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The Other Left

by PLSN Staff • in
  • Feeding the Machines
  • November 2017
• Created: November 9, 2017

Automated lighting programmers have many great tools at their disposal that aid in the programming of shows and the creation of cues. Some are more important than others, but all have their place. Taking the time to adjust parameters so that they work as expected is an essential secret of programmers. While the console’s fixture library should take care of most of these settings, they often fail or are not specific for your needs. Programmers should take the time to ensure that parameters (particularly pan/tilt) are behaving in the best method possible for each specific show.

‡‡         Proper Planning

At early as possible in the preproduction period, you need to ensure that all the fixtures will be oriented in the same manner as much as possible. You should ask that the plot indicates the direction of all fixtures in all locations. Usually this is done with a physical reference on the actual fixture such as the tail (power cord), display, or arrow painted on the unit. Having the fixtures all facing the same direction is key — not just for pan and tilt movement, but also for the default direction that color flags, gobos, and other effects will enter into the light path.

I generally ask for all displays to face upstage, unless I have torms or other sidelight that cannot be rigged in this manner. In this case, I find that having the SR and SL opposite of each other is better (all displays offstage). This allows me to tilt the units towards the stage and still have all effects running the same direction within the units. (Yes, you could have them all face same direction and still make this work, but pointing the displays away from the audience is always a good idea.)

In addition, you want to ask that all internal settings be set to OFF (or to defaults). This ensures that no single fixture has a pan or tilt invert active or a strange speed setting engaged. If you do find that you need some of these unique settings for particular fixtures you can usually set them from the console or using RDM.

‡‡         Getting Oriented

One of the first things that programmers should do after patching in the fixtures is to align them so they all move in the same direction. Nothing is worse than grabbing a group of fixtures and turning the encoder to the left and watching some fixtures move SR and others SL. If you have ever patched fixtures into a console, then you have probably noticed the invert pan and invert tilt options. These simple toggles will do exactly as their names state and cause the pan or tilt to go in the opposite direction.

First, you will want to move the fixtures and see which ones do not move as desired. Generally, programmers like to have the pan encoder move the fixtures left or right from the programmer’s perspective (usually house left/right). So when the encoder is turned counter-clockwise the fixtures should move visually to the left (or towards SR).

As for tilt, I prefer to have the fixtures move towards downstage (from their default) when I move the encoder clockwise. This is because I think of the encoder as decreasing a value when moving clockwise and thus I think of “moving down.” You can set the tilt to move in either direction that works for you, but again the most important thing is to set all your fixtures the same orientation.

In some cases, fixtures will be rigged in such a manner that you may need to activate the “swap pan and tilt” feature. This will actually cause the pan adjustment to move the tilt parameter of the fixture, and vice versa. Once this is complete, then you still may need to further invert pan or tilt on certain fixtures to get everything moving as desired. Although more commonly used with mirrored fixtures, the swap feature can be useful with some unique fixture positioning for yoke fixtures too.

‡‡         A Word of Caution

Usually, but not always, changing the pan and tilt inverts will cause changes to your DMX values. This is because the desk is mathematically inverting the data attached to the encoder. Before you activated the invert, turning the pan encoder to the right was increasing the DMX value. But now turning it to the right will decrease the value. When you tell the console to invert pan, it will go and invert all recorded data to match the new method coming from the encoder.

If you have already programmed cues or presets/palettes, then you will find that they are instantly all wrong because you activated the pan or tilt invert. This is why it is suggested to always adjust these settings first thing when patching so that no values are later unexpectedly changed. Of course, there are some instances where knowing that inverting the pan and/or tilt will change all your values that you can use to your benefit. In addition, there are some consoles that offer invert methods that change only how the physical console hardware behaves instead of altering data.

‡‡         A Better Way

Many consoles allow not only the standard invert options, but also a further feature that will change the direction of the console hardware. With this method, the DMX values will remain the same, and only the direction of the encoder movement will change. Given this ability, you can change how an encoder behaves, but not affect any currently saved DMX values. Plus, you can usually apply this to any parameter you want.

Let’s think first about pan adjustment again. Let’s say you have fixtures in the air and fixtures on the floor, and all are placed with their displays facing upstage. If you grab them all and pan left (turn the encoder counter-clockwise) you will see the fixtures in the air move left and the fixtures on the floor move right. This is because the floor fixtures are sitting on their base while the others are hanging from a truss. Using this new method, you invert the pan encoder on only the floor fixtures. Now turning the encoder for these fixtures will cause the desk to behave as if you had moved it in the opposite direction. It will merely change the association of the encoder and the pan DMX values without inverting the actual DMX. Now, if you grab all the fixtures and pan left, then they will all move left. Anything that was already recorded will not be affected as the DMX value calculations have not changed.

This same feature can be applied to other parameters as well. Lets say that you don’t like that the iris gets smaller as you turn the iris encoder to the right. You would rather have it get smaller as you dial left. Simply activate this inversion, and the encoder will now work in the opposite direction! This can be very useful when fixtures (or their libraries) don’t all behave in the same manner for similar features. For instance, let’s say you have several different fixtures types selected and notice that running the zoom is backwards on one versus the others. You can quickly resolve this by activating the encoder invert feature for zoom on this particular fixture type.

‡‡         Inversion Therapy

Aligning all your fixtures to operate in the same manner is a very important task that should always be done at the beginning of a programming session. When all parameters move as expected in a natural manner, it becomes much easier and faster to program the desired looks. No one likes to turn a fixture towards the wrong direction when focusing, and our consoles give us the tools to easily adjust movement settings for most lighting rigs. As always, take the time to read your console’s user manual to ensure you know about and understand all the parameter alignment functions at your fingertips.

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