Automated Fixtures Upgrading to moving lights

bjrdillard

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Feb 2, 2021
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San Francisco, CA
First, a little backstory. I am in a pretty unique predicament: I got hired as a High School theater technician at the beginning of this school year. This school year started in distance learning and it looks like it's going to end that way too. Good news is I have done okay in terms of teaching theater tech online, and we were able to put on a nice virtual show as well. I have been doing most things remotley, but I do have (somewhat limited) access to our theater (still has a half-built set on stage from the shutdown last year). I have never really touched the systems in the theater or run a show there. Thankfully the previous tech has been in contact with me and helps me out when possible. Also for more about myself, my background is mainly in set construction, though I do have experience in all aspects of theater.

So now to the problem: The arts department has decided that now would be a great time to make some upgrades to our theater, and they want to use some use-it-or-loose it money (we have about a month so spend it) to start making some upgrades. Most of their requests require more budget and planning than we have time for right now, but one request that I figured we could spend this budget on now (~$30k) is adding some moving lights to our theater. Our current board is an ETC Express. I know that for moving lights I'll want to upgrade the board, but I'm not sure about going about finding the right console. I've been doing some research and re-learning how moving lights work but there are a lot of things to consider and it has been a hot second since I've worked with lights in this capacity.
From my first look into lighting board upgrades, I've looked at ETC Gio, Cobalt, and Element 2. After looking for hours these have all started to look the same to me, so I decided to make an account on here and ask for help.

So first off, what lighting board would be a good upgrade for us?

Secondly, I also need help in suggestions for moving lights to buy.

It sounds like the general stage wash is lacking in coverage, so I was thinking some moving wash lights could help us solve that problem.

Also, one last question: how are moving lights generally wired? I understand they require seperate power, as well as dmx. Is there a way to wire them through the existing electrical system to get to the board, or would they need their own seperate dmx routed through the theater to the board?

I've seen some similar posts on this site in my searches, so I'm sorry for asking similar questions, but with my limited experience in lighting combined with my lack of experience in this theater, I'm not exactly sure where to turn for help.

Any help or suggestions are appreciated, thanks!
 
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almorton

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Hello, welcome to the Control Booth.

As you say, this is an oft asked question, and we can only offer broad brush strokes answers.

Looking at ETC desks isn't a bad idea, as they are widely used, so your students will be learning a desk that is popular. I'm fairly sure the Cobalt range are being discontinued. The Element 2 is ok but lacks encoders, so makes programming movers that bit less straight forward, so you're looking at the "proper" EOS desks, the Gio you've mention, there's also the Gio@5 and the Ion Xe range that might be worth looking at. These have proper encoders and will make working with movers much easier. Other desks are available, of course (MA, Chamsys/Chauvet, Zero88, Avolites, Infinity to name but a few) all of which have their place, some are more widely used in "busking" environments than theatre, perhaps.

As to what lights to get, that's a huge field. The usual suspects (ETC, Chauvet, Martin, Varilight, High End, Elation, GLP, Ayrton, Infinity - the list just goes on) all have wash lights in their lists, and you really need to audition them in your space to see how they perform, so get in touch with some distributors and see whether a demo can be arranged taking restrictions into consideration. Buying these sort of lights simply by looking at the spec sheet is a no-no, though.

As for the "wiring" - you're right, they need their own hard power, not through a dimmer, but via a relay/contactor, and they will need DMX to each fixture. If you have enough addresses left you may be able to simply extend your existing DMX to the first fixture on the bar and loop from one to the next, you may need to put in DMX splitters and run new lines, you may find you don't have enough addresses left on that universe - movers use a large number of addresses per fixture depending on which mode they're in - and have to start running new DMX from the desk, possibly from a gateway. Again, you need to speak to a decent distributor (not a box shifter) and there are some of them on here - I'll let them introduce themselves.

Lots to think about.

Our theatre has a nearly built set still sitting on the stage a year on, too, BTW :)
 
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Crisp image

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Eastern Victoria Australia
For a school would seriously look at the Element 2. It gives you physical faders so when a not tech person walks in to the space they can push up a fader or 3 and have light on stage. not having encoders is not a huge issue. The only real downfall is a single cue list but I could live with that.
As for illumination and cabling, we will need to know a little more about your space such as how many dimmers, what height are your bars and how do you get to them and size of stage.
Like others have and will say you need to try before you buy.

Regards
Geoff
 

jtweigandt

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Moline Il
One vote for the ETC line of boards... Don't know if other MFG have something similar, but Students can download Nomad, and emulate the board on their PC for free. They can do a lot of work and learning "offline" and bring it to the theater and load their file to the real board. Also the Student license for Nomad and the output gadget 2 universe is an incredible deal, and so a student can have a fully functional portable industry standard lighting desk for about what they paid for their last video game console or less. Sit with their own laptop, and Nomad, and play with a 100 dollar mover sitting right in front of them to learn those ropes. https://www.etcconnect.com/Student-Package/ Buy one for the school as an instructor, and with an old pc, you have an entirely functional backup board in case of disaster, or you just need 2 for side by side education
 

almorton

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Dec 17, 2014
Location
Caterham, Surrey, UK
For a school would seriously look at the Element 2. It gives you physical faders so when a not tech person walks in to the space they can push up a fader or 3 and have light on stage. not having encoders is not a huge issue. The only real downfall is a single cue list but I could live with that.
I don't know for sure on the other desk, but I've put our Ion with a 2x20 wing into fader per channel by a keystroke on the fader wing -The LEDs on each fader turn red and they're mapped to the first dimmers. Repeat the keystroke and the revert to regular mappable faders (green LEDs). Not having encoders doesn't sound like much of a bind, but it quickly becomes old using the on screen controls. If getting an Element2 consider the Arduino encoder box as a n add on, too.

One vote for the ETC line of boards... Don't know if other MFG have something similar, but Students can download Nomad, and emulate the board on their PC for free. They can do a lot of work and learning "offline" and bring it to the theater and load their file to the real board. Also the Student license for Nomad and the output gadget 2 universe is an incredible deal, and so a student can have a fully functional portable industry standard lighting desk for about what they paid for their last video game console or less. Sit with their own laptop, and Nomad, and play with a 100 dollar mover sitting right in front of them to learn those ropes. https://www.etcconnect.com/Student-Package/ Buy one for the school as an instructor, and with an old pc, you have an entirely functional backup board in case of disaster, or you just need 2 for side by side education
This is one the great things about ETC's educational package - you can get going for not very much (although fader wings and programmimng wings aren't cheap, there's always x-keys/cmd-keys and midi with OSC to extend your home rig).

Other manufacturers do have similar packages, though. Zero88 have Phantom ZerOS to emulate the Flex and Orb ranges on a PC, MA have MAonPC, Chamsys have magicQ on PC, Mac and Linux, and a really cheap dongle (I paid £10 so less than $15 for mine) that gives you a single universe and enough time to easily run a 3 hr show, before you have to shut it down and restart it.
 

ACTSTech

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Not in the same situation, but I was recommended the Nomad system as a temporary fix, and I have to say it's worked out great. For teaching, it might be worthwhile because you can have your students download it for free. No, it's not the same as sitting at a board. No, it's not exactly user friendly in terms of using keyboard entry or a mouse or touchpad instead of faders. However, how many hours can you devote to one board with 10 students? With the software (and I'm not a sales rep or anything) they can all sit at home and work. I'd try to start there in my opinion.
 

derekleffew

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It sounds like the general stage wash is lacking in coverage, so I was thinking some moving wash lights could help us solve that problem.
If the current "general stage wash" is inadequate, I wouldn't depend on movers as a solution. I'd look at adding more of the same fixtures if extra dimmers/circuits are available, or replacing all with color-changing LED profile or wash units. If the existing dimmers are ETC Sensor, you can replace some modules with R20 or Thru-power to power the new units. Add ColorSource wireless DMX and you're there. Although pretty long-in-the-tooth, see also The Gafftaper Method; much of its philosophy is still valid.

As for console, ETC Ion with fader wing all the way.
 

gafftaper

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So first off I run a very busy High School Theater with lots of shows from other schools in the district as well as community rentals.

I have lots of thoughts for you:

DMX Data Distribution: What sort of dimmers do you have? How do they currently get their data? DMX line directly from the console? How is DMX data distributed to other points in the theater? If you going to buy new LEDs or Movers you are going to burn through a lot of DMX channels fast. You can probably keep a DMX line direct to the rack if that's what they take, but you'll need to look at how to get data out to your other fixtures. If it's easy to run ethernet cables around the space then a wired solution would be good. You'll need a good network switch (I recommend getting your switch from ETC, Doug Fleenor Design, or Pathway Connectivity) this will be expensive but you just can't cut corners on DMX reliability with a discount network switch. Cheap off the shelf switches are okay with dropping a little data here and there. But if you drop data the lights might not behave the way you want. Send @jfleenor a message for info on Fleenor Switches. Send @Rob a message for questions on Pathway switches.

Once you get the data distributed over ethernet you need to decode it back to DMX. I am really happy with my network of Pathway Connectivity Nodes. I have individual Pathway Unos scattered around the theater and a Pathway Octo dividing up data around the stage. Again @Rob is the guy to help you out with this. Chauvet now makes some DMX nodes. I haven't used them as they are pretty new, but @Ford could answer any questions you have there.

If running wires is a problem and you want to look at Wireless DMX, I recommend RC4 Wireless ( Jim aka @RC4Wireless is a great guy I'm sure he would be happy to answer any questions about how their gear works and specific product recommendations). RC4's typical competition in this range is City Theatrical's Showbaby which is also pretty good stuff. There are cheaper wireless DMX options out there but again, do not cut corners on the reliability of your DMX network.

Power: Every moving light/LED needs to have power that doesn't go through a dimmer. Depending on what dimmer rack you have there may be relay modules you can turn on and off from the console these are safe. But do not plug anything electronic into a dimmer and set it at full... it'll kill your device. You need to turn the power off at the end of the show, so relays are better than manually unplugging everything or hitting breakers. But if that's all you can afford, there's nothing wrong with powering down the manual way.

Console. Go with an Ion XE, Touch Screen, and a fader wing. If you can afford it, upgrade to a Gio@5 and two touch screens (I got this setup last spring and it's fantastic). Consider the number of universes on both. When I was making my choice between the two I realized the basic Ion XE with four universes would not provide enough data for my needs. But when you pay for the upgrade to the full output potential, the price was pretty close to a Gio@5 with the basic 8 universes. 8 universes is more than I need and you get a lot more console with the Gio@5.

Lights: As Derek pointed out, my old "Gafftaper Method" absolutely applies to you. EVERYONE wants movers because they are so COOL and fun to play with. But here's the thing, you won't use them that often. But you ALWAYS need a really good full light wash. You can ALWAYS use nice LED Cyc lighting. You can ALWAYS use a splash of color from the front, sides, and top. Movers are fun, but they take a time to program. If they aren't LED then the lamps are EXPENSIVE and the lamps tend to have a short life. Do you have a couple of hundred bucks in your budget to pay for new lamps every year? Then there is maintenance and repairs which is time consuming and expensive. For those of us in educational theater, Movers are fantastic desert. But you need to eat your vegetables first!

Here's what your priority of purchasing should be in order of how often you really use/need them:
1) Console and Data distribution
2) Conventional Fixtures to provide a full light wash
3) LED Cyc lights (I Recommend: Chauvet Ovation Batten B-2805FC)
4) Additional LED Front, side, and top lights to give every scene more color (I Recommend ETC ColorSource and/or Chauvet Professional Ovation products).
5) Movers

Still want movers? Shop Usedlighting.com and pick up some cheap used movers to play with. I just saw they have some Chauvet Rogue R1 Wash lights for $550 each. Buy a couple and it won't break your budget AND it'll make people happy that you got some cool toys. But you need to eat your vegetables first. Fix the wash and spend your money on adding LED's that will make EVERYTHING look better.
 
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bjrdillard

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San Francisco, CA
Thank you everyone for these replies, this is all great advice!

Thanks for the suggestions on boards to use, I'll be looking into those.

I jumped to moving lights because I have no experience with this theater, and I thought they would be an easy fix to a problem I've only been told about. Getting proper fixtures to fill out our wash seems like the proper way to fix this problem.
I have also been told of electrical issues with our system, circuits that are broken and limitations in lighting positions. An overhaul of our electrical system was suggested, so we are also looking into that for one of the future upgrades we make.

I can update with more specific information of our dimmers and electrical system after getting another chance to look around the theater, but the help I have gotten so far seems like enough for now!

Thanks again for all the help! I've got a lot of work to do.
 

gafftaper

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Thank you everyone for these replies, this is all great advice!

Thanks for the suggestions on boards to use, I'll be looking into those.

I jumped to moving lights because I have no experience with this theater, and I thought they would be an easy fix to a problem I've only been told about. Getting proper fixtures to fill out our wash seems like the proper way to fix this problem.
I have also been told of electrical issues with our system, circuits that are broken and limitations in lighting positions. An overhaul of our electrical system was suggested, so we are also looking into that for one of the future upgrades we make.

I can update with more specific information of our dimmers and electrical system after getting another chance to look around the theater, but the help I have gotten so far seems like enough for now!

Thanks again for all the help! I've got a lot of work to do.
In my theater I had a decent console but a terrible wash. So the first thing I did was spend $15,000 on a pallet of Source Fours. Then I started with the LED's. Then a few used movers. Always thinking about what can I buy that will have an effect on the most events that happen in this theater. If your theater is like mine, half of the use will be parent meetings, band concerts, and scholarship information nights, none of which need movers.
 

JohnD

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A couple of things to consider. There are those who think you have to dumb down the console choice so the kid's are able to use them. BALDERDASH!!! Kid's these days are quite adept at computerized thingamajigs. Go for the industry standard EOS system. The Element 2 will work, but if at all possible go to the ION with touchscreens.
Now about that color wash, a few years ago when the switch from incandescent to LED's was beginning to take off, there was a lot of discussion of which wash lights to use. The ColorSource pars was new but it was fixed beam, changeable with drop in lenses for different beam spreads. That might involve lots of ladder time and an inventory of many lenses. So zoomable fixtures were considered. Some could be manually zoomed, some had motorized zoom so they could be zoomed remotely. They still required ladder time to point them somewhere else. The quest for the best option moved on to movers. At the time the sweet spot turned out to be the Chauvet Rogue R2 wash. It could be a down light or a back light and it could even wiggle and jiggle if that was needed. So that is something to be considered.
 
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macsound

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As much as I love moving lights, putting them into the hands of those without lighting theory knowledge means you haven't improved your stage lighting, you've given yourself a distraction.

Just like many of us have walked into a theatre where the teacher/TD swears there's a perfectly setup houseplot (that surprisingly wasn't diagramed anywhere for your pre-perusal) only to realize the center position of your nice 5 position houseplot was removed because the previous student designer needed that light for the curtain gobo and used gaff tape instead of muffler tape because they didn't know better so they can't get the gobo out...

Now imagine how bad it can get when you add moving lights.

Someone will say they can do the whole show with moving lights, repatch all the frontlight to a breakup wash and now for the assembley there's only greenish leaves all over the principal's face. Then you find out the student thought it would be ok to use the wrong profile for the moving light because "that's how he did it at home" and it worked ok, except no one else can figure out Cyan is tilt and gobo spin is pan.

Just something to add to your thoughts...
 

gafftaper

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A couple of things to consider. There are those who think you have to dumb down the console choice so the kid's are able to use them. BALDERDASH!!! Kid's these days are quite adept at computerized thingamajigs. Go for the industry standard EOS system.
100%! A big part of my purchase last year was I want to be teaching my kids how to use an industry standard console that they will encounter everywhere for the next 10+ years. I seriously considered going the Hog/MA route for that same reason, but decided EOS is a better fit for my use.
 
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JohnD

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You can also accomplish this look by buying imported eBay discount DMX nodes.
But that works best when you wear a fake Rolex while programming a fake MA2 lighting console from Alivoodoo.
 

DELO72

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Moving lights can create more of a problem than solve them (in a High School theatre). First- it can make for REALLY lazy designers. I've seen it firsthand with students who think if they hang a moving light in the center of the stage it can be spun about with a color dialed in and solve any coverage or area special during tech they might have missed. Second, they are expensive to both purchase and maintain. Don't get me wrong, they definitely have their uses, and in the right hands with the right show, they excel. Since it is theatre, if you do go the moving light route, make sure you pick a moving light with great CRI for skin tones as you'll be doing plays and musicals and not rock concerts-- either one of the top of the line LED ones designed for good skin tones (DLS or T1 by ROBE or Relev'e by ETC both come to mind) or better yet get a fixture with super high CRI metal halide like the Clay Paky Scenius (Profile or Unico). Don't get a BEAM fixture, and DON"T GET A WASH. A spot can be a wash- just dial in the frost, but a wash can't be a spot very well. Give yourself the most options possible. Just my two cents. :)
 
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Ben Stiegler

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I'm here in the Bay Area and work with schools. Curious ... what's your venue?
 

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