Intelligent Lighting Control – Lighting Desk Basics 2

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007 - Console Programming, Learn Stage Lighting - by:

A top end professional intelligent lighting control desk and the moving light section on a cheap lighting control have common features. Understanding these elements, while not teaching you to become a moving light operator, can help a beginner learning any intelligent lighting desk. In the second part of the Lighting Desk …series, On Stage Lighting starts looking at the features of intelligent lighting control.

What makes an intelligent lighting control so special?

Can you use a conventional lighting desk to operate intelligent lighting? Well, if it outputs a
standard control signal such as DMX512 then, in theory, yes. But it won’t be easy unless you are controlling some really simple kit such as RGB colour mixing LED fixtures. The main “extras” that an intelligent lighting control has is a user interface designed to make controlling your fixtures easy and a system of cue playback which ensures that all the different attributes (gobo, colour, pan, tilt etc) are organised and replayed in the best way.

Any decent intelligent lighting console will allow you to also control your conventional dimmers.

Avolites Pearl Moving Light Control

Intelligent Lighting Attributes

The point of intelligent lighting fixtures is that they can do lots of things. Colours, gobos, movement, strobes and other effects are part of the armoury of the such lights and these features depend on the manufacturer and model. Previously, the lighting operator only had to worry about intensity control using a dimmer. Now each light has any number of different “attributes” that need to be marshalled with the console and the ability to handle this task efficiently is what makes a good intelligent lighting control. And a “moving light” operator!

So, an intelligent lighting desk will have a way of controlling and recording the different attributes of each fixture. But does the desk know how to control each type of intelligent fixture and where the send the colour or gobo signal? This is where the “Fixture Personality” comes in.

Fixture Personalities

Every make and model of intelligent lighting has it’s control channels allocated in a special order. So, the dimmer may be controlled by channel #1, pan (horizontal) movement by channel #2, colour by channel # 5 etc. This is laid down by the manufacturer of the fixture and is mapped out and presented in a table format, usually in the User Manual. This mapping of control channels is called the “Fixture Personality” and, using a Fixture Personality file, an intelligent lighting console connects the lighting operator to the correct Attribute and displays the appropriate information.

Have a look at the fixture personality for a Robe MSZoom 250 (open in new window). You will notice that Intensity (Dimmer) control is on channel #16 or #14 while Tilt is controlled using channel #1.

Intelligent lighting fixture personalities are usually created by the console manufacturer and are unique to a particular brand of lighting desk, often in the form of a text file. A personality file from an Avolites lighting control means nothing to an ETC desk.
No time for a quick rant on the standardisation of Personality Files. Another day, perhaps.

Some hardcore desk operators like nothing better than to create their own custom fixture personalities. If this isn’t for you, then you just make sure that you have the correct fixture personalities for the intelligent lighting you intend to control.


Patching an intelligent lighting control is telling it two things:

The types of fixtures that you wish to control.
The control channels to use for each fixture.

Using a DMX512 control system, once you have loaded the fixture personalities and assigned each fixture to a fader or button, you can allocate the DMX start address of each piece of equipment. These are the addresses that you will also need to set on the lighting fixtures themselves in order for them to listen to commands from the lighting control.

If you are new to DMX lighting systems, you might like to take a look at DMX Lighting Systems – Is Anyone Listening?

You Have Control…

Once you have your intelligent lighting control patched correctly and your fixtures set to the correct DMX start addresses, you need to actually get control of those waggly beasts and begin the building blocks of moving light control – Groups and Pallettes. These are the subject of the next part of the Intelligent Lighting Control series, Moving Light Control – Groups.

You might also be interested in :

Books On Stage Lighting – 5 of the Best
DMX Lighting Systems – Is Anyone Listening?

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Rob is a Lighting Designer and Moving Light Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production at Bath Spa University in the UK. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and runs workshops in stage lighting practice.

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