Throughout the years, the legacy of the Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 2 — or Hog 2, as most call it — has been monumental, to say the least. From its inception until now, it is still the console of choice for many programmers, and there are still thousands of units out there. It amazes me how long the console has lasted. With a floppy drive, a few megs of RAM, and a couple of touchscreens, Flying Pig created an ever-evolving console that not only kept up with the competition, but stayed ahead for many years.
With the increasing size of systems and the incorporation of media servers into the market, the need for consoles with a higher capacity for DMX output and richer and more robust programming feature sets started to outweigh the usefulness of the Hog 2. Many newer consoles started popping up and inevitably made the Hog 2 start walking down Redundancy Lane.
One of those consoles was the Wholehog 3, but I didn't think it was comparable to its predecessor upon initial release. Usually, this is to be expected with any console for up to a year or so before the manufacturer works out the major kinks, but the Wholehog 3 took nearly a third of its predecessor's lifetime to finally get to the point that I would trust using it on a show.
I had programmed conventional consoles, Vari-Lite 100 Series and Artisan consoles, Compulite consoles, and finally found my niche with the Hog 2 for 12 years, but I started having to string together two and even three fully overdriven Hogs just to be able to handle the number of DMX channels thrown at me. This got to be totally insane, and it really made me contemplate switching over to the Virtuoso. I primarily do TV work, and a lot of it is live so reliability is of the utmost importance.
But the Wholehog 3 (affectionately, the Hog 3) showed no signs of reliability the first three years after its release. Many people would debate this, but I had a beta console for those three years, and for my needs it either wasn't reliable enough or didn't have the features from the Hog 2 that I needed.
It wasn't until last year's LDI and the release of the Expansion Wing that I felt confident enough in the software to try it out on a show. I used it in November on Nuestra Navidad, produced by Emilio Estefan and designed by Carlos Colina. I was using software v2.01 and two DMX processors, or DPs (eight universes; each DP outputs four universes). I used it again on a much bigger show this year, Premio Lo Nuestro, using five DPs and v2.02 software.
Before I tell you the outcome of each show, here's a brief intro on how the Hog 3 system works. The console itself is a server, while each of the DMX processors are clients. The clients each output four universes of DMX, and all of it is connected via Ethernet. You can connect several DPs to the Hog 3 (server), and you can configure them from the console or manually from the client DP. All in all, it's very simple, and you just need to know a bit about networking to get a fairly large system up and running. The console also has two USB ports to connect a number of peripherals, such as external touchscreens, sub-wings, printers, and the new Expansion Wing. Unfortunately, you cannot connect and store a show on a USB Flash drive yet, which is too bad. Storage includes a hard drive for main storage, a rewriteable CD-ROM drive, and a Zip drive.
In actual use, I was pleasantly surprised at how far the guys at High End Systems (HES, owners of Flying Pig) had come during the past two years in stabilizing and making the console actually usable. Okay, they deserve more credit than that. They have added an extremely robust feature set that increases productivity and makes it very easy to program.
Nuestra Navidad was a relatively easy show. Many expressed their complaints about nearly every group of keys being backward in the keyboard layout, as well as programming processes being backward from the original Hog 2, but to my surprise, I got used to it pretty quickly. I still hit “Blind” in place of “Clear” a lot, but it's a tradeoff. In this case, it is definitely worth it. I'm so relieved that the console is stable, and I don't need to program more than one Hog at a time anymore.
During the course of programming, I was working with both a new designer and a new console. I spent a lot of time putting the console through rigorous situational tests to glean its stability. I started by building palettes for all of my fixtures. I have a clear formula that has worked for me for years, and I started to implement it on the Hog 3 by building my set of views, effects, and palettes, as well as my bag of tricks.
I couldn't believe that I had four touchscreens now, and I made some modifications to my normal View layout so that I could access groups, positions, colors, beams, and effects without having to change views as often as I used to on the Hog 2. I started to notice things about the desk that made building a lot of my usual front-end layouts seem redundant, but because it was the first time I used it on a TV show, I wasn't going to take any chances by not being prepared with all of my palettes.
The first show went off great, and I didn't have any problems or major crashes. I did have a couple of board crashes while exploring the console's limits, but nothing that I would actually do while programming. When this console crashes, you just need to open up the Process window and restart the process. If that doesn't work, then you need only to restart the console and your show is intact, unlike on the Hog 2 where your show was gone if it crashed. Every save or record is stored to disk as you are programming.
The first show was a quick and relatively small show, so I didn't have much to report other than I was happy with the initial results. One thing I didn't like was that the view changes were incredibly sluggish (slow views have since been fixed in a software release v2.1). Changing views really slowed down my programming, so midway through I had to restructure the view scheme so I didn't have to change views as much.
HES' support of the console is great. Tom Erickson, manager of control systems development, explained all of the pig+ combos and a couple of other cool features. He and Mike Hanson, product support specialist/console trainer, were both a big help to me on the second show.
The second show was Premio Lo Nuestro, produced by Univision and designed again by Colina. This show was extraordinarily huge, in both number of fixtures and different fixture types. I had 15 types of fixtures and more than 400 total fixtures across five DPs running v2.02. Rigging the show pushed everybody back by at least a half day. I tried to import the palettes I used on my previous show, but it would only crash the console. This was very disappointing to me because I didn't have time to rebuild palettes for all of those fixtures, plus the new ones, so I took a completely unorthodox approach and decided to trust the internal predefined fixture control palettes (not the ones generated by auto-palette, but just the ones over the wheel sets).
This is where the real power of the console exists. It takes at least a day to make a fixture library, as I found out. HES has to input so much data for every channel of each fixture so that it will work correctly within the color picker, the predefined gel swatches, and all of the beam parameters that you can select as if they were palettes, and they do it with exacting accuracy. All of the gobos, strobe modes, and rates have to be exact, and they were. I had a new fixture on the show and needed a library for it. The console does come with a fixture builder, but I didn't have time to go through every parameter of a 28-channel fixture and map out everything, so I called HES, and they built it.
After realizing why it takes so long to build a simple fixture and knowing that it would take me days to build my usual palettes for color and beam for all of the fixtures, I just trusted the color picker and gel swatches, as well as the beam swatches. The only palettes that I built were edge/zoom palettes to keep my instruments sharp and those for positions and effects. I built the entire show using the resources already in the console, and it made my life so much easier. I finally realized that the goal is to reduce how much front-end work you need to do to get your show up and programming. It's really a great feeling to know that I will never have to build all of those palettes again and that I don't need to carry around all of my palette disks from previous shows and spend time figuring out the best way to merge them.
I also used the Expansion Wing for this show, which is a massive improvement over the sub-wings and even over the old Hog 2 Rock Wing. I had a 19“ touchscreen that I put in 1280×1024 mode and stacked a bunch of windows on it combined with my other 17“ touchscreen. I had no crashes this time. The show was three hours long and live-to-air, and it passed the test. I programmed the show solely using the console's predefined (continued on page 63) palettes, and it gave me much more time to concentrate on focusing and structuring the songs.
Now, for the downside: There are a number of small issues that would vastly improve the console.
Being able to build global effects that will apply to any fixture, even if the effect is built with offset: Currently, you can only build per fixture effects if they are offset in the effect palette. You can build effects that are global, but you cannot offset them until after you put the fixture in the effect.
Process restart without crashing the rest of the processes: Sometimes you can just restart a process if it crashes, but I've noticed at other times that trying to restart a process just crashes other processes, ultimately crashing the whole console.
It would be great if you could just plug in your USB Flash drive and store your show on it.
It would be totally macho to have some sort of Catalyst or general media-server thumbnail control window/wing like that offered in the Virtuoso.
Other than that, I think that HES has made remarkable strides in developing the Hog 3. From a desk that was the butt of all jokes in the industry and very few people that I knew would even touch, to finally stabilizing and adding to the feature set, the Hog 3 is now truly a flagship product.
I look forward to seeing new things as a result of the merger of patents from PRG and HES with regard to control.
Christian Choi is an 18-year lighting designer and programmer and owner of The Choimation Lighting Factory Inc. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work with Cher and has programmed and/or designed projects for Mark Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Jackson, MTV, and Cirque du Soleil, as well as many television shows. He is also an accomplished video content designer. Visit www.choimation.com.
When I heard that HES had entered into an agreement to sell the Catalyst™ media server software licensing back to its developer, Richard Bleasdale of SAMSC Designs in the UK, I really wondered what happened, and I'm sure much of the Catalyst community did as well. There were many unanswered questions, so I had many long conversations with Bleasdale. Here are some of the questions and answers he agreed to share.
CC: Why did you regain control of Catalyst from High End Systems?
RB: I'm not aiming for world domination. I just try to do good work that people need. All I am interested in is trying to develop the product that I am asked to do. I work as closely as possible with end-users, lighting designers, video designers — listening and talking to them to give them the features they want. I try to solve people's problems on shows. I try to come up with ways to make common show problems a little easier. I focus on solutions to common show requirements. This is what I have always done and did throughout the six years that Catalyst was licensed to HES. I try to find sensible and useful ways to make show technology accessible and controllable using existing equipment and techniques.
CC: How did you cultivate this technology?
RB: Catalyst arose out of my show-control software, SAMSC, that I had developed and used over many previous years. SAMSC was used in 1993-'94 by Andy Doig to do video playback in Chris De Burgh shows using his expensive Video Vision Studio Cards and an expensive Mac. Catalyst live video software was made possible due to the increasing graphical power of computers around 2001. This power is still increasing exponentially. First versions of Catalyst were a hacked version of SAMSC. The underlying architecture of Catalyst is still being based on this. Its success seems to have come about because I understood something about two distinct worlds: the lighting world and the video world. I have done professional work in both. I made a product that crossed a boundary.
CC: What else contributed to the evolution of SAMSC and eventually the birth of Catalyst?
RB: In designing Catalyst, for myself, I was trying to solve a problem I had when I worked on the George Michael video for “Ask” in 1999, to do with synchronization of lighting and motion-control cameras. I did the lighting programming for this (www.mrmoco.com/index2.htm or www.mocoforum.com/videos/as_video.mpg).
Also, I had some problems doing a dance installation with a contemporary dancer in the UK in 2000 and with an installation I was doing in a children's hospital in Greensboro, NC. I also did the video show control for a Gary Hill-Meg Stuart collaboration in 1998 called Splayed Out Mind (www.stationhill.org/artists/GQ/splayedmindout.html). I loved this piece; I loved what they did with the video technology. I constantly work on shows. I eat my own dog food.
In 2001, it just became technically feasible in real time with no special hardware to do video on computers. It had been possible to do this for many years, and I had done it, but it required specialized hardware.
More importantly for me — more important than any technology or computers — I also really love film and experimental film. I have been very influenced by avant garde filmmakers like Stan Brakhage. I loved their flickering films, and I thought I could write software to do some of these things, like random-frame access and wobbly frames and the amateurish nature of their laboriously optically printed visual effects.
CC: No doubt you have put a lot of effort into making those visions a reality. I've noticed that you've recently added a huge upgrade to some of the features of v.4 such as Framestore, curved-screen compensation, and blending. You've also added another mix and some more mix options. Is there a website where people can go to download a fully functional demo copy of your software so they can explore it for themselves?
RB: The latest version is always available to try out and test. The software has a fully functional demo mode available at www.samsc.com.
CC: What do you say to the part of the Catalyst community that may be worried about the future of Catalyst and where it's headed?
RB: Catalyst still sells. High End still sold lots and lots of Catalysts, right up to the end of their time with me. The last year was a record year for me. The product is not going away. I solve useful problems for people. That's what I always focus on. The future of Catalyst is not a problem for me.