The new ADB WARP has to be the most awaited profile/ellipsoidal reflector spot in at least a decade. Not only does it represent a long-awaited new direction for the concepts and technologies employed in its design and construction, but the industry has impatiently awaited its release since it was previewed at the PLASA and LDI shows in 2002. Everyone who has seen, or even heard of, this remarkable luminaire has been anxious to get it and try it out on productions. I was certainly pleased to finally get my hands on a late production prototype a few weeks ago.

I have no doubt that the delay in the final emergence of the WARP, or the Axis — as it was known in its early public showings — is in no small part due to the fate of ADB itself in recent years. Absorbed into the Siemens megalith for a period of about 15 years, ADB only reappeared as a separate entity after a management buy-out in 2003. With the buy-out came a partially developed luminaire, at that time known as Axis. Efforts to complete the Axis/WARP appear to have accelerated since that point.

In a strange technological twist reminiscent of an endless, single-sided Moebius strip, the WARP appears to be the first contemporary non-moving light. Much of the technology used in the WARP is derived from the engineering and materials research that we have come to expect in the latest robotic devices. These, in turn, were originally derived from stage luminaires, except, of course, that the WARP was actually developed to be a robotic luminaire, through the addition of a motorized cradle that replaces the standard suspension yoke to provide pan, tilt, and motorization for most other functions. In recent times, while the development of the manual WARP has proceeded apace, the motorized cradle has not been given a lot of attention. This is about to change, as ADB recently hired additional engineers, specifically to complete this part of the project.

Perhaps the most noticeable and remarkable feature of this luminaire is the smooth line of the body, apparently totally free of focus knobs, shutter blades, and iris/gobo slots. In this year of Rings (check the 2004 list of Academy Awards winners) the secret of the WARP lies in its six powerful control rings.

Focus and zoom adjustments are made by twisting the foremost of the rings. Drive toothed transmission belts move the lenses. At first glance, this may appear an unusual approach to focusing an ERS/profile, but the mechanism employs precisely the same type of drive belts commonly found in robotic luminaires. While smooth and positive enough to give me confidence in their long-term stability, the zoom and focus rings on the luminaire that I tested proved to be a touch too stiff for smooth operation. I have been assured by ADB that the final, shipping version, will not have this problem.

Without a doubt, the single most exciting feature of the WARP is the paradigm-shattering shutter. I have come to accept the following “truth” about profiles/ellipsoidals: if a shutter isn't missing, or doesn't jam or foul on one of its adjacent brethren, it won't be able to be angled for the required cut. If, by some bizarre accident of fate, you do get the angle right, you will be rewarded by finding that shutter blade doesn't come in far enough to achieve the cut after all. This ought to be known as Murphy's Focusing Mantra — to be chanted by all lighting people, every morning, as a means of avoiding frustration and possible spontaneous combustion.

By adjusting the appropriate ring, each shutter on the WARP can be independently rotated to any position. Twisting a second adjustment on the ring sets the depth of the shutter. As each shutter can also be inserted slightly further than halfway across the beam, virtually any cut is possible. It's great fun just to fire up a WARP and see if you can find something that you can't do with the shutters. In the last few weeks, I've been intrigued to watch a number of other lighting people, from designers to floor crew, go through the same routine of making formerly impossible shapes and rotating them about the optical axis, just like a bunch of kids with a new toy on Christmas morning.

There is one unexpected problem with the shutter system. It works the right way around. To rotate a shutter to the top of the beam, you actually rotate the shutter-ring knobs to the top of the luminaire. While this sounds like it is exactly what you would expect a shutter to do, anyone who has ever stood on a ladder, swung from a harness, or lain on their belly to focus a profile/ellipsoidal spot knows that you have to work on shutters in mirror image. Even for a dyslexic like me, who always has to pause for two beats before responding to instructions involving left or right, it is a very disconcerting experience. Just think of it — one day there will be an entire generation of lighting crews and designers who don't automatically reverse instructions when focusing profile/ellipsoidal spots.

Even if the shutter system wasn't so impressive, there are several other features of the WARP that make it a lighting person's luminaire. Not only can the shutters zoom, focus, and be adjusted from wherever you are standing, hanging, or leaning, but gel frames, gobos, and irises can be inserted from either above or below the luminaire through the use of spring-locking mechanisms. This luminaire truly can be operated with only a single hand.

Without protruding shutter-blade handles to block its path, the yoke can be placed at virtually any point on the length of the luminaire, thereby enabling the fixture to be balanced in precisely the way that best suits the hanging angle and location. Everything, including the rings, has scales marked on them for rapid documentation and reproduction of plots.

Whatever else it does, the WARP is good optically. From past experiences with new luminaires, I was prepared to accept that a fixture with so many functional innovations might not be all that sharp, flat or bright in its first incarnation. However, WARP needs no excuses to be made on its behalf. While I haven't had the opportunity to verify the optical specifications on the WARP, I do know that, equipped only with a 600W lamp (the standard lamp is 800W), the prototype I was using was out-gunning a competitor's cool beam luminaire, fitted with an 800W version of the lamp.

There are still a few problems that I feel need to be sorted out with the WARP. The most important of these is the matter of heat management and distribution. While the front of the luminaire is cool to touch at all times, the rear end must, of course, get hot in disposing 90+% of the lamp's energy output that isn't visible light. This is a challenge that has to be addressed in any cool-beam architecture. Where the WARP has a problem is that it is way too easy for an operator to get his or her hands on the hot parts of the body. ADB assured me that they are working on a couple of strategies to address this problem.

The other difficulty that I see with using the WARP in a production situation is that without a “top,” “bottom,” “left,” or “right” shutter there may be a problem with identifying which ring needs to be set up in a particular way. I know it may destroy the stylish light blue and black color scheme for the luminaire, but I would like to see ADB make each of the shutter knobs in a different color to aid identification by operators, particularly in repertory situations where rapid turn-around focusing is so critical.

Unlike many lighting “innovations” that are marketed to our industry, the WARP's shutter system is something that will have a profound impact on the way entertainment lighting is done everyday in every venue. Even if you never use an ADB WARP, its shutter system will have an influence on every profile/ellipsoidal that follows it.

The WARP is currently available world wide in its 230V CE version and is undergoing the Underwriters Laboratories qualification process at the time of printing.

Andy Ciddor of The Kilowatt Company has been a practitioner, educator, and writer in the field of production technology for 30 years. He can be reached at aciddor@kilowatt.com.au.

WARP SPECIFICATIONS

Lamp 800W, G9.5, Axial Bi-Planar filament.
Zoom 12°-30°
Weight 26.9lb (12.2kg)
L × W × H: 29.5 × 14.9 × 19.5 in (748 × 379 × 495 mm)
Zoom 22°-50°
Weight 24.25lb (11kg)
L × W × H: 25.8 × 14.9 × 19.5 in (655 × 379 × 495mm)