Lights Out - AvNetwork.com

Lights Out

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Okay, let me begin by admitting I have an axe to grind here. Well, alright, maybe I have more than one. But I'm going to limit this column to just one of my pet peeves in the industry. This is one of those minor annoyances that comes up all the time and continually needs attention, and I'm getting sick of it.

I hate gobos.

The litany on why I hate them could go on for a long time. They're expensive. Clients never provide or approve artwork until it's too late to avoid rush charges. They're expensive. They're fragile and are always breaking, chipping or melting. They're expensive. We never seem to have just the right stock pattern for any particular LD, and are always ordering new ones in a rush. They're expensive. Some lighting tech is always coming up to me and saying, "Oh, you have the K model fixtures? These should have been in the rare split-c gobo holder. We'll need to order them re-done overnight." Plus, they're expensive.

I went through this transition before, when, in the visuals end of the industry, the digital image replaced the physical slide. The list of complaints about slides was the same, probably because a gobo is nothing but a slide for a lighting fixture.

Several years before the electronic image replaced the physical slide, the handwriting was on the wall. We were all working with the first real data projection systems, and we knew that the computer that was already creating our physical slides would eventually enable us to bypass them. One of the first hints was the availability of early specialty presentation devices like TVL and VideoShow. The second hint was the outcry of the purists who told us that the digital image would never completely replace the slide.

This is exactly where we are with gobos now. The handwriting is on the wall again, and this time it has transition effects. Just like with slides, the early equipment is pushing the edge, making it expensive and somewhat quirky. And, just like with slides, people are screaming that we'll never be able to replace the physical gobo.

But the moving finger writes, and having writ, gestures.

The first signs I saw of this particular transition were skunkworks applications; a number of smaller AV companies began adapting older LCD projectors for the purpose. I laughed at first, but began to think about the inevitability of the transition. Soon, adapter products became available to add moving heads to LCD and DLP projectors. Then, early groundbreaking products were released, beginning (for me) with HighEnd's Catalyst. Catalyst was quickly upgraded, and accompanied by DL-1 and DL2, and HighEnd's not the only player. Robe, PRG/VLPS, Martin, Green Hippo, MA Lighting, Diagonal Research, aKaos (and I'm sure others) all have offerings in either the digital fixture or media server market, or both. It's become obvious that they're all jockeying for what I think is the most important change in lighting since moving fixtures were first introduced.

What's wrong with the current generation?

Well, they're expensive. They're still new, somewhat quirky, and there are no real interoperability standards. Plus, they're expensive.
What's coming? Well, this one we know. Based on past experience, the devices are about to get cheaper. There will be better standards for interoperability, and somebody will introduce some open standards for media servers.

But some of the similarities to previous market changes stop there. After all, these are essentially video projectors, to which have been added conveniences like moving heads, irises, registration systems, and DMX control. This has led a lot of people to write in about the "inevitable" merger of the lighting and video departments. A few of them even refer to it in terms like "takeover" and "revolution". I feel like screaming when people look at it like this.

Let's face it. Except in the most militant unionized environments, shows and crews have never really been divided along strict departmental lines. This is an art, not a science (IMHO), and every company deals with it differently. Most of our technicians have multiple talents and wear multiple hats, and they are not doing so to commit espionage, they're doing so to make shows. As an industry, we've absorbed many, many changes that were looked at this way by people who didn't truly understand that it's never about the gear, but about the show and the effect. We'll absorb this one, too, the crews will adjust, and we'll just go on doing shows.

Those of you who are paranoid enough to think that the LD is trying to "take over" your video department can stop writing. We already know who you are, and we're keeping a list.

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