12 11 2011

It’s been a long time since I last toured. More so since I last toured as a Lampie rather than as the LD or Operator. In this particular instance, I’m out babysitting a time coded Green Hippo Hippotiser system, on what, by normal standards, is a pretty lengthy tour.

The first Month or so of this particular tour, is a long series of back to backs. We are averaging 6 of them a week, with a 7 day week thrown in just to punish us for getting two days off in a row this weekend. If you are wondering just what a back-to-back is, then the clue’s in the name. Load into a venue, do a show, load out, move to another venue, load in, do a show, load out, and so on, ad infinitum (or ad nauseum depending on just how dull the gig is).

Beyond the back to backs, we are to get a couple of months of positive luxury whereby we achieve up to 5 days in a single venue without a move. After that, we’re back to a long series of back to backs, finishing roughly seven months after we began. As I said, this is a longun!

This particular show has been touring for a long time, and I’m here by virtue of the fact that the show has recently had a redesign, and a video element has been added, thus giving me the opportunity of gainful employment for a while. Given the length of the tour, and my impending nuptials that needs paying for, who am I to say no.

Joining a tour like this, as the new boy, with a long established crew that know the show, know the venues (some of which are beyond appalling as load ins and load outs go, the venues that is, not the crew), and know each other well is always tough. It’s a bit like being the new boy at school, where you need to very quickly try and work out the friendships, quirks, and cliques. It’s not easy, but it is doable. Although I do find there are more days where you feel that you are not as much a part of the team than you otherwise might if the whole crew were new.

In general though, things have significantly improved since my last tour, *coughs* years ago. The busses are certainly nicer, the hotels are better, the catering is about the same, although in this age of austerity, the venues are cheaper, not as well equipped, and the showers occasionally look like somebody was recently murdered in them. It’s all still good fun though, although every now and again I find myself wondering why on earth anybody would want to do this for a living.

It’s a frequently lonely place being on tour. The last time I did this, I was a single man, without a care in the world, and so no real ties to prevent me from being away for months on end. As an engaged chap, with a fiancé a few thousand miles away, a business to try and run, and the attendant accountants, solicitors, advisers, clients, and suppliers, all vying for your time, as well as the daily needs of the show, and any tech issues that inevitably crop up when you are moving a lot of expensive, and technically quite sensitive kit around Europe on a nightly basis, things can get on top of you, and again you find yourself wondering just why you agreed to do it.

At the beginning of your career, you’re doing it for the glitz and the glamour, and the thrill of the touring world. Quickly though, you are disabused of the notion that anything about touring is vaguely glamorous, and certainly there is little about it that you could all glitzy, and there’s very little that’s even thrilling. Very quickly, it becomes about the money, just another job. Although admittedly, it’s an improvement on the few 9 to 5’s that I have suffered through, regardless of the 16 hour days, the living out of a suitcase, and the occasional mystery meat in catering.

Outside of this industry, few people really understand what life on a tour is like, and I’m not going to try and explain it other than to say that if it is something you think you might want to do, then try it. It’s the only way you’ll find out if you can see yourself making a career out of it or not. Do be aware though, that you will need to constantly remind your friends outside the industry that the only thing you see of any given city is usually the inside of its local shit pit of an arena, and the freeways that lead into and out of it, and that you do not get to hang out with the band.

Likewise, you will find that people you rarely, if ever, speak to, will immediately become your best friend if they discover you are working with an act or a show that they want to see. The calls and texts asking if there are any opportunities for tickets can get quite nauseating.

Nevertheless, it’s as good a way to earn a crust as any other, and the days off in interesting and far flung corners of the world can indeed be quite ‘cool’, especially as you are in those cities at somebody else’s expense! Carry a camera, try the local cuisine, meet the locals. It’s all good fun!



On The Road Again

17 10 2011

It’s been a while. Sorry! I did warn you when I started this blog that occasionally, updates might be few and far between.

So. What’s been happening? Well, I’ve been pretty busy, doing everything from Lighting Design and Programming, through to being Mr. Media Server, and even getting my hands dirty lifting and shifting as a lampy on an assortment of gigs. My White Gloves thoroughly burned up on re-entry to the UK it would seem. I love it! After so many years of the peculiarities and oddities, not to mention it’s many quirks. And believe me, there are lots of those. Out in the Middle East, it’s great to be home, and amongst so many friends, and true professionals.

There isn’t much point to this post, other than to apologise for the gap between posts, and to let you know that It may be a while before the next update to the blog. Theres a lot going on at the moment. I’m writing this at 32,000 feet (apparently) en-route to a week of Tour Prep, after that, my next day off appears to be in mid December some time. Shocking.

I’ve also gone and started a limited company. It’s called Edge Of Blue ltd, and you’ll find it at although for the time being it’s just a holding page. In time that will develop, and so will the company. For now is just a limited liability vehicle for me and my talents, but I’ve a few ideas as to where I can take that that might well benefit a rock and roll tour near you very soon. Watch this space as they say.

In the meantime, we’ve started our descent, and the Trolley Dollies are getting antsy about the iPad being on and in use. I think it’s jealousy. I’ve a friend that flies for a living, and his ipad is always on in flight! Anyway, I’ll sign off for now, and hopefully I’ll have something far more interesting to say the next time I log in!

Stay Safe



Technology isn’t always the answer

25 07 2011

Being the incurable geek that I am, I’m a member of a few online forums for the Lighting Fraternity, and I am constantly surprised at how often a reasonably complex solution is offered to what at first is a simple problem…

Generally, user A turns up and says “I need to get from A to C, how would I do this?” I look at the problem and think to myself, well going from A to C via B would be a good solution. By the time I’ve thought this through though, there are usually a thousand posts from lets say the ‘newer’ members of the industry that suggest the best route from A to C is via X and T possibly with a detour somewhere around about L.

A good recent example of this was a question posed by someone trying to mount some production or other that required a TV set to be in the downstage left corner, pointing upstage, so that our lead Actor could appear to be watching it.

Now in my head, having a TV located DSL would kill some sightlines, and so by the magic of theatre, we could suspend our audiences disbelief, and not have a TV set there. Actor could then flop into the chair, point the remote at our metaphysical screen, and a couple of Birdies (Par 16’s to the uninitiated) could do a bit of a flicker chase at a low level in some blues to give the impression of light coming off the screen.


Not for some.

Suggestions ranged from having an actual TV that Actor could turn on (fair enough, if a bit of a ball-ache getting signal into it, moving it on and off, etc.) through to a couple of moving lights DSL in the location that my birdies were (think of the expense and the programming time!) to a video projector pointing back on stage (now that’s one bright TV set with a pretty complex screen if it’s able to project your favourite show all over your face!)

Likewise, I see responses suggesting Moving Heads and LED’s where really a Par Can and a Colour Scroller would be a more than adequate solution. I will happily admit to being the first to avoid using a Scroller and putting a VL5 in it’s place where I can, but the whole point of being a Lighting Designer is that we are the guys that are supposed to have the encyclopaedic knowledge of the products and tools available, and that have the restraint to say NO, this will do exactly what I need it to do at a 10th of the cost.

This is not confined to newbies and amateurs though. I can think of three shining examples in the West End at the moment, where a pile of technology appears to have been used for the sake of using a pile of technology. I’m not going to name and shame the shows or the LD’s, as that would be deeply unprofessional. I wasn’t there during the design phase, and so cannot possibly understand the decisions that resulted in all of the Moving Lights moving and colour changing all of the time… I can confirm however that it was mighty distracting, and added nothing to the production other than increased rental revenue for the Lighting Supply house.

Or maybe I’m just getting old?

At the risk of sounding like and old fuddy duddy. I hear from some school kids today that their school auditoriums contain Moving Heads galore, and the latest and greatest in computerised Lighting Control. Unsurprising then that the Moving Light is likely the only light that springs to mind for them when they start thinking about the tools to do the job of lighting a show.

Back at my school, when I was starting to learn about Lighting Design as a craft, we had Strand Patt 23’s, Patt 743’s, Patt 123’s, and a couple of Patt 49’s. For the big musical every summer, we would rent in some Silhouette Profiles to solve the front light, and if the budget stretched to it, we’d get some CCT Colour Wheel colour changers or some semaphores.

Semaphore Colour Changer

Semaphore Colour Changer (Courtesy of the Strand Archive)

That kit was ancient even when I was a kid, and at the time my lighting buddies and I bemoaned its age, and we longed for some movers. In hindsight however, that kit taught me that a lot can be achieved for no money, and that there is always a solution to every problem. In fact; The low tech approach can often be faster, yield better results, and of course cost considerably less both financially, and in terms of man-hours required to set up and programme, that I’m surprised so many dismiss the easy option first.

Remember, it’s all about the end result. How we get there, doesn’t bother the audience one jot.



Des Fallon – RIP

30 05 2011

It is with great, great sadness and a heavy heart that I must say Des Fallon, Rest In Peace.

In my case, I only ever met Des a couple of times, and spoke on the phone a few more, and at each occasion, I remember thinking that I need to work with this guy more often. Its something that I am very sad won’t happen now.

Des’ passing leaves most of the production industry in the UK somewhat shell-shocked, however as Andy Lenthall puts it, head here for the definition of the word legacy >>> Des Fallon – A Celebration

Des, you will be greatly missed.



Media. Served

21 04 2011

Upon my return to the UK, I was somewhat surprised to discover, after chatting with some friends at one of the larger London Rep Houses, that the Media Server is still something that in many corners of Theatre Land is somewhat feared. Having embraced the technology a while ago, they are second nature to me now (although for God’s sake don’t ask me to try and come up with any content!)

My first foray into the world of Media Servers was speccing one of the first Catalyst Systems in the Middle East for a private residence project (and that’s as much info as you get from me regarding the where’s and who’s ;)) As far as I know, it’s still there and still ticking away, although whether they have updated any of the content is anyone’s guess.

Anyway. It was shortly after specifying this new box of tricks that the first issue came up. The client was insistent on having an Avo Pearl in control of everything, and this was in the early noughties when the Catalyst was still hovering at about 60 Channels of DMX mark, and the Pearl was most definitely not the right console for the job. Still, we soldiered on, and if I recall correctly, the results were indeed pretty cool, and quite busk-able, although there were many, many, many pages of cues to call on from the trusty old Avo desk, and some very long moments of head scratching as I found my way around the new box of tricks.

Things have fortunately moved on a bit since that project, and both the Media Server and the methodology of control have both improved somewhat. I still think that we are a long way off of Media Server Programming nirvana, however I think that we do currently, across a broad range of consoles, have an acceptable programming interface. Things could certainly be improved, but that’s for another day.

So are you one of those people that fear the mystical beast that is the modern DMX controlled Media Server? Well stop it! There really is nothing to be scared of.

As far as I can tell, most peoples worries are born out of a belief that there’s more to it than there really is. A Media Server is just another fixture that we need to get to know. In the same way that when you come across a new Moving Light, you need to get to know the functionality. The same goes for this magic box.

A Media Server simply enables Lighting Consoles to control video in a somewhat more elegant manner than in years gone by. Essentially, with a Media Server, you are calling folders and files on a computer, and manipulating their output to a video surface (LED Screen, Projector, etc.). So lets say that you call folder 1, video number 30. In general, you can have 255 folders containing 255 files, so with DMX therefore, you have a DMX Channel that can choose the folder, based on outputting a value between 0 and 100 (which is of course 0 to 255 in real terms) and then a second channel that can call file 0 to 255 within those folders.


We can now chose files and folders, beyond that there would be other channels that can deal with keystone corrections, colour manipulation, rotation around X, Y, and Z axes, and so on. Essentially we have a moving light, with a pretty unlimited quantity of animated Gobos. 

Most Media Servers are also able to handle ‘Pixel Mapping’ this is where you may (almost at it’s most basic) have say a grid of 6 x 6 LED Pars. Each of these pars is then treated as a single pixel, and again, we can chose to play out our media across these pars, as an ultra, ultra low resolution video wall. 

Right…. Having covered all of that, we can now look at the specifics of what the server and layer channels are.

Again, in its most basic form, the server channel (and in most situations you are only really going to need one of them) handles all of the outputting. IE, what each DMX channel is doing, and so on. In real terms within many consoles under most circumstances, you can patch the server and forget about it. Other than ensuring that it’s ‘dimmer’ value is at 100% whenever you want the ‘Screen’ to be outputting something. You could think of it as a master output layer if you like.

So we have a master output control, and we now want to manipulate our video. We can assume that in most circumstances we will want to be able to transition between a couple of videos. If we were to play all the videos back on one layer, then switching between videos would have to be a snap to be the tidiest that you could make it on one layer. If you were to do a slow fade between say Folder 0 Video 1 and Folder 0 Video 26, then you would be snapping between the intervening 24 videos. Not good.

To alleviate that problem then, we use multiple layers. I generally patch four to six layers regardless of the media server I use and the project I am working on. It’s pretty similar across all of the various flavours of media server. Virtual or otherwise.

Each layer can then have an intensity channel (or if you think about it in terms of Adobe Photoshop layers, then the dimmer could be viewed as an opacity level), and they can also have their own effects applied, as well as playback speeds, media, and so on. The uppermost layer being the top of them all. So layer Four has priority over layer Three, etc. Again, this is pretty standard across most, if not all Media Servers.

To smarten up those transitions then, we can now set up our media to be playing across a couple of layers, and so neatly fade between them. The advantage of using these layers is also that you can use two different sets of media, across two different layers, and merge the two together by playing with their dimmer (opacity) levels to create a nice new bit of media to all intents and purposes.

Having done that, you then have two spare layers to do the same again (if you have patched four layers) and so now you can neatly transition between two different sets of effects over four layers.

So there (in a rather large nutshell) is a quick outline to Media Servers. Hopefully that helps explain things, and that I haven’t confused you further.

Now. Get out there and start using them!



The Big Move

20 03 2011

So I started this blog with an intention to chronicle the move back to the UK after almost ten years in Dubai, and the trials and tribulations of being a working LD. I think on both of those fronts, I have failed miserably. So here’s a post that attempts to rectify some of that, or at the very least, make me feel better about the whole point of starting the Blog in the first place!

Well, I’m finally back in the UK, and although getting out of Dubai was as much of a mission as one would expect of a city that thrives on bureaucracy, it wasn’t as tough as I thought it was going to be; but more about that on another day.

Moving house is always a pain but when that house move is 3,400 miles, it is even more so. That I didn’t exactly have a planned date for leaving didn’t help either. The boxes were packed up for months before we finally got them shipped, and then once they were shipped, and we were living out of suitcases in a very bare apartment, more work was offered, and so of course, I took it. As a freelance LD, it tends to be quite difficult to say no to any work, even if you plan to be a few thousand miles away at the soonest opportunity. Work is work though, and therefore it’s money; and we all know what money does. (It makes the world go around if you are struggling with that last sentence).

Anyway, having finally divested myself of all my contractual obligations, acquired the necessary paperwork to be able to leave the country for good, and booked a ticket to actually get home, I turned up at Dubai Airport on the appointed date, checked in, and said a tearful farewell to my long suffering fiancé of eight years (she’s not from the UK and so we’re still working on a Visa for her – that’s a whole blog of it’s own!), and I headed through passport control. 12 hours later, and the mighty A380 was descending through a very, very, very cloudy sky for one of the easterly runways at London Heathrow. It was also raining. Having lived in a desert for so long, it was actually a very welcome sight.

That was almost four weeks ago at the time of writing this, and as yet, I’m not having second thoughts. If I don’t get any work soon, then I might well start having second, and possibly even third thoughts. But for now, as always for a freelancer, it’s the usual mission of lunches, getting people to actually answer the phone, and pimping yourself about town as often as possible. Fortunately, I now have at least a few dates penciled into the diary, and they will hopefully get inked in soon.

If there is a moral to this story, then I would suppose that it is that whether you are starting out in the industry straight out of college, or starting again after many years away, the story is essentially the same. You will always have to (re) prove yourself, you will always have a mission on your hands getting your potential clients to talk to you, and you will forever have that nagging feeling in the back of your head that maybe it’s time to get a proper job. But that’s the problem with this job. You don’t do it because you want to. You do it because you have to.

So whether you are just starting out, or you’ve just moved into a new location and are trying to get your name out there again, you have my deepest sympathies and best wishes. It’s not as easy as I thought it would be. But in many respects, not as hard as it was when I was starting out. A few low friends in high places helps too.

Stay safe.



Primarily Green?

4 02 2011

Climate ChangeI’ve just watched a documentary on BBC iPlayer, (Storyville – Meet the Climate Sceptics, BBC 4, 31 Jan 2011) and it’s set me to thinking about my ‘Green’ show design credentials. It also made me realise that I have never lit any Gilbert and Sullivan. But that’s not the point of today’s post.

I must confess that until now, I haven’t consciously been a particularly green person. Granted, I don’t own a car, but that’s more because of the distinct lack of parking where I live and the reasonable quality of public transport than through any innate desire to protect the environment. I don’t specify LED’s on the basis that they are any more green than Tungsten, I generally use LED if and when I feel that it will fulfil the needs of the production. I do use energy saving lamps in the house, although again, that’s mainly because I don’t like giving the electricity company my money.

Do I accept that Global Warming exists then? If I’m honest, I just don’t know. Until recently I haven’t really given it a great deal of thought, however having been asked to design as green a lighting rig as possible for a project towards the end of the year, I’ve been giving the issue a little more attention, although I have to admit to a slight case of information overload when researching the for’s and against’s. I’m erring on the side of a yes for now though.

In researching the sorts of equipment that I might want to specify for the project, I have come to the conclusion that in most areas, I am quite happy that LED is now up to the task. In terms of key lighting however, I do feel that LED still falls short. That doesn’t mean that there is any need to say to myself “screw it, I’ll just use the same old fixtures I always do”; there’s still more that I can do and it doesn’t have to begin and end with the fixture choice.

Instead of 750w Source IV’s I can use 575’s or Selecon 80v Pacific’s. Do I need the 1800w Movers or can I use the 700w or even 575w heads? Do I even need them? What is the minimum amount of time that I need the lamps powered? Are there any Arc Source lamps that I can strike in the interval, or for that matter douse in the interval? There is certainly more to this being green malarky than might first meet the eye, and I think it is encumbent upon all Lighting Designers and Technicians to be considering what we can do to reduce energy usage.

Regardless of the side of the great climate debate fence we fall on, we should, as Lighting Designers, and inevitably as users of quite a bit of energy, be considering what we can do to reduce our usage of it. Fossil Fuels, the basic provider of the vast majority of our energy, are a finite resource and they will run out.

With the climate debate as it currently stands, we have two options. We can ignore the proponents of climate change, and carry on regardless along with the denialists and the sceptics. Or we can approach things in as green a manner as we can. If we listen to the sceptics, then we might be okay. If we listen to the proponents, then we will be okay provided we do enough.

So, wherever I can, I’ll be using energy efficient lamps, LED’s, and as many green technologies as possible from now on, and if all that happens is that our collective electricity bills get lower and the fossil fuels last a bit longer then so be it. If, on the other, more hopeful hand, we can assist with the reduction of climate change, or indeed stop it all together, then our children, and their children, and their children’s children will be all the more thankful to us for doing what we could to help.

With all that said though, we are always going to be an industry that uses a lot of power, and there is still a long way for the manufacturers to go to to get more light from the kit for less, and less power. We will all, myself included, want or need to use the latest toys and shiny’s on some of our gigs, and in many instances those new toys are going to require a bit more power than might be strictly within the realms of sensibility.

Where then is the cutoff point? at what point do we say to the manufacturers that enough is enough? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, I’m away for a cup of Green Tea.



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