Console ProgrammingLearn Stage Lighting

Moving Light Control – Groups – Lighting Desk Basics 3

The third part of the Lighting Desk Basics series, On Stage Lighting looks at the elements of moving light control. Article 2 – Intelligent Lighting Control, looked at the first steps of controlling moving lights, fixture personalities and patching. Using Groups to control your “heads” is the next step in console programming like the professionals.

A Change Of Style

When you first get your hands on some moving lights and a controller, you may have already cut your teeth operating the school/church lighting desk, setting levels for different dimmer channels and using them for cues/scenes or “states”. If you were lucky enough to have a “memory” console, the cues were recorded as they looked on stage and then played back when needed. Pretty simple.

Because moving lights have many more parameters or “attributes” to command (pan, tilt, colour etc), it soon becomes apparent to a beginner operator that just making the stage look good and hitting “record” before moving to the next “state” is not enough. Even a straight forward, cue-cue theatre show would benefit from a slightly more structured approach.


There is sometimes a few meanings to “Groups” in moving light control but to clarify, here is the definition for the purposes of this article.

A Group is a shortcut to selecting a number of fixtures at once prior to controlling them, changing colour/position etc. E.g Group 1 = Back Truss Washes, Group 2 = FOH MAC2000 lights.

Moving Light Groups

Before you can adjust moving lights on your control desk, you need to select them. Each moving light control has it’s own method but they usually boil down to pushing a button/touchscreen or typing a number into a keypad. If you only have four Mac250+ then you probably could do that but with tens or even hundreds of fixtures at your finger tips, using groups is quicker and more convenient.

To record a Group of fixtures on a moving light control, you just select the “heads” for that group then store/record them. If the console allows, would also help you to give them a name, such as “Back Truss Washes” or “FOH Spots”, to remind you which moving lights the group will select.

Remember, no cues have been programmed yet. You now have a set of shortcuts to assist your programming.

Group Order

Many moving light controls that support groups also have a useful tool that is not obvious to the first time user. When you start applying effects to your fixtures such as colour and movement “shapes” the effect can look quite different depending on how you recorded your Group.

When recording a Group, if you selected your fixtures consecutively– 1,2,3,4, any effect/shape would be applied to the moving lights in 1234 order. If you had selected the moving heads – 3214, the effect is applied in that order and the final look on stage different. A Shutter Chase that runs from one end of a truss to the other (1243) is not the same as one that fires in a less orderly way (3214).

Knowing that you can control the look of effects by recording groups of fixtures in a different order is really useful!

Moving Light Pre Programming

Something that is often overlooked when getting some moving lights for the first time on your show is – Time.

Although you don’t have to go up a ladder and focus them, change gels or even fit an iris, they take longer to program. Obviously, this is because they have more elements to be controlled quite apart from the learning curve that goes with a more complex lighting controller.

Before you sit down with the Director to plot the lighting for the show, you need to have done some pre programming. Getting your Groups recorded is part of the “building blocks” of moving light control that should be done before everyone else is sitting on your shoulder, telling you about that big effect they want in the middle of Act 2.

Another “building block” that should be pre programmed by any good moving light operator are called Palettes. It could be argued that Palettes are the most useful tool in effective moving light control and they are the subject of the next part of this series – Moving Light Control – Pallettes.

You might also be interested in:

Books on Stage Lighting – 5 Of The Best
DMX Lighting Systems – Is Anybody Listening?
DMX PC Stage Lighting Control Software

Lighting Desk Basics 1 – Beginners Guide
Lighting Desk Basics 2 – Start Intelligent Lighting Control

  1. jbaldrid

    Ok, so I’m trying to make a new group, but I don’t know where I go to select the heads. Do I select them in the patch section that lists my fixtures? Or is there another place where I select them for grouping?

  2. Rob Sayer

    You need to select them in the usual programming environment (ie not in the Patch), as is common with most desks. Selecting the fixtures in MagicQ happens in a variety of ways but the simplest is to have a programming window active such as Group, type in the head numbers (1 > 4 or 1 + 6 +7, for example) and then @ Full (which is # on MagicQ PC) This brings the fixtures to full as well as selecting them for recording into a group. Make sure you have a CLEARed programmer to start with to avoid confusion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.