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Zero to Full

Chris Lose • LD at LargeSeptember 2021 • September 9, 2021

Illustration by John Sauer – johnsauer.com

Being back on a jobsite after a year and a half of couch-sitting is like going from zero to a hundred with zero timing. My fingers get lost on the console, my mind loses focus, and my thoughts return to the feelings of home. There is no time to allow these rusty bolts to slow me down. The responsibilities of sitting in the FOH chair are still just as demanding as ever. Currently, I’m the senior programmer for Woodroffe Bassett Design working on the central venue at Expo 2020 in Dubai. My job is to oversee the programming of multiple shows, multiple programmers and multiple programming sessions. Managing a rig of this size with multiple programmers is a difficult task even for someone who is in full stride. Being out of step for over a year makes these responsibilities even more daunting. I’d like to cover some of the obstacles that my team has overcome in the last few months.

Exporting from Excel to MA2

The first task was to patch the entire rig. Once the opening ceremony rig is laid in, we will be close to 250 universes. The rig was built in Wysiwyg. I was not able to simply import the data from Vectorworks. I used my phone-a-friend privileges to see if anyone was aware of a way to import a patch from an Excel file into the MA2. Several people told me that it should be possible, but they had never done it before. Exporting from MA2 to Excel is straightforward. Importing a patch from another show file is commonplace. Importing from an Excel file turned out to be a bit more nuanced. After a few rejections, I knew that I had to go to Drew Mercadante. He was the first one to be clever enough to put out a request for help on Facebook. He was right. His request alerted Matt McCormick to my situation. Matt had dealt with this request in the past and had already devised a solution. Matt developed a program called grandMA2 Patcher at his GelFrame website. This software saved me hours of work. Instead of having to patch and arrange 90 universes worth of fixtures, I was able to link a few Excel columns to the corresponding columns in the MA patch sheet and watch the little ball spin for a few moments. After less than a minute, I was greeted with a fully patched show file with just a few red lines to adjust. If you run into this same problem, go to www.gelframe.com/software for a solution.

Partial Show Reading from Multiple Programmers

Because this venue will be used 24/7 starting in October, there are several programmers who want to the get their programming time in long before the expo opens. This means that there will be several programmers working on their show files at the same time. All of the show files have to be merged into one, because the permanent rig is still being built. This means that anytime I change the patch, I have to alert every programmer of the changes. Whoever has the most current show file is the only person who does not have to make these changes. Once each programmer is ready to present to their clients, they come to me, we get to partial show read all of their presets, macros, sequences and effects into the master show file. PSR is an amazing tool, but previous to Expo, I have only used it once in a single day. PSR is usually used to bring one show into another. Merging multiple show files into one has proven to be logistically challenging. It is difficult to keep track of fixture number preferences and which versions of sequences are the most up-to-date, especially when people move presets to their liking. I often move presets around for organizational purposes only to realize that I stepped all over someone else’s windows. Each day, we have to sit down and discuss who did what, where they did it, and when the best time to reimport their data will be.

Importing from InqScribe to MA2

There are several timecoded shows as part of the main attraction. The designers, Terry Cook and John Coman of Woodroffe Bassett Design, like to use InqScribe to lay out their shows. They can import a song into the program and mark every hit and log each timecode event. Finding a way to get that information from InqScribe into the console would have required painstaking efforts to recreate in the console if it were not for the internet and like-minded individuals. Matt Peel, a lighting designer out of the U.K., has already solved this problem for me. He has developed software to export the InqScribe data into a tab-delimited format and into the MA2. This import links the sequence to the timecode events and saves me hours. I highly recommend checking out mattpeel.com

Tracking down an Art-Net lag

There was no quick internet fix for this one. As soon as we started seeing fixtures come online, it was clear that we had a communication lag. The farther the fixtures were from the console, the worse the lag. The rig was still being built, so we weren’t too concerned at first. From console to fixture, there were several different companies and departments involved. We could not go to any one department to fix the lag. We had to trial-and-error several different solutions before we finally smoothed out all of the hiccups. Here is a short list of the steps that were taken. Art-Net offset in the desk, move all Art-Net merging into the console, move the Art-Net merge back to the nodes, reduce the Art-Net universes merging in the nodes, reduce the Art-Net attributes merging in the nodes, try unicasting the entire rig to the nodes, try breaking up each universe into a separate line of Art-Net, etc. This lag would come and go as we added each new element into the rig. By the time we finally tracked down each ghost in the system, we were more like exorcists than system engineers.

Learning Follow-Me

One of the most impressive parts of this rig is that we have over 160 fixtures in the Follow-Me system. Almost any amount of these fixtures can be assigned to an operator and used as a followspot on a track pad in an office far from the stage viewing through a system of cameras. We have six operators at the moment, and we will be increasing that number to 10 by the time of publication. In addition to the complexity of the networking, the stage is also rugged territory. The multiple rounded stages, varying height pathways and unnatural obstructions require more polygons than most meshes have ever used before. We have had a parade of Follow-Me experts come in and tweak the settings, each time showing us new ways to optimize the system. The designers keep coming up with new ways to tax the Follow-Me system, and Follow-Me keeps e-mailing us new builds to satisfy their desires.

Going from my chilled Canadian hammock to the FOH chair in the suffocating Middle Eastern desert quickly highlighted the rust in my gears and the atrophy in my bones. Hopefully, this article will provide enough lubricant to get you back into stride as we return to full pace.

Reach Chris Lose at close@plsn.com

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