Recently there was a thread about old lights. I recently picked up Ricard Cadena's new book "Automated Lighting". The book starts out telling the history of automated lights which I found really interesting. So I thought I would share a recap of his first chapter... Pick up the book for $45 on the PLSN bookshelf, it's pretty good. The first remotely controllable light was patented in 1906. (No way!) "The fixture had a carbon-arc source, an electromechanical color changer, and a series of cords and pulleys that allowed an operator to remotely change the pan, tilt, and zoom by manually adjusting the cords." They put this light in the balcony and an operator could be somewhere way up in the back of the house pulling cables. By the 1960's Century was producing electrically remotely controlled pan and tilt Leko and Fresnels. You could also get your Leko with a remote motorized Iris and Fresnels could have a remote motorized focus screw. In the Early 1970's Grand Funk Railroad was touring and they were doing a new house every night. This was before flying truss was invented so the show was basicly all follow spots. They got really frustrated with retraining local spot operators every night. And someone go the idea to motorize the follow spots so they could control them remotely themselves. They built a unit that looks sort of like a technobeam on steroids. It was essentially a followspot pointed up with a moving mirror on top. These were called the "Cycklops". By the late 70's the PAR was the instrument of choice for touring concerts. A company called Showco was doing the lights for some of the biggest acts around (Zeppelin, the Who, Stones, Clapton, Genesis). Showco was cutting edge and built and designed a lot of their own equipment. They decided they could really increase their business and impress their customers if they could develop a color changing PAR. They tried a pneumatic powered semaphore system where gel frames were rapidly moved in and out of the light. They also tried a crazy liquid dye system where the light was shot through three chambers of water that they could vary the amount of dye in the water. Eventually they someone came up with the idea of dichroic filters which were used in photographic enlargers. After much experimenting they came up with two different systems of using dichroic filters with great success. A group of Showco employees went out to lunch at a barbecue place. They were discussing the great success they had with the dichroics. As a random part of the conversation, one of the owners said, "You know, if we can make it change color, we should also make it move." The conversation stopped dead and everyone froze in a great "ah ha moment". Before lunch was over they decided the light would not only change color, but it would have a pan and tilt moving yoke, dimming, and iris, all computer controlled. In 12 weeks they had a working prototype, the VL0. They built their own control unit, that used a mic cable to carry the signal and wrote their own software. The console was capable of remembering 16 cues. The band Genesis always liked to have the latest high tech gadgets in their shows and they were about 6 months away from the release of their newest album (Abacab... which is a great one by the way). The Showco crew flew to England to demo the VL0. They arrived at the studio which was located on a farm. Someone suggested they set up out in the barn for the demo. It was so cold in the barn that when they first fired it up none of the parts would work. Gradually the lamp warmed the instrument and it began to work. They programmed 4 cues, simply pointing at each wall in a different color. They brought the band out and everyone was stunned. Mike Rutherford (guitarist) said, "By Jove, I didn't know it was going to move!" They signed a deal for 55 lights on the spot. As they were signing the deal, they mentioned they still didn't have a name for it. Genesis manager Tony Smith said, "How about Vari-Lite?" The Showco guys went back to Texas with a problem. They had to build 55 lights, a control console and software to control it. Remember they didn't have Hogs running multiple DMX universes back then. They had to design and build it all from scratch... and they had about 8 months before rehearsals for the tour began. In July they assembled the system for the first time and turned it all on. The effect they saw stunned them. Showco co-owner Rusty Brutsche said: "When we first conceived Vari-Lite we thought we were building a system of color changing lights that were repositionable. When we fired the system up the first time and saw the light beams move in unison under the control of the computer, we were astounded at the visual impact of the effect. The whole idea of the kinetic and visual effect of the moving light beams was not preconceived; it was an unexpected result of the system." September 25th, 1981 the Genesis tour began with a concert in a bullfighting arena in Barcelona, Spain and our industry was changed forever.