Gather 'round the campfire, children. I want to tell you about the frightening urban legend known as “The Scanner.” Some of you older kids may remember seeing one with your very own eyes. Some say that its existence is just a tall tale, but we know otherwise.
A few of us have actually had face-to-face encounters with these huge beasts and have lived to tell the tale. They had GREAT BIG gears and razor-sharp mirrors taped to their heads. Some of them grew as large as 120lb, and, boy, were they fast! Sure, some could move with a bit more grace than others, but all were fast.
There wasn't a performer onstage that could keep up with the speed of the scanners. Sometimes, late at night, if you're really quiet, you can still hear them. … REHOOOOOOOOOOMING! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!
Can someone tell me what the hell happened to moving-mirror fixtures? If my suspicions are correct, they're still sitting in road cases at the back of warehouses everywhere, aren't they? I mean, did we all just wake up one morning to find that all the Cyberlights in the local rental houses turned into Studio Spots at midnight? Has the majority of the lighting industry truly lost any use for these fixtures?
I'm sure that the manufacturers' response to all of these questions would be, “Well, you asked for it,” and, in fact, we did. Here's how the real story goes.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 90s, the Scan Wars were fought by a growing number of valiant manufacturers, each trying to get a piece of the specification pie. History reveals an extensive number of casualties but, to avoid boredom, I'll try to summarize.
Correct me if I'm wrong (I'm sure many of you will) but I believe the Coemar Robot was the first automated moving-mirror fixture, followed quickly by Clay Paky's Golden Scan. Soon after that, High End Systems/Lightwave Research was conceived, and, in turn, they put out the Intellabeam. Then, Martin Professional jumped in the game with the Roboscan series.
Once all this fierce competition was in place, the battle began to try to cram 110lb of excrement (to tastefully rephrase the old saw) into a 20lb box of alloy. All the manufacturers wanted to be the first to debut a new feature inside an old box.
Clay Paky quickly released the Tiger Scan, which introduced the first rotating gobos. Martin created a range of small scans for the discotheque market. Clay Paky countered with the Super Scan Zoom, which premiered rotating prisms. That very same year, High End debuted the Cyberlight, and no moving-mirror specification would ever be safe again.
The Scan Wars didn't end there. The battle of the features continued with Martin's PAL, Coemar's NAT, Clay Paky's HPE, with a host of smaller competitors popping up on a seemingly daily schedule.
Smaller scans at lower prices brought the technology to the hands of everyone on the production ladder, but as fun as moving-mirror fixtures were, there was one thing that every aspiring lighting designer wanted more: the ever-elusive yoke light.
You see, when it came to yoke fixtures, there was only one game in town back then — Vari-Lite. They made really, really cool lights. The fact that they were cool had a lot to do with the fact that the entire fixture spun around, but it was mainly because it seemed you weren't really allowed to have them.
Rental-only was the name of their game, and if you were lucky enough to be able to use them, you needed a fist full of Alamo ducats, because the motto seemed to be “Love our Texan lights. Love our Texan techs.” And so, one company held the coolness title for years and years. This was also due, in no small part, to an extensive list of patents.
And then the people spoke!
Circa 1995, we, as an industry, started demanding that manufacturers push any legal limits necessary to create yoke lights for the common good … fixtures that any regular Joe could spec and make someone else pay for.
The race was on and so the Technicolor was born. Not too many people remember the Technicolor, but the battle over its name was just a prelude to what would later be known as the Yoke Wars. Its debut at the SIB trade show in Rimini, Italy, sparked a massive shift from one specification war to another that would eventually leave a trail of bloody patent papers and smiling lawyers from Texas to Taiwan.
You probably know the Technicolor by its more common name, the High End Studio Color®, arguably the most specified wash luminaire to date. I'm not privy to all the gory details, but apparently, there were some legal problems surrounding the use of the word Technicolor, hence the name change.
The rest is a history that I'm sure you already know. The Scan Wars were over with the last of the mighty giants, the High End Technobeam and the Martin RoboScan Pro 918. Each took steps backward in engineering by producing 250W and 575W fixtures instead of the large 1,200s. Although very popular and packed with a fantastic feature set, it seems the latter was never taken too seriously as an alternative to 575W yoke lights for larger-scale productions.
So where have all those mirror specifications gone? Perhaps the majority of the lighting industry has really lost use for them. That makes sense on some level. From a functionality standpoint, a light source that moves within a 360° radius versus one with less than half that range will always be more utilitarian. For that reason alone, we will never see scans specified in such large quantities ever again. It just seems strange to see the demand dry up so abruptly.
With so many of those lonely mirrors sitting around warehouses, however, many of which have higher output and more diverse feature sets than yoke fixtures, you may want to reconsider your next spec and break out some of these six-year-old dinosaurs!