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.
Following Concert Lighting Programming in 30 mins, Dimitris asked for more information on organising submasters/playbacks when lighting a concert. So here it is – ideas on how to layout your lighting console playbacks for simplicity and flexibility.
In Concert Lighting… we looked at using bits of programmed data, palettes and memories, as building blocks to create lighting looks “on the fly”. Each lighting op has their own pet way of laying out their desk (the guest LD who changed all my groups last week – me fumbling around trying to select fixtures for the support act!). This article is relevant to anyone who uses a console with some moving light control and submaster playbacks.
Busking Your Show
Playing back your show, you might only have access to 10 submaster faders at one time plus the ability to change pages. Memories can be only replayed with adjacent faders, so think about the vertical layout – how the memories on submasters stack on top of each other by sub page. The word “stack” here is going to refer to submaster memories that are on the same fader, different page.
Live and Trigger Memories
The programming on the cheat sheet relies heavily on Palettes, so few actual memories are programmed. If you prefer submasters or your desk doesn’t support many palettes, the layout of your subs is even more important.
A Dimmer or Intensity Submaster is usually only “live” on stage when physically faded up. If you use similar programming to the Concert Programming Cheat Sheet, these are the PAR colour washes and moving spot dimmer memories. Movement chases or shapes also must stay up to be live on stage, as are any LED colour submasters that are HTP. We’ll call these “Live” Memories.
Trigger memories, such as Strobe On, Colour Red or Prism Rotate, only need to be triggered by raising a fader or hitting a submaster flash button. These submasters, once activated, don’t have to remain faded up – in fact, you should get into the habit of clearing them once the moving lights have responded. This ensures you don’t end up with extra faders up, confusing when you are changing pages. Activating Trigger memories has a similar effect to choosing palettes for selected fixtures – it makes them do something else.
Choosing Submaster Layout
Understanding the two memory types, helps us decide on which memories not to stack on top of each other. You don’t want to have to “lose” your blue PAR wash, just to fire a new gobo into your waggly spots. So, stacking up Live memories with Trigger memories is avoided. Don’t forget that PAR colour washes can be instantly pushed up while fiddling with the next moving spot look, so keep them handy.
The image shows a selection of methods for ordering submaster memories over 3 pages. It is not a “real” layout but demonstrates the points below.
The memory types can also help you to choose subs that you can stack on top of each other. Maybe you won’t use a Spot Dimmer 100% sub at the same time as Spot Dimmer Chase, so they can stack up. Perhaps you could stack up a Circle Shape/Chase with a Pan Saw for the same reason – you are unlikely to run them both at once.
Each submaster page might have a few live memories, colour washes etc and a few trigger subs. The next page might have duplicates of some of the live memories, plus different triggers.
Duplicate subs are often used, to provide easy access to common Live memories on several submaster pages. There are two common ways to layout dupes.
Stacked – These memories, particularly colour washes, are stacked on top of each other. They have the benefit of the memory being on the same fader, even on different pages. The disadvantage is this approach can eat up submasters.
Diagonal – Stacking related attribute submasters diagonally has the advantage of being able to cut down the number of slots taken up by Live memories on each page. For example, put Blue Wash on Sub 1/ Page 1, Magenta on Sub 2 / Page 2 , Amber Sub 3 / Page 3 etc. This has the effect of putting similar memories (in this case Colours) “diagonally” across several pages (the yellow block in the image), giving flexiblity in using different memory types together. It’s a concept used by some Avolites Pearl operators but it’s not so easy without the famous Roller.
There’s no place like home.
Whatever layout you choose for your subs, you always need to know where you are. You can cut down “page confusion” by doing a number of things.
Create a Home Submaster Page – A lovely little page with all your favourite and most used stuff that you can feel at home in. When you have been off wandering across 6 pages of subs to get to the Freaky Techno Strobe sub, come right back before you end up staying amongst all those whacky effects you don’t remember programming. The home page could contain a “safety” look, Strobe Off or a “Just stop doing that , FFS!” memory as well as the basis of your show, good ol’ PAR washes.
Use only a few pages – A palette heavy programming style means you can fit a few colour washes, chases and shape or two on only 10 playbacks. If you need a bit more room, try using 1 page above and 1 page below your Home subs. 3 pages of good subs does plenty.
Get much further away from safety and you are asking for confusion. Straying across several pages, you end up with a handful of submaster faders running that you can’t quite recall what they do. Or even which page they are on.
Using Preset Faders
Assuming that your lighting desk allows, using Preset faders to push up dimmer levels can free up submasters for better uses. You don’t really need those Vocal spots on a sub or even your audience blinders. The layout of your preset faders is helpful here – different groups of lights in clusters next to each other. Use the whole desk, even the cue stack playback.
Find your own system
Everyone develops their own style when organising playbacks. Despite being a serial Avolites Pearl user, I have tried to keep the information to general ideas that can be used with any desks with submasters and pages. If you have any particular favourites playback tips or don’t understand anything, let us know in the comments section.
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