Followspot aiming tips

change1211

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Dec 7, 2005
At the theare where I work we just picked up two smallish (750W) followspots. I'm just wondering if anyone here uses a special tool or setup to help with aiming.

Much appreciated
 

Van

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Ok here's one that I used to use at an outdoor theatre I used to work at. We had a couple of Carbon arc Super Troupers. yes i'm old now stop laughing and I'll finish my suggestion. On the back end there was a label plate that was held in with 3 screws, this was also an access hole for getting to the back of the reflector. Well we would remove 1 screw then aim the spot at one of our pick up points. We would then place a smallish peice of tape on the back wall of the spot bay with the cue # on it, mine were color coded to even help remind me of color, size,shot,focus. To prep for the cue you'd just put the dot of light on the tape then look down the spot for the pick up. Now days it's really much more like hip firing a rifle I can hit a head shot on a kid from 300 feet away < not really, but almost. > but I've got over 1200 hrs on the carbon arc and that trick sure did help get the cues down real quick. I can only guess that today you could rig a laser pointer to do the same thing or perhaps rig it to shoot straight down at the floor and put your cue points right there under the spot itself, if it's not in a bay. Good luck, Hope that helps. Can't wait to see what other suggestions you get.
 

Footer

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The marking the room thing works very well in my experience. If you have a small space and a small throw odds are you will be able to get the feeling of the light after a bit. Also, two gaff "sights" can help. I personaly dont like the laser pointer idea. http://www.balancedtech.com.au/bullseye/sights.htm

If you have some money to burn those things are very nice and easy to use.
 

ship

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Ok here's one that I used to use at an outdoor theatre I used to work at. We had a couple of Carbon arc Super Troupers. yes i'm old now stop laughing and I'll finish my suggestion. On the back end there was a label plate that was held in with 3 screws, this was also an access hole for getting to the back of the reflector. Well we would remove 1 screw then aim the spot at one of our pick up points. We would then place a smallish peice of tape on the back wall of the spot bay with the cue # on it, mine were color coded to even help remind me of color, size,shot,focus. To prep for the cue you'd just put the dot of light on the tape then look down the spot for the pick up. Now days it's really much more like hip firing a rifle I can hit a head shot on a kid from 300 feet away < not really, but almost. > but I've got over 1200 hrs on the carbon arc and that trick sure did help get the cues down real quick. I can only guess that today you could rig a laser pointer to do the same thing or perhaps rig it to shoot straight down at the floor and put your cue points right there under the spot itself, if it's not in a bay. Good luck, Hope that helps. Can't wait to see what other suggestions you get.
Nope not so old - though I have never once used one - he he he. Just different places worked, not that I’m that old perhaps but been around a bit. The current community theater I help at when I have time uses a carbon arc over their Altman 1000 for their 50' throw - no idea why given I could very possibly soup up their 1K FEL fixture to a 1.2Kw internal reflector in the lamp spot (given the lamp is still available), ventillation for the carbon arc spot would help also. - One of the things they will get around to... At some point I should find some time and tinker with the thing. Saw three like 10' long follow spots come back with a show once a few months back, a crew chief made a deal with a theater getting rid of them. Them’s spots, glad I didn’t have to lug them down the stairs. The shop manager once he saw them went into great remembrances of many years spent at the rear of such contraptions. Been around them but never had to use one for good or bad - probably for bad or was that good. I do on the other hand personally own a 3Kw incandescent Kliegl Dynabeam with working lamp and original gel. I’m absolutely itching to plug It in and see what the beam of light looks like.

I also chat much with our lead crew chief on followspot stuff so as to supervise how it’s done with repairing the gear or how it’s useful to set up I prepping it while he is on the road. I otherwise when not under advice do common sense repairs but don’t have a feel for especially arc source spots like he does. Used xenon and HID types but not much. Also read the “getting the most from your followspot” IA manual also. (Not much in it that’s useful in my opinion.)

Removing a screw is by far less destructive than the method he at one point expressed by the above crew chief, or was it the IA guys at the Chicago Theater in method. I chatted with at length once with them in noting marks on the ceiling during a rental of some Lycian 1290's. Only time in that theater, (don’t qualify to work there) I was there to install the fixtures and lamps but had to be locked out of the booth given my non-IA status, that is unless a lamp failed where they would make an exception in me changing the lamp for them. - Forget which source, perhaps both and lots of people in my area that do the same. One or the other hand, perhaps lots I have talked to used to take a scratch awl and punch a hole in the top of the light fixture in doing the same thing you did or do except for that pickup point, you would have a mark on the back wall and they would have one straight up on the ceiling often in pencil. I think the one on the ceiling is much easier to look for and closer to the fixture but also tends to put a hole in the top of the fixture. Not a good thing for rental gear much less smokey carbon arcs.

Since it was bright enough in the booth to see the colors you used for pickup points, I’m sure the back wall was bright enough to be useful. Most booths I have been in during shows are dark under running lights and colored tape would not work so well. Still removing the screw somewhere seems a common thing.

A caution about this or these methods: First a arc source fixture is the only one that such a method would best be employed with. Incandescent/halogen sources often have far too large of filaments to provide a pin prick of light dot to locate with. Second or more important, removing screws and or poking holes in gear is not and I mean not an acceptable thing to be doing without specific permission by those on paper and officially (teacher or staff TD’s) to be responsible for the gear. Third, if the fixture has a reflector that is pre-mounted on the lamp such as a fixture using a projector lamp or a MR-16 based 360w/82v FLE Lamp with it, you won’t get much light able to come out of the fixture.

For me, last time I ran a spot for a production (about ten years ago at least) it was not in the booth and I couldn’t do the as it were “indirect fire” method. Just had to get good at what I did by way of knowing my theater space by way of lots of practice, and a trick I did with the iris as if laser pointer. Given I already by way of “hip shoot” as it were, could about put my spot on target, I normally when given the stand by opened the gate with a iris down beam of light that searched for the talent to appear. This allowed me a pinprick of light waiting or homing in on the location the talent would appear from. At that point it was just a question of quickly opening the iris to the dia. needed and following thru the scene.

Last time I did spots it was the ballet “Gizelle” (sp) and the debate between me and follow spot #2 we never really answered was for the various jumps if you should keep the beam dia. and bounce with the dancer during their leaps or iris out to cover it. Bouncing is good but on the other hand they also tend to extend some thus parts of them go out of the light during the jump. Difficult to do both at once thus the debate.

Seen laser pointers in use, seen gun sights in use, seen just wire tied about the spot to focus with. Laser dot is distracting and I don’t think very useful in having a beam large enough to see which the audience can also see. Gunsights don’t work so well if attempting to do a pickup during blackout. Various spot handles also in use. One IA spot op at one point contacted me in attempting to get back her spot handle. Seems she left it behind and while home made, she was very attached to it in being useful for her own control of the fixture.

Or perahps you do a tube of some sort say perpendicular to the follow spot and just taped to it’s top so it doesn’t move and you make marks on a board or wall adjacent to you. Just a 1/4" tube taped to the follow spot you could aim with according to marks on the wall.

With all these types of methods, it’s a question of how much time you have to place the spot in the in-direct fire method, lock it into place so it doesn’t move while you re-adjust your eyes and focus on the stage in picking up and following the talent. In my case it was easy, the crew chief wold give directions in aiming to the gunner and A’ gunner so as to hit the target. The follow spot operator doesn’t get this help thus must be able to transition quickly between hitting a pre-assigned cue or pickup point and turning to watch and follow the action on stage.

Most I would think just get good at dead reconing. What worked for me was the iris closed and for if a second or so using a little white laser from the spot to search for the talent. On the guns, I used in-direct fire as much more efficient than attempting to aim them at something down range.

Also of note from the military is what machine gun placements use - safe fire zones. Stakes placed where you are allowed to fire. Perhaps for a follow spot and especially if pointing at a window, but even if only a railing in front of you, you could tape off the limits of travel to your spot light so as to better reference how close to the edge or where your pickup is. Say downstage drape is right near the bottom edge of the whitness mark. Second leg is off at about a 30 degree angle from it 1/4 of the way up. Etc. you by windowing and plotting out your space now get locations to pick up from and zone in on.
 
Last edited:

SHARYNF

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Joined
Sep 3, 2006
So instead of punching a hole in instrument, or painting the talent with a laser, getting a cheap laser pointer, attaching it to the follow spot, can be aiming up to ceiling, down to the floor or on the back wall, it gives you a point that you can mark.

I find that looking down works well, is easier on the neck than up or back, and you can easily put tape marks on the floor.

Sharyn
 

zac850

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Nov 21, 2003
Location
New York
I think that the best way to learn how to use a follow spot is to go up when no one is on stage, and just practice pickups. Say to yourself "I am going to get the light on that chair" and then try. Then try that flat, or that whatever.

You will begin to get a sense of how much you move the spot for it to work. The up-side of this is if/when you go into another space (for instance a theater that will pay you) you have a basic muscle understanding of how to use the follow spot.

I've run spot in spaces from a 50' throw to a 200' throw, and while there are several differences (how much you move your hand, angles, etc.) the basic concepts and muscle memory are still the same.

Practice Practice Practice.
 
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ship

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I cant speak to pick ups but for the skill of following people i attached a rope with a ball attached to the bottom, to the fly's. Add a buddy to swing it as i followed it with the spot and you have a great traning decice.
JH
There is an interesting idea, helps one get a certain rythm also with the smoothness. So is following your buddy in playing chase. Granted this method is frouned upon due to the amount of those attempting to escape the light falling into the pit.

"Genarco followspot" Nope on my part, define please and what lamp or stick did it take?
 

BillESC

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Aug 29, 2005
Location
Kilmarnock, VA
Its probably been 25 years since I ran a Genarco and I can't remember the rod size but I can tell you they were about 3/8" diameter and at least 16" long. You could usually get 1:50 minutes on a trim which certainly was an advantage over the Super Trooper at around 50 minutes.
 

wakkoroti

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Feb 26, 2006
Location
Orange County, CA
At the theare where I work we just picked up two smallish (750W) followspots. I'm just wondering if anyone here uses a special tool or setup to help with aiming.
Much appreciated
At one show we used cuttings from a clothes hanger bent out straight except for the little end where you made a tiny loop. Make two of those and (in the case of a super trooper) tape one on each side of the boomerang and align them by looking through the two little loops as sort of a poor mans sight.
 

derekleffew

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The above is what I use every time I run a light. My building owns 4 sights known as "Telrad" which are available to those who wish to borrow them. Telrads are adequate and less expensive, but I prefer the SpotDot2000. As long as I'm on the subject, I'd like to put to rest forever those who say "A good operator doesn't need a sight" or words to that effect. At the end of one concert I did, the LD told us to put our gelframes and headsets on the backpacks, and don't forget the sights either. I questioned him while looking in the backpack, as I wasn't going to put MY sight in HIS packpack, and saw that each backpack contained a Telrad. It is common for someone to install color and headsets in the afternoon, and the operators arrive at half-hour.

A SpotOp with a sight will always be better than one without a sight. If you want to have fun with an Op who uses the tape on the wall trick, just move his fixture 2" to the right and see how well he does that night!
 

derekleffew

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There is always the put the crew on stage with a frisby method of training...
What a great idea! Once while running an ice show, after a rehearsal the LD asked if we had any problems or questions, it was going to be nationally televised, an Op other than me asked "Can you have them skate slower?" Touche.
 

lamphead

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Jun 8, 2007
Running a followspot is as much an art as it anything else. All the fancy sights in the world will not help a person who does not have FEEL for the job. For a number of years I ran a super trooper in a local concert venue (way back in the mid 70's ). We had two lamps and and it was always myself and the same operator on the other lamp. Time after time the LD's from the shows would tell us how great a job we did. Practice, practice,practice.
"Luke feel the force"
 

derekleffew

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...I ran a super trooper...
You ran an exceptional member of your state's highway patrol? I believe you meant to type Super Trouper.

Totally agree with the gist of what you're saying. Back when I was working a Celebrity Room, we had the same household name acts over and over. LDs loved coming because they barely had to call the show and we'd even offer suggestions to enhance the lighting. We perpetuated the "bone out." "Overlays" in just about every slow song. LDs would tell us they were happy other places if the SpotOps could keep the star's face lit.

I believe you used what is referred to as the Zen method, according to this website:
http://blogidaho.biz/earthlink/spotlite.htm
"Become one with the light."

Spotfully yours,
 

Radman

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Apr 9, 2004
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Franklin, TN
You ran an exceptional member of your state's highway patrol? I believe you meant to type Super Trouper.

Totally agree with the gist of what you're saying. Back when I was working a Celebrity Room, we had the same household name acts over and over. LDs loved coming because they barely had to call the show and we'd even offer suggestions to enhance the lighting. We perpetuated the "bone out." "Overlays" in just about every slow song. LDs would tell us they were happy other places if the SpotOps could keep the star's face lit.

I believe you used what is referred to as the Zen method, according to this website:
http://blogidaho.biz/earthlink/spotlite.htm
"Become one with the light."

Spotfully yours,
He said mid-seventies, I wouldn't expect him to remember perfectly.
 

jmcclint

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Joined
Jan 6, 2007
In my experience the TelRad is hands-down the best device. No repositioning until it's right (like spot dot), doesn't fall off (shotgun sights, hangers, coke can tabs), doesn't interfere with the show (the laser pointer suggestion) and you don't have to take your eyes off the subject for a moment. Two double a batteies and you're golden. It works great when using a conventional as a spot for super short-throws too. Get the base so you don't have to change your positioning when replacing batteries.