Rob is a Lighting Designer and Lighting Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and teaches stage lighting practice.
In the middle of summer(?) music festival madness, On Stage Lighting gives you a 30 minute schedule and a cheat sheet to help program up your lighting desk for three days of bands. The mud has been removed from this article for reasons of hygiene.
Ok, so you missed out on running a desk at Glastonbury this year but on your own stage you’ve got some moving spots and a load of PAR64s – the usual festival rig. There are three days of school kid bands, tribute acts and questionable hot dogs stretching ahead of you.
What are we trying to achieve?
Indoors or out, programming lights for multiple music acts is about flexibility. Creating different looks that are suitable for every act – even the German Oompah band.
Your programming must be easy to use, particularly if you will also be host to incoming guest Lighting Designers. They may get time to do their own programming, but it helps if your work is well organised.
Programming a lighting desk for flexibility is not about recording as many memories as you can. Creating lighting “ingredients” is key, so here is our tick list for flexible lighting programming.
The Important Bit
Programming moving lights for best “buskability” is about recording “building blocks”, palettes and memories, that you can instantly recall to create killer looks during the show. Elements such as colours, positions or movement are recorded separately and overlaid on demand – this is called recording “by attribute” (or by channel, partial memories etc.). Check your console manual for the details of this facility.
Programming your moving lights this way leaves you without “whole” looks in your desk. It’s flexible but does mean that operating a show will take some concentration. If you need a fall back, you could always program some full “safety”looks to push up when you run out of ideas (or fingers).
We’ve only got 30 minutes so we’d better get on with the programming.
Lighting Programming Cheat Sheet
The quick festival programming cheat sheet is in PDF format. Let’s look at the details.
Generics / Conventional Lighting
Get your PARs done. Subs for colour washes – Blue, Reds Amber, Whatever. Just 2 chases – Cold Chase (blues, lavenders, steels); Warm Chase (reds, ambers, pinks). You should be able to alter the chase speed and 2 or 3 steps per chase is fine.
Moving Light Programming
(don’t forget – record only relevant attributes!)
Groups – Quick selection of moving lights that are used for the rest of your programming AND during the show.
Front/Rear Spots – Whatever makes sense for your rig layout.
Odds and Evens – Or a way of selecting half of your Spots for “two colour” looks.
Once fixture selection is out of the way, next up is…
All Spots @ 100% submaster. This will be used in your show and be the basis of the rest of your programming. The fixtures need to be lit up to continue, so leave this sub @ full from now on. Make sure that your desk doesn’t record Dimmer @ 100% in all your other programming, though.
Dimmer/Intensity Chase – While we’re doing Intensity, a variable speed chase of your spots is useful.
While playing back your show, palettes allow you to apply colours, gobos and other settings to selected moving lights. If your desk doesn’t support palettes, you can try programming them as “by attribute” submaster memories – bit of a pain.
Get your moving spots pointing at the wall/floor, so you can see what the beam is doing.
Colour Palettes – Instead of using auto generated palettes, pick some colours that compliment your PARs. Don’t waste time filling up your palettes with hundreds of colours you are never going to use. Programming 6 – 8 colour palettes is plenty.
Colour wheel spin – Why not add in a colour changing palette for cheesy disco type looks? Colour spin speed is chosen based on how “bangin’” your gig is likely to be.
Again, choose gobos you are likely to use including a “beam splitter” gobo to use through haze.. Rotating gobos are most useful for moving effects. Set a Gobo focus at the same time.
Gobo Rotate – Fast / Slow / Stop. Speeds down to personal preference. Attributes like this need a “Stop” palette to halt them when required.
Shutter and Iris – Strobe On / Strobe Off / Random Strobe. Iris Wide / Iris Tight (for “pencil thin” beams)
Prism Palettes – Off / On No Spin / Spin. You can record a two spin speeds if you like.
Position Palettes – Spend a little time setting up your positions but don’t forget that you can tidy them up later (when it’s not so sunny).
Positions such as Up, Down, In, Out, Audience, Cross, Down Stage Centre, Drums etc. Set yourself a limit – 10 positions go a long way. If you record positions as partial memories, set a fade time of 3 seconds so they don’t crash into place, it looks better.
Finally, some Movement.
Shapes or Chases – Pan Saw / Tilt Saw / Another that you like ( diamond, square etc). Some consoles allow to adjust the size/speed “on the fly” – very useful. If not, then a bit more work recording Fast, Slow versions.
The moves are most useful if you can change their “centre point” with your position palettes, so only record the movement – not the actual position of your fixtures.
So that’s it. You could spend hours adding split colours or fancy positions but the elements on the cheat sheet list will give a wide range of lighting looks. Ok, if you are new to programming this might take you a bit longer that 30 minutes but with a bit of practice you could do it in 20.
Lighting programming is about a clear set of goals and an efficient use of your programming time – something that is harder if you don’t have a theatre style plotting sheet. A simple tick list can help you get it done.
If you have any questions or comments about programming or busking the lighting for a concert or festival, put them in box below.
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