Tech Talk: Keep Your Movers Moving

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET® Professional.

Broken lights are a nightmare. Moving lights are more so because they are complex machines that seem to never break down in an easily accessible location. Unless you have a magic wand in your toolbox, you will encounter broken moving heads somewhere in your lighting life.

An ounce of prevention:

Firstly, in order to try to keep lights from breaking, preventative maintenance is a great place to start.  Developing a regular schedule of checking under the covers will help you head off problems before they come up. I typically suggest a quarterly inspection for normal usage, if you are on a tour or in a club situation, then a monthly inspection may be a better plan. A few things to check for are the following:

Check belts. Are all of the belts tight enough and do they look worn at all? Belts should look almost like new all of the time. They should not show any signs of ripping or fraying. To make sure that they are tight enough, you should be able to twist them 90 degrees with a little force, but not much more than that. If the belt won’t turn at all, it is too tight, if it just spins to 180 degrees, it is too loose. This is a good rule to go by.

q-wash-436ZCheck fans. Are the fans clean? If not, you can use an air hose, but make sure that you are not allowing the fans to free spin with the air hose. While it sounds cool, you are causing major damage to the fan and to the driver PCB that the fan is attached to. Free spinning fans causes electrical feedback to the PCB and will damage the brushes inside the fan itself.

Clean optics. Is there any gunk buildup on your colors, prisms, lenses, or gobos? Cleaning your optics is important because you lose a ton of light when your effects are dirty. I strongly suggest using a lint free micro fabric cloth to clean off all of these components. Also, do not spray anything onto the colors or gobos. Spray the cloth. This will help to prevent spots on your optics, and also prevent overspray into the rest of the fixture.

Check connections. Are all of the wire harnesses properly connected? Make sure that everything is plugged in tight and that the cables are not crimped in anything.

Clean the base. Is there any dust build up in the base? This is especially common in night clubs. Fans suck in everything from hair, to smoke, to confetti. This tends to build up on top of the power supply and main PCB. Make sure that you clean all of this garbage out of the base. This will extend the life of your power supply and main PCB greatly. Remember that these items are really expensive to replace out of warranty.

Taking the above steps will really help in extending the life of your investment.

boxes-load-inLoad in check out:

So, it’s 6 a.m. and your coffee has not kicked in yet, but nonetheless, you are at load in. This is when you have your last chance to check your lights before you put them someplace where a problem is going to be harder to deal with. When you take the fixture out of the case, look at it. Make sure that none of the covers look out of place. Make sure that they are also on tight. Give the fixture a little shake and listen for any kind of lose items rattling around inside the fixture. Now hang it on the truss. Plug it in and run it. This is also a good time to make sure that your pan and tilt locks are off. Even if you do not have data run to the light yet, you can check the functionality of the fixture itself. Typically, if the fixture homes properly with no error codes, it is good to go, but I like to take it one step further and make sure that the lamp turns on (if it is a discharge light) and that the shutter blades open. If it is an LED fixture, run the virtual dimmer and shutter to full to make the LED come on. In both situations, you should see a bright white light and no gobos, colors, or prisms in the field. As only as you only see a bright white light, you should be in good shape. If you can add data, this is even better so that you can make sure that you can control everything. I also like to keep checking everything as the rig is going up. A ton of things can happen to your lights during their trip up to trim. Keep an eye on your gear as it moves.

Q-Spot 560-LEFTAnd then, the inevitable happens:

So, something broke. Now what? Typically there are symptoms of problems. For example, let’s say that you have no control from the console to the fixture, but the fixture works fine in test or stand alone mode. It could be a bad cable or a loose connection. It could also be that the fixture is in the wrong personality, the address is wrong. On the controller side, it could be a few things there as well. Did you just update firmware in your console?  In that case, the personality could be wrong in the console. The patch could be messed up, Are you using Art-Net? There could be a problem in a router or your Art-Net to DMX box could be behaving badly. I like to check the micro issues before I check the macro issues.  The above is the order that I would check this kind of problem. Each one is quick in of itself, but depending on your crew, could take a few minutes to check. When you find out what the problem was, write it down. Keep a log of every issue you have. Eventually, you will have a database of problem solving. When I worked on ships, I kept a log of the problems that I had in each showroom. This way, when I moved on to my next ship, the incoming lighting person would have something to start with. An entry might look something like this:

rig-moving-heads“Aug. 16, 2001 — fixture X needed lamp replacement. When the fixture was opened, not only was the lamp bad, but the base of the lamp had shattered inside of the holder. I removed the base of the lamp and found that the porcelain in the socket was cracked as well. I replaced the lamp socket. As a tip, make sure that the brand of lamp does not change. The bi-pin base of the lamp can change slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.”

Keeping notes like this can be tedious, but can and will save you time in the future. It also helps greatly when you are on the phone to technical support. The person you call for technical support genuinely wants to help you with your problem. They are going to ask you questions such as:

• Where are you located?
• Do you have a phone number and e-mail address to reach you?
• Are you on a show right now?
• Is the fixture still in the rig?
• What kind of controller are you using?
• What kind of power are you using?
• How many fixtures do you have power-linked together?
• How many fixtures do you have data linked together?
• Are you using an opto splitter?
• Are you using Art-Net?

Knowing the answers to the above will be really helpful. Especially if you are either on a show at that moment, or are away from your lights that you are calling about.

ldi-setupSafety first:

If you are having any kind of mechanical problem with a light, you need to unplug it from the rest of your rig immediately. Not only power, but data as well. A bad fixture can cause you data problems up or down the line. If for some odd reason there is a bad enough problem, it is possible to get a voltage spike in the data cable that can cause your opto splitter to fry, and if you don’t have an opto splitter in line, then your console is in danger. (This is why I ALWAYS have each universe of DMX isolated with an opto splitter between the console and the first fixture) If you do have a light that is down and it is 30 feet in the air, leave it there until it is safe to actually get to it. Don’t just go climbing up the truss to replace it. Keep a rope in your road box that is long enough to pull a fixture up and drop it down. I keep a pulley in my case for this as well. If something seems like a bad idea before you do it, most likely it is.

 

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Tech Talk: “On Tour: Tait Stages” or Watchable Reality TV

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET® Professional

I was flipping through the guide a few weeks ago and stumbled on a reality show that cannot possibly be staged. Reason being: it’s all about building stages. “On Tour: Tait Stages” gives a pretty realistic view of what goes on from planning a show all the way to the first few load ins. The AXS TV website describes it as “a documentary series following the employees of Tait Towers and its clients with a behind-the-scenes peek into the world of designing, building, and touring stage sets.”

While I have never tried to pull off anything as complex as what Tait Towers does every day, I can find this show easy to relate to as the process, no matter the scale of a show, is still the same. As I consider myself an industry professional, my wow factor is set pretty high—I am not easily impressed. However, I can freely admit how extremely impressed I am with how this show is put together. The access that Tait Towers allows the camera crew is pretty stunning.
Tait Towers Bon Jovi Hexs

Without revealing any top trade secrets, I think it is cool that they show as much as they did during the planning stages of the Bon Jovi “Because We Can” tour. Specifically, the scenic design going through revision after revision while trying to get elements built so that the build process would not fall behind. Without ruining the ending for you, they did succeed. As for budget, well, they never brought that up.

During the Madonna “MDNA” load in, they showed how they label their scenery carts. They not only have their logo on it (so you can see who it belongs to), but also its stage location, the items that are on the cart, as well as a 3D CAD rendering showing how the items on the cart go together and how they are used in the final assembly. For me, this one bit of insight was worth watching the whole show.

It was really cool to see how the different teams of designers, fabricators, accountants, MP900402515and clients all work together. It is extremely apparent that there are major stressors at play during the filming.  Deadlines do not change, even when the plans do. Problems come up in the real world, and they have to be dealt with before they get out of hand. Watching someone else deal with these never-ending issues is a great learning experience for all of us.

This show gives us an inside look at the touring industry from an insider’s point of view. While watching, I am taking away from it as much useful information that I can. For someone outside of our little world, it is good entertainment and should make people realize that the show does not appear from nowhere.  It takes time and effort to make it look awesome. It is also vindication to anyone whose parents told them there is no money in rock and roll.

For anyone with an interest in this industry — and I would assume that you do, as you are reading this technical tip — I would strongly suggest checking this show out:

ON TOUR: TAIT STAGES – Bon Jovi’s “The Hexes” – Part 2 from Dialogue Pictures on Vimeo.

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Tech Talk: No Effect Before Its Time

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET® Professional.

Building up anticipation is a powerful tool. You hear it in music with the lead up to a crescendo, you see it in a suspense movie, you read about it in great works of literature. But…you are supposed to also see it in lighting.

I. Start small, go bigger:
One of the things about a great light show is to create a sense of anticipation in the audience. The key to this is to not give away all of your tricks in the first 10 seconds of the show. Take your time. Bring in effects slowly over the course of a show. I’m not saying to make the beginning of your show boring. On the contrary, make it dynamic with moving heads with sharp focus and no gobos positioned at contrasting angles. Use your static fixtures in primary colors. If you are using video panels, keep the content basic. As the show goes on, start adding in effects slowly. Add in gobos to the movers, start using mixed colors in your pars. Always hold something back to be used at the right moment. Having spinning gobos and prism wheels for the entire show is going to get really old quickly for the audience; however, using it when it makes sense is really effective.

 VeeLounge-sp2II. Effective effects:
Adding effects when the time is right is really important. If a song does not call for a strobe effect, don’t use it. You have to make sure that your design ideas make sense. For example, having massive color changes and your moving heads in an offset can-can for a dramatic slow song is a really bad idea. However, you can do a nice blue stage effect with some red or purple overtones — this will look really nice. Add in a few break-up gobos on the backdrop and now you have something really sweet. If you are covering “Pinball Wizard,” then having the movers going crazy with massive color changes makes perfect sense.

VeeLounge-sp1III. Cue structure:
Cueing is really important. Or at the very least, make sure that you know what material you are lighting, so that you know when to make a change. For the lights to match the subject you are lighting, you have to have motivation from the stage colors to change. I’m not saying that the cues have to be predictable, but if your talent is standing stage left, making the lights move to stage right is not a good idea. You have to wait for the time to be right. Hitting “go” at the wrong time can really mess up a show. This is particularly true for magic acts, acrobats, and jugglers. If you mess up one of their cues, it could mean a trip to the hospital. Again, anticipation of a lighting change is a powerful thing. You are creating an imaginary experience for the audience. It is up to you to accent what is happening on the stage. The light has to convey the right message to the audience and it has to match the action on the stage.

VeeLounge-sp3All in all, the idea of good lighting is to make sure that something that is happening on stage motivates you to create a lighting look. Using that motivation will ensure that you have created a design that will make the audience appreciate the show that you have worked so hard to design. Let the show content guide you in your design and you will almost never be wrong.

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Tech Talk: Know Before You Show

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET® Professional.

Since my son was born 6 years ago, I have had a lot of experience with “some assembly required,” then having to show him how to use the thing that I just spent way too long building. Reading the manual helps a lot with situations like this, and also having some time to play with it first before showing him how to use it. Admittedly, sometimes I have a hard time giving up the new toy and letting him play with it.

I. Read the manual. Reading the manual may not seem like an important thing, but to be honest, it is really important, especially when you are using a fixture you have never used before. The manual will have important information on rigging, operation, power specification and installation. All of this is pretty important when you have your brand new light and you are trying to guess how to hang it, set a DMX channel, or navigate through the menu map. By guessing on how to operate or hang a fixture, you may end up damaging it before you even get to use it. Reading and understanding the specifications of the fixture will also help you to better apply the fixture to a particular situation.

toy-houseII. Check out the light before the show. Playing with your new light before you get to a show is also a great idea. This will prevent you from having to do on-the-job training and not being able to fully utilize the awesomeness of the fixture. There is nothing worse than walking in to program something, looking up and not knowing the gear that is in the rig, or how to utilize it. I love setting up lights in my living room and getting a chance to see how fast it pans tilts, and what colors look best plastering the walls. It is also a good time to work with a new fixture without any distractions. This is also the perfect time to make sure that the fixture profiles are working properly and that you will not have any on-site problems that could have been caught beforehand.

instruction-manual-1This is even more important when using multimedia gear like projectors or video walls. Not knowing the ins and outs will add a lot of time into the programming of your show and could cost you future shows with the same people. It is really apparent when you are trying to figure out something on the fly. The sweat dripping off your forehead is a dead giveaway.

Chauvet provides great documentation including manuals and quick resource guides for all of the products. We also have product videos that show exactly what they can do. This information is available at www.chauvetlighting.com. I highly suggest checking it out, as it is a great resource of information and inspiration for making your show a success.

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Tech Talk: 16-Bit Dimming for LEDs

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET® Professional.

The latest push in the world of LED lighting has been control of said LEDs. Dimming has been a problem since the beginning of LEDs in the entertainment industry and has effectively made it so that it is unacceptable to many lighting designers to use LEDs for anything except scenic elements and highlighting. For some reason, having a ‘steppy’ low end that looks like a flat tire sounds is a bad thing.

Chauvet has done some amazing things over the past few years with regards to this problem. We released fixtures with built-in dimming profiles a few years ago in the COLORado™, COLORdash™ and Q-Series™ of products to help with the visual version of ‘thump thump thump,’ and that helped a lot. Doing a fade from 50% to 0 over a few seconds now looked a lot smoother. The bar has been raised again.

Several manufactures (including Chauvet) are introducing 16-bit LED dimming, which virtually eliminates any remnants of the dreaded ‘steppiness’ that has plagued the industry for years. Chauvet has already released several products with 16-bit dimming included, such as the Ovation™ series or COLORado™ 4 IP to name a few.

Microsoft Word - Document2Sixteen-bit dimming offers the user the ability to easily control LED dimming just like you would control fine pan and fine tilt. As always, there are 255 steps of control in 8 bit (standard) dimming control. With the fine control offered in 16-bit mode, there are 255 additional steps between each step of the standard 8-bit dimmer channel. This additional level of control allows the fixture to act much more fluid in dimming, especially at the low end where it has always been problematic. In the DMX personality, the channels would be set up like in the image at right, in the case of the COLORado™ 4 IP.

 

Microsoft Word - Document2

If the profile is set up correctly on your console, all you will see is something similar to the image on the left. This is because the person who built the profile has already incorporated the normal operation with the fine control, in the same way that fine pan and fine tilt are included in the parameters for pan and tilt in most personalities. If you could see the values of the 16-bit channel move during a cross fade, you would see the numbers whip from 0 to 255 and back again faster than you could possibly read them. However, if you are using a fader controller, you will still have to use the fine channels for tweaking your color output and is most useful in the very low end of control. What I would suggest is to have the main control at your desired level of output and the fine control at full. I would suggest dragging the main level to zero during dimming and drag the fine control to zero following the main control. This will give you the best control of the low end in a manual situation.

As a final tip, in any 16-bit control situation, it is important to turn off any dim setting or dim curve settings. They should be both turned off so that there is no conflict between the controller and the fixture. Keep in mind, those settings were designed to help the fixtures compensate for 8-bit control. As long as you are using a 16-bit personality, your fixture does not need any help on low end dimming.

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Tech Talk: LED Lights, Camera, Action!

Mike-new-blogsize

—Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET® Professional.

Over the past few years, we have covered a really wide range of topics. I don’t think we have ever covered video lighting.  So, with no further ado, we proudly present, [insert drum roll here] … lighting for video.

There are a few commonalities in how we approach this subject. It’s all about angles and elevation. Without even talking about fixtures, let’s approach positioning first.

I. Know your angle: 

There are three major types of lighting in video:
Key lighting — In an ideal setting, I would suggest getting your key lights (front lights that cover the subject being lit) at about a 20-degree angle above the subject and about 45 degrees off to each side of the subject. This will minimize the shadows on the front of your subject. Key lighting is the business side of video lighting; it makes up for the brightest lights in the room and are only there to highlight the subject.

CHAUVET® Professional COLORado™ Zoom WW Tour

CHAUVET® Professional COLORado™ Zoom WW Tour

Fill lighting — For fill lights, (side and back light that is used) angle higher (45 degrees plus to the top and 20 to 30 degrees to each side.) Fill light is less intense than key and often will have color in it. Fill light is used to give the subject depth and is the more artistic portion of video lighting.

Scenic lighting — is what is used to light up the set (same as in theatrical lighting). Scenic lighting is totally up to you, but don’t make it too bright as you want to make sure you don’t have to bring up your key light so much that your subject is burning up, or more importantly, the video director is not telling you to dim stuff down because all he can see is white glow on his monitor.

II. First steps for your design:

This is where I would start a design: much like in theatre lighting, you can divide up your stage area where the video is being shot into acting areas, and then create your lighting plot accordingly. Again, like theatrical lighting, video lighting is all about building a lighting position and repeat. This is why a TV studio looks like a lighting showroom. Each person who is sitting on a news set has his/her own key and fill lighting.

CHAUVET® Professional Ovation™ E-190WW

CHAUVET® Professional Ovation™ E-190WW

Tips for practical applications — When it comes to the more practical applications like corporate meetings, the common setup is to have a speaker in the middle of a raised stage between two projection screens. In some cases, there is a projection screen in the middle of the stage, as well. In these cases, you have a few obstacles in the way of your lightshow. You have to keep all of your key and fill lighting off of the screens and on the presenter, which shouldn’t pose a problem as long as the presenters stay at a podium in the center of the stage. A little front light, a little side light, a little back light and away we go. However, what if you have a “wandering target”?  Let’s say that you have someone who likes to walk and talk at the same time. How do we light that and keep our projection screens clear of any ambient light? At this point, sidelight becomes more important. We will have to raise our front light up to about a 35-40-degree angle and use more side light. Fresnel-style fixtures with barn doors are great for this application. You can cut off the light from the upstage side and flood out the front. Your sidelight will act as your fill in this case and should keep your presenter in good light no matter where he/she wanders. With regards to your front light, you just need more of it. I would suggest using ellipsoidal fixtures for this application. The beam is very directional and you can shutter-cut the upstage side to keep the light off of the screens. When you have your front lights all in position, you may want to throw them slightly out of focus so that the edges of each fixture even out with each other and prevent hotspots. To be honest, it is almost exactly how you would light a dance recital.

CHAUVET® Professional Ovation™ F-165WW

CHAUVET® Professional Ovation™ F-165WW

III. Know how to color:
So now we have a little information about positioning of lights and some suggestions about what kind of lights to use. What about color? What are my best bets for making all of this blend together and come out looking professional? Front light, as we have discussed is all about the cameras getting what it needs. Most cameras like warm light (3,100K-4,000K) depending on the camera. CHAUVET® Professional Ovation™ E-190WW and Ovation™ F-165WW offer a 3,150K light source and it is possible to cool them down a little if needed with a correction gel. Another source of white light is the CHAUVET® Professional COLORado™ Zoom WW Tour. This fixture has tunable white colors that can be adjusted anywhere inside of the typical range of warm white. It can also be zoomed from a tight to wide angle to assist with coverage if needed. For side, top, and backlight, it is very common to use more color in them.

CHAUVET® Professional Ovation™ C-1280FC

CHAUVET® Professional Ovation™ C-1280FC

Again side, top, and backlight are all types of fill light. The main purpose of these light sources is to add definition to the subject that is being lit.  Since you are blasting them with front light, your subject will be flattened out. The fill light needs to be just bright enough to add some definition to the subject that you are lighting. Personally, I like to keep it natural. A combination of warm ambers and cool sky colors is a really good way to make sure that your subject stands out; just keep it diffused and not too bright — just enough light to make your subject look natural. Scenic lighting is just that. It makes the scenery look better than it did when it came off the truck. Simple uplighting and some strategically placed gobos will  do the trick most of the time. It is amazing what you can do with a six-pack of WELL™ 2.0 battery-operated wash lights and two Ovation™ E-190WW fixtures with break up gobos installed.

IV. Remember your people:
Now that we have our lights positioned, focused and colored, we have to work more with the camera people. The first thing that they would probably do after they set up is a white balance on their cameras. This is the time when they will ask you to turn your front lights up to full. They will put a white sheet or something of that nature in the middle of the stage and adjust their cameras to the light that is reflecting off of the white material. This sets the camera iris and color sensors so that when they shoot, the subject does not get blown out and look like a ghost onstage. This is particularly important for live applications where there is no way to correct the images in postproduction.

By now you should be fairly set to run your show. Keep in mind that it will look too bright onstage for your taste in most cases. However, for the people who are shooting video, this is just perfect!

 

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Tech Talk: On-Site Problem Solving

Mike Graham comfortable in the spotlight.

Written by Mike Graham, product manager for CHAUVET® Professional

One of my favorite lines from “The Breakfast Club” is “It’s an imperfect world. Screws fall out all the time”. Truer words have never been spoken. If you ask any seasoned show technician, they will tell you that they remember more shows that went wrong than went right. The trick is to know how to react when it all goes wrong.

This past week during the Super Bowl, the lights went out. When I saw that, my first thought was, “I’m glad I’m not there working.” My second thought was, “How will they get the lights back on and keep everyone in the stands safe while doing so?” From what I could tell on TV, it looked like the security team and the engineers at the stadium had a good action plan to cover the unthinkable happening. That could have been a complete disaster, but luckily for everyone at the stadium, it was fixed and the game went on.

Here are a few tips on how to keep show problems from becoming showstoppers:

1. Know your gear – Knowing the ins and outs of your gear will make it a lot easier to get yourself out of trouble. If you know your gear really well, you will be comfortable enough to be able to punt if you have to.

2. Have backup of important control items – If your budget allows, it is a great idea to have a backup controller on hand if the one that you are running your show from dies. Have at least one extra DMX line from the controller to your dimmers or opto-splitters. In case one of your DMX universes goes down, you will be able to change the cable. With regards to Art-Net or video control, I highly recommend having a backup Ethernet cable in your snake so that in the unlikely event of your main cable getting damaged, you have your spare ready to go.

3. Practice punting – During rehearsal, I strongly suggest practicing switching out gear, in order to be prepared if something fails. If you don’t have time during rehearsal, at least talk to your team about what to do if the unthinkable happens. Have a clear and concise method of communicating problems and what to do about fixing it. Make sure that your talent is also aware of your backup plans.

4. Keep a list of cell numbers handy of your crew – If for some reason, your headset communication dies, cellphones are a great backup. At least good enough to let people know that there is a problem and that you have lost your headsets. I also recommend that you keep their numbers written down and not just in your contact list on your phone. That way if you lose your phone, you are covered still.

5. Keep calm and rock on – At the end of it all, the most important thing is to make sure that everyone who came to the show leaves safely. We have a responsibility to make sure that happens.  Don’t sweat blowing a cue.  Everyone does it.  Don’t even sweat losing control of your lights, just fix it.  Get the house lights up, turn on work lights, but make sure that there is light.  As long as people can see, even a little, they will stay calm and orderly.

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