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.
Programming moving lights on a modern intelligent lighting console involves some new techniques for the novice console operator, not least the use of “Palettes”. Using palettes is an important method for efficiently programming intelligent fixtures and organising their attributes such as colours, gobos, pan, tilt etc into manageable chunks. On Stage Lighting explains the principles behind palettes, why they are used and how to get the best from your moving lighting control.
In Lighting Desk Basics PART 1, we looked at the first principles of lighting control and moved on to the specifics of moving light control such as patching and fixture selection in Part 2 and Part3. Now you have control of your moving lights and can select them quickly, using “Groups”, you are ready to start programming. In the beginning, a novice moving light operator might be content with setting up a “state” or scene on the console, adjusting colour and other fixture attributes before recording the scene to a memory and moving on to the next look. But, there is a better way…
What is a Palette?
A way of storing and organising different moving light setting.
In moving light control, a pallette is a mini-memory of fixture attributes that is the building block of larger scenes. So, it might be all fixtures colour set to red, gobo 2 or postion Up Stage Centre. Palettes are recorded and then can be called up at the touch of a button, saving all that wheeling through colours, gobos or re-adjusting the position back to the one in the previous scene. Select some moving lights, hit USC, Red and Gobo 2 and you have a new look in seconds. It gets better…
What is so great about using Palettes?
Flexibility and Speed.
When you record a pallette such as Position = USC on your moving light console, it is stored with the attribute settings for each fixture that you selected and adjusted to make them all point Up Stage Centre.
When you use that USC pallette to record a memory or scene, the moving light control saves the palette into the scene, rather than the actual attribute values. So it just “thinks” of it as Pallette USC .
If you record another memory using USC, the console still references the same pallette and stores it in this cue too.
Changing the values in the USC palette to adjust the position of your Up Stage Centre focus then effectively changes the position in ALL of the cues that you used the USC palette in. Pretty useful if the director changes their mind a lot or if you are touring a show into different venues.
The benefit of this “updating” strategy is most obvious when using Pan/Tilt attributes (Position) but is equally useful with others particularly colour mixing and focus/zoom.
Where do I find the Red palette on my lighting console?
You need to create it.
The important thing to understand about pallettes is that they are user defined. This means that YOU set you moving lights to red, store the palette and call it “Red”. You could call it Lee106 or Elephant – it doesn’t matter to the desk.
Many professional lighting consoles have system to Auto Create a number of palettes to save time for the operator. This works for colour wheel and gobo settings because they are not dependent on external factors such as the position of your fixtures or the height or your lighting bar/truss (position pallettes are only useful when set up “live”). Having automatically created your colour pallettes for you, they then appear in the palette menus ready for use. Professional operators often don’t use the Auto Palette function of their moving light controller, preferring to set colours/gobos up manually, according to the requirements of the show.
Doesn’t setting up palettes take more programming time?
It actually saves time in the end.
Recording and organising your pallettes is not something you do during the official lighting plot. The director and prodution team don’t need to sit your shoulder and watch you fiddling with wheels and storing palettes. These building blocks can be set up as soon as you have control of some moving lights, while generics are being focussed or even other parts of the show are being rigged. When you do sit down at the “the plot” you will be ready to call up settings in a few seconds.
It is important to make sure there is time to do it, though – don’t just get the rig up and then sit down with the director and start plotting. Try to get others (directors, designers, PM’s etc) to understand that if they want these lovely moving lights, they take a lot more programming than 36k of PARs.
Ok, I’m convinced. How to I set up my Palettes?
Each moving light console is different but it usually goes like this:
- Start with a BO or press Clear.
- Select your moving lights and open the shutter so you can see them.
- Set them all to red.
- Record the palette, making sure you’re only storing colour information.
- Name the pallette Red.
- Do another one.
Palettes have other uses.
As well as being able to organise your moving lights settings for programming a show, palettes can be used to “busk” music shows live. The ability to call up colours, positions etc instantly mean that you can make decisions, tune your lighting to the action and create hundreds of different looks with a minimum of console programming. And if you end up with a look you are really pleased with – store it for later!
This article has only touched the surface of the capabilites of palettes in moving light control. Understanding what you could achieve using these simple steps in light programming can take a bit of time but it is worth the effort. And you are on the road to moving light control like the professionals.
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