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Color is a subjective experience*. While we can be reasonably sure that when you and I look at, say, The Starry Night, we’re seeing the same field of variegated blues with pale yellow stars, rich canary moon and rolling blue hills, we’re never entirely certain. However, while whether you and I experience orange in the same way is a question without either an answer or any action whatsoever to take attached to it, what is interesting is creating colors that match, and in particular, creating colors that match across fixtures.

This is of particular importance in entertainment lighting scenarios, where we often (usually, even) have lighting fixtures that are vastly different across manufacturers. Within that ecosystem, there might be different color modes or curves that affect the values that we use to create relatively identical colors, that is, colors that match between fixtures. Because having two or three different oranges or pale greens in a scene would be distracting, great care is taken by good lighting designers and programmers to match colors between fixtures at the outset of a tour or a show, to ensure that colors that should match, do.

Often, programmers use their first lighting group and match everything else to that, or choose the fixture with the most possible colors and use that as a reference. This is all well and good, but it was this sort of ad-hoc color matching together with a macro I was working on the other day that got me wondering – is there a way to create matched presets somewhat objectively, with a particular reference on having things evenly-spaced around our color space, but also making sure we hit the “pure” hues our lights are capable of along the way? What I mean here by “objectivity” is that we’re choosing colors based (largely) upon consistent spacing around the color wheel, and not just picking hues off a chart, or by name out of a gel swatchbook.

What got me thinking about this was two separate issues. The first was some updates that I needed to do to my color generator macros: I had ColorForce IIs on a show, and had them in RGBA mode. Neither of my macros will correctly create colors for these fixtures that also use the amber emitter correctly. The other fact that captured my attention was opening someone else’s showfile and seeing a trick that a lot of programmers do, which is to leave bagzillions of fixtures loaded into their showfile, unpatched, so that their presets stay. There is actually a grandMA feature that exists so that you don’t have to do this, called Reference Presets, but nobody uses it for some reason – and it got me thinking about creating a library of somewhat calibrated fixture presets based on, well, some amount of math.

This immediately raises some interesting questions about the nature of color. As a framework, I like having a macro that gives me fifteen hues and five tones. Why? Well, because this corresponds nicely to the number of available preset objects available in the size of my colors preset window in my default show file. And at some point, we have to decide on a number of hues, and that number will more or less be arbitrary. So fifteen is a fine number.

We therefore need to choose fifteen reference hues, and here we are forced to make some philosophical choices about which colors are “best”, and this presents difficulties. First, there is an elegance to creating a preset based on absolute values, not a color. In the case of a CMY fixture, the “reddest” you can get it is to set your (M)agenta and (Y)ellow values to 100%. However, with many fixtures, this won’t create anything as close to red as the pure red you get from LED fixtures with only the red emitter on. It’s a theoretical red, but from the standpoint of our eyes, it might be better classified as “orangey red”. Should we have a reference hue just for that, or is it good enough to store LED “pure” red and this orangey red we get from CMY systems in the same preset? And so on, and so forth. Where we’re headed – if we’re not careful – is a mismash of “exception” presets – presets that we make because some fixtures aren’t good enough to create perfect reds or the right greens. Besides, who’s to say that the blue we get from a Viper or the magenta we get from some Chauvet fixture is the “correct” one, anyway? Even a minor delve into the color science of this issue leads me to believe – very quickly – that attempting any sort of scientific objectivity with regard to color is going to be basically impossible, at least given my understanding of color spaces and systems.

Another strategy we could consider would be to pick a reference illuminant (5600K) and a series of gels, and match to those. The problem with this tactic is that it forces extra reference materials into the equation, and I’d prefer to derive the colors from one or two single reference fixtures, or from math only. And besides, scientific objectivity isn’t what I’m aiming for in an entertainment scenario, anyway. What matters to me, I think, is a system where we start out with fifteen hues that go around the color wheel, and – to start out with – basing those on the six “pure” hues that the two most common mixing systems can create. Perhaps it’s better if we show this with some pictures.

To start our system of reference tones, it makes sense to use the “purest” tones we can get. This means starting with these six, which have either the color flags all the way inserted, or a single LED chip on. Doing this gives us six “pure” tones, three from each fixture, and then we match the complimentary hues for additive (yellow, cyan, and magenta) to the pure hues for subtractive, and vice-versa.

We will do our best to match the subtractive system to the three hues of additive, and vice-versa.

Our base complete, now we have nine in-between tones to fill in. Here they are, plotted against our “primary” hues. Somewhat arbitrary spacing between the primary and secondary hues are, but hey, that’s the lighting life. 😉 If you were wondering how I first came up with these hues, grandMA made them for me based on fifteen evenly-spaced points along the 360º HSL wheel, which corresponds to 24º of separation. Seems an appropriate starting point.

Cyan, magenta, and yellow in this image are not lined up on 24º increments, more about that below.

Now the real difficulty is: determining where exactly those in-between colors should be, and what fixtures we should use to determine their values. And, in fact, we run into this even before this point, when we must choose which fixture to use for our starting colors (red, green, blue, and cyan, magenta, and yellow.) It’s more important for the subtractive colors than the additive ones, as most LED fixtures are using pretty closely-matched colors these days. So, what should our reference fixtures be? While the initial colors may be derived mathematically from HSL values, different fixtures are going to render those colors differently – the point of our exercise is that we want to create a library of reference presets that look the same (or as same-y as we can make them) from fixture to fixture.

This is a difficult question to answer, because different manufacturers have different formulas for the color of their glass – from the chrome-y yellow of HES fixtures to the slightly-too-amber yellow of older VL fixtures. And changes in the value of yellow or magenta will change where our secondary colors land, so things can get complicated quickly. Not only that, but what condition of fixture should we be considering? Set aside the issues that we already see with LED binning, one channel of the fixture running at a different voltage, or software updates, and consider subtractive mixing a moment. What color temperature source should we use? A Source4? That biases a particular direction. Which lamp? A new 750-watt HPL? Or a long-life lamp that’s 200-300 Kelvin warmer than standard? A MAC Viper? With how many lamp hours? How recently has the glass been cleaned? There are a hundred variables that will change our outcomes here. That said, we have to pick something.

Where I think I fall is not choosing a fixture at all. It’s too expensive to go buying a fixture to have on hand at all times for a project like this, which is mostly just the musings of a lighting designer with too much time on his hands. You know what I do have on my hands at all times? My laptop. That’s right: why not use the thing I pretty much always have on me as the reference point for creating my preset? Simply shine the light on a piece of white paper next to me, match the colors as closely as I can to the color on screen. Simple and elegant**. Let’s take a quick look at the original fifteen hues that were derived from the fifteen even steps around the color HSL wheel.

Due to the math, red, green, and blue end up perfectly on their respective RGB values, while cyan, magenta, and yellow are shifted slightly from where I’d put them. If we correct these three colors (to 60º, 120º, 240º), we get this:

In particular, this balances the yellow and the cyan, while it makes the magenta a little less red. The secondary colors stay at their 24º spacing. Now we can see these colors with decreasing saturation:

Each row is -10 points of saturation. Now, my Color Generator macro tries to get maximum brightness out of LED fixtures, so it uses the white emitter to try and get maximum brightness to decrease saturation. This is in generally a reasonable strategy, but it’s not perfect. But, the generator macro doesn’t care. Its job is to generate a palette of Global color presets that we can use for fixtures we haven’t seen before on a show. It’s our job to try and start matching fixtures that we run across, and while there are a fair number of presets here to work on, once we have the most common ones done, it gets easier. We can then create Preset References and start storing the references in our default showfile.

Of course, the color generator is still useful for generating references for fixtures we haven’t used before, but as our library expands, we’ll need it less and less, though there might be many times (busking, short notice) when I simply want some colors, and use them anyway.

* [Citation needed]

** It may be wise to point out here that laptop screens vary quite a lot among manufacturers, but in general are closer to each other than automated lighting tends to be.

This review originally appeared in PLSN.

Author’s note: this article is written based on specifications and video footage, and I have not physically seen the fixture. Further, as of the time of this writing, the user manual for this fixture is incomplete, so several aspects of features and fixture control are unable to be evaluated at this time. -CR

Theater environments present unique demands. Noise, of course, is an obvious one – actors are not always sound reinforced, relying on power and elocution to be heard in the cheap economy seats, so quiet fixtures are a must. Quality of light is equally or more important – theaters somewhat famously being holdouts on the LED revolution in favor of what they know works – and that has for many years meant “incandescent”. There are some signs this attitude is changing for the better, as we slowly relinquish our collective fetishization of burning bits of tungsten for more efficacious, cost-effective, and less thermally punishing means of casting light. Manufacturers of automated lighting have seen the demand and have, in instances, delivered with fixtures meant to fulfill the twin obligations of silence and fidelity of color, but often by focusing on reducing output as a means of keeping fan noise to a minimum.

Today, we’re looking at Claypaky’s new Sinfonya Profile 600, designed from the ground up for the specific needs of theatrical environments, and engineered specifically to achieve near-total silence while keeping all other effects high-quality.

The Sinfonya Profile 600 starts with a development that isn’t new in the lighting world generally, but is a bit of a rarity in hard-edged fixtures – additive color mixing. Using a 600W RGBAL source, the Sinfonya’s color mixing is likely to be very high-quality. Claypaky’s specifications list 12,050 lumens of output in an integrating sphere. That the world of automated lighting would have gone the direction of subtractive mixing when we have colored LEDs is not something I would have predicted back in the day, but it’s neat to see manufacturers work with a system that provides so many advantages in terms of color. In addition to instantaneous color changes, color mixing with LEDs allows some really spectacular effects that would be difficult or impossible with a traditional moving-glass system. There is no fixed color wheel, but there is an included library of selectable colors. Dimming is 24-bit, with four user-selectable dimmer curves.

Color fidelity, as discussed, is incredibly important in theater settings, especially vis-à-vis LED sources. Metameric failure – when a material color appears different from the way the designer intended because of differences between light sources – has been a concern since the larger shift away from incandescent began. Light quality appears to be excellent: in a preset 3,200 Kelvin, TM-30 Fidelity Index of 90, with a Gamut Index of 107, with a very slight oversaturation in the green and purple parts of the spectrum. Claypaky has included several methods to adjust the quality and tone of white light in particular: a dedicated CRI channel allows you to crossfade between maximum output and a calibrated white with a >95 CRI value, while there are additional channels for green / magenta tint settings and tunable whites for easily setting various color temperatures.

The standout feature here, is, of course, the near-silent operation, using Claypaky’s TONEDOWN™ technology. At full output, the fixture creates only 27db (SPL) of noise from one meter, which is about the noise levels found in a quiet rural area, a whisper, or leaves rustling. The design of the fixture removes the fan from the base of the unit entirely, leaving cooling fans in the head only. The user is able to select fan modes for different scenarios through DMX, a feature I appreciate. It is possible that other effects (zoom, pan and tilt) create additional noise if moved quickly; the test protocols do not mention if the mechanical effects were included in the test.

Mechanical effects are housed on three removable modules further up in the head. First in line is the gobo and animation effects module. This houses the fixture’s six rotating and indexable glass gobos, plus open. Gobos appear to mostly be optimized for texture projection onto scenery, in keeping with the Sinfonya’s focus on theatrical applications. A rotating and indexing stamped metal animation wheel is here as well, of a design we’ve seen in other Claypaky lights, for producing water, fire, and other “organic”-type effects. A sixteen-blade iris allows the operator to focus the beam down tightly. Claypaky has included two frost filters using a new system called “LINEGUARD”, which uses a pair of opposing frost flags that come in from either side of the beam, instead of a single flag which is inserted from one side of the beam. The footage of this system in action looks very good, with excellent evenness and elimination of visual artifacts on one side of the projected field as the flag is inserted. The two frosts are a light and heavy diffusion, but both appear to act more as contrast reducers, leaving the edges of gobos intact until fully inserted. The light frost in particular gives gobo edges a pleasingly soft edge, while the harder diffusion leaves no discernible gobo when inserted as appears to be intended to be more of a wash effect. Another nice touch here are the magnetic attachments for the light frost, making it easy for rental houses or theatrical workers to swap existing frost flags out for other options.

Second in line is the framing shutter system, which Claypaky calls “ACCUFRAME”. This has been totally redesigned and is now using four shutter blades mounted on two focal frames, instead of the more common four. Each blade can cover 100% of the beam on its own, with the help of some collision-avoidance software to keep the blades from slamming into each other. Claypaky claims 40% more precision in relation to their previous framing-shutter systems, especially critical when doing extremely tight shutter cuts over long distances. The entire shutter module can rotate ±45º in either direction. The fixture also boasts a four-facet rotating prism.

Further up the optical train is the zoom and focus module with the moving lens elements. The zoom range is substantial, from 5º to 60º. The front of the fixture features attachment points for accessories. Another standout feature here is the absolute pan and tilt positioning, where sensors in the head read the absolute position of the head at all times, instead of relying on a physical stop and calibrating relative to that position upon power up. When you need to reset a fixture, the head does not need to move or twirl, allowing the fixture to be placed into a much more physically compact space than one could otherwise. This is a fantastic feature to keep audience distraction to a minimum during dramatic moments where movement would be noticeable, or when placing the fixture into a space with tight physical tolerances.

The Sinfonya Profile 600 stands 31.34 inches tall, with a base 11.22 inches by 16.34 inches, and weighs 81.1lbs. Power input is via Neutrik PowerCON TRUE1 ins and pass-throughs, and receives data via 5-pin XLR ins and pass-throughs, an RJ-45 Ethernet in, or an optional wireless DMX system based on Lumen Radio. Fixture settings and personality can be set via the standard Claypaky menu system, or via RDM.

At A Glance: The Sinfonya Profile 600 is a fascinating offering from a very highly-regarded company in the moving light industry, and their first built from the ground-up to be targeted at the specific and demanding needs of the theatrical industry. Seeing profile lights with RGBAL engines is always exciting as the state-of-the-art advances, and the Sinfonya’s extremely quiet operation and absolute positioning features shine as star attractions for theaters of every size.

Pros: RGBAL color mixing, absolute positioning, very quiet

Cons: When the robot uprising happens, we won’t hear them coming