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Merge with Caution

Brad Schiller • Feeding the MachinesJune 2019 • June 15, 2019

Lighting programmers are both creators and keepers of essential lighting data. Often this data may need to be combined with other versions of the data to create new forms of mutual data. Most lighting consoles provide various forms of merging, and almost anything is possible, from simple merging of data into a cue or palette/preset to complex merging of data from one show file to another. Lighting programmers need to understand what merging possibilities exist on the console and the procedures to correctly prepare and execute merging routines.

‡‡         Rules of Engagement

The majority of merging functions on a lighting console behave in the same manner. They simply replace the old data with the new data you are bringing in. In some cases, the console may prompt you with questions asking about which data you wish to keep, or if you want higher values to take precedence over lower.

Furthermore, merging of large data sets should always be considered a special act, and precautions should be taken prior to any combining action. For instance, it is helpful to store a unique backup of the show file with a tag on the name indicating it is pre-merge data: “filename_premerge”. Then after the merging of data, store an additional backup with the name “filename_postmerge”. Trust me, if anything goes wrong you will be glad that you can quickly and easily restore your data.

When merging in vast amounts of cue data, you will also need to make decisions about groups, palettes/presets, fixture libraries and more (see details below). Simply merging data into cues is a much simpler (and more common) practice that every programmer will likely encounter on a regular basis during programming.

‡‡         Everyday Merging

The most common merging procedure when programming lighting occurs when storing new parameter information into existing cues, palettes/presets, or groups. Often a programmer will grab some fixtures, make a change to parameters and then record/store into an existing object. At this point, the console may ask if you want to overwrite or merge the data. Overwriting will erase the existing data and replace it with the new data, while merging will simply add the changes to the existing data (overwriting as needed). Usually there it is a quick button press to select the merge action. Personally, I set my defaults to “merge” when recoding/storing over existing objects, as this saves me an additional keystroke.

Merging parameter data into palettes/presets is a very common practice, particularly on touring productions. As the rig is set up each day, the values in the position palettes/presets must be updated to match the new location. This is easily accomplished by merging the new pan/tilt values into the existing palettes/presets. Of course, the same action works with any parameter and is often repeated ad nauseam until all the required daily updates have been made.

You can also easily add additional fixtures to a group by selecting the new fixtures and merging them into the existing group. Note, however, that they will likely be added at the end of the fixture selection, which may have odd results later on. For example, merging fixture 13 to a group of odd fixtures (previously 1, 5, 15, 21) may put it at the end of the selection instead of in numeric order.

When making changes to existing cues, you generally have a few options as to how to edit the existing data. You could open/recall the stored cue or instead simply make your changes live and merge them into the existing cue. I usually prefer the latter, as I find it much faster. After you have selected fixtures and made the required changes to parameters, you can easily merge the new data into an existing cue. This could be accomplished with a store/record command or, with some consoles, via a direct merge button. You would simply enter something similar to “Merge Cue 5 Enter” to merge your changes to cue 5. In some cases, your console may also allow you to quickly insert data into the currently playing cue by pressing “update” or “merge” twice in rapid succession. In any of these instances, the data stored in your cue will be combined with the data in your programmer, and stored accordingly.

‡‡         Be Careful!

One note with merging data into cues: be sure you understand what has been previously stored as hard values versus palettes/presets. You could accidently destroy palette/preset references with the merging of data. For example, imagine that cue 7 has fixture 201 pointing at the SR keyboard player. If you discover the fixture is instead focused on the ground, you will likely grab it and adjust the pan/tilt values so it properly lights the keyboard. Now if you merge this data into cue 7, the merge action will replace the previous palette/preset reference with these new pan/tilt hard values for the keyboard position. Not only will this cause problems for cue 7 on the next tour stop, but also all other cues that reference this palette/preset will remain in the “ground” location. It is always a good idea to check the original data source or use an auto-update function where the console will indicate the original source (in this case a palette/preset) before you execute a merge.

‡‡         Going Big Time

Combining/replacing of data within a show file while programming is a fairly common and simple task that programmers will encounter often. A less common merging practice, but equally important, is that of merging data from one show file to another. Many consoles will allow you to merge data such as cues, cuelists, palettes/presets, groups, effects, layouts, patch, and more. The show file you are merging from could be an earlier version of the same file or a completely different show file that has the data you need for your current show file.

This type of data manipulation can be very dangerous as it might leave a show file in shambles or even corrupt. A good understanding of the specific procedures for each console is essential. Make sure to read the user manual section on show file merging (or partial show read), and proceed with caution. Make backups before, during, and after merging, and take your time with the process. Most consoles will guide you along with pop-up windows and options to select exactly what you want to import. Furthermore, there may be rules about what is required to initiate the merging as well as software version requirements.

Once again, palette/preset references are very important, and anytime you import a cuelist, you should also import the palettes/presets contained within. If you fail to merge palettes/presets, then some data may be empty or simply replaced with raw values instead of references.

‡‡         Combine Away

Merging data is an extremely powerful technique that lighting programmers have at their disposal. It is something that you will likely use on every production as you merge data into cues, palettes/presets and other elements of your show. Furthermore, you may come across instances where you wish to import data from another show file into your existing file. Although complicated, this should not be feared, as it can actually save quite a large amount of programming time once the merge is complete.

As I always caution, every console is different, so be sure to read the user manual or help file to get a firm grasp as to how your particular desk handles the various types of merging. Make backups of your data often, and look over all the options before completing a merge. Within no time you should be able to combine data like a champ and continue on with your lighting programming.

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