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For those who don’t know, one of the things I do for fun and profit is review moving lights for an industry rag, PLSN. This job has given me the opportunity to put my hands on quite a few intelligent lights, and I’ve found some common things that manufacturers do – or don’t – that I think are errors. Here’s a list of the five biggest mistakes that entertainment lighting fixture manufacturers make when designing new lights.

  • Not having data / power pass throughs / not using PowerCON TRUE1

Obviously, some lights do not have pass-throughs because the amount of amperage that they draw would not allow more than one of that type to be placed on a circuit. I don’t agree with this reasoning. Yes, I know the argument – that people will hook up more than one light to a circuit and blow the circuit breaker. So what? Reset it, and then you still have the pass-through to hook up another, lower-wattage light to it. Like a courtesy outlet. It’s there for you, or your hazer, or a random LED PAR that you want to focus on someone. The same goes for lights that have an Ethernet / EtherCON connection. Put a damn pass-through on it, and make sure that it works when the light is turned off. (Thank you, MAC Allure, for doing this correctly.)

  • Be well-behaved in resets

It’s nearly 2020 and I cannot believe that this is still an issue with lights. Do manufacturers not test their lights to see how they behave in resets? It’s ridiculous to me that a light should, upon getting a DMX reset command, start wildly spinning its motors before at least blacking itself out, and ideally, fading to black so that it’s unobtrusive. The number of moving heads that do not do this is astounding considering it costs nothing in the manufacturing process to write some lines of code. Even some of the big-name manufacturers have lights that are poorly-behaved in reset, which is ridiculous. Write some code and make sure your lights come to position with all their effects before they fade back up.

  • Fully index their damn color wheels

Another one to file in the “I can’t believe all lighting manufacturers don’t do this” box. If your color wheel doesn’t fully, smoothly index, the manufacturer has just decreased its utility by half. Especially if the only way that I can change color on your light is to use the color wheel, it had damn well better be fully indexable, at any position I like, and smoothly so, because I might want to write color effects for the wheel to cover for the fact that I don’t have color mixing. It’s not hard, and the small cost to upgrade the motors and write some code is well worth it. Is the market for the barest-bones lights that just snap between colors that big? I can’t believe it is. Just fully and smoothly index your color wheels, please.

  • Allow mode changes over DMX

There’s no reason why I should have to physically access a light to do a mode change. Martin gets this somewhat right, allowing color calibration mode changes from the desk. It would be really fantastic if they (and everyone else) had a common control channel scheme between fixture personalities, so that users could change from basic to extended mode, in the quite likely event that they get a light in the rig that the tech forgot to set to the correct personality.

  • Don’t do stupid things with modules, make them easy to take out to clean

Things in moving lights break, and will need to be regularly taken out and cleaned and have parts replaced. Be smart about building your modules for your moving lights. Things like: don’t have useless metal offsets that can be dropped into the innards of the light by accident. Don’t use non-captive screws in any part that is likely to be accessed by a tech in the course of removing a module or changing a lamp, because they will get dropped into the light. Think about your wiring and don’t make things so tight that nobody can get them out, and combine multiple runs into single connectors, if possible. Color-code, or number, or letter your connectors inside the light. Try to make all glass in the light easy to access and clean – no matter how good your filters, the glass within the light will get dirty and smeared with haze fluid and need to be cleaned off with some vinegar and soft cloth.

Vectorworks is my primary stage modeling tool for tours and any other work that I do, but I agree with the consensus (a consensus I firmly and un-scientifically believe in) that Vectorworks is a huge, extremely sophisticated and often very-badly-behaved piece of bloatware. It does what I want it to do, but it does so in ways that are un-intuitive, extremely slow, and frustratingly inconsistent. For instance, select a fixture symbol that you’ve dropped onto a design layer, and you can do all the things you’d expect to be able to do: move the symbol around, rotate it, etc. Make that same symbol a “fixture”, however, and suddenly, using the rotation tool no longer works. You can rotate it only around the Z axis, and even then you’ll be informed that you can’t rotate hybrid objects this way in any view other than Top / Plan. Why? Well, there’s no good reason. You just can’t. You’ll have to go into the object info palette, select “Set 3D orientation”, and then you can manually type in your rotation settings via the OIP. (And once you convert symbols to fixtures, the program runs 99% more slowly when you select them.) Insert a truss, hang a bunch of fixtures on it, and then want to rake it? Well you are shit out of luck, hombre, because hybrid fixtures can’t be rotated like that.

Want to change the color of a fixture on your drawing so you don’t wind up with a bunch of fixtures being drawn with black lines? Well, first you’ll have to make a new class, because all things on your drawing get placed in the currently-selected class, but only the top-level container. Even if you make a new class, set a color for it, and then set your newly-placed fixture to that class, the color won’t change. Why? Well, because fixtures are 3D objects with lots of groups and sub-groups, and the fixtures come with inconsistent class structure, like “Lighting – LED”. Or sometimes “Lighting – Moving Light”. Or maybe not, maybe it’ll be set to “None”. You’ll have to change each and every one of the objects in these sub-groups to the new class you created so they’ll take the colors that you picked.

Yes, this is much better.

But today, I want to gripe about hidden line rendering, and how to do it better. Hidden line rendering in Vectorworks has been broken for at least the last two versions, and probably before that. I mean, it works in the technical sense that eventually, yes, your drawing will be rendered, usually. But HL renderings take for aaaaagggesssss to do, because they can only use one core. And that’s a shame, because HL results in some very nice renderings that clients love, the renders show depth far better than a simple wireframe view and you can give a client a good idea of what a set will look like. But for semi-complicated scenes, HL renderings can take literally hours. I’m talking about arena-size sets, there’s no reason it should take hours to cook.

There is, however, a hack that I’ve found that can do the functional equivalent of an HL render in a fraction of the time. One can use the OpenGL renderer to fake an HL render. The downside is that you can’t get colors, but if you don’t need that, this is a great method. To use: set up your drawing in wireframe mode, and then set your rendering style to OpenGL. Then set both your OpenGL settings and lighting settings to the following:

And obtain the following results: