It's now well over a year since I made the journey from lighting to video — “the dark side,” as some have called it (cue Darth Vader breathing apparatus here). After more than 20 years in the lighting industry, it was time for a new challenge. I am now product manager at Barco Media & Entertainment, responsible for defining and developing products and solutions using video technology for the often mentioned convergence of lighting and video.
So, here I am in the video world, a refugee from lighting. What are my findings so far? Lighting and video systems are not miles apart. They travel in flight cases, weigh far too much, use very expensive cables, and cost more than your average family home. Overworked and poorly paid crews spend hours and hours tweaking and banging the equipment until it somehow magically comes alive in time for the show.
They are also both visual mediums. Because of that, I think most lighting professionals have the skills and mindsets to make the crossover into video, should they wish to. On that note, I am sure many of you are considering what implications video technology will have on lighting and on your profession.
It is probably going to have a greater impact on lighting than we imagine. It is not going to happen overnight, and lighting as we know it today will not cease to exist, but there will be a whole new aspect to lighting. The implications of video technology being used in lighting applications are certainly going to be as massive as that of automated lighting some 20 years ago. It is also going to have an impact on the video side, and those guys are scratching their heads too. No one is safe!
Control of touring video started a variation of what was used in television studios — a switcher allowing the video director to select between various sources. Today, we have video control desks that provide increased hands-on control, allowing the video director to interact more closely with the action on stage, using digital effects, media servers, etc. to create on the fly.
It's interesting to compare this evolution with how lighting control has evolved over the last 20 years. We've gone from consoles where the lighting director had no option but to play back the lighting live, in tune with the show, using submasters and flash buttons, to carefully preprogrammed shows where a single Go button steps the lighting of the show forward.
So, will there be a true convergence of lighting and video control for live performances, and do we want that? I don't believe so. It is technically possible to do it, but would it really make sense from an operation standpoint? Lighting and video control systems are very different animals, and while there may be a shared cue structure in a show, the way to get there and how it is organized does not really lend itself to a common control system.
Lighting control is basically about sending parameter data on a cue-by-cue basis. Video control is mainly about selection and routing of sources to displays. It's a simplification, but that's really the essence of it.
There are systems capable of integrated control of lighting, video (and more), but those are almost exclusively used for rigidly structured and rehearsed shows. Typical examples are theme park attractions, some theatrical shows, certain types of corporate presentations, long running exhibitions, etc. In such applications, the integrated A/V control makes a lot of sense, and companies such as Medialon have proven to be very successful in that market.
The convergence of visual mediums requires an eye for the big picture but not necessarily a complete integrated control solution and a single operator/designer/director. Would a single person really be able to handle lighting and video? It's hard enough keeping track of a multitude of moving lights (at least I think so), but add to that video sources — some of them prerecorded, some live (cameras) — and I suspect that would result in sensory overload for most of us.
And after all, performance design is a collaborative art. Different people bring unique skills, ideas, and experiences to the table, and in most cases, this leads to something that is much greater than the sum of the individual parts.
That being said, I am convinced about the need for easy and efficient cooperation between lighting and video control. Perhaps this is the application that will give the ACN protocol its breakthrough? Imagine a lighting console/operator and video console/operator each with an eye for his part but, ultimately, in perfect sync in terms of cue execution.
Or as Christian Choi puts it: “When lighting and video are in perfect sync, when it clicks, it's magic!”
Mats Karlsson is product manager for creative light imaging at Barco and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.