Next steps in my lighting endeavour

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 26, 2023, 1:30 PM | comments: 0

I have my head in a number of different things, rotating around between them, but still engaged in all of them. The lighting bit has been getting more of a share of that mind lately, and now I have some clarity about what to do with it.

Most importantly, I think that I understand my intent. As I've written before, teenage me always fancied myself a lighting designer, and I don't see why that would be off the table now. I had quite a bit of experience with theatrical lighting in college and community theater, and believe that I'm a student of all of the touring stuff I've seen. What I lacked was the understanding of how the modern gear works, and even in the last few months I've come a long way. I'm constantly watching tutorial videos, and often following along on my laptop.

The way I see it, this could lead to a few scenarios. The first is that I would be qualified to get part-time work as an operator or designer, and there are a ton of opportunities to do that around here. Between the theme parks and the constant supply of conference "business theater," there's a lot to do. The secondary potential is to essentially rent out myself with gear, specifically the controlling hardware.

In either case, I want to root this pursuit in the joy that I have for it, first and foremost. Over the years, I have problematically started all kinds of coding projects thinking, "This could make me money!" When that was the motivation, it didn't last, and I wouldn't finish those projects. Like the documentary I'm working on, the intention is not to make a buck, though I would be happy to sell it, I just want to enjoy the process of making it.

I recently negotiated a less-than-retail price for a couple of Intimidator 260X fixtures, the successor model to those I bought last fall. So now I have four that are essentially the same. As a kit to stuff, I imagine that I'd like to have two more, six total, and a couple of cheap Chinese knock-off wash fixtures. The closer I look at the latter, the more I see that they're very similar to machines that cost five times as much (also likely made in China), but likely lack the quality control. My thinking is that, if they break, even buying three replacements, however unlikely, is still cheaper. You can design entire shows virtually in the control software, sure, but it's not the same as seeing light manifest in front of your eyes. That's the thrill, and I've experienced that even with the first two fixtures I bought last year.

The control part is a little more complicated. It's clear now that the industry has settled on MA Lighting as the gold standard. Well, sort of. It seems like theatrical production on big shows is split between the MA products and ETC. I've messed with the software-only versions of both, and MA seems better suited for concerts and big light shows, but is still perfectly capable of doing theater. To that end, if I'm going to commit to learning something in a non-trivial way, the product that can do more seems like the right choice. The MA 3 line, after years of software updates, seems to have turned a corner as the "best" product, being favored over the MA 2 stuff which a lot of folks apparently still prefer.

Software-only is fine for programming, but it would be hard to use when actually running a show. Physical buttons and faders are necessary, especially for "busking," which, as it implies, is "performing" with lighting. To get physical buttons, you have to spend somewhere between $6,800 and $80,000, which seems like a lot until I think about what some of the video gear I've bought over the years costs. The entry level involves using your computer as the actual computing power, plus a few touch screens, and the control surface is just that, connected by way of USB. Full consoles have all of that self-contained, obviously, but getting in to this for the price of a car is not an option. The more you spend, the more you can control. So those big EDM shows? Those probably require the $80K arrangements.

The good news it that committing to that road means waiting until at least March before the equipment is even available. That's plenty of time to save many, many pennies. The bad news is that I have to wait until March. But I really want to do it.


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