The Quickest Path, and Other Nifty Color Tricks

in Feeding the Machines

Automated lighting manufacturers create some amazing products that we programmers are fortunate to get to operate. Quite often, their software developers will implement features that are essential to enhance the lighting experience. It is extremely important that automated lighting programmers are aware of and understand the features that are included within each fixture. Armed with this knowledge, you can achieve the best possible use of the products that you are programming and therefore create the best lighting achievable too.

The Quickest Path

One of my favorite software features of an automated fixture is often implemented as a standard behavior for a fixture. In many cases, gobo wheels and color wheels automatically take the quickest path to their destination. For example, if the fixture is currently in slot 1 (the open hole) and you command it to change instantly to slot #7 (the last color on the wheel), the fixture should intelligently move the color wheel backwards one space to slot #7. This is because it took the quickest (and shortest) path from its starting point to its ending point. If the fixture did not do this, then you would see the entire color wheel scroll around to get to the last color on the wheel.

As I said, most fixtures have this feature automatically implemented. You probably never even thought about it, unless you happened across a fixture that did not behave in this manner and then you wondered why all your gobo or color changes looked so sloppy. These features are known as the quickest or shortest path, as the fixture will always calculate the best method to get to its new destination. So if in the above example you instead went from the open slot to the second-from-the-last color, it would again turn the wheel backwards and only pass the last color before reaching its destination.

Make It Snappy

Many automated lighting fixtures use round color mixing wheels to allow you to mix nearly any color you wish. Typically these wheels are clear in one location and then, as you move around the circle, they become more and more saturated in a particular color (cyan, magenta or yellow). These work wonderfully for crossfading from one color mix to another. However, if you want to quickly snap from no saturation to full saturation, they can be quite slow. This is because they will move from the clear location all the way around the wheel to the full saturation. Lighting manufacturers always assume you want to slowly mix, so they do not use quickest path as a default setting on these wheels.

Luckily, however, they often do provide you with the ability to enable a quickest-path function on the wheel. When enabled, the color mix wheel will then have the capability of instantly changing from the clear location to the full saturation. This is invaluable when creating color bumps or other fast color changes. In this mode, the fixture can change to fully saturated colors nearly instantaneously, as the distance between the clear and the full saturation is minimal.

Fig. 1A More Creative Method

Not all manufacturers will implement a quickest path for their color mixing wheels. Instead, they may enable a totally different mode of adjusting the color wheel. In the normal mode (sometimes called “pure mix”), the fixture will simply go from clear to full saturation as you dial from 0 to 100 percent. However, in another mode (sometimes called “continuous”), the wheel will go from clear to full to clear as you dial from 0 percent to 100 percent.

This means that, to get to the full saturation, you may have to set your fader at 90 percent instead of 100 percent. As shown in Fig. 1, at values above 90 percent you will see a mix of full saturation and clear and at 100 percent it will again be clear. This gives you the ability to make very fast color bumps or changes. It also lets you dial-in split colors between the full saturation and the clear. At 95 percent, you might get half clear and half magenta, resulting in a very stunning output from the fixture. When combined with half colors from other wheels, you can often create multi-colored output using the fixture’s color mixing wheels.

Automated Cycles

Many color mixing fixtures are also capable of automatically cycling through a rainbow of colors. This can provide a quick, easy color chase that is defined by the fixtures themselves and not your lighting console. This can be very beneficial if you are on a simple desk (or stand alone control) and do not have access to an effects engine or powerful programming capabilities. You can simply tell your fixtures to color mix cycle, and they will all cycle through the same colors (as long as they are all set to the same speed and started at the same time).

Usually, along with a color mix cycle mode, you will find a random mix mode. This will frequently run the same style color mix across your fixtures, but they will all start in a random position. In some cases, they will each actually create random colors based on an internal random number generator. Again, this is a quick method to create a splash of color in a rig, without any complex programming or console effects.

Those Crazy LEDs

The influx of LED wash lights in our industry has led to many new methods of working with color. Of course the main difference is that these fixtures use additive color mixing (RGB, RGBW, RGBA, and more). You will usually find virtual color wheels, gel color equivalent arrays, and various color mixing modes (including virtual subtractive). Because the current trend of LED wash lights contain many pixels, manufacturers are being more creative with the color options they provide.

Manufacturers are adding many exciting color-based and pixel-based effects into these fixtures. Many of these fixtures will allow you to select a particular effect and then use another channel (or channels) to modify the effect. These might be different segments of light, or pixel shapes. Some of these effects will use your base color mixes to apply various type of chases within zones of the light. For instance, if you create three different colors on a unit, you can then have it chase between these colors or swipe from the center out using each of your colors. We are seeing some remarkable, built-in effects in some of these LED products.

As Always, RTFM

Automated lighting manufactures go out of their way to provide us with outstanding fixtures that are packed with hardware and software features. It would be a shame to never use some of the tools that their engineers work hard to provide to end-users. Take it upon yourself to read the user manual and DMX protocol for every fixture you are using on your next production. See if there are unknown features for working with color (or other attributes) that you are not aware of. I bet you will find something new. Then ensure that the fixture library in your console enables you to select the mode or setting. Now light your show with these new features and provide the production with the best use of the fixtures. I am sure you will be pleased with the stunning capabilities you discover.