look together. Some LDs consider programmers as associate designers.
LDs' roles are expanding and evolving as well. With the integration of video and lighting, especially under one controller, the LD is becoming more of a visual designer, or one who controls the look and feel. The designers may be separate, but more of the control is on the lighting side.
Designers also have a fairly new tool in terms of accessibility in the form of previsualization. Many designers and educators have been working on methods of rendering lighting and using computers to demonstrate how lighting will behave. Now we have commercially available products that allow designers to design, render, and in some cases preprogram before anyone touches a light or sees the venue. What is becoming more and more clear is that the time spent in the studio to previsualize the lighting can save an enormous amount of time on-site, which in turn means economic savings in addition to the time savings and fewer headaches, disasters, and so on.
All in all, entertainment lighting has grown and evolved at an exponential rate. I, for one, cannot wait to see what is next.