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Note: my reviews are highly opinionated, longer than your average Costner film, and prone to digressions. While portions of my reviews appear in print, the versions that appear on this blog represent my own personal opinion, and not the opinion or views of any of the magazines I write for. Think of these as expanded reviews to break out of editorially-imposed word limit for the magazine articles.

Our collective taste for novelty is the great driving force of the entirety of the production industry. The musician’s craft is built around innovation of sound; rhythm and harmony made modern to tantalize our auditory tastes with The New. Filmmakers tell tales as old as time with fresh perspectives. And we, as purveyors of visual experiences, strive to captivate our audiences with that which they have never seen, and to do that, we need originality in lighting technology.

Years ago, industry engineers tried to create the ultimate so-called “digital light”, a fixture that would produce the lumen output of a conventional 1200-watt arc-source moving light with the versatility of a digital projector, an idea that been tried before but with limited success. This was, of course, the Barco DML-1200, which, in the words of project manager Mats Karlsson was “Without doubt the most complex and most frustrating product I have been involved in developing and my reason for starting with Barco. The project stretched over 4 years – mainly due to the laws of physics and certain external stakeholders not quite cooperating as expected.”

The success that this product enjoyed was probably less smashing than was hoped for, because, as it turns out, putting powerful digital projectors into moving heads and having them work the way you want is quite difficult. Lackluster performance aside, this idea remains as compelling as ever. Today’s fixture, Martin by Harman’s MAC Allure Profile, is a fascinating re-imagination of this core visual concept: that in controlling individual sections of a hard-edged light beam, one can create powerful and unique effects. This is not video as projection, neither is it a pure hard-edged moving light, but an amalgamation of the two, from a company known for innovation in their lighting effects.

The MAC Allure has a familiar form factor: a moving head and yoke on a base. The light source is a sealed LED engine developed in-house by Martin, and is user-replaceable as in the Quantum Profile. Here we diverge from the concentric rings of white emitters that characterize their other hard-edged LED offerings. Looking down the lens, one can see that there is a honeycomb-like pattern of seven segments. Each segment has an RGBW LED source driving it; there is no subtractive color mixing in this light. The RGBW chips are topped with a light pipe which guides their lights toward the output. These segments are optically separate from each other, so that when the light strikes a surface, the same honeycomb pattern with definite but subtle separation between the sections is revealed. The central “pixel” is hexagonal, while the outside sections have rounded outer edges that give the beam a traditional circular shape when all the emitters are on. The light pipe system and combining optics do a decent job of homogenizing the beam, but the raw output of the individual pixels do display a somewhat unevenly-colored field. Given that the optical system is designed to focus at least somewhat on the actual LED dies, this is probably unavoidable, but not really objectionable. The goal with this light is to create aerial effects, not to be a key light on actors.

This segmented, controllable beam is the Allure’s innovative conceit; a pixelized hybridization of video and hard-edged lighting. The LED segments can be controlled either via DMX or added as a fixture into Martin’s own P3 video processing unit, by placing the fixture’s “pixels” on top of the video output. Run this way, the output becomes an eruption of pixels in the air, which can be shaped and modified like any other hard-edged fixture. The fixture can switch or cross-fade between DMX control and P3, so as not to limit the user to any one control scheme.

Each “pixel” is a separate 60-watt LED package, for a total LED draw of about 420 watts. I measured the open white output of the Allure at 3,183 lux at five meters at 50% zoom. (This was a fixture at a Martin event that had been running all day, so I was unable to measure any thermal droop.) Dimming is very smooth, with the four user-selectable curves closely following their ideal curves. It was, for some reason, set to use a linear dimmer curve at the presentation, which I didn’t realize until after I ran my meter data at home. I’m sure the rest of the included curves function just as expected – Martin has always done an excellent job with the dimming curves on their LED products. I measured the color temperature of the raw output at 7,410 Kelvin, which adjusts via a color correction channel and measured from 2,410K to 10,100K. An included strobe channel provides shutter effects, including synchronous strobes, random strobes, and pulses from 2Hz to 20Hz.

Like other Martin additive LED fixtures, the Allure comes with its LED packages factory-calibrated, and this calibration cannot be disabled. In some previous Martin lights, having color calibration on prevented deeply saturated colors from coming out of the system, because the other LEDs would always be dimly glowing to keep the hue perfectly consistent across fixtures. On the MAC Quantum Wash, Martin introduced a mode called “Extended Color” which keeps the white point consistent across units, but as the fixture approaches 100% saturation, the fixture fades the calibration out. With this method, you can get true, deep colors with full saturation while still having the advantages of calibrated whites and pastels. I am not sure if this also applies to “pure” mixed colors like yellow, cyan, and magenta, but it would be really nice if it did. The Allure also includes a digital “Color Wheel” which uses the pixels to emulate physical glass rolling through the optical field, which is a neat trick, and can then also be “indexed” and “rotated” via the internal effects macros. Color effects are a very strong point of this light. Chases and effects with the color and dimming look spectacular, especially when combined with gobos or the included prism. The light includes a “gel color picker”, which I have mixed feelings about. Generally, I think gel color pickers are not all that useful, for all the reasons outlined here, and while I think it’s okay to say “this value will give you light pink”, attaching a Lee filter number to it is going to be misleading.

Mechanical effects for the Allure are housed within the light permanently. Somewhat unusually, Martin has chosen not to put the motorized effects on a removable module, which the company tells me is due to the small size and limited amount of mechanical features.  This includes the gobo system and iris, and a prism.Time will tell whether this gamble works out for them…I fear that mechanical aspects of the optical system will be annoying to service, but perhaps the light is easier to take apart than I realize. (As mentioned, I was only able to look at this light at a Martin event, I didn’t have it in my “shop” at home for extended examination like I normally do.) The Allure features six rotating and indexable gobos plus open, and in my opinion they tend toward being optimized to support a predominantly aerial use, rather than as projections on scenery. Gobos ride in the familiar carriage system, and are user-replaceable. While there is no separate fixed gobo wheel, the fixture has a gobo “overlay” wheel, which is a separate plate permanently attached to the rotating wheel, and gobo positions two and three have fixed gobo overlays for morphing effects. These fixed gobos are replaceable or removable. There’s an iris for beam reduction effects, and a four-facet indexing and rotating prism. Zoom adjusts smoothly from 12º to 36º, and covers its range in less than ~0.5 seconds. Pan and tilt ranges are 540º and 268º respectively, and both axes of motion were extremely smooth. The fixture completed a full-range pan motion in ~3.1 seconds, and a full-range tilt movement in ~2.4 seconds.

The MAC Allure Profile accepts power in through Neutrik PowerCON TRUE1 in and pass-throughs, and accepts data in through either 5-pin DMX in and pass-throughs, or Neutrik EtherCon ins and pass-throughs — which are passive, so that if the fixture loses power, it will continue passing data downstream. The fixture also accepts DMX via ArtNet and sACN, as well as P3 data, over the EtherCon port. Control schemes from 32 channels in Basic mode to 68 in Extended mode. The Allure stands 60.3 cm (23.74 inches) tall, with a base 385 mm (15.16 inches) by 232 mm (9.13 inch inches) wide, and weighs 17.6 kg (38.8 lbs).

At a glace: Martin by Harman’s MAC Allure Profile showcases the promise of the most creative uses of LED technology. New forms of artistic expression have always been preceded by new forms of technology making such expressions possible, as it is here. The MAC Allure continues to advance the state of the craft, toward a future where focusing on individual diodes can be used to create dramatic colored sprays of aerial pixels. It helps push the distinction between video and lighting further into the distance, without sacrificing performance as a spot / profile moving light. As both a solid hard-edged fixture and a cunning effect luminaire, it offers both solid performance now, and intriguing future development.

One of the primary questions I get asked about while sitting behind my console (or in e-mails, or social medias) is “How do I get into this industry?” by way of asking “How did you get into this industry?” This is, unfortunately, a complicated question that is difficult to answer in an easy-to-digest sound bite, so in this episode of the Blueshift Design Blog, I’ll attempt to shed some light, if you will, on this most impenetrable of conundrums. Let us ponder.1

While it may seem obvious that we should grant that one who wishes to join the ranks of us “road dogs” has arrived at that decision fully informed and only after much personal introspection, it bears mentioning that, like any industry, this one may not be entirely what one expects. There are many very, very long work days, disagreeable coworkers, mercurial artists, fussy gear, and days weeks that will so test your sanity and resolve you’ll wonder if you ever want to press GO+ again. I won’t spend too much time on this, since those who make the attempt to become touring personnel quickly discover what it’s like, but it is something to bear in mind.

On, therefore, to what you really want to know: how to score a position as the Designer With Ultimate Creative Freedom who is never questioned on a world tour with a top-selling artist. Behold, the secret sauce: you can’t.

At least, not right away.

This is not to discourage potential lighting designers and sound mixers and video arts folk from joining the industry. Note that I did not say “You can’t, ever.” The important ingredient to remember in the recipe for success is time. This is difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is that it violates our sense of meritocracy. In this industry – and you will hear it said time and time again – it’s all about who you know. It takes time to establish a social network of people who know you and your abilities and how easy you are to get along with on the road, and these are all qualities that take time to cement in the minds of those we work with. And the fact is that there may be many, many people in front of you in terms of who are deserving of a gig at any given time. The important thing is not to take being passed over as a personal slight. Of course, the flip side to this is that there may be times when you have skills that legitimately surpass those of someone else selected for a job. Perhaps even vastly surpass. This happens, and it sucks.2 To quote REO Speedwagon, keep on rollin’.

The thing to keep in mind is that you will sweep the floors of a warehouse, drive a new console across town as a delivery person, and run a followspot before anyone lets you sit behind a console and drive. If you are truly skilled and humble, when you do finally achieve a degree of success, there will be very few jobs that you will ask others to do that you have not, at some point, done yourself. All this to say, the industry can be difficult for reasons other than difficult gear or long work days. There are challenges – certainly not insurmountable ones, but challenges nonetheless that you must master before you are handed greater responsibility.

Once you’ve decided that you’re okay with All Of That, the real work begins. What follows is not necessarily the best way to go about getting into the industry, it is how I would go about it, if I were trying to get in – which, by the way, I totally am. Trying. Tweak as necessary for your personal situation.

  • Knowing Your Craft

The first and most important asset you can have, other than a good attitude, is knowledge. Knowledge is power, in this industry more so than many others. “Spend a lot of time being a nerd” is advice I give to young people who are interested in doing what I do. The lighting world has a dizzying array of products and technology, and knowing as much as you can possibly cram into your brain will be nothing but an asset to you in your search for a gig. The level of esoterica you can absorb is quite frankly staggering, but the more you know, the better off you’ll be. Do you know what the sound of a loose tilt belt is on a Vari-Lite VL3000? What does a DLP projector with incorrect convergence look like? Do you know how to write a macro on a GrandMA? Be the person who’s studied the console inside and out. If you want to be a programmer – and if you want to be in lighting, you should have at least a basic understanding of automated lighting programming – get your hands on some offline software (Flying Pig Systems and MA Lighting both provide their offline software for free) and a visualizer and some songs, and go to town programming a light show for your chosen music. Learn to program different styles of songs, especially styles you aren’t personally drawn to as matter of musical taste. There are some excellent books about programming, I highly recommend Brad Schiller’s Automated Lighting Programmer’s Handbook.

I also recommend becoming skilled at fixing moving lights, or whatever gear your chosen field deals with. This is not a skill that everyone has, and having it will make you attractive, and also better at your job on the road. Learn consoles inside and out, grandMA and Hog especially. My perhaps-somewhat-controversial opinion about the “other” desks: don’t worry about learning them unless you have time to burn, these are rarely used in the professional arena.

With the directive to know your craft, however, comes a slight warning: do not hyper-focus on one area. Know a little about the other production areas. If you’re into lighting, know something about video and sound. This is especially important as sound and lighting and video often have competing interests, and if we know a little about what our talented sisters and brothers in the other disciplines do and their limitations and frustrations, we can all have a little more empathy for each other and work better together as a team to make a cohesive show. I was a front of house mixer long before I ever cared to know anything about lighting, and did video shooting and editing after that, and those experiences have given me a tremendous respect and admiration for those who run the other funny-looking consoles.

  • Finding a Job to Get Started In

A lot of advice I’ve seen regarding where to “go first” in terms of finding gainful production-related employment recommends looking up your local IATSE chapter and joining. I’m going to recommend against that here, not because I have anything but respect for the Stagehands Union3, but because the purpose of the union is not to find you a job, it is to staff production events. You can learn some excellent skills in IATSE, and meet some wonderful contacts, but their strength is in providing skilled stagehands, not touring personnel.

There are a few options here. One is finding a job at a local concert venue. This can be an excellent way to get started, especially if you have the good fortune to have a venue where up-and-coming bands without LDs regularly come through. However, I’d take care to thoughtfully gauge the quality of the potential gigs – there’s a lot of regional bands out there that are happy to remain regional, and a venue gig can quickly become a black hole of trying to keep 1980’s PAR cans and shoddy electrical systems in good working order.

My preferred option of choice is to get in with a production company, and then work your posterior off to become the lighting person there, especially if they don’t have one already. Even if they do, you can work you way up through hard work and perseverance. Finding a good-sized production company is also a critical piece of this puzzle – there are a lot of companies that do not necessarily focus on having a strong lighting inventory, so if lighting is Your Thing, it might be best to avoid those in favor of an organization that focuses heavily or exclusively on lighting. Of course, as the size of a company grows so too does the talent pool from which they can pull people – bluntly, your competition – so that’s something to keep in mind.

Once you’ve found your company, do gigs for them. (Whether you freelance and thereby cast as wide a net with all the gear companies you can, or work for one full-time is a personal choice, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Do what works for you.) Do any and all gigs for them. Take a lot of time becoming friendly with the account managers of the company, because they are the ones whose mind you need to pop into when a client asks “Do you have anyone that can run all this for us?”

  • Personal Skills

It is a sad truth that our industry has a lot of cranky, ill-tempered and difficult-to-get-along-with people. They will be everywhere, and they will probably be your boss or someone that you have no authority over. Learn to work with these people, or at least become skilled at hiding in the feeder caddy when you see them crossing the stage toward you. This is easier said than done – sometimes these people are simply unavoidable, and you have to work with them. Take everything in stride, chances are difficult people treat everyone that way, and everyone else has to simply work around their sullen attitude.

Advocate for your clients, more and better lights gives you the ability to make your show look better, which in turn will you a more attractive choice for gigs. Be open to criticism, take it in stride and you’ll gain the reputation as someone who’s humble and easy to get along with. At the same time, be able to defend why you made a particular lighting decision to a client; if you made it for a good reason, don’t be afraid to speak up. Make professional-looking business cards, hand them out to anyone you do a gig for. Shake their hands, ask them about their band, and be genuinely interested.

In short, getting into this industry is all about making contacts, being easy to work with, and being incredibly skilled. And the second someone throws you a decent gig, say yes, put on your lighting design hat, and blow their minds.

1: This will necessarily be written from the perspective of a touring LD, but this advice may with only minor changes be applied to a career in the sound or video world.

2: In fact, this happens a lot more than most of the people who have the really good jobs care to admit. There does not exist a surfeit of meritocracy in this industry, but there does exist a lot of work that you’ll get if you’re lucky and nothing else. #RealTalk. I have an entire blog post in the writing wings about this problem, but I don’t think it’s really solvable.

3: Listen to me lavish praise on an organization that I see as protectionist and obtuse.