The fundamentals of moving light programming start with understanding the individual parameters of the lights themselves, as discussed in the July issue of Entertainment Design. Learning how each parameter works, as well as making them respond the way you want, is the first step in broadening your moving light programming knowledge. From there, aspiring programmers need to understand how to set up their desk with the types of lights they'll be using, patch the lights, and create a window interface in order to navigate through all the views of their desk. After that, you'll be ready to learn about building palettes, also known as presets or libraries.
In this article, we'll get your console set up for programming, expose some of the techniques used in building palettes, and then dissect a few show looks to give you a first-hand peek at how groups and palettes are used. For the purposes of demonstration we'll be using the Wholehog II, but most of these same concepts can be applied to a wide array of moving light consoles.
Before any programming can begin, users need to get the console talking to the fixtures. This procedure is known as patching, which can be broken down into four sections:
1. Add fixtures to the console's schedule. The very first step to patching is to tell your console what type of and how many fixtures you will be working with. Most consoles will provide you with a large menu of fixture types to choose from, and some even include onboard editors that allow you to create or alter your own fixtures. The fixture library includes all the information on each of the fixture's parameters and parameter ranges. This library will also contain information about what parameter group the fixture's parameters will fall into by default when recording your palettes.
2. Assign control channel numbers to the fixtures. Once you've finished adding fixtures to the fixture schedule, you might wish to change the default control numbers of the fixtures to different starting addresses. The reason for this is mainly to aid in the timely recall of your fixtures when selecting them. If your system were to include 57 High End Systems Cyberlights(R) and 62 Vari*Lite VL5A(TM)s, you might want to separate these two types of fixtures into two separate numerical areas. Rather than numbering them in one block from 1 to 119, you might be able to recall the fixtures easier if the Cyberlights were numbered 1 through 57 and the VL5As were numbered 101 through 162. This technique is especially helpful when you have several different types of fixtures because you can separate your fixture types by blocks of hundreds. This way you always know that your Martin Mac500s start at 1, your High End Studio Colors(R) are in the 201 range, your Clay Paky Stage Scans are in your 301 range, and your conventionals are in the 401 range.
Feel free to use whatever numbering technique works best for you, but make sure you keep a consistent pattern of numbering throughout your rig. For instance, don't start one type of light from upstage right to downstage left and another type from downstage left to upstage right. This can make things very confusing.
3. Assign DMX addresses to the control channels. Each fixture in your rig should have its own starting DMX address. This is the address you can set at the fixture itself. Each fixture's unique starting address must not overlap with another fixture's address. Most of the problems encountered when firing up your system for the first time are due to a mis-addressed fixture. Changing the address to the correct one easily rectifies this problem.
To make this process easier, you may want to think of each fixture having two numbers. The control channel is the number that you will type in your console to select the fixture, and the DMX address is a hard number that you set at your fixture. You can call your fixture whatever number you want, but that number must correspond and be patched to the actual DMX number on the fixture itself.
4. Align the fixtures' pans and tilts so they all move in a uniform fashion. This procedure is known as fixture alignment. If your fixtures don't all move in the same direction, you will have to spend time thinking about which way to move the encoders or joystick on your desk every time you want to focus a fixture. You'll find yourself moving your encoder right to focus your fixture left or up to focus it down. Your focusing speed will become much quicker if your fixtures are properly aligned. The object of aligning your fixtures is to match your fixture's pan and tilt with your encoders, trackball, or other input devices on your console so that when you do turn your encoder right the fixture will follow.
To align your fixtures, you are presented with three options that can be used alone or together to give you every possible direction in fixture orientation. The choices are pan invert, tilt invert, and swap axis. Pan and tilt invert will change the direction a head will pan or tilt when moved on your encoder. Swap axis will swap pan for tilt so that when you pan a fixture it will actually tilt it and vice versa. These options can be used on individual fixtures or whole trusses.
One way to approach fixture alignment is to look at your system and find all commonly oriented fixtures and select them. You first want to check the tilt of those fixtures, so tilt them using your encoder wheel. Do all of the fixtures move upstage when tilted upstage? Check to make sure that your wheel movement matches the fixtures' movement. If it doesn't, then invert the tilt; if the fixtures are panning when your intent is to tilt them, swap the axis first, then check the fixtures' tilt.
Next you'll want to check the pan of the fixture. When you align the pan of each fixture you should tilt them first. A simple rule I follow when aligning pan is to tilt all onstage overhead fixtures downstage and all front-of-house fixtures upstage to the stage before checking and aligning their pan. I do this because yoke fixtures (fixtures with an actual moving head) pan in opposite directions when tilted upstage or downstage of the fixture itself, so you must decide on an area either upstage or downstage of the fixture before aligning the pan of the fixture. Since I will mostly be focusing my onstage fixtures either overhead or downstage, I tilt the fixtures downstage of their enclosures to align their pan. For front-of-house fixtures, I tilt them upstage before aligning the pan because I know that in most instances, I will be focusing those units upstage of their enclosures and onto the stage.
After patching is completed, you should learn how your console navigates through its views. If the console provides user-definable views, this would be the point where you could set those up before you proceed. Once all of this is completed, you're ready to begin working with palettes.
What are palettes? Think of them as you would an artist's palette. When an artist paints, he or she uses a palette from which to choose colors. These colors can be straight out of the tube or mixed with other colors in order to provide the perfect blend; however, they're all organized on a palette for quick access. Without this palette, every time the artist wanted a new color, she would have to stop painting, pick another tube of paint, and mix a new color. This would become very time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, especially when trying to match the exact hue of color.
A programming palette is much the same concept, but with colors, gobos/beams, and positions replacing paints. A palette is an area where you can store frequently used parameter values for quick recall while programming your cues. These areas not only accommodate individual parameter settings but can also store combinations of parameters over some or all of your fixtures. The different types of palettes can vary on a per-console basis, but generally they consist of groups, positions, colors, and beams.
If you set up your palettes efficiently and keep a consistent method of organization, you'll find programming your cues to be much faster and easier. A large percentage of programming speed will be dictated by how efficient and organized your palettes are. It's very important to lay out your palettes in a logical order as well as descriptively label them so that when the time comes to select a palette, you'll be able to quickly recall where you put it.
Preset groups are stored selections of your fixtures. They enable quick access to many fixtures with the push of one button. They can be used to select all of a fixture type, a range of fixtures, odd/even fixtures, random selections of your fixtures, even single fixtures. Groups help to increase your speed and they should be used as much as possible to select the different parts of your system. To create a group, you simply select the fixtures you want in that group and record them in the groups window.
There are many strategies used when approaching the building of your groups. The importance of organization can't be stressed enough. As with most programming techniques, developing a consistent system that you can use to approach the building of your groups will help you to develop more speed.
Look at Figure 1. This is my main groups screen from the Cher tour, which I programmed for Patrick Woodroffe, and it is where I keep all of my most widely used groups. I usually start off by creating some groups that will select all of a certain type of light. As you can see, I'll reserve sections of the screen for groupings of similar types. The All-Groups were created on the top row starting with the first button on the left. Next, I'll cordon off areas of the screen for groups of a certain fixture type. If you look at my main Studio Spot groups, you'll notice that all groups pertaining to Studio Spots were organized into their own area, and likewise with Studio Colors. This helps me to find my groups when I need them without having to go searching.
Some of the selections I'll make for my main groups screen are All of a Truss (for each fixture type), and widely used groups such as Band Lights and Set Lights. I usually approach this groups screen with whole sections of fixtures in mind. I also reserve some space on this section for later on in the programming session, when the designer starts finding interesting combinations of fixtures to use on specific areas.
Note: It's vital that you keep your perception very sharp when it comes to the designer's frequent use of certain selections of fixtures. If the designer finds an interesting combination of fixtures, record that as a group on your main group screen. This way you are able to keep up when frequently asked to make changes to this new selection.
The next type I use is one that further breaks down a specific type of light into more detailed, less used groups. In Figure 2, I still retain some All-Groups so I can quickly select them while in my more specific groups screen. I also make single fixture groups and lay them out in a manner that will topographically resemble the rig. This helps me to pick out individual fixtures quickly when the designer requests them.
One very useful group I create is four random selections of the rig, each with different fixtures in them. These groups are used together to create random color, strobe, movement, and iris chases. I'll also use them to offset timing from each other in cues and FX. This enables me to create very complex, randomly displaced fly-ins/outs with ease.
When you first look at the plot, it's important that you understand what the designer's intent is for each lighting position. This will greatly aid in how you approach building your groups for that system. It's easy to go a little overboard when building your groups, which can cause clutter and consequently inhibit your speed. It's not the end of the world if you need to create a more specific group in the future; you can build it right there on the fly if needed. Just try to spend a good amount of time building some of the more sensible and widely used groups. Eventually, you'll get more of a grasp of how many and what types of groups you should start off with.
If you have access to a console beforehand, building groups is one of the many things you can program without having the system on hand. Jump on any opportunity to build things beforehand so you can spend more time on focusing and building cues and effects.
The position palette is a place to store pan-and-tilt information for quick access while programming looks. Position palettes, also known as preset focuses, are one of the more delicate operations of palette building; a fair amount of strategy and consideration should be used during their construction. Though often used for quick access, remember that a change made to a focus will also change all of the cues using that focus. This is a valuable tool because it allows you to update your whole show's focus from venue to venue just by changing the preset focuses. It is especially useful for touring shows, where the venue and the hang are usually different from day to day. The trick is to build preset focuses that can be used in many contexts so they can be re-used without making your show look too static.
In Figure 3, you can see some of the focuses I built on Cher. Notice the way they are organized into their own rows. I start with some point focuses such as down center, stage right, and stage left. Each row will encompass a different class of focuses such as washes, scenic elements, and aerial fly-out focuses. Eventually I'll use combinations of these focuses to quickly produce the overall focus of a look.
There are a few basic focuses you should always have: a down-center focus; a mid-center focus; an up-center focus; a center-wide tight wash; a full-stage wash; an apron wash; cycs and set washes, and several aerial focuses. From there, it would be wise to focus some fixtures on obvious acting areas such as lifts, platforms, and any auxiliary stages. If there is a band, build some band specials, then build a full band wash using those specials.
One focus that's good to have up your sleeve is a random focus. Whenever you've been building a lot of symmetrical looks, random is a nice departure from the norm, and you'll find that in the wee hours of the morning after programming all night, this focus can spark a new creative perspective on behalf of the designer. Pop it in every once in a while for maximum effect.
Again, it's imperative that you understand the intent the designer had when he or she specified each lighting position. Are there any special lighting positions that would merit the creation of a special focus? Are there any frequently used acting areas that you may be unaware of? These are the kinds of questions that you should be asking your lighting designer.
Before building your color palette, quickly review the color capabilities of your fixtures. Which ones have color wheels, and how many do they have? Do any of your fixtures have color mixing? What kinds of color modes can you put your fixtures in (snap, split, crossfade, m-speed)? These are factors that you should be aware of before building your color palette. Once you've figured out all of the color capabilities of your fixtures, you can start building your color palette based on your discoveries.
Figure 4 illustrates my standard color palette for color-mixing units as well as color wheel units. The top six rows consist of 60 color-mixing colors and the two bottom rows encompass the color wheels. I organize my color-mixing palette in chromatic shades, creating about five shades of each color of the spectrum. I then organize my color wheel colors below them in their own rows.
When building a color palette with color wheels, pay close attention to the order of the wheel. For every wheel, you should build a white or open in the first slot of that row. The next color on that row should increment one color up on that wheel. For instance, in Figure 4, palette 81 white is the Studio Spot's first color in that row. If the very next color on the wheel would be yellow, you should record palette 82 as yellow. Repeat this process until you get to the end of the wheel. If you keep all of your wheels organized like this, you will easily be able to tell the designer which color is closest to the one you are currently in. This also helps you determine what colors you would go through if you had to crossfade to a color on the other side of the wheel. The smoothest crossfade to a color on a color wheel is usually to the one right next door to the current color you are in.
If your fixture has two or three color wheels, you should palletize each wheel into its own row, making sure that you record only the values for that particular color wheel; do not include other color parameters in your designated wheel's palettes. Doing so yields two or three rows of color wheel palettes that you can freely overlap and mix other colors from. When you do have more than one color wheel, you might want to consider mixing some other colors from both wheels combined and recording those colors in either a different row or into your color-mixing palette. This will make accessing those mixed colors much faster when trying to recall them.
Another variable to consider when building a color wheel palette is making sure that you are in the correct mode of the color wheel you are trying to palletize. Some color wheels have modes that only allow you to quick snap from one color to another or one to gracefully roll from one color to another. Other modes include the enabling of the speed or m-speed functions of that color. These modes will exist in different ranges on that color wheel channel. When I go about building my color palette, I usually record all of my colors on the wheels in a mode that allows me to be able to roll from one color to another with the fade time of the cue. If I want to snap from one color to another, I can still do so; I just have to decrease the fade time or speed for that individual cue.
So far we've talked about color wheel palettes; let's take a closer look at the color-mixing palette. The color-mixing palette uses subtractive color mixing to yield a large range of colors. Most color-mixing systems use three dichroic sets of variable leaves or disks in order to produce a color. These leaves are colored cyan, magenta, and yellow, the three primaries of the subtractive color-mixing system. A combination of two of these leaves engaged to completely interrupt the beam path will yield fire red, congo blue, and green (very close to the subtractive color-mixing system's secondary colors). To create any other colors in the spectrum, you can vary the degrees of level given to each leaf, which will consequently vary the amount of dichroic filter interrupting the beam path. Most useable colors reside within ranges of one leaf on its own or two leaves combined. Any more than two leaves at once yield strange and dirty colors.
The first color-mixing colors that I record in my color palette are the ones easiest to mix, the full primaries and secondary colors. To do this, I select my color-mixing fixtures, and the first color I record is magenta, which I place in the top right button of my screen. From there, I'll roll in the cyan leaf in addition to the magenta. Any guesses which color this might mix? If you said congo, you were correct. I'll record the congo just under the magenta. Next I'll completely roll out the magenta leaf and leave only the cyan leaf to be recorded. I'll record cyan under the congo. Now I'll add the yellow on top of the cyan, which will mix a green. I'll record the green just under the cyan. If I take out the cyan leaf, I'll leave only the yellow to be recorded under the green. This leaves me with just one more combination to record, which would be yellow plus magenta. This mixes a fire red.
If you look at Figure 5, you can see how the colors line up on the right side. From top to bottom we have magenta, congo, cyan, green, yellow, and fire. To the left of these colors I'll create about five lighter shades of each hue. When you combine two leaves such as cyan and yellow to mix a green, if you take the cyan out about 40% you will yield more of a yellow-green or chartreuse. Instead, if you take out the yellow leaf 40%, you will yield a blue-green or turquoise. With every combination you can have two possible hues of that color.
I organize my color-mixing colors from darkest to lightest going left. It's important that whatever organizational technique you come up with, you group similar shades of color together from darkest to lightest. When designers ask for a color, they rarely ask for it by the number of your palette; instead they'll say something like, "Give me a blue-green." It's then up to you to supply them with a blue-green. If they want a different blue-green, they'll usually give you some indication as to whether they want a more or less saturated one, or they'll simply say "lighter" or "darker" and sometimes "bluer" or "greener". If your colors are organized chromatically and from darkest to lightest, it will be easy for you to keep up and finally produce the exact color the designer is looking for.
The beam palette is where you keep all gobos, irises, frost levels, strobe levels, zoom, and any other parameter that may fall into the beam parameter group. Like the color palette, you should know the capabilities of your fixtures' beam characteristics inside and out before you determine to how to best create and organize your beam palette. Gobo, prism, frost, and lens wheels can each have different modes residing within the ranges of their parameters. It's up to you to find out what these modes are and to decide which modes of that parameter you are going to palletize. Figure 5 illustrates the technique I use to lay out my beam palette. As you can see, all gobo wheel opens, strobes, irises, frost stops, and clears line up in a column on the left side of the screen. Each wheel and parameter type has its own dedicated row of palettes, starting with the first slot on those wheels.
Starting with beam 1, I record an "open all" beam palette. This enables me to quickly open all the parameters within the beam group of whatever fixtures I'm working with. Next to the open all, I'll build an iris open and closed as well as a couple of beam sizes. If the instruments I'm working with have a lens focus or zoom parameter, I'll include that information into my iris palette so that my iris looks will always have a crisp edge to them. On that same row, I've recorded a strobe open and closed as well as some preset strobe levels. Notice how I separated the strobe palettes from the iris palettes. If you have the space to play with, separating two palette types on the same row will help you to distinguish them from one another.
The next row down is where I'll palletize my first gobo wheel. Like color wheels, I'll build my gobo wheel palettes in slot order starting with open. With gobo wheels, you might want to include lens focus, and if your fixtures possess it, zoom. If you do include lens focus and zoom, your gobos will always be recalled sharp. If you want more subtle textures, you can then throw them into a racked lens focus preset. Often your fixture's lens focus and zoom parameters will be slightly off from fixture to fixture. Tuning each fixtures lens focus and zoom to every gobo and recording those values in with the gobo palette will insure that all your gobos will be the same sharpness when their palettes are accessed. If your fixtures possess more than one gobo wheel, you should build separate rows of gobo palettes for each wheel, as illustrated in Figure 5.
If your fixtures possess rotating gobo wheels, it's important that you palletize different rotation speeds. Be sure you only record the rotational rate parameter into your palette; this way you'll be able to freely combine the palettes for your gobo wheel or wheels with your rotational rate to yield different speeds of rotation.
Other palettes to build include a row for frost levels, prism wheels, different zoom sizes, and lens focuses. Once you understand the logic behind building wheel-type palettes such as gobo or color wheels, you can apply that logic to many palette types.
Once you've taken the time to build and organize your palettes, building looks becomes so much easier and quicker to accomplish. It's now only a matter of assembling these pre-built elements together and recording your picture as a look. The better your organization, the quicker you'll be at accessing these elements. Let's take a glance at a few lighting looks to better understand how these palettes relate to a show. All of these looks were created with the palettes previously discussed.
In Figure 6, I started upstage with the Studio Colors washing the set. I added the circle Studio Colors to the stage in a center wide focus and colored them congo. Added to this were the floor and set Studio Colors in the floor fans position. They were colored with the loving amber color-mixing color on the color palette. Finally, I selected the B rear, E FOH truss, and pod Studio Spot groups and put them in the shatter gobo on the beam palette. I put the B and E trusses in the house positions and the pods into the blitz positions and was finished. It took about two minutes to create this look.
In Figure 7, the first thing I did was select the B rear truss Studio Spots and put them into the set wash position, lava gobo, light blue color wheel. Next I added color to the circular trusses by selecting the All Circle Colors groups and putting them in the toners position, then coloring them congo. I then selected the All Circle Spots group and put them into a spiral position. Once I've added the pod spots group and put them into the high out position, I'll reselect the circles along with the pods and color and gobo them at the same time.
In Figure 8, the Side Studio Colors group was selected and put into the shin wash position. Added to this was the Set Studio Colors group in the down-center position. Both of these groups were colored green. The Floor Spots group was then putinto the floor crosses position and colored yellow then put in the Blocks gobo. To add some top light, I selected the All Circle Colors group and put them in the three points position. To finish the look, I colored them lavender.
As you can see, even the most complex looks are comprised of these simple elements known as palettes, presets, and libraries. If you understand how to create palettes and organize them into a sensible interface, you will be able to assemble even the most complex looks. Add timing, effects, and a cue structure to your knowledge, and you'll be on your way to programming a show.