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Pro Production: The Essentials Of Stage Lighting

The big 3, protocols and effects, defining terminology and more

Many audio companies already own a few lights for a basic stage wash, with the knowledge that promoters are willing to pay a bit more for the added service. Tossing a few stands and lights into the truck, and setting them up at the show, can be well worth the effort for the extra revenue.

A good way to go about it is to start small, simply providing a few lights for basic stage illumination, and then building up over time, integrating lighting into business proposals with potential clients..

The main goal of stage lighting is illumination of the performers, with a secondary function of highlighting a specific performer or presentation area.

Lighting can also help set the mood of a specific song, scene of a play, or theme of an event. Further, lights can also be used not only on stage, but can be deployed around a room/audience area to assist with décor. 

Big Three
There are three main types of lighting fixtures: conventional, intelligent, and LED. While intelligent lights and LEDs get a lot of the press, conventional fixtures are still the main type of light used in production.

Conventional lights are basic static units that require a separate dimmer system for control. They’re available in a multitude of types, including wash fixtures that produce a wide beam of light that can cover a large area, and spot fixtures that produce a more defined beam of light that can be focused.

Intelligent lights are automated fixtures that can have features like movement, color or dimming remotely controlled. They also come in wash and spot types and are used for adding movement and interest to a show. 

Intelligent lights fall into two sub-categories, moving head and moving mirror. The most common type are moving head units that mount the main body on a yoke and move the entire fixture head around to aim the light beam. The mirror units mount a small mirror in front of the lens and the light beam reflects off of a mirror that can be aimed in all directions.

LED fixtures utilize light emitting diodes instead of regular incandescent or arc bulbs, offering advantages such as lower power draw with little to no heat produced by the fixture, as well as the ability to produce a wide range of colors. LEDs come in static (conventional) and automated intelligent styles, with the moving head style being the most common.

Protocol & Effects
Lighting (special effects) are controlled by consoles via the DMX512 protocol. This control system allows 512 control channels down a single cable, and each 512 channel group is called a universe.

A single DMX channel can be used to tell a dimmer pack to alter the level of a channel, or it can be used in groups for an intelligent fixture and control a single attribute such as a color or movement. Small consoles may only output a single universe, while larger desks offer multiple universes of DMX and can handle bigger shows.

Many of the larger desks can also control media servers, units that store and playback video. With the advent of lighting that can display low resolution video, and the prominence of video display screens at concerts and events, the line between lighting world and video world is blurring and many lighting operators now control video playback at shows.

Haze and fog are common effects used at events. Haze is not commonly used as an effect by itself; it’s a very light mist that hangs in the air used to help enhance the light beams. Fog is more dense, and is used as an effect.

Both types are available in units using either oil-based fluids or water-based fluids. Water-based units are usually preferred because they don’t leave an oily residue. Singers also prefer water based because it doesn’t irritate their throats.

Gobos are patterns that get projected from conventional or intelligent spot fixtures. The design of the pattern can be abstract and used to shape lighting beams or realistic and used as a scenic element. At special events and corporate meetings gobos are commonly printed with graphics and clients logos to help brand the event.

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