It wasn’t long ago that DMX control was reserved for theatre, music performance, and big-budget studio jobs. Now, however, we’ve reached a point where the ability to fine-tune your lights from a centralized location is within reach to much more moderate budgets.
Honestly, we’ve seen it coming for a while now. With the advent of LED fixtures the ability to tune color, color temperature, and other effects are built right into the lights and are available at your finger-tips. These lights, like the Arri Skypanels and Literibbon, have a lot more options than just on or off, dim or bright. As I’m sure we have all experienced, suddenly your client or DP wants you to change the entire look of the scene on a whim and they want it done yesterday. Traditionally that has never been an easy or time efficient task when you have to run around the whole room and change ten different settings on eight different fixtures. These new technologies have made requests like this a lot more manageable.
There are some great solutions to this; namely – we could schedule efficiently, hire enough crew, and ask for realistic lighting changes in the given timeframe. But that sounds ridiculous. So, instead, we’ll have to come up with something else. This is the time where DMX controlling your fixtures can be an essential part of your production. Suddenly, you are able to control the functions of all of your fixtures from a central location. You can build cues and change looks in no time. While this is something the broadcast guys have been doing for years, it feels new and AWESOME in the world of on-location shooting.
Recently I have applied DMX control in a number of scenarios where it was extremely beneficial to the production. We used a number of different tools for each job. Let’s start with the simplest application.
In this scenario, we had a bunch of tungsten lights hung on a truss to light a stage. Very standard theatrical application. We’ve all done this. Run a bunch of lines down, had a pile of 1k dimmers labeled with tape and sharpie, and sat the new guy at the base of the rig to sort through it all. Very cumbersome, not very efficient.
With a quick lesson in DMX, I was able to run all of my lights to a 12 channel dimmer pack on the truss, and control all of the lights using the DMXit from Integrated Controls Inc. This little battery powered lighting console can practically fit in your pocket and this setup was the perfect application for it. The additional equipment used for this added an almost negligible cost to the rental and saved me a ton of time fine-tuning and changing looks (Saved a bunch of OT for production).
So maybe you aren’t sold on learning DMX control just to save a little time labeling and fighting with dimmers. That’s a fair argument. Once you’ve learned it however, you will be happy you did because suddenly another kind of job will come up. Sure, I didn’t need them with the truss, but shortly after I was faced with a new problem that is much more up the alley of what we all think of DMX control for lighting cues.
This particular project required a different set of tools, but they worked in the same universe and it wouldn’t have been possible without it. We were contacted to work on a 360 VR video for Urban Outfitters: a live band performance at a Halloween party. The project sounded exciting and I was excited to be a part of it. The only problem that faced us is that not only did we have to hide all of our lighting, but we had to put on a rock show with it as well. Kind of hard to do color changing, dimming, flashing, on a bunch of units when you can’t even be in the room with them. Again we had the perfect application for DMX control. This time, we used a more complex system. Wireless DMX using “Luminair”, now not only did I have a small handheld console, but I had an entire lighting desk with the capabilities to design a whole show and control complex color changing lights all based off an Ipad! We were running 2 Arri L7Cs, 6 Skypanel S60s, 4 Skypanel S30s, 2 Phillips Hue Bulbs, 4 1k Par Cans, and over 100’ of RGB Literibbon! The Luminair app in conjunction with wireless DMX packs enabled me to program the whole show by myself. As our technicians were setting each lighting unit, I could literally carry my whole console with me to the fixture and address it, set its properties, and test its function. The future is NOW!
Once everything was set up and running properly, I now had control of every light on the set remotely, wirelessly. This was essential to be able to create the look we wanted without seeing any lights or technicians in the 360 video. At this price point and scale, just a few years ago something like this wouldn’t have been so easy. The technology behind our lights has been evolving so quickly, and while some aspects have made it more complicated for technicians, being able to DMX control easily on location has certainly helped. While all of us wish we had unlimited time, budgets, and manpower to light things the way would prefer, the reality is that we have to make do with the resources allotted. Fortunately, those resources are getting better all the time and with the right approach, you can do more with less than ever before.
Written By: Johnny BaumBaum – Shop Manager
In three words: Kind, Caring, Balding. With a vast knowledge of camera and lighting gear, John will help see your project through from start to finish. When not knee deep in poorly coiled stingers, John enjoys exploring Philadelphia’s extensive restaurant scene and day sailing on his glorious 13′ yacht.