by Richard Cadena
What good are envelopes if you can’t push them? What good is technology if it can’t be used for pushing the envelope? That’s what I hope to do in May during the debut of a spoken-word ballet called “A Life Unhappening.”
Late last year, Dana Taylor, a friend who teaches theatre technology at a high school in Evansville, IL, recommended me to design the lighting for this show. So the writer/producer, Adam Stone, contacted me about it. When I learned that it was a benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association, I couldn’t say no.
Once he secured a venue, Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of University of Missouri in St. Louis, I contacted the tech director to ask for a CAD drawing of the venue. They happened to have a 2D plan and elevation drawing in Vectorworks format. I have Vectorworks, so that’s no problem. But I recently learned that the latest version of WYSIWYG can connect directly with Luminair, an iPad lighting control app, and I knew what I had to do. I had to program, visualize, and run the show from my iPad.
When I received the VW drawing, I took a screen capture of the plan view to use as a template in WYSIWYG. I could have saved the VW file as a DWG and imported it into WYSIWYG, but since it was only a 2D drawing and it had a lot of extraneous information that I didn't want, I decided not to do it that way. To be honest, one of the reasons I avoided doing that is because I wasn't sure whether or not I could import individual layers instead of all of the layers. I checked with Dany Tancou of Cast Software after the fact, and he confirmed that when you import a DWG file, you have the option to select the layers you want to import and omit the rest.
But I only wanted the footprint of the stage and the location of the battens. So by importing a screen capture and tracing over the drawing I thought it would save a huge amount of time. The key to making this trick work is the scaling feature in WYG. When you import the screen capture file into WYSIWYG, it asks you to pick two points in the screen capture (or whatever file you’re using) and input the distance between them. It was easy since I included the architectural scale in my screen capture.
Once I had the screen capture imported, it was a snap to trace the stage and the location of the softgoods, battens, and balcony. The hardest part was converting it from a 2D drawing into a 3D model. To do so, I had to switch back and forth between the elevation drawing in Vectorworks and WYSIWYG to find the heights of the objects I was building.
Once the 3D model of the building was complete, all I had to do was to lay in the lighting instruments according to the lighting plot, add the color gels, and configure the control channel and dimmer number for each instrument. I also added focus positions using the magic sheets provided by Touhill PAC. WYSIWYG has a nice feature where you can add and label focus positions on the stage, and then associate them with one or more lighting instruments through it’s Properties. Adding and configuring the instruments and focus positions took several weeks to complete this part because there are 353 instruments and I knew I had enough time, so I squeezed it in between other projects.
In the meanwhile, I contacted Ryan Hisey, the developer of Luminair, and talked to him about the project. I wanted to make sure it would do what I thought it would. He was nice enough to enlist me as a beta tester for the new 2.0 version of Luminair. Since I had never used version 1.0, I can’t say, at this point, what is new about it but before too long I will know and I’ll write a product review for it.
Ryan sent me a link to download the beta software and I had no trouble installing it on my iPad. I did, however, hit a speed bump when I tried to connect Luminair on my iPad to WYSIWYG on my desktop PC in my office. Since they are both going through a wireless connection, you have to set the IP address and subnet mask in order for them to talk to each other.
I read the user manuals for both Luminair and WYSIWYG, but since I am dealing with a beta version, documentation is still sketchy. It turns out that I misunderstood the instructions and instead of setting the IP address and subnet mask according to my wireless network, I set it incorrectly to match my desktop computer.
Not to make excuses, but I was in a hurry when I did this because I was about to leave for 10 days to teach a class on electricity, power distribution, and controls in Puerto Rico , and then on to Dallas for the PLASA Technical Standards Program meetings. On the way home, I had time to think about it and the solution actually came to me in the shower. I knew what I had to do as soon as I got home.
The network actually assigns IP addresses, so both my iPad and computer needed to have the same subnet mask, 255.255.255.0, and the same network portion of the IP address, which is 192.168.1.x. The x is a unique number for that device. Once I configured the IP addresses correctly I could see the Luminair was connected to WYSIWYG because in Live mode it says so across the top of the window.
The next step was to go into Live mode in WYG and open the Device Manager under the Live drop down menu. That opens a new window showing the connected devices. By selecting New, you can choose from a list of devices, one of which is Luminair. Then by opening its Properties window, you can select the proper DMX universe. The key to making this work is to first create a new universe in Data Mode.
Data Mode is essentially an interactive spreadsheet that is highly configurable. You list and sort fixtures by a variety of parameters. You can also create and assign DMX universes to fixtures. Once created and named a new DMX universe, that universe appears in the drop down menu of the device's properties window. After you select it, the Luminair is connected and you have control of the lighting fixtures.
It was very cool the first time I used my iPad to create a scene in WYSIWYG. Now all I have to do is program a show.Onward.
Lighting Design for Modern Houses of Worship - Don't let the title fool you. This book covers most aspects of lighting design including live performance, television, concert, and more. It shows you how to design a plot, choose the proper instrumentation, document your work, and more.
A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting by Steve Shelley - One of the best, if not the best, books about lighting design for theatre and dance available today.