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Follow-Me Follow Spot Controller

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by WFair, Aug 10, 2018.

  1. WFair

    WFair Member

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    I have been looking into remote-operated followspots for high school level musicals. There are a lot of reasons that this may be better for our specific venue than sticking with the good old fashioned catwalk option, but I will skip that for now. Specifically, I am aware of some VERY high-end systems that are far beyond my budget from Robe (RoboSpot) and PRG (Ground Control) but also have found some relatively basic/affordable systems that use whatever existing moving lights a theatre already has (Spotrack and Follow-Me). They basically use a camera displayed on a computer and the operator drags the fixtures around stage with the mouse following the actor on camera. I am looking seriously at the one called Follow-Me, however, there is nobody around that has the system installed for me to play with to see what I think. Has anyone actually seen this (or similar) system in use? I would greatly appreciate specifically the CONS list (salespeople are good at the PROS side). I have several capable movers already, love the idea of still involving the students but getting them in the booth rather than the catwalk, and think it will be nice to add backlight followspots sometimes (this system can target multiple fixtures at a single moving point). The online videos make the motion look smooth and the accuracy is up to the operator in every case already. Convenient to be able to sync my blackout to these fixtures. In all, it sounds like a pretty good system...but it just makes me very nervous to commit a big chunk of money to a product that I have never been hands-on with.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 11, 2018
  2. Amiers

    Amiers Lighting Phoenix 1 Lamp at a Time

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    Looks like a pretty neat and workable/cost effective system.

    The only con I could see is if there is hardware failure. Since there are a lot of pieces to put this together.

    Bad cabling
    Brown Out or Surge hitting POE/BM BOX/CAMERA
    Lossof signal to fixture
    Human error

    You live in a pretty populated area I’m sure someone has come through with one. I would call around to some rental places and see if they had to sub rent or have one in stock.
     
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  3. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @WFair @Amiers Purely to play the aging devil's advocate. One of my last follow spot calls was to operate one of four really deluxe Robert Julliat (Sp?) spots for an international C&W awards show being broadcast live to air and simultaneously to 2" quad for a second airing two days later. I was one of four experienced spot op's standing next to my lamp surrounded by a sold-out audience at the edge of the second balcony. There were approximately 400 3200K incandescents and just shy of 100 movers at a time when movers were trendy new toys and having 100 on a live production was unthinkable.
    Getting this back to follow spots and live operators.
    The spots were xenons and they were gorgeous. The spots were being remotely struck up and dowsed by the LD hired by the network crewing the video. I parachuted in from Stratford to run a lamp for a 16 hour rehearsal day followed by an approximately 12 hour final rehearsal and live to Canada and the U.S. performance and recording. Local Hamilton IA crew had been hired to hang and focus the rig several days prior.
    When I arrived at 8:00 a.m. on my first day, the head house electrician assigned me to a lamp with instructions to wear my headset and not to touch any controls on the lamp. Over the course of the first day we learned our job was to stand beside the lamp, point, zoom, iris and color it but NOT to remove the several layers of disgusting duct tape placed over the oh so conveniently located DMX controlled dowser which we were told was to be EXCLUSIVELY controlled by the LD from his location outside in the main video production mobile parked in the loading dock.
    I remain TOTALLY impressed with the big xenon Robert Julliats (Sp?) They were arced up at 8:00 a.m. and down at midnight. In spite of spending the bulk of their time with their dowsers closed they remained wondrously cool to the touch. Over the course of the first day, I had a system of cheat marks on the floor around me permitting me to accurately be aimed and waiting for my next pickup. I also had plenty of time to finesse the balance and drag adjustments.
    By the end of the second day's rehearsals myself and the other three operators were confident and ready to rock.
    Here's the truly DISGUSTING part that haunts my memory to this day:
    We'd gotten through the rehearsals, what passed for a meal was brought to us as the doors opened and the sold-out crowd were seated. Things progressed smoothly through the warm-up acts with the floor directors explaining to the paying patrons how and when they were to applaud wildly and when they were to sit quietly on their hands along with why there were periodic gaps of silence in which prerecorded commercials were rolling live to air while silently unseen by our local audience.
    Apparently while we were sitting next to our lamps eating our pizza, the crews in the mobiles were consuming their sustenance as well.
    The crux of the problem came down to the exited LD inhaling too much mysterious white powder during dinner, inadvertently changing the the page of presets on his board thus losing control of all of his wigglers and leaving all four of us poor innocent spot op's standing next to our lovely spots with zero control of our remotely closed dowsers.
    On the headsets the director in the main mobile was screaming his lungs out.
    In the theater's lighting booth our local IA Head LX was doing his best to fake things along with his several hundred quartz lights, the talent was doing their best to perform in what felt like a comparative black-out. One by one us embarrassed spot operators brazenly ripped the multiple layers of disgustingly cheap duct tape off our oh so conveniently located local dowsers but it was all too little too, too late AND LIVE TO AIR across the U.S. and Canada. I've no idea what the network sent to air but inside things ground to halt while someone from the lighting rental shop pushed the LD aside and got all of his presets back on page one. The Robert Julliat xenons had been so pristine. It was sad to see all of their impeccably annotated settings torn off with the disgustingly cheap duct tape.
    Such was my experience with pointing a spot and not having control of my own dowser.
    I was close to retiring at that point.
    Some years later, ZZTop toured through the local arena with a system in which they each wore a transmitter which aimed movers to follow them around. Purportedly limits had been programmed into the system to douse the movers out if they were ever to err and veer off into the crowd. This time I was one of four operators handsomely paid to stand beside one of the four house xenons with my headset on JUST IN CASE their LD needed us. I don't remember too much of the one or two performances other than we were only called upon once or twice when the production's lamps wandered off stage leaving the performers in the comparative dark. The touring set was reminiscent of high voltage towers and the tour was called 'Antennae' or something like that. Members of our local LX crew were given purple T-shirts to distinguish us from the box-pushers. I still knew where mine was right up until my head exploded, my vision trashed, and a collection of bureaucrats forced me into what currently passes for my residence.
    @Amiers Have I veered this more than sufficiently off topic?
    Edited to correct a spelling error.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2018
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  4. cdiamondz

    cdiamondz Active Member

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    All I can think of is flicking your mouse (or other controlling device) and then having to wait for the fixture to accelerate and decelerate. Of course this depends on the fixture's motors, motor controllers, weight, etc. I've learned that using the mouse control on the ETC Element with an Apollo RightArm made for some interesting movement. Made plenty of wide sweeping arcs resulting in some swearing and slow readjusting before ultimately giving up on attempting to use it as a remote follow spot unit. I will say, however, that the RightArm weighs in at about 30 pounds plus fixture weight, and is most definitely not supposed to be used to fling around a fixture at high speed accurately. I'm sure that if you're using actual moving lights that you'll have some better success.
     
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  5. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    @RonHebbard 1. Robert Juliat has never, to my knowledge, made a xenon-sourced followspot. 2. My experiences with board op-controlled dousers have been similar. Once trust is gone, all is lost.

    @WFair Shirley the manufacturer (or distributor A.C. Lighting) can put you in touch with a client or several for a favorable recommendation. Matt Mills, a demanding Lighting Designer user, owns several systems for rental. http://plsn.com/articles/features/b...sing-follow-me-system-for-followspot-control/

    Much to my dismay, as a former professional followspot operator, remote control is here to stay and will only improve in time. Arc carbon operators probably said the same in the 1970s when xenon become prevalent. Cost is currently the limiting factor. Right now, the primary market is big budget rock shows, award shows, and spectacles, but adoption for theatre and Broadway can't be far behind if it's not there already. The predictability of theatre makes it an even better fit than one-offs.

    Another system to consider, though I know nothing about it other than the webpage, is Robert Juliat's SpotMe.
     
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  6. Amiers

    Amiers Lighting Phoenix 1 Lamp at a Time

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    Well done. You made my morning.

    And to answer your question. If you would push the correct buttons I automatically veer but don’t push the wrong ones or well I might not work. Eh eh???
     
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  7. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @derekleffew I won't dispute your comments Re: the types of sources employed in Robert Juliat's spots of the era, in this instance I'm only parroting what we mere minions were told during our two days hugging the lamps. The only other RJ units I met were used on the balcony rail of every full-blown production of 'Les Miz' in approximately 1990. I was parachuted in to push the 'GO' button on a Pro Palette for several weeks while the normal operator was off work due to a back injury and the RJ's on the lower balcony rail never failed to impress.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
  8. egilson1

    egilson1 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    The following sums up most remote follow spot systems.

    Good theory, bad reality.

    With a mouse controlled system, accuracy and timing are issues. This is why the most expensive systems still rely on a operator moving an object on a tripod like using a real followspot.

    We once owned the Martin professional system that used a series of speakers and a microphone on the target. The speakers sent out a ultrasonic sound that was picked up by the microphone and triangulated the position. Problem was a DF50 hazel made the same ultrasonic sound. Whenever it turn down on the movers would focus in on the hazer or some other place not intended.

    Ethan
     
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  9. Amiers

    Amiers Lighting Phoenix 1 Lamp at a Time

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    If possible to improve on the system I would ditch the mouse and go with a multi touch screen.

    Dragging your finger moves the follow spot and pointing snaps it from it’s current position.
     
  10. JonCarter

    JonCarter Well-Known Member

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    All of this marvelous remote control stuff sounds wonderful, and I'm sure that some day we will have computer-controlled arcs run by the same computer that runs the computer-controlled robot actors and of course there will never be such a thing as a missed cue and everything will work perfectly. But in the meantime, isn't the purpose of the drama department of a school to teach the students how to build/light/run a show NOW?
     
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  11. Amiers

    Amiers Lighting Phoenix 1 Lamp at a Time

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    True. But when you are short staffed, budget, and equpitment you gotta do something.

    Remember I ran I full production lights,sound,video and automation by myself. If I had the option to have an automated follow spot for super cheap I would have been all over that.
     
  12. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @JonCarter @Amiers Between you, you're bringing Mickey Rooney and what's 'er name to mind. "My Dad's got a barn!" My Mom can sew costumes!!".
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
  13. soundman

    soundman Well-Known Member

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    We have a follow me system out on the rock tour I am now. 6 musicians onstage being tracked by 5 operators backstage. (Two people hardly move so one op can spot both). We are asking a lot of the system and it works pretty well after a lot of time getting it dialed in during rehearsals. Most of the trusses move during the show, often times tilting as well. The LD is able to grab and of the hard edged fixtures and assign it to any target on stage. The LD is able to achieve looks that might not have been possible any other way. We still have 4 house spots out front. With so many better options available these days I hope truss spots start disappearing.

    One con of the system is you have to be able to see the whole stage with one camera, so when we play a stadium and the band walks out on the wings the lights in follow me get confused.
     
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  14. WFair

    WFair Member

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    Thanks @soundman it is great to hear from someone who has used this system! Are you able to pan/tilt fairly smoothly? Do you notice much lag?

    @JonCarter The purpose of our drama department is to involve as many kids as possible while still producing a reasonably high quality production. The advantages to a system like this is that I DO NOT remove students from working...same number of spot operators with a physical one as with the virtual one...so just as many opportunities to involve the students. In our current setting, it is almost impossible to convince anyone to actually do the follow spot job (35' in the air, hot, isolated) but if they move into the booth (air conditioned, near friends, not scary) then many more will be willing to learn and help.

    @cdiamondz These use a "3D mouse" which is more like a joystick...which hopefully will reduce the accidental swipe across the screen. I am mostly hoping for some automated "smoothing" as I am concerned that it may be jittery.

    @RonHebbard Sounds like a nightmare! While a data problem could certainly shut this whole thing down, the operators in this software (as I understand it...maybe incorrectly) can override the dowser...plus they will be sitting next to the LD and SM (with me hovering nearby)...so not foolproof, but less likely to end with that level of catastrophe.

    @derekleffew Thanks for that link to the Matt Mills article. Good to hear another positive review.

    The added benefit that I am most excited about is multiple fixtures following a single target. I can finally add backlight to my followspot target...that will be great! I also had a lamp blow out on one of my followspots last year during a show and it took a few minutes before I could scurry up to the catwalk and swap in a replacement lamp...with this system I could just task a different ML to the operator and everything keeps running fairly smoothly!
     
  15. soundman

    soundman Well-Known Member

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    It seems to track pretty smooth, I think the software has some ramp up/ ramp down to help with that. We are using these for short throws, I'd guess we never have more than 75' between the performer and the fixture so it might look different with a longer throw.
     
  16. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    @dvsDave and I have spent a lot of time talking with Liam the inventor of Spotrak at conventions. It's a very interesting product and if I was in need of a remote follow spot system it would be my front runner product. My initial reaction to Spotrak was that it would be difficult to operate smoothly and follow people around, but it's really not. I've used it quite a bit in convention hall demos and find it very easy to run quite smoothly. If you put it in the hands of someone who grew up as a computer gamer, I bet you'll find they will be right at home and amazing operating it. Spotrack has been around several years and is getting a lot of notice recently since it went out on last winter's Metallica Tour. Here's the demo video we shot at LDI 2016 (Yeah that's me at the end).
     
  17. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    I'm simply mind blown that this discussion is about HIGH SCHOOL shows.

    I want your budget for my local schools.... who struggle to buy gels, mic cables and other consumables.
     
  18. urban79

    urban79 Active Member

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    I'm also kind of curious what the ballpark figure is... I'm blessed to work with a healthy budget, but I imagine cost-effective is in the eye of the beholder...
     
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  19. JohnD

    JohnD Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Well Tim, like Okieland, Kan-sass seems to have trouble even keeping the schools open, and sort of staffed.
     
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  20. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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