I’ve been thinking a lot lately about technical evolution – perhaps it’s just a desire to slimline my life and conglomerate all of the technology I use into some kind of a tight suite of autonomous gadgets that all speak some common language. Or not. Who knows.
Something I find interesting is the progression of automated lighting technology over the last decade. If you look at the progression of fixtures and systems over that period, you might notice that comparatively there is not a lot of major evolution that has taken place in the last ten years. A lot of people will probably disagree with that statement, and that’s fine (as I welcome it), but the general functioning of the moving light hasn’t really changed. There has been a very significant amount of improvements and enhancements over the last bunch of years – motors have improved, speed has increased, output has grown in strength, and zoom optics have improved, and we’ve also had some technological advances in power supplies. We haven’t really revolutionized the way that moving lights work. Am I forgetting some things, or omitting them? Probably. It’s not the point, though.
I’ve talked a lot with my buddy Rick from InLight Gobos about the evolution of automated lighting (being that he was one of the original engineers of moving lights) and I’ve had a few conversations with Jim Bornhorst from PRG (and recipient of the 2010 Parnelli Lighting Visionary Award) about the history of automated fixtures. It is excellent to hear from the sources of the history you’re writing about regarding the very thing in question. My conclusion is that the renaissance of moving lights was with them, in their day, when developing the fixtures was important. Nowadays it seems like most companies drive themselves to develop and research just to increase the bottom line.
I think there are two very large exceptions to this statement: High End Systems’ Intellaspot XT-1, and PRG’s Bad Boy luminaire. I think that these two fixtures are my two favorites that came out of the last handful of years. More than anything, I feel that these two fixtures are on the top of the research and development ladder – something that I am a HUGE proponent of, especially when it comes to advancing the way that our industry revolves and breathes.
Let’s look at the Intellaspot XT-1:
The unit has some interesting features – two wheels of rotating dichroic gobos is a big plus, as is the prism effect that splits the beam into two functioning beams. Oh, and let’s not forget the 850W lamp that puts out 20,000 lumens on 120V. I mean, it is an impressive fixture, both functionally and aesthetically. What blows my mind about the unit is the increase in usability that Richard Belliveau and his team of awesome geeks have put into the Intellaspot XT-1. USABILITY. Say it with me, everybody:
What the hell am I talking about here with the Intellaspot XT-1 and usability? Well, for starters, the fixture is BALANCED. When you go grab it off of a lighting position and get ready to stick it in the case, it is amazingly easy to manipulate. Richard Belliveau and I had a great session before the fixture was released where we just took the unit out of the case and put it back in several times. It was exhilarating. There are a LOT of major market fixtures that are a NIGHTMARE to get in and out of their cases. Not the Intellaspot XT-1.
IT’S MODULAR! Power supply go bad? You pull it out and replace it. Color wheel stop working? You take the bulkhead out and replace it. MODULAR. Screws in the fixture lids are captive, so that when you’re dangling by your bunk sock on a piece of truss trying to repair a fixture, and inevitably every unit goes down, you can do so without bouncing screws and hardware off of the stage floor. There are bumpers on the front of the head so that when a stagehand or electrician drags the fixture across the floor, the lens and optics don’t get all screwed up. The handles on the sides are comfortable and not shaped like hand breakers that just smash your phalanges when you put the weight of the unit on your hand.
Doesn’t it seem like all of this stuff should be a great idea? High End thinks so.
Let’s look at PRG’s Bad Boy:
PRG’s Bad Boy is my other favorite fixture right now – besides the 48,000 lumens coming from its 1200W lamp, it’s a massive bright beast that is fast, steady, has some amazing – no, stunning – features (like split beam, gobo morphing and tri-split colors). If you’ve seen it, you know how beautiful its photons really are.
What tickles me about the fixture is again in the realm of usability. Bad Boy’s lenses (all eleventeen of them) have a subroutine in the brain of the unit that opens up the lens train, lens at a time, so that they can be cleaned. GO FIGURE. The fixture has a big ol’ bright LED that tells you whether the unit has communication (green LED) or no data (red LED). Have you seen the interface for the unit? It’s like HAL from 2001 – I’m sorry Dave, but YES THE FIXTURE CAN REMEMBER WHAT WENT WRONG. Reports, error logs, test sequences, and all kinds of other user-driven tidbits come from PRG’s excellent user experience. I know the kinds of folks working over at PRG – one of the guys I know and am fond of, Adam DeWitt, is a smart freaking cookie – when you have people like that working on a fixture, then it gets done right.
Research and Development time and money is worth it, lighting companies across the world. Please believe me. Stop putting out crap when you could put out something respectable like the two units above.
I think this is a general message for the future of moving light technology in general. Lighting companies – when you make something, make it so that it is usable. Not just usable to designers, but usable to the people who keep the show looking as amazing as you envisioned it when you first developed the cool visual features that the fixture can make. Follow Richard Belliveau and Jim Bornhorst’s leads when you’re in the research room – the people who work on your gear want it to be an awesome experience.