Remote-Controlled Follow Spots - Published in TD&T - Winter 2015

MA control computer


The idea of this project came about during the initial stages of designing the lighting design for Ram's Head Theatrical Society’s production of Les Misérables at Stanford University. It was determined that for this show the two follow spots with flat angles in Memorial Auditorium, Stanford’s 1800-seat theatre, were not going to be enough.

As an alternative, an experiment was tried using moving head fixtures as follow spots with live control from WYSIWYG. Traditionally, moving head fixtures have been limited in their ability to be employed as follow spots because they typically require pre-cuing. However, WYSIWYG, while typically used for pre-visualization of the lighting cues to cut down on in-space time, has a communication protocol called AutoFoucs. AutoFocus allows you to move fixtures in the software, communicate that information to the lighting desk, and send it to the actual fixtures. This would allow designers to harness all of the flexibility of a moving head light, but with the added ability to follow an actor, and without the safety risks and time needed to build platforms in space.

We did extensive testing before deciding this technology was ready to be used in a show. We had to: ensure multiple instances of WYSIWYG could talk to a single console, confirm that the console could output the data sent to it by multiple instances of WYSIWYG communicating with it at once, test that the control was smooth and not jagged, and finally, find what control interface would enable an operator to actually follow someone.

Once testing was completed, implementing the technology for the production of Les Misérables was begun. This was thought to be a relatively simple process, but it was found that there were issues to be addressed when scaling up the technology and training operators.

By opening night of the show the operators were as proficient with our remote controlled follow spots as they were with traditional spots. There were no major issues with the system or network during the run of the show, and the overall design of the show was praised for its subtle changes of angle and intensity in the follow spots that were made possible by using moving lights as the follow spots.

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© Matt Lathrop 2015