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Rig Check!

Brad Schiller • August 2019Feeding the Machines • August 8, 2019

Before any race car driver gets to the starting line, he or she will run the car through a series of tests and checks to ensure it is ready to race. Much in the same way, every lighting programmer/operator should take the time to verify the fixtures in the rig; ensuring they are each configured properly and are running at their best ability. Understanding when and how to perform a rig check is paramount to the duties of a programmer.

‡‡         First Things First

Before checking your rig, the first thing to test is your lighting console and associated components. Take the time to confirm the software version is correct, the touch screens are working, network devices are found, and USB slots are functioning. If you happen to have an old console with a floppy drive, it is a good idea to test the drive to make sure it can store and read data. Be sure to perform these tests on both your primary and backup systems as many people forget to look at backups until they need them.

‡‡         To The Rig

When the rig is first handed over to you at your desk, you need to perform a series of checks prior to starting any actual programming. First and foremost, you need to confirm that the data flow and DMX addressing matches what you are expecting (and have previously entered into your patch). The best way to accomplish this is to select each fixture one at a time and confirm it is operating as the same fixture you expected. One of the most common errors with a new rig stems from addressing/patching mismatch errors. Never just select the entire rig at once and turn on all the fixtures to confirm they work. Testing in this manner would not reveal that they many could be set to the same DMX address.

Most consoles have a highlight function that will put the dimmer at full and remove all gobos, colors, and other effects from the selected fixtures. This is a great tool for checking a rig as you can select a group of fixtures and enable highlight. Then hit the next key to cycle through the fixtures one at a time in the order you desire. As you hit the next key, each fixture will turn on with an open white beam. As you advance to the next fixture, the previous fixture will blackout automatically. Because some fixtures may be difficult to see from your FOH position, I find it best to also twirl the tilt encoder as I cycle through the fixtures with the next key. This way each fixture not only shines on stage, but is also sweeping across to help me locate it. Some programmers have even created very epic macros that automate this process while allowing for a simple button press to advance to the next fixture.

When a problem is found, you should notate the fixture number and the problem. Since I avoid paper, I generally use the notepad function on my phone. Plus, once I have completed my tests, I can simply text the list to the crew chief. When the crew reports back that remedies are in place, I will refer back to my list to confirm. The most common problems you will find with this testing is that a fixture is not addressed as expected and thus does not function, or two fixtures are addressed at the same value (usually DMX 1). In some cases, you will discover fixtures that simply do not work, or perhaps the lamp did not strike (if you are still using discharge fixtures). Always try to strike the lamp before reporting the fixture as having a problem.

‡‡         Phase Two

Once you have confirmed the basic operation and configuration of addressing is correct, you have further options to check. First, you should grab all your fixtures at once and pan/tilt them in big moves together. You are looking for any fixtures that move faster or slower than the rest. Those that behave dissimilar are probably in a different movement mode. This can be corrected via the menu system or often by RDM.

The next step is to confirm the functionality of the fixture features. While most shops have great QC programs, it is best for you to check for yourself that all is in working order. Select fixtures by type and then dial through the various color wheels, gobos, zoom, prisms, and other functions. Again, you will be looking for the odd fixture that behaves differently than the masses.

If working with discharge lamps, this is also a good opportunity to compare the output of the fixtures. Sometimes a fixture will have an old lamp with poor color temperature and output. Or perhaps the lamp is not properly optimized with in the reflector. With any type of fixture, you should look to see that the lenses are clean as you view the output and effects. All too often, I have found fixtures that missed the cleaning at the shop and discovered dim or blurry imagery.

When comparing gobos, you not only want to confirm that the proper gobos are loaded (including any custom patterns), but also that they are all indexed in the same manner. In some cases, gobos can be inserted incorrectly and then the patterns do not align the same from fixture to fixture. While this may not matter for some productions, it could be a show stopper for others. Yes, you could just program the particular fixture with a different index value for the gobo, but then what will happen if the particular fixture is swapped out for a spare? It is best to correct this problem before you start programming, as it will reduce future problems.

‡‡         Up and Running

Once you have confirmed that the rig is in good working order, you should be free to start programming. However, your rig checking skills will still be required on a daily basis. Whether you are working a touring show, a one-off, or within the same venue every day, it is imperative that you check the fixtures in your rig prior to the show. While the DMX addressing, modes, and gobos are not likely to change from day to day, you do need to confirm that all fixtures are operating as expected.

A common way to accomplish this is to first turn on all fixtures in open white to verify that they are working and, if they have lamps, that the lamps struck. Next you will want to look at some key functions to ensure nothing has gone wrong. Checking color, focus, zoom, positions, and more are key to a successful show. In many cases it might be best to walk the stage while performing these tests. In many theatrical environments the production electrician will handle this job with a wireless tablet. It is also a good idea to pull up certain cues to confirm that they appear as expected. Again, the goal here is to confirm that the rig is ready for the upcoming performance.

‡‡         Off to the Races

Racecar drivers always take the time to ensure their car is ready for the race, and the same should be said for a programmer/operator of a lighting rig. Unfortunately problems do occur unexpectedly, so it is essential that you learn to check your rig with precision and regularity. Utilizing console tools such as highlight or macros will help in automating much of the checking. Keeping proper notes of problems and reporting them to your crew in a timely manner will allow you to start programming or have your show running as soon as possible. Always go back and confirm the corrections were made and thank your crew for their assistance and teamwork. With proper rig checks, you too can win the race!

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