Our guest is international LD, Paul Smith as he shares his dream of a revolution in lighting control and asks if we aren’t stuck in a timewarp of cue stacks and faders. Should we continue to use a style of control that hasn’t changed for the best part of 20 years, or is there a better alternative?
Somewhere out there, right now, somebody exists that is going to create the next revolution in Lighting Control. I couldn’t say whether they are in their 60’s, or still in the womb, but I think we can make an educated guess that at some point in the next couple of decades, there will be a revolution in Lighting Control that will be so huge that it will change the way we work, and in the process, make somebody a lot of money.
Image by Danilo on Flickr
Why do I say that then? Well, while we have lots of controllers, from the best of the most expensive consoles, to the cheapest of the PC Based ‘Virtual’ desks I get the overwhelming impression that we are on the cusp of something better. These days, no matter what control device you use, the process of creating a ‘look’ on stage is much the same no matter the manufacturer. At the top end pro level (and let’s face it, if there is going to be a disruptive innovation, it is going to begin at the top end – they always do) the basic cue creation process is generally a case of physically pressing Intensity, Focus, Colour, and Beam Presets, or moving an encoder of some sort, hitting a key along the lines of ‘Record’ and dumping it to a cue stack or sub-master. No matter the console, it’s been that way for more than twenty years now, time for a change then? I think so.
I venture that too much time is spent looking at a desk, not at the picture in front of us, on stage. I think that the time is coming whereby we won’t have a physical console, as we know and love them today, in front of us at all. Maybe something along the lines of a Minority Report style screen, between us and the stage, where we can manipulate fixtures by waving our hands around a la Tom Cruise; maybe that day isn’t that far off. The company that developed the screens used in Minority Report are a real company that are actually developing products that do the job of manipulating data across just such a screen. Gaming consoles exist now that are capable of monitoring your position in a room, and reacting to your movements, with no gloves or magic wands required to capture your movements.
Image by jurvetson on Flickr
Granted there is still a hardware requirement with my scenario, and no doubt there would be a number of hurdles to overcome, but never say never. I would go so far as to say that the companies that would deliver such a magical device wouldn’t even be the console manufacturers that we know about today, more likely, I would humbly suggest, would be the likes of WYSIWYG, Capture, and ESP, the pre-vis specialists. The whole device in my head essentially resemble a large scale HUD (Head Up Display) as used in fighter jets and some civil airliners, something that would overlay a CAD Drawing of our lighting rig, and then allow us to manipulate the fixtures such that what would these days be the ‘pre vis shaded view’ could, looking through the glass, be the actual look on stage.
For quite a while now, ‘Convergence’ has been the consumer tech buzzword du jour, and something that has only really been mumbled about in the world of Lighting Tech. No matter your console of preference, I believe that while control of LED’s, Moving Lights, Media Servers, and Dimmers has, no doubt, improved significantly over the last ten years, we are still tied to twenty or even thirty year old technology in terms of the basic methods of control. Is it not time then that the software we use to draw the plan, the software we use to program the show, the software we use to drive the media servers, and the process of manipulating all of that data was ‘Converged’ into a device that could happily take care of it all?
Maybe I’m discussing nothing more than a fad then? Is it all nought but a pipe dream? Maybe.
Maybe we all at heart are so comfortable, and dare I say, cynical about new developments, that we mostly wait for the rest of us to take up the mantle of something new; such that it would instantly be dismissed as a gimmick. But then, there were many that said the same of Vari*Lite when the VL-0 was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. In fact, about 15 years ago, I had a discussion with a Director of a well known console manufacturer where we were both in agreement that three, and maybe for the really, really big gig’s four DMX lines would be more than we would ever need. How wrong we both were. On a recent production I had fired 30 universes of the stuff out the back of the console without event thinking about it.
Perhaps we should all start bugging our favourite manufacturers to start really pushing the boundaries with their next product. In an industry that thrives on creativity and innovation, are you not surprised to consider that our basic control interface has hardly changed over thirty years?
I’ll leave you with that happy thought, and maybe, just maybe, the creator of that next innovation is reading this and inspired…
Thanks Paul, really great food for thought. Make sure you have your say about the future of Lighting Control in the comments section. – Rob