The Industry Talks Back

Having come up with our list, we began to wonder what the readers of LD thought were the most significant product developments of the last decade and a half. So we sent out an all-points bulletin to the industry, with three questions: What is the most significant product of the last 15 years? What's next for the industry? What's on your personal product wish list?

Three little questions, so many answers! The responses were thoughtful, practical, visionary, self-serving, incredibly detailed, and sometimes hilarious. Some took a longer view, going back 25 years or more. Some of the answers didn't fall into any particular category, being instead reminiscences about the past — we loved them so much, we've added them as well.

Which products have had the biggest impact on your career, for better or worse, over the last 15 years?

Finally, in 1992, the new star was born. The MA Scancommander caused one of the most sensational product introductions in the history of our industry. Without a doubt, once MA control boards dropped anchor in the touring and event sector, they went global. All leading manufacturers of intelligent luminaries focused their interest straight into MA's new operating philosophy, because of its clear-cut, defined dedication to the dimmer principle, which was completely set apart from the traditional “dimmer thinking philosophy.”
Michael Althaus, Lightpower

1. The Wholehog II console. Finally removing numbers from the process and allowing me to very quickly build looks based on my names for things. Intuitive OS with extremely robust hardware design.
2. The VL5 luminaire. Absolutely perfect for TV production. Whenever I need either a front- or backlight for that extra keyboard player they placed last-minute camera right, I could hit him with nice soft tungsten and even tweak the color of it if I wanted to. It worked great for 10 years with no equals.
Robert Bell, Shock Lighting

15 years puts us back to 1987. Certainly moving lights were around, but were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. As a result, my number-one pick has got to be the automated fixture in the generic sense. Second, I suppose, must be the Source Four, both in ellipsoidal and PAR forms. The speed at which ETC was able to make these fixtures the de facto standard for conventional lights was truly a testament to the outstanding vision of Fred Foster and others.
Bill Berner, LD, principal, Prelite NY

I vividly remember the first time I saw WYSIWYG. I was standing in the Spot Co.'s demo room with Nils Thorjussen, then of Flying Pig Systems, with an original Wholehog. (I had just been hired by A.C. Lighting Ltd in the UK to be part of the team distributing Wholehog II for the world.) I remember thinking on the one hand the difference that WYSIWYG would make to show production and on the other hand the difference it would make in the way consoles, particularly the up-and-coming Wholehog II, were demonstrated. I had seen other visualization systems before but these had centered around the computer programming the console rather than just emulating the one thing you could not transport — fixtures! Ultimately, WYSIWYG has led to things such as grandMA 3D where the line between where a visualization system stops and the console starts has become blurred. We have almost come full circle where we are starting to have the choice as to whether to program graphically or with a console.
Mike Falconer, A.C.T Lighting

I would emphatically say that intelligent lights probably are the most exciting developments affecting my work. The ability to change color, focus, and pattern is fabulous. Also, memory boards are getting faster, easier, and more comprehensive and many are reasonably priced for productions and venues with smaller budgets. And, as the color temperature of newer and brighter units has gotten whiter, the slew of new colors (especially GAM) are very pretty indeed.
Roma Flowers, LD

The Series 300 Vari*Lite. I work a great deal in unconventional spaces — tents, barns, stores — where weight and size is an issue. A small automated light with great colors and reliability was a godsend.
Elizabeth Garvin, LD

Being not the techno-designer, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that the biggest product has probably been the Obsession board. The ease of programming, the economy of keystrokes, and the logic of the way it thinks has freed me of the burden of constantly figuring out the programming of the cues and has freed up my mind for the artistic work at hand. Simple features like the “update” function have made on-the-fly programming easy, and once again, removes the “how” from the cue writing. I have also been a big fan of the [City Theatrical] Beam Bender as a simple gadget that fixes many problems. And computers, computers, computers — the PC has changed the business.
Tony Giovannetti, LD

Better LED technology has big potential in entertainment and architectural applications, with a bit more product development and time for the technology to evolve, to offer larger systems with higher output and lower cost. Also, pulse-start ceramic arc tube metal halides: These lamps were just released for consumer use this year and now will enable urban districts the ability to improve their lighting by getting rid of those awful, poor-color HPS lamps and retrofit them with a high-CRI source.
Stefan Graf, LD, Illuminart

Certainly the computer lighting console did the most to add creative time to the lighting designer's schedule. The designer became able to think more about what to do, not how to do it. He or she became less of a glorified master electrician and more of a designer. I remember the stories of Abe Feder and Jean Rosenthal's ability to get the most out of the electricians running the old lighting boards. This really limited the number of instruments that could be used and the beauty and complexity of the effects that could be achieved onstage. As a lighting designer I was always very concerned with how many presets were available and the speed at which presets could be set (i.e., the number of preset operators available); how well the board operator could recreate the crossfades; the sheer number of control channels available. 60 to 90 channels were fantastic and all you could expect in a big LORT house in the 70s. These restrictions on creativity are thankfully gone!
Paul Gregory, LD, Focus Lighting

The Strand 500 series. It's affected me most because most of my living for the last six years has been through using this tool and watching it evolve and improve over that time, coping as the rigs and the moving light quotient have grown ever larger. Also, the ETC Source Four. For changing everything. All those moving lights. Not sure they've made lighting better, but they've certainly made it easier with much less ladder-climbing!
Rob Halliday, programmer, LD

The most significant mechanical addition to my industry was the availability of programmable large-format projectors like the Pani and later the Pigi. Projectors like this were, of course, available for many years, but they were individually cued by stagehands, as they still are in Europe and in opera. Broadway theatre economics prohibits that, so making them programmable made them Broadway-theatre-possible. A single large-format image could eliminate dozens of Kodaks. It changed the vocabulary from rear projection to front projection. That vocabulary is about to change again, now that digital video has become so compact and quiet and, like many other things, it seems that the quality of the image is not of much interest. The 35mm slide has better resolution than a Pani, and a Pani has better resolution than video, but, hey, there are only a few of us that know the difference and, if it's cheaper or more convenient, the audience won't care. Eventually the digital image will get better and better, and there will be inexpensive LCD screens a further drop in resolution, but we'll be back to rear projection again.
Wendall K. Harrington, projection designer

The color changer and the moving light have changed my career the most. In the first few years these technologies were available, they changed my designs for the worse, as they allowed me not to make concrete choices. The past six years have been spent focusing them as a tool to execute clearly planned design choices.
Thomas Hase, LD

Automated lighting. I suppose it sounds too obvious but it really did completely change the possibilities of what we do as lighting designers. Think about it: Until the Vari*Lite 100 series, theatrical lighting technology had basically remained unchanged since it was first electrified. You could even credit the computer chip — the changes in the ability to store and record data made the way we use automated fixtures possible. The impact? Absolutely for the better. What an exciting time it has been to be working in lighting design.
Abigail Rosen Holmes, LD, NyxDesign

When I first started in the industry, lots of 12/3 [cable bundles] were just going out. When I worked at Triangle/Bates Electric, we would string out 12/3 down the street with spray-painted lengths on the sidewalk. We would make up the lengths and tape them together with friction tape. So, Socapex cable was definitely a big plus.

During this period, from the 1970s onward, the PAR can reigned supreme in concerts and anywhere you needed four beam patterns of intense light in a small package. The Source Four PAR is slowly making inroads but the PAR-64 fixture is still hanging in there. Where can you get that much light for $60 new? Coupled with a piece of Socapex, you have a six-light bar easy to move and hang and even more lights.

Then, of course, the invention of automated lighting consoles. (Some of the awards shows here in Los Angeles would have piano boards placed end-to-end down the length of the audience, or strung out somewhere.) Then the clever construction of various electric shops of pin matrix boards, combined with 30 or 40 varister handles and dials controlling dimmers in the back room. The 10-scene Century control boards with all their little dials that needed to be reset. Then when the PDP 80 Mini-computer came out in 1968 the Skirpan lighting control board came along, which controlled the same dimmers that the varisters used to control. Slightly later, Strand came out with its Light Palette. This was also the period from the late 60s until the early 90s when the Altman 360Q had its reign. In television, Mole and Bardwell [McAlister] both had their advocates.

The Wholehog II definitely made my life easier. More people could program lights without using the Vari-Lite system. It is a shame that Vari-Lite had to stop developing the Virtuoso — the best moving light console made — but the Hog II brought control to the people. Now with the Hog III we can get out from under some of the Vari-Lite patents concerning bi-directional control of automated fixtures (we hope). I also have to mention ETC and its Expression line of consoles: Small form factor with subs and two crossfaders able to address lots of dimmers — what could be better? Even some rudimentary control of moving lights.

Now with various dongles and pieces and parts I can show up to a gig with a laptop and control a large assemblage of automated and conventional fixtures and anything else that needs control.
K.C. Illes, LD

The dichroic reflector technology that ETC incorporated into the Source Four has impacted many facets of the entertainment lighting industry. Cooler lighting units have resulted in the myriad ellipsoidal accessories that one would never dream of plunging into an old 360Q or L&E “leko” type fixture. Of course, my viewpoint as a manufacturer of expendable items has been greatly influenced by this achievement, and I say “Huzzah!” to ETC and its accomplishments.
Keith Kankovsky, Apollo Design Technology

The Source Four ellipsoidal spotlight. I still admire this workhorse fixture for the following reasons: (1) It showed a commitment to long-term investment in quality coupled with innovation. The die-cast body and features showed a clear understanding of how a fixture is used in the real world. (2) It exhibited advanced optical design, used coated lenses, and has superior performance. (3) It forced lamp manufacturers to support a new concept in an industry that historically had little clout with new lamp technologies. (4) Its cool operation opened the door for glass gobos in conventional fixtures which led to advancements in laser-etched and lithographically produced patterns. This advanced development for their use in automated lighting as well. (5) It forced other manufacturers to follow suit with similar technology. (6) The optical design techniques used in developing this fixture are now used in the development of virtually all other fixture types including architectural fixtures, automated lighting, and projection systems. (7) It spawned a whole range of third-party accessories that would not have been possible without the Source Four's features.
Tom LaDuke, Walt Disney Imagineering

There are a few products that we seem to continually write about; products that pop up on many different kinds of projects. One of these is the Clay Paky Golden Scan family of automated luminaries, some of the true workhorses of the moving light industry. They've been around since 1989 and used in all kinds of applications worldwide. Two other products that keep popping up in stories recently are the Martin Professional MAC 2000 automated luminaries, and the new Vari*Lite VL1000, both of which have been winning rave reviews from the design community.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux, senior consulting editor, Lighting Dimensions

The standardization of control protocols has had an enormous impact on the entertainment lighting industry. DMX512 affected our basic quality of life. Almost overnight, the consumer was given more choices on new equipment purchases. New companies came into existence. And more products become commercially feasible because our industry adopted one simple standard. Ethernet networking has had an even greater impact. Anyone who had previously engineered systems with video repeaters every 100' tied together with 25 conductor-shielded cables would agree with that! And Ethernet has brought us scalability leveraged from a larger industry. This is truly a protocol we can build on. Simplified wiring and cable plans, allowing for any device at any control jack, tens of thousands of controllable attributes over a single cable — talk about impact!
Michael Lay, Strand Lighting

The Wholehog and, I have to say, moving lights. Being of a certain generation, I am only now able to use automated fixtures in my designs. While they have been available for longer than your 15-year time horizon, I think you have to say market penetration and affordability are breakthrough issues. Also, CAD design for the same reasons listed above.
John Martin, LD, Light and Truth

That's easy for me: Lightwright! If you had told me over 20 years ago that in 2002 I would still be working on it and (even more unbelievable) still finding ways to make it better, I would've laughed in your face. Of course, Lightwright has also meant that my career has been split down the middle, with lighting design and software alternating back and forth in my mind. Which, while certainly not the best way to organize a lighting design career, is probably why Lightwright works so well. It's a bit terrifying to think, given the exponential growth in the last 20 years in the amount of lighting data needed to put up a show, how many assistants it would take to pull a show together today if Lightwright didn't exist. If I hadn't written it, somebody would have. I'm just glad it turned out to be me.
John McKernon, LD, creator of Lightwright

Personal computers and software have had probably a bigger impact than any specific lighting product. I use them on such a regular basis that I don't think I could be anywhere near as effective at what I do [without them]. Also, the Wholehog II. Being a proficient programmer on this console has allowed me to have great opportunities working with other designers, and to extend my own designs to heights difficult to achieve working with separate programmers.
Chris Medvitz, LD, Juice Creative

The budgets that I get to work with mean that I am way behind. GAM Products TwinSpins are the closest I get to moving lights and I do enjoy the extra liveliness they provide. Things that save money have made a difference for me: dimmers that can be placed near where they are needed so the long runs are DMX instead of tons of cable; those little plastic ties that say “repertory plot, don't move;” and, of course, Source Fours, especially the rotating barrels for shutter cut angles and gobos. The time saved is great and the burned fingers avoided are occasionally mine, as, yes, I do sometimes have to actually touch the stuff.
Carol Mullins, LD

The Source Four fixture. More light, less power consumption. Globally, politically, and environmentally, that's the right direction for us to be going in. Also, LEDs will be an exciting new wrinkle in power consumption.
Andrew Nikel, VLPS NY

For better: The ETC Source Four series — brighter, better quality light, better quality gobo images, more control. The question is, why did it take so long?

For worse: The Rank Strand ParBlazer, its version of a simple PAR-64, which was octagonal and had the world's most complex double-hinged color frame, and a “useful” latch/bracket to hold the lamp in place, which also successfully prevented you from rotating the lamp — and isn't that the whole point of a PAR can?
Chris Parry, LD, educator

The introduction of the three-pin protocol, transmitted via microphone cable, had to revolutionize the industry more than any other development in the 1980s. Since our engineer pioneered this development it seems only fair that I give him a well-deserved pat on the back.
Chris Pease, Lightronics

Don't laugh, but I think the disco industry had the greatest impact on the lighting industry. Never before was lighting asked to do much other than support or look pretty. The disco era mandated that lighting be spectacular, resulting in many effects in control that are still used today, lighting products that were splashy and moved, etc. Whoever heard of a console with a built-in chase prior to the 70s? Now, who ever heard of a console without? That's my opinion, and it's a research project waiting to happen.
Bill Price, manager, systems division, Barbizon Lighting

I would have to say when we made the MR75Z pattern projector out of an MR16 lamp. This was the birth of using pattern projection in retail applications. Look how many stores are now using stationary as well as intelligent pattern projection on the inside as well as the outside of their spaces.
Rob Riccardelli, Times Square Lighting

The two biggest pieces of technology that impacted me were the Wholehog and the Studio Color. In the lighting world, they meant freedom when we were stuck with one particular mindset in the creation of new automated instruments. They allowed greater individual expression in the lighting world. At that point, the competition created much better tools for us in the long run to be able to express our visions.
Arnold Serame, creative director, LD

This change has not affected my career, but I believe the most important development in the last 15 years is the tremendous use of and acceptance of moving lights in virtually all venues. With it, of course, is the ability of control consoles to handle the moving lights.

I believe that the greatest impact on theatre lighting in the past 25 years is the development of reliable large-memory computer boards. These control consoles permit the lighting designer to achieve almost any lighting design and light flow that he or she can envision — at a reasonable cost in time and money.
Sonny Sonnenfeld, living legend, ETC

Automated architectural fixtures, specifically with the introduction of Irideon, the architectural line from Vari-Lite, the first of many “made for architectural installations” versions of the automated luminaire. Actually, the product that most effected my career was the Vari*Lite VL1; unfortunately, that was more than 15 years ago!
Marsha Stern, LD

For the better: Definitely advanced computer-controlled lighting and consoles. For the worse: Accountants and lawyers making decisions in the production side of the business.
Mike Swinford, LD

The Source Four ellipsoidal — faster focusing time, simple maintenance, bright and sharp gobo projection. The Light Palette computer control console: It was the first really useful tool for theatre lighting control, and, I think, the interface design is still the best way to control conventional lights. It may seem old-fashioned to talk about a conventional ellipsoidal and a 25-year-old computer, but, in terms of actually changing the way I have thought about lighting and the creation of stage space, these have been essential innovations.

For moving lights, even though others may have had better technology earlier, the [High End Systems] Cyberlight and the Wholehog have had the most influence on me. These tools were accessible to me and the budgets of the shows that I work on quite early on and therefore I could actually integrate these tools into my work.

Also, Lightwright, VectorWorks, and Autoplot: While these tools are definitely not finished yet in terms of ease of use and capabilities, the integration of paperwork and the lighting plot into one system has definitely made my work more efficient and easier.

I depend on Adobe Acrobat to create universally readable files that I can e-mail all over the world. Now I publish all the paperwork I use in PDF format, from contracts and schedules to light plots and hookups. No one needs any specialized software and any quick print shop can output it to paper locally if necessary.

Recently developed toys that I really like and use: CXI color changers from Wybron, Vari-Lite's new line of luminaries (so bright with great color), LeMaitre's haze and fog machines.
Clifton Taylor, LD

What's next in lighting/projection technology?

1. Wireless/IR/RF fixtures with rebirth of dimmer per fixture.
2. Low-wattage radio control and intercom systems on newly allocated frequencies.
Bryan H. Ackler, project manager, Yeager Design

The bad news: Budgets are going to get tighter and schedules will get shorter. The good news: Previsualization technology will continue to make it possible for designers and programmers to achieve much more with less time on-site. I anticipate a fundamental shift in the next few years; no longer will there be endless cueing sessions in venues or rehearsal spaces. A great deal of the work will take place before a rig is assembled, and the on-site tech time will be used to hone and perfect the cues written during pre-vis sessions elsewhere. Just as the moving light was the exception to the rule 15 years ago, pre-vis is the exception to the rule today. But in much less time than it took the automated fixture to become ubiquitous in the entertainment industry, previsualization will become a standard part the production process.
Bill Berner

I'm enjoying watching lighting units getting smaller, particularly the intelligent moving lights. Also, I'm noticing that each new model is quieter: Many of these units can now be successfully used in productions where the sound of motors can be distracting. I recall a Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest: I saw Patrick Stewart screaming to technicians to turn off “those damned lights.”
Roma Flowers

The omnipresence of moving lights. They are still few and far between in the average regional theatre, but are becoming more and more common. I know that they are used extensively in commercial and business theatre, but on an average regional theatre scale, they are still too expensive. I look forward to their increasing presence in the regionals.
T.J. Gerckens

As much as I hate to say it, video will be the next substantial change in not only lighting/projection technology but in overall design technology. As projectors become more powerful, smaller, and more affordable, they will become more and more a tool as the Source Four is now. I feel strongly that there is a great danger of substituting a printed picture for theatrical creativity in the race to match the other forms of media around us. In the short term, using hundreds of video images can look cool; in the long term, if used unwisely, it is a dead end. New tools sometimes allow one to forget that there is no substitution for creativity.
Thomas Hase

One can only assume (or hope) that High End Systems' revolutionary Catalyst system is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of exciting new products for the 21st century. I can hardly wait to see what Peter Wynne Willson will spring from his Kentish Town (London) atelier next! He's also the mastermind behind the exciting new LED technology marketed by Bright Lighting, so anything is possible.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

Hopefully, wireless communication between everything: people, dimmer racks, consoles, color scrollers, moving lights. The current maze of different kinds of wires and protocols is just way too much work and far too many headaches to keep up with the accelerating pace of lighting today. Of course, the problem will be holding wireless communication to a much higher standard of reliability than we're used to with cell phones. That, and keeping a console in the Broadhurst Theatre from inadvertently running the lights at the Shubert!
John McKernon

As great as the Wholehog line and its many emulators are, I think there's a lot of room for growth in the control area of things. I'm eager to start playing with the Wholehog III system to see how far it'll raise the bar. ACN, or Ethernet data systems, will really improve things behind the scenes by increasing the bandwidth available for more specific control of ever-increasing fixture features. As far as light fixtures go, I think there's the obvious smaller, brighter, less wattage evolution that will continue, as well as the continued evolution toward image projection started out by the Catalyst and vaporous Icon M.
Chris Medvitz

I'll wait and see and hope I can afford it!
Carol Mullins

The next big change I'm looking forward to is wireless control systems and networks. Look how it's developed in a few short years. Imagine the possibilities!
Andrew Nikel

I'd like to see a PC-controlled “image screen” in the gobo runner of an ellipsoidal, not just a metal silhouette.
Chris Parry

In the immediate future, I see the further convergence of lighting and video. I see the tools for creating and running expressive video and being able to improve with it become easier and easier to use so that more and more video artists can express themselves in the theatrical world. Just like creative people seized on the automated light a decade ago and started to realize its potential, the same kind of revolution is happening in video today.
Arnold Serame

I believe the next thing is a true video projector/intelligent light hybrid. Icon M and Catalyst have made advances in this area and I believe it is just a matter of time before it all comes together in a nice tidy package.
Mike Swinford

End of Part 1