The growing popularity of MA Lighting's grandMA console today is all about the company's concentration on tomorrow. At MA Lighting the future has always been about facing the unexpected, being ready for the unknown turns and new developments of a rapidly evolving industry. Four years ago MA Lighting introduced the grandMA console into the market; since then the family of products around the console has grown to include five hardware platforms and three software tools. The key to the grandMA's popularity is also what makes it a hard console to define: its enormous flexibility.
“The grandMA is a toolbox,” explains Mike Falconer of A.C.T Lighting, the North American distributor of the grandMA line. “What someone cares about is, does my toolbox contain all my tools? Can it function really well? Can I easily find and use my own tools?” All LDs and programmers have their own way of working; each wants to use the toolbox as he/she sees fit and here is were the grandMA excels. LD/programmer Demfis Fyssicopulos, of DF Designs, explains, “You define the board, you can make the board work the way you want to work. You are always designing the board to work for you.” This is what programmer Drew Finley, of LSD/Fourth Phase, and lighting director Pat Brannon discovered when they used the console on this year's Bon Jovi world tour. “At first you're a little overwhelmed with all the console can do,” says Brannon. “But once you get your head around the fact that there are any number of ways to do the same thing, that it's a matter of deciding how you want to work, it's really great.” Finley agrees: “It is a very set-up intensive console but, once you start getting into it, you realize that's what makes it so flexible. You can use the different backgrounds that you come from — you can run it like an Icon, you can run it like a Hog. I don't even know how you would run it like a grandMA.”
Finley also used the grandMA for the recent Jay-Z concert and points out, “Between the Jay-Z and Bon Jovi shows the desks were set up very differently. It's very easy to figure out how a designer or operator wants to run things and to configure the desk that way.” The A.C.T Lighting website has a neat section that highlights different users and their different setups on grandMA consoles. According to programmer Rodd McLaughlin of RGM Productions, Inc. and Prelite, NY, the board's flexibility and it's wealth of tools it offers makes it a good choice in many different applications: “Television, music, permanent installations — it has benefits for all of them. The inhibitive subs are well-suited to television, the one-touch macros are well-suited to installations, and the user log-ins are well-suited to multiple programmer situations.”
The multi-user programming feature has earned rave reviews. “I just can't stress how incredible the multi-user on the desk is,” says Finley. “You can have multiple desks plugged in, all operating on the same show files. During Bon Jovi, [LD] Justin Collie was doing the video and I was programming lighting looks — we could both work on the same song in our own world and, when we were done, Pat [Brannon] could play it all back off of another console. When time is limited, it is incredible.” As Falconer explains the feature, you can have two or more consoles connected by Ethernet, and acting as one, but with multiple programmers. All the grandMAs' in the “session” have access to all of the fixtures connected to the console and all the cues. This could cause problems as multiple programmers try to control the same lights or program different cues at the same time. What makes it workable is a concept called Worlds.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD
A World is a group of fixtures or fixture parameters. When a console is in a World, it acts as if only those fixtures are connected to it. The displays only show those fixtures and, when storing, editing, or deleting, only the fixtures or fixture parameters included in that World are affected. Because changing Worlds is as easy as selecting a group of fixtures, the system brings incredible levels of flexibility and speed of operation to a multi-user environment. Even non-multi-user shows have started to reap the benefits of Worlds, as they allow for the sectioning of the consoles, so programmers can work on several things at once without having to constantly clear or record.
That takes care of programming, but what about playback? There are two options in this multi-user scenario: “in-sync” and “out-of-sync”. When a grandMA is in-sync, pressing Go on a playback will press Go on any other grandMA in the session that is in-sync. If a console is out-of-sync, pressing Go on a playback will not affect any other console and pressing Go on another console will not affect it. The bottom line: at the press of a button (or touch screen), connected consoles, which share information, can act completely independently or in concert.
Ease of use and flexibility are also behind the grandMA offline editor, the grandMA remote, and the grandMA 3D visualizer — software tools that are available, free of charge, for download from the company's website. These are real tools, not just quick giveaways, according to McLaughlin. “The grandMA 3D runs on an external PC. It is a particularly advanced pre-visualization program, especially considering it is free. It connects directly to the console, so anything in the console gets put into the visualizer; as you do updates in the console, it gets updated in the visualizer.” Ralph-Joerg Wezorke, managing director of MA Lighting International explains, “The dedication of our console is always the need of the market. For example, we now have a way that, because we cannot update the fixture library as quickly as the number of new fixtures come to the market around the world, users can share the information with each other and update quickly from another user's input at www.ma-share.net.”
One of the grandMA's great tools is the ability to modify or create new fixture profiles from the desk. It's all part of the grandMA's open system philosophy, according to Bob Gordon, president and CEO of A.C.T Lighting, “They have had a good feel about the future from the beginning,” he says, “and, where software is concerned, you always have to have an eye towards the future. Software is cumulative; you always build on what came before and keep adding more. The grandMA is an ever-maturing board that learns more every day in an ever-changing industry. One big change over the last few years is the enormous amount of video and digital media now being run through the lighting console. For this use alone the grandMA was the choice on Bon Jovi and the upcoming Sting tour. As a matter of fact, on Sting, media is all the grandMA is controlling.”
Wezorke explains, “Many users now use the grandMA to trigger media and video because they can set up the system without us having to tell the system how to do it.” That's exactly the reason Breckinridge Haggerty of Diagonal Research says the grandMA is on the Sting tour: “Though the NEV 7 System, a digital media server, can work on other consoles, I chose the GrandMA because you can build the fixture profiles within the operating system. You don't have to go to the manufacturer or fuss around with a text file. The NEV 7 System is designed to run video in an off-the-cuff way, be improvisational, so, by using the GrandMA as a control surface, it is a powerful unit.”
Finley agrees, “On Bon Jovi, the grandMA controlled the video system that used the NEV 7 and on Jay-Z it was the Mbox [from Fourth Phase/LSD]. The big thing is channel counts. All of the video stuff takes a lot of channels; for example the MBox takes 128 DMX channels per box. To deal with a 128-channel moving light is not easy, but the grandMA has broken things out so it isn't complicated to use. It's easy to set up — you can write the profiles on the desk or alter them, and to move around it doesn't feel as cumbersome as it sounds. In fact, it is very quick. I was really, really impressed with it.” Falconer adds. “The level of customization you can do make its extremely well-positioned for controlling media and video. You can change the language of the board and you can change pan/tilt to be a different control compatible to the language of video.”
It was MA Lighting's forward thinking design of the grandMA console to address the unknown that has put it squarely in the media savvy, fast-paced present, not flinching as it heads into the future with version 5.0 on its way.