This article gives you a peek at the tips and tools you need to become a better Pearl operator once you have got the hang of recording a memory.
It has been said in the UK that if you can’t use an Avolites Pearl, you’re not a real lampie. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but the well loved Avo desk seems to inhabit more FOH control positions than any other. The Pearl is known for it’s versatility and good “hands on” interface with faders, buttons plus the world famous Rolacue – all ready to be played like a Steinway. The launch of the Pearl Tiger at PLASA2007 brought the “Avolites way” within reach of smaller shows and budgets.
The user manuals for the Pearl / Pearl Tiger are well written and those who attend the official Avolites training give it the thumbs up. While many people can use a Pearl, a lot of the best features of the desk can seem hidden in the quirky Avo system. Particularly if, like me, you are not the kind of person who likes to learn by reading User Manuals but prefers the “push buttons until it breaks” school of personal advancement.
The following tips/hacks/ideas will help you to find the most powerful features and speed up your programming “agility” – and ability, for that matter.
The Avolites Pearl 2000/ 2004 / 2008 / 2010 / 2012 Olympic Limited Edition (ok, not that one) share their operating software with the Pearl Tiger, so everything listed here works with the Tiger too. A lot of the concepts are also common to the larger desks including the Pearl Expert and Diamond4 (though the interface of the D4 is a bit different).
These tips skip over the whole “select fixtures”, “change attributes” and “how to record a memory”. Make sure that you can patch up some heads, bosh a look onto a submaster, hit CLEAR and play it back. The basics are already covered well enough by the User Manual – we’ll assume you know them. I would hesitate to call this a full Advanced Pearl Programming Tutorial but more of a heads up on what the desk has to offer to to advance your skills as a Pearl operator.
If you don’t have a Pearl in front of you, download the free Pearl 2004 simulator from the Avolites website.
Recording By Fixture or By Channel
In Concert Lighting Programming in 30 minutes, we talked about the benefits of recording “building blocks” By Channel (attributes such as P/T, colour etc) rather than saving whole fixture information into a cue. You might know that you can toggle the record mode on the the Pearl By Fixture or By Channel in the User Settings screen (hold down the AVO key and select “User Settings” softkey by the screen).
What you might not have noticed is that you can also toggle this while recording a memory. Having set up your look, hit the MEMORY button but before selecting a playback notice that the top softbutton B says Record Mode = . This button toggles the recording mode while you are working which is useful if you are recording different types of memory or using By Channel to edit existing ones.
If you usually prefer By Fixture and select By Channel for only 1 save, switch back before you continue to avoid nasty surprises later on. This can be done quickly after saving the cue by hitting MEMORY again, toggling the record mode and the EXITing out before actually recording anything. Record mode retains the state in which it was last set.
Being able to selectively record attributes can help with editing, not just recording and playback. Say you are “live” in show and need to make a change to the position of a moving head ( for the sake of argument, you haven’t recorded this position as a palette). Hit CLEAR (always hit CLEAR on the Pearl to start!). Changing the P/T and merging (MEMORY – SUBMASTER- Merge Memory) the data in By Fixture mode overwrites the position data for that head (albeit with the same values).
Knowing that you have another memory that needs the same positional alteration, but with different colour values, you can “overwrite” just the P/T data in the 2nd cue by recording By Channel. This adds only the Pan and Tilt information in the Programmer, leaving the rest of the cue untouched. You can keep adding these programmer values to any subs that you need to before hitting CLEAR (quick, there’s a cue coming up) and restoring full show control.
Creating a chase on the Pearl, you can mix up each step with By Fixture or By Channel data. Set up your first step – CHASE – Select Playback Swop – Set Fixture/Channel (soft A) – Hit Swop to record step. Repeat each step, toggling By Channel/Fixture as you like.
The can be useful when creating a one-shot chase for some fancy changes. If the first step should just change position of the previous look but the next step needs to set a whole new look, the first step can just be By Channel P/T information. Step 2, the “whole fixtures” step, makes damn sure that you get what you asked for (sometimes referred to as a Block cue). This kind of consideration is important outside of a theatre stack style, where every cue comes in a known sequence.
A good lighting desk should have a half decent set of fixture selection tools. The Pearl supports fixture Groups and a couple of other tools such as Odd and Even selection. New Avolites users often use the fixture buttons (blue Preset Swop) to call up fixtures. Using Groups speeds up the process and gives your fingers time to do other things while hovering in the same area of the console, particularly when using multiple pages of fixtures. If you have 60 faders of dimmers on Page 0, you don’t want to be having to go back and forth across 4 pages of presets just to select other fixtures by reaching across the faders.
The latest versions of the Pearl / Tiger software have fancy ways of naming and recalling groups using the VDU and softbuttons. I still just record groups using an easy numbering system and call them up from the keypad. 1 – Recall Group (softbutton A) = All Spots is two button presses. 11 – Recall Group = Randomised All Spots is three. All within a few inches of each other, not too far from “where all the action is” on the console. Economy of hand movement is something to learn from the real “Command Line” theatre programmers.
Next / Previous Fixture and Highlight
Having selected our Spots with 2 keystrokes, we might want to navigate around that group adjusting parameters. Having done a load of “group wide” changes (colour, gobo, rough position etc.) we want to tweak them all individually using the Next and Previous fixture selection buttons. On the Pearl, these are to the right of red Go button – nice and near the encoder wheels.
To make the Next/Previous buttons work, Fixture Control needs to be set. Hold down AVO, select User Settings and toggle B (it either says Fixture Control or Chase Control enabled). Exiting back out, we can select a group and bosh through each fixture in turn, adjusting them as we go. The selection order is the one you used when you recorded the group. The ALL button reselects all the fixtures once again.
HIGHLIGHT toggles the function which dowses (blacks out) all the other fixtures in the group apart from the currently selected one. This is really useful when you are trying to find and adjust one fixture in a large group and is a trick of all moving light programmers not just Pearl users. Select the group, HIGHLIGHT, NEXT, keep pressing and watch the stage until your “number comes up”. Having found it, either adjust or toggle HIGHLIGHT again to see all the other fixtures too while you get the focus looking better. Happy? Hit ALL again and carry on with the group.
The Align function on the Pearl sets attributes on selected fixtures to the same values as a “master” fixture. We’ve got a Spot in steel blue, the rest are in pink. To “align” the values select the blue (master) washlight, followed by the other fixtures. Hit ML MENU, set the attribute buttons (on the far right) to Colour and press Align Colour. Changing the attribute buttons throws up the other options, Align P/T, Align Gobo etc. The Align Fixtures option aligns all parameters.
So, the Align function helps us to get our ducks in a row. Using colour mixing fixtures, you get the option to align each colour flag (e.g CM or Y) separately.
Just remember that the group will align to the first fixture you select. Using group selections to align parameters only works if the first fixture in the group is to be the “master”.
Removing Fixtures from the Programmer
To get rid of whole fixtures from the programmer prior to recording, you can select them, hit ML MENU twice – “Remove Selected Fix. From Programmer”. This is useful if you realise that you actually only want to record some of your programmer, putting the other fixtures onto a different playback later.
You could also use this to Record Remove (get rid of unwanted fixtures in a memory). INCLUDE –DIMMER attrib. – Submaster Swop (this dumps the entire contents of the cue into the programmer). MEMORY – Submaster Swop (Overwrite Memory) – this overwrites the cue minus the removed fixtures. There is an even better way of doing this though – see Off later on.
Include – Pulling values into the programmer
Extracting values you have already recorded and dumping into the programmer is a quick way to build looks based on programming work you have already done. A time saver.
Avolites desks including the Pearl / Pearl Tiger call this Include. You “include” parts of a memory in your programming. Confusion that can arise in the idea that you are “including” a chunk of information that is updated back at the original memory, like a file “include” in web development. It’s not like that. You simply cut and paste the values/palettes into the programmer.
The Pearl gives you the option to Include individual attributes using the selection buttons on the right. INCLUDE – Pan/Tilt attrib. – Submaster Swop 1 : This pulls only the positional information from Submaster 1 and puts it into the Programmer. To use all attributes: INCLUDE – Dimmer attrib. – Sub Swop.
This is another example of how the Pearl gives you some a powerful programming tools in a simple format. Include can be used in lots of way to copy programming, adjust it and save it away somewhere else. The Include function on the Pearl has one more trick up it’s sleeve.
So far, we have cut/paste attributes and fixtures from an entire memory – All Colour, All Position etc. With a Group or individual fixtures selected : INCLUDE – Gobo attrib. – Sub Swop 1 throws up an extra option. On the Pearl blue screen, “Recall only for selected fixtures?”.
Hitting ENTER (Yes) takes our Gobo data from only the selected fixtures.
Choosing EXIT (No) extracts all the Gobo values from the Submaster – Good if you wanted to include the whole cue, but forgot that you had some fixtures selected.
So, you can choose which fixtures and which attributes you extract.
Off – Getting rid of programming
Professional lighting consoles have a function for easily removing data from a cue. Often called Record Remove, it allows the operator to select fixtures, attributes and then use a Record command to delete them. It might be just an attribute (eg. Prism) or might be whole fixtures that you no longer want in the memory.
The Pearl does have a Record Remove function called Off and again it has quite a few uses.
Using Off to Record Remove on the Pearl
To delete whole fixtures from a cue, hit CLEAR, select the fixtures or group – OFF – “Switch Off Selected Fixtures” (A). That sets up Remove for those fixtures. Apply that to the cue with MEMORY – Submaster Swop – “Memory Merge”. While you have that Off command in the Programmer, you can also use it to do the same to other cues, by “saving” it to them too.
To selectively remove attributes such as just Colour or Tilt, you can choose the parameters using the attribute buttons again. CLEAR – Select Fixtures – OFF – Pan/Tilt attrib. – “Switch Off Tilt” – MEMORY – Sub Swop – “Memory Merge”. This removes the Tilt information of those fixtures from a cue altogether.
Don’t forget that by “remove” we don’t mean setting to 0 or default but leaving no trace of Tilt information in that memory. When that cue starts, the tilt of those fixtures will remain unchanged.
Using the Off function we can split up parameters to save them onto different faders, creating even more versatile “building blocks”. Taking a shape memory with Pan / Tilt values and creating two faders – one Pan only shape, one Tilt only shape that can be “mixed together live in different quantities.
To recap, we’ve selected the fixtures, chosen the parameters and “anti-saved” them to the cue with a “Go Away” instruction.
Pearl Op’s are doin’ it for themselves!
We’ve looked at some features of the Avolites Pearl / Tiger that aid creativity and save programming time. Fixture selection, groups and navigation are essential to be able handle large lighting rigs efficiently. Aligning parameters and using existing programming to build new cues avoid wasting creative time with work already done. The Off function can tidy up cues or be used as a tool to create extremely versatile playback situations.
The key to using these features on the Pearl is to experiment and see them work before understanding how they can help your particular style as an operator. As one of the many LX ops who still uses a Pearl at least once a week, I know that we all use these functions regularly in different ways. Working along with other Pearl Operators, every day’s a school day.
Manufacturers like Avolites just give us the tools. The rest is up to us.