This year's LDI, October 24-26, will hit the jackpot with more attendees, exhibitors, and show floor space than ever. The Sands Expo Center will be buzzing with more than 9,600 industry professionals visiting over 1,000 booths of entertainment technology in 200,000 sq. ft. (18,000 sq. m) of exhibit space.
Start each morning with a new product presentation breakfast, free to all attendees. See the LDI product preview on page 128 for more details. Then move on to the daily ESTA Technical Standards reports, free to ESTA members, covering theatrical fog; wire rope ladders, aluminum trussing, and towers; and 100Mb ethernet. A new addition to LDI this year is the "Light Lunch:" informal talk-show presentations on recent lighting projects with their designers. Light in Architecture workshops will feature themed retail, environmental control, and a case study of the Mohegan Sun casino; the Sound in Entertainment track will cover audio via ethernet and fiber optics, acoustical problem-solving, and sound in sports arenas. Many more seminars and mini-courses will be offered encompassing all aspects of entertainment design and automation. LDI97 will close with the Dealer's Choice Awards. Continue your Las Vegas experience with "Backstage Las Vegas," October 26-28, which will explore the latest themed attractions including New York-New York, Masquerade Village at the Rio, Sega GameWorks, and much more.
For complete information on LDI97, including workshops, tutorials, mini-courses, and "Backstage Las Vegas," call the fax-on-demand line at 800/601-3858, call the LDI97 Hotlines at 800/288-8606 or 303/220-0600, or visit the LDI webpage at ETEC W3 (www.etecnyc.net). Following is the list of exhibitors and booth numbers as of September 12, 1997.
When you dust off 20 years of Lighting Dimensions and look over those old issues, a world of entertainment awaits. My favorite source of chuckles is the advertising--the hot products of 1977 that lasted only until 1978; the ads from today's large and sophisticated companies that painted a mom-and-pop picture 20 years ago; and the ads from companies that have simply vanished. Almost as much fun is reading the various Lighting Dimensions contributors that have peered into their crystal balls in an effort to predict the future of the lighting industry, with somewhat mixed results.
As part of the Lighting Dimensions 20th anniversary issue, editor Bob Cashill asked me to have a look at the work of those pundits and see how they scored.
High-energy physics and all that stuff In 1979, Beeb Salzer went out on a limb to predict color-variable lamps "by chemical or electronic means." While the advances in lamp technology are many, we haven't quite reached the variable-color lamp. Not to be pedestrian, he went on to predict that "a particle gun might activate the atoms around the performer, causing a glow around the person." We're still waiting for that one, along with his "projection system that would work not on flat screens, but on curtains of magnetic fields through which actors could move." He must have been on a similar plane when he predicted that "solar light batteries will fill the basements of theatres, and captured light will bounce back and forth between perfect mirrors until that time when it is released bit by bit to light a show." Didn't I promise you a good time?
If Beeb had fine-tuned his crystal ball and predicted instead that "an energy gun might be pointed at a simple lump of material, causing it to radiate light in an amazingly efficient manner," it might have seemed just as out-there as the other predictions. But that's just what happened in 1997, with Fusion Lighting's amazingly efficient sulfur light source, which works by pointing a magnetron from a microwave oven at a glob of sulfur in a quartz envelope!
Return to Earth While Beeb was traveling the far reaches of the galaxy, Dick Glickman was taking a more down-to-earth approach in 1981. He predicted "the use of discharge sources inside television studios." Certainly, the proliferation of compact fluorescent technology in television fixtures gives him a win on that one. His crystal ball must also have been particularly clear when he predicted:
* The use of television lighting fixtures in theatre. Just look at a typical bank of cyc lights or see how many TV fresnels have moved into the theatre.
* Enclosed-arc lamps as the light source of choice in film lighting. Hard to find those Brute-Arcs anymore.
* Practical square-wave flicker-free ballasts for arc lamps. Still not cheap, or as reliable as magnetic ballasts, but definitely common.
* Cheaper dimmer-per-circuit systems. Some would say dimming has gotten too cheap for its own good, but there's no doubt that the cost of dimming has fallen by an order of magnitude. Of course, the systems got an awful lot bigger during the same time period.
A particularly nice Glickman prediction, in view of the giant computerized lighting consoles of the late 70s, was: "(Lighting console) size limits will only be what the console must have in order to permit human fingers to operate it." Little did he know that the mouse would shrink even that prediction by a huge factor!
Glickman missed a big one when he predicted, "It is unlikely that there will be any dramatic changes in the range of products available to theatre lighting in the coming period of time." He was referring to the lack of funding in the theatre to spur development of new products. But between 1981 and today the toolbox of the theatre designer has grown steadily richer and more exciting. Automated lighting, color changers, and new light sources have totally redefined the hardware of theatre lighting. Some of these technologies have been adopted from other areas like concert lighting, but Electronic Theatre Controls' Source Four, the single biggest advance in fixed-fixture technology since the Century Leko, was designed for theatre at the outset, as were many of the new, quiet automated fixtures. To be fair, much of this didn't happen until at least 10 years later, but that still falls within "the coming period of time."
The chief of the LD pundits is surely Michael Callahan, whose 15,000-word treatise "Bright New World" in 1983 covered every conceivable aspect of touring lighting systems past, present, and future, including the fundamental components that go into them. Callahan had his hits and misses with the crystal ball. He guessed, "It seems unlikely that a 300-lamp system built with discharge sources is going to justify its cost." He was probably right, but that has not stopped people from assembling systems with that many automated lights using arc sources, and finding the money to pay for them. What Callahan could not have predicted was the upwardly-changing expectation of the "minimum acceptable look" of a production, and what people are willing to spend to achieve it. If one compares the cost of typical lighting systems in 1983 with those of 1997, adjusted for inflation, it is clear that audiences are demanding an order-of-magnitude greater sophistication in the visual aspects of a production, which translates into bigger and better lighting systems not dreamed of in 1983.
Callahan looked at specific technologies like gel color changers, suggesting that if a reliable $100-parts-cost color changer were available, a few companies might use it. He went on to say that reduction in fixture count driven by a color changer would only be possible when a fixture could truly fade between colors, without undesirable side effects. Clearly, the industry has embraced color scrollers with a cost 10 times greater than Callahan's model. And while fixture counts might coincidentally have dropped on some productions, the ever-increasing hunger for more flash seems to have paid for this "accessory" in quantities that would have been unthinkable in 1983. It would be hard to find a production in 1997 that did not use color scrollers, thanks to Keny Whitwright, who invented the device and stayed with it until it became reliable and quiet.
Callahan looked at the possibility of color synthesis by varying the relationship of optical elements, but dismissed it with, "The experts don't seem to think that it is practical." While they might need to improve in terms of color precision, the automated lights on the market in 1997 that use variable-angle dichroic filters seem to have made color synthesis a reality. Callahan further required "substantially brighter sources to achieve the same perceived intensity as conventional fixtures with gels" for color synthesis. We certainly have achieved such brightness with a bewildering variety of arc sources.
Callahan's ultimate solution to the fixture problem was an all-singing, all-dancing "Gonzo Light," a fixture not unlike the typical automated light of 1997. He went on to describe such a $5,000 fixture as "both a staggering capital investment and a financial and technical risk few shops would run into with open arms." The rental companies of the world did not welcome such fixtures immediately. But the overwhelming 1997 worldwide inventories of "Gonzo Lights" made by Vari-Lite, High End Systems, Martin, and others, is testament to the pressure to deliver ever more eye-catching looks, and the hundreds of millions of new dollars that have become available to make it happen.
The control system in Callahan's crystal ball had the dimmer at the fixture by 1988. While a few touring companies kludged together SCR dimmers in truss-mounted applications, the real possibilities and pitfalls for dimmer at the lamp did not become clear until the commercial application of chokeless transistorized dimmers to distributed dimming systems in about 1991. And despite the fact that distributed dimmers have become reliable, the market has been slow to adopt them en masse. Perhaps we will have to wait for the arrival of two new advances to finally and fairly evaluate distributed dimming: dimmer in the fixture, to completely avoid a separate dimming device, and the advent of cheap, reliable wireless data transmission technology, to get rid of all those pesky data cables! Both these advances should be just around the corner.
Riding the wave Despite their ability to let their minds roam into the future of lighting, I doubt that any of the Lighting Dimensions contributors of the 1970s and 80s could have guessed just how much of an impact the mainstream computer industry was to have on our tiny little corner of the world. A survey in TCI magazine's recent 30th anniversary issue asked a number of industry people to single out events that had a significant influence on lighting. Keny Whitwright said, "In 1974, Intel invented the microprocessor."
Amen, brother. The first microprocessor-driven lighting console was the start of "riding the wave" of technology in the lighting industry, and the snowball has just kept rolling. Engineering tasks that were impossible last week have mainstream solutions in six months. Even politically charged ideas like a common advanced lighting protocol, which failed to come to pass many times since 1986, move from radical to totally acceptable in a one-year period, but only because the year is 1997, when the Internet has made TCP/IP protocol completely routine in the mainstream. Who knew?
And fasten your seatbelts, because the rate of acceleration of new technologies in lighting just keeps increasing; in other words, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!" That's why my crystal ball is permanently broken; since I'm not in the mainstream of the really new technologies, none of which are directly in our industry, it's almost impossible to predict what's going to flow downhill to us. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a technological bystander, but it really is fun watching all these wonderful new tools and toys arrive!
Bet you thought I was going to make a few predictions for the folks in 2017 to check up on. Instead, I've decided to adopt the finely tuned prediction method developed by my friend and colleague Steve Friedlander, which is summed up as follows: "Put in lots of empty conduits." In other words, no matter how big you dream, you'll never be able to guess what's coming with any accuracy, so just stay loose and flexible! To that I add: "Keep your sense of awe readily available."
Steve Terry is the executive vice president of Production Arts, where he heads the Systems Integration Group. He is a member of the ESTA Technical Standards Committee, and the co-chair of the ESTA Control Protocols Work Group. He is a USITT vice commissioner for engineering, and the alternate USITT representative to National Electrical Code Panel 15. In the distant past, he chaired the USITT committee which wrote the internationally accepted DMX512 standard.