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Control/Dimming Motorised faders for a scratch build lighting control system

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by varnis, Oct 6, 2008.

  1. varnis

    varnis Member

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    For my school's theatre production, which may be using moving heads and/or scanners. A friend and i are developing a computer control system, which, when finished, will be open source - yay - and hopefully awesome.

    One apparently insoluble problem, however, is a method of manual control. We do have an existing lighting board, but it is a) only 24 channels in wide (no-crossfading) mode when we will be needing to control > 50 channels - not too bad since if we have the control system up and running, we can assign groups of channels to it and so forth I guess - and b) is a raw DMX board with plain faders, meaning that if we switch into manual mode at any time the channels won't be at their appropriate current value.

    What I am looking for, therefore, is some kind of motorised fader component which can be purchased on our quarter-shoestring budget. :p We have a design for a completely DIY one using a rack and pinion gear (in bright colours, hooray) from Acme Whatever Educational Supplies (Rapid Online I believe it was) which would work out at about £3 - £4 + making-time per fader.

    Does anyone have any ideas where I could get premade ones for only slightly more than that (£6/£7 each maybe)? I've seen websites which will, but they are of the order-multiples-of-10,000-from-Thailand variety. Any relevant anecdotes would also be welcome. (In case you haven't guessed from the spellings and currency, I'm in the UK.)

    Thanks,
    Doug/Jono
     
  2. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Not to rain on your parade, but why re-invent the wheel? ChamSys is in your backyard, and has already written the best software for moving light control on a personal computer available.

    ChamSys Ltd
     
  3. mc2880

    mc2880 Member

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    Bheringer makes a midi control board called the BCF2000 it comes with 8 motorized faders. It's dirt cheap and already has an API built. Somewhere like that might be a good place to start. The mackie interface is much better, but also much more expensive.
     
  4. TimMiller

    TimMiller Well-Known Member

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    have you tried mouser and digikey for motorized faders? What you may want to look into is getting the entec USB to DMX converter to run ChamSys. The BCF2000 actually has USB control, it works like an external fader wing. I'm sure you can make it work with the ChamSys. So you have a motorized fader wing and DMX output. Now if you would like to go for a more DIY, you have to build your own USB to DMX converter, then you will have to draw out your schematic of how you are going to build your fader wing and control the faders. I hope you are familiar with writing and burning EPROMS (if you do not have one an EPROM burner will run you around 100) and it will not be cheap if you have to get someone to write the code for you (around 700). You will have to do some searching and learn how to program the software so that x resistance is x dmx value. Plus be able to patch to different outputs. The processor would then recall the dmx value and based on the resistance of the fader, will move the fader to the appropriate place, unless you have faders using encoders which are commonly used, and then the console counts to that particular tick mark, so inside of the console, you will have to intigrate stepper motor control. Good luck.
     
  5. ojno

    ojno Member

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    We already have a usbdmx.com : The bus powered usb dmx interface : Home Page DMX interface to use, and we are quite happy with coding and electronics (and have plentiful 'stock' components, including PICs and EPROMS). We've looked at the Behringer, yes, it looks like it would be the obvious option if we had money to throw at it, but unfortunately the department head cringed at the cost of a £100 DMX interface :|

    We have three months or so in which to complete the entire system, including the control application and the fader wing, so we're trying to go for the cheapest way possible since it's not that urgent. It's ok if we can't get a fader wing at all I guess, since we can always use the DMX in port on the interface to use our old board, but that would be irritating because it's small and we can't bank-switch since it's not motorised. So...

    I've also had a look at MagicQ and it doesn't run acceptably on the pitiful second hand PC we have to run the thing :D - I'm writing the app in C# (Mono) to run on a stripped down Linux, just for interest.

    I expect the best option is to try and raise funds for a Behringer, despite the manager's financial objections... sigh.

    Thanks for your replies
    - ojno
     
  6. TimMiller

    TimMiller Well-Known Member

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    you would have to really pull apart your lighting console and reverse engineer it to get it to work as an interface.
     
  7. tomed101

    tomed101 Active Member

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    Not really. He said that his interface had a DMX input on it, so if he programs that if Ch1 on the input reads 25% then he could program that to mean fader1 = 25% (I hope that made sense)
     
  8. TimMiller

    TimMiller Well-Known Member

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    I did not see the dmx input part, yes you could program it like that
     
  9. ojno

    ojno Member

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    We may have a solution....

    Endless faders, using a rubber belt attached to a quadrature rotary encoder. No need for any mechanisation at all, it will all be relative and the position indicator will be an LED bar graph rather than the slide position.

    There are still some issues to be ironed out, such as getting the belt the right length and calibration such that the bar graph moves in sync, but it seems extremely promising. It may seem a bit weird to start with though :p
     
  10. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    Your rotary encoder idea has been the standard for controlling moving light attributes for a long time. However, why do you need a rubber belt? Just attach a wheel to the encoder (like on most modern consoles) and call it a day. At the same time, why bother with the LED bar graph? You are going to have some kind of channel display with levels on the computer monitor, so is there really a need for the redundancy of information?

    It really intrigues me that people have such an affinity for the physical faders and the visual feedback from them (I think the latter is why most like them). I use a couple physical faders for submasters, but never individual channel control. Keyboard input is so much faster; typing "[email protected]" is so much easier than running up 25 faders and finding the level you want them at. So, save the encoders for your ML attributes and use the keypad!

    Forgive me, but it just seems like a waste of time to reinvent the wheel. I realize that you don't have any money and you want the challenge of writing your own software, but I would love to know a little more about the board that you have, like what it is. You say that it only has 24 faders in single scene mode, but does it support more channels than that? Does it have a keypad? My other concern is that I would never want to use a totally unproven technology to run any show critical element (like lighting). It is one thing to tinker in your garage, but what happens when the system just up and dies in the middle of a show and there is no support number you can call?

    I don't mean to come off as harsh and disheartening, it is just my 2 cents.
     
  11. elite1trek

    elite1trek Active Member

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    Sometimes when you have never used anything other than a two scene preset, you just dont trust GO boards.


    When that happens, your screwed. I have had amps just die during shows. It sucks, and at least I could call Crown.
     
  12. David Ashton

    David Ashton Active Member

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    For colour mixing on a cyc or balancing key, fill and backlight on a special area, you can move and mix with faders while watching the area.That is why I love faders, of course this is mainly when I'm doing my own show, if there's a designer sitting there calling states a keypad is fine.
     
  13. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    That's fine for recording the initial cue, but what happens if during the next rehearsal you decide you want/need to edit the scene? There's no console I know of that has motorized faders for all individual channel handles.
     
  14. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    That would be cool, but I don't think it would be that useful. It would not suprise me if AVO made something that did this, but I don't want to see 96 channel 2 scene preset monster boards come back.

    Just my opinion, flying faders are great for audio, but I don't think that lighting out of the club environment needs them.
     
  15. ojno

    ojno Member

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    FYI our current board is this: Elara (Sorry that's not the manufacturer's website, but it's discontinued, and that page contains a picture, basic feature list, and the manual anyway.) It's a fairly old 12/24 two preset almost-but-not-quite-memory board - it does scene presets and sequences, but nothing more like a cue stack or anything.

    Thanks icewolf08, a plain keypad would probably be a much more sensible idea for most of our purposes, however the reason for wanting to do the kludgy faders is exactly what you said, allthingstheatre - although design itself isn't my/varnis' primary responsibility, we don't have a professional designer and there *will* be "a bit more blue, a bit less orange, ok" changes during rehearsals etc, especially since we have some video-projected backdrops.

    I think the only rational option at this point is to rig together a keypad using a cheap external numpad, and then get the Behringer... we'll have to look into some fundraising.

    Thanks again all
    - ojno

    EDIT: We have found someone who has a Zero88 Fat Frog that we can borrow for the couple of weeks necessary for our show, so that makes a great backup option for us. I think we'll still develop the system we described, though, looking to the future; but at least now it doesn't have to be ready any time soon at all.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2008
  16. paradoxism

    paradoxism Member

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    I can't actually see an answer to the original question - does anyone know of a supplier for motorised faders at a reasonable cost?

    I have a large range of desks (including Fat Frogs, ETC SmartFade and MagicQ with a PC wing) at my disposal that I can use, but as an electronics graduate I have often built small desks and PC control software either for very specific requirements of shows (mostly animatronic props!) or to try and make my job easier.

    I have often thought that motorised faders would be useful on a PC wing - having the ability to position the mouse over a group of faders on screen or example and the levels appear on a small set of 6 faders on a wing, then push them to their new levels and it is automatically saved as an edit.

    And as for having faders in the first place, they are great for live theatre work - even if only as submasters. Typing 1 thru 24 @ 50 may give you the final output you want but not the control to get there in a nice way!
     

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