Arisia '09

A report from the lighting department

Here's a sort of half-ass report from my little corner of tech, aka Lighting. I also helped a bit with Logistics.

Images all link to larger versions.

My first task on arrival was to get the house-lighting presets straightened out, before anyone else was around and needing light to work in the ballrooms. The idea in this space is to *never* use the icky compact-fluorescent top-hat lights, but only the big incandescent-only chandeliers. While perhaps more energy-intensive, the light these give is *so* much nicer and doesn't produce all those high-frequency buzzing noises. And at this time of year, especially this particular weekend, they helped to heat the room. There's a nice map of the fixture circuits taped to the wall near the control panels in the back hallway, so one doesn't have to walk out and check what's on or off. I noted with some amusement that the presets were already set *almost* as I wanted them -- either left over from last year, or set by the hotel A/V folks or other clients as the fairly obvious thing to do. The Swank staff had also bought a couple more IR remotes for the system so we could have independent control from the tech desks in each of A/B and C/D. The only downside here was that the hotel people would occasionally screw with the presets in the course of their own duties, maybe not realizing that they should have used the master up/down control on the back-hall panels instead of the individual "dimmers". They also ganged and un-ganged the rooms on me in odd ways, which there was no reason for doing. Perhaps we should have taped big fugly signs over the panels like Val did last year, to keep meddling hands out of them.

Empty box; some assembly required.

Build went fairly well, with clueful people coming out of the woodwork to pitch in and bolt truss, hang lights, and run wiring. No major issues or showstoppers, although the bizarrely "sunken" Camlok boots in the hotel's 100A hookup kicked my ass for a while until Paul realized they could just slide along the wire and bring the female brass bit up to the edge where it belonged. They're not supposed to be able to shift like that, and I can't imagine what pushed them that far back in the first place since no standard set of males could possibly mate correctly from there.

The worst problem that cropped up was the fact that the cyc lights up against the stage backdrop had been lamped wrong, giving a mix of 500 and 1000W bulbs that looked funny for a short time until some breakers on the pack popped from the overload. Between the spares and what we had we managed to work around it, by moving all the 1000 watt lamps to the center [single] unit and all the 500 watt ones to the outer pairs, yielding a balanced load and the opportunity for a brighter center section which was just peachy. The gel we had cut for these units -- an odd size, 13" by 9" or so, yielding only 3 cuts per sheet -- did a little "smoking out" as the lamp heat started to hit them. This is normal for new gel, especially for many greens, so other than the lamp mixup I wasn't too worried. One minor downside of the Altman "T-3" cyc units was some light-leaks out the rear vents, which actually reflect off the inner surface of the *gel* when it's installed. In the long run it wasn't all that noticeable, and less obnoxious than the little white sparklies one commonly gets from zip-strips. The T-3s are a decent compromise between good coverage and taking up relatively little dead real estate on stage to get enough throw to the cyc and blend colors.

Innards of the Colorpower supply

Some of the crew noted that the assembled ColorMerge units, the dichroic CMY computer-controllable color-changer units at side-stage, were cumbersome to hang. Yes, they're both heavy and fragile. Fortunately I had some folks on crew who also do the GSP shows at MIT and are familiar with these units already. Build night pretty much ended on the usual note, i.e. aligning the position presets of the moving-lights to hit the correct points on the dance floor and cyc.

Wires. They *always* do this...

Drape lines went in the next day, necessitating a little bit of fiddling with position and aim here and there but nothing too onerous. I had to shift the special "shadow-killer" lights to split the difference between washing out the drape shadows from the front vs. creating their own shadows of the side-stage trees. The way we do the drape line in that room is always a headache, and it would be nice to come up with a different stage and drape plan for next year. Everything is basically too far downstage, especially at stage right, making it difficult to get full-stage lighting coverage without playing suboptimal games.

I tried to save a little budget money by limiting cable to one multi-run per side truss, six circuits. This was appropriate because with the cyc row pulling 18000 watts and 9 dimmers by itself I didn't have many more to go around. To try and save a little time and still have the essence of my "near/far" dance-floor plot I used the fresnels that weren't being used side-stage, tucked up against the truss for sort of a third layer of hang position and only to aim at the floor. To facilitate this, a few circuits would get replugged and I had the folks doing the truss wiring label the various parts that would swap over and tie them up to be clearly accessible, i.e. for normal masq plot you'd plug a given light or twofer into its corresponding numbered circuit flagged with *white* tape, or switch to the same number in *yellow* tape for the dance setup.

The plot paperwork showing all this, for the curious, is here. Still cranking it out in 1980s-style 1-bpp "mspaint" style graphics, even though now edited with a modern version of Gimp. It works, it's small and fast and the files take up almost no space and print on anything.

Our control table did *not* have a tablecloth on it this time, and I had brought in a little grounding-clip thing that plugs into an outlet and could clamp firmly onto an edge of the Leprecon board where the paint had chipped off. As far as I know it only hiccuped once over the weekend, when someone *slid* out of a chair with hands either near the sliders or touching the metal edge rim of the table [which possibly should have also been grounded].

Simple rig in A/B

A quick-n-dirty small lighting rig also got set up in A/B, primarily for the stage but later it turned out that the circus folks wanted to set up their aerials support rig in the middle of the room. I've seen this rig before but even in a shortened state, its footprint was larger than I expected. Two lights were diverted away from the stage to light the performance area under the rig, and that actually turned out to be enough and even set a nicely angular and shadow-strong mood for performers, like dance lighting. Worked out surprisingly well overall.

Circus acts

The Cosplay prom was a riot. I had added some "cheezy DJ effects" lights to the rental order upon hearing more of what it would be like, and between those and my mirror-ball with a couple of wiggles pointed at it came pretty close to an old-skool, low-budget prom environment.

I didn't want to bring in the full-bore club environment and blow our wad here, so I limited wiggle-light movements to a few slow sweeps and the occasional gobo swap. There was still plenty to control manually, mostly from the conventional board which Demetri was clearly having a lot of fun with.

H* as a wiggle-light waggin' radioactive Teletubby, be afraid

A fortuitous position oops on one of the moving lights landed it in a deep, rich purple on the stack of cups and glow-toys at the refreshment table, and the whole pile lit in such a nice fluorescent glow that I decided to just leave it there and gently scroll a variety of deep blues and greens through it. That gave the people tending the table a little more light to work with and made the whole area much more of a visual attractant. The discharge lamps in the wiggles do emit quite a bit of UV on their own, so the fluorescence of glow-stuff is understandable.

Glo-cups and drink fountain at the Cosplay prom

For this event I recircuited to a few of the "dance-floor-only" fresnels but left most of the stage wash available, since there were some presentations along the way and people would occasionally get up on the stage in front of Johnny Z. in costume and sort of lead the room's dance.

General Johnny, flanked by colorful cannons, surveys the field before him

We turned the main tent over to the Teseracte group for Rocky Horror after that, and they have their own lighting guy so we set up some simple presets he could run from and he was happy to keep it simple. But it was clear that he loved having the cyc RGB available, because when I checked back later he was going totally nuts with it. Since we've worked with them before I felt reasonably confident in getting to bed soon thereafter and not worrying too much about resetting from that, knowing their guy would just pull down all the faders and walk out when he was done.

We knew that the Rocky show has a lot of props and needs changing room, so I started to compact our dead cases *very* tightly into the corner to make more room for them backstage. We knew that last year this corner was a big ugly problem that seemed to keep growing, so I shouldered the role of "box bitch" for a while to get a baseline permanent stash set up but still leaving access to some things I knew we'd need.

Box pile, very dense

Saturday was the long day -- Masquerade rehearsal and run, followed by the club-dance. Demetri had become familiar enough with the rig from running for the Cosplay prom that I put him in the pilot's seat for the Masq too, with the "out" that if he got overwhelmed he could hand the mess back to me with no worries. Well, he didn't get overwhelmed because he really knows his stuff, and with a little coaching and some art-fag design input he ran for the Masquerade without a hitch. If anything, *I* screwed up by bringing in a wiggle-light effect at the wrong time. As usual we had relatively minor, but nonzero, use of wiggles in Masq -- about four entries' worth, ranging from in-your-face "disco" punchiness for one entry to a very subtle texture background added to the cyc for another. And we remembered to use the followspots a lot, to keep Seth and Lucky from falling asleep up there on their platforms.

"Spot 1, extra crispy please"

The color-changers were great, providing a full range from delicate theatrical tints to saturate outlining, and without throwing those fugly "christmas shadows" that come from separated color sources. Of course we set up all the cues to run the CMY blades to where they'd need to be *before* bringing the lamps on, so each masq entry was really a cue-block of minimum three steps -- set color, lights up, blackout [keeping the same color on the fade]. Some were four or maybe five if the entry needed a lighting transition. Without the concept of an ETC-style "inhibit sub" on the LP1536 board, using the cue stack was pretty much necessary with these units.

I arranged for a "changeable" gobo light near the tech table so different projections could be dropped in if needed, but we only got one special gobo request and because of the nasty drape shadow, half of it had to get chopped off in a shutter-cut anyway. But that was okay because we got a nice spread of Oriental rooftops across the top of the cyc and that was enough to carry the effect.

I didn't really get any masq pictures other than one quick shot of the presentation winners, but a straightforward list of Sandy Middlebrooks' voluminous collection [1186 shots!] is here. Grab it while it's hot.

Masquerade winners

Changeover for the club-dance was reasonably smooth, although there were a couple of truss points harder to reach because of wrangling ladders past the drape line. But the connections to unplug and replug up there were clearly marked and accessible, and the biggest headache there was losing a couple of lamps during dance-floor refocus. This may be a warning that the HX600 lamps in Arisia's 6x12 Lekos may be reaching their end-of-life and it's time to beef up the inventory of spares. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; they all seem to be in some need of a good bench-focusing anyway and that's pretty much recommended when a lamp is changed in those things.

The club-dance itself was pretty much the usual -- I ran manually for most of the peak time, following what Johnny was playing, including having a lot of fun with "Time Warp". With the conventional board and the Hog on an A/B switch for the conventional units, I was able to set up some fun looks on the Lep independent of the relatively random bouncy stuff the Hog was doing, and then swap to that on musical phrases. So the "Time Warp" choruses got alternate shots of *all* the lights from one side and then the other, clearly matching when people did the half-turn jump. I also used it to substitute for the "white-blast" that I didn't have wired this time, i.e. that quarter-second of all lights on [or sometimes off!] right before what's usually an 8-measure phrase change. Otherwise, the Hog was doing everything for the floor and also splitting the cyc colors and using the Colormerges to throw all kinds of lurid colors on different sides of Johnny. At one point the guy who's also the next conchair of Philcon came in with a VJ setup and ran interesting stuff on the back wall for a while. Later when things started to thin out, I threw the whole rig on "autopilot" and went out for a "reality break" every so often, including a short mission to find some interesting libations for which I was very grateful [y'all know who you are]. By around 4:30 AM the floor was down to Johnny's usual die-hards who kept it going until dawn, while I was almost falling asleep into my keyboard over there by then, and he wrapped it up with his 99th song of the evening a little after 7AM. We did a group photo and then got the heck out of there.

Club dance, earlier ...

... and later ...

... and the last holdouts being silly at 7AM.

I got about 3 hours of sleep and then got up to undo the club-dance rig and repoint things at the stage, since we had another two days of events to do! That afternoon held the radio-plays in C/D, which wanted some minimal lighting cues so I hung around to handle that, and then the Goth band showed up next door to set up. They had a little "waterfall" effects-light to splash up the wall behind them on the stage, with plain white output, and I offered them some gel to color it up if they wanted. The choice? Deep red, naturally. They seemed happy with that, some very minimal light on stage otherwise, and a fairly dim room overall.

Goth band

Meanwhile, Teseracte took over again in C/D for the Musical Buffy, which was actually pretty funny and now I know where that "walk through the fire" song comes from. As soon as that was over it was time to reset the room for the Steampumk dance. Unlike last year when we painted the entire room a surreal blue for the Labyrinth-themed dance we *still* had more events to go afterward so I didn't want to do yet another to-the-floor-and-reset cycle. We set up a slow chase on the Colormerges to throw a subtly-changing mix of coppery, earthtone ambers and greens across the band which complemented the various brass and wood setpieces they'd adorned their stage and instruments with. I tried to get something vaguely resembling a pair of big steam-enginey flywheels and cranks on the opposite wall, but without a single-line gobo in the wiggles it was a little hokey with the triangles tilting and moving back and forth to follow the spinning ring.

Vaguely-reciprocating gobo weirdness

Steampunk as a theme seems to have really taken off of late, and I saw more pairs of goggles running around than I thought possible. Google for "steampumk" and "art" and there's all kinds of fun stuff.

Teseracte did yet more Buffy after midnight, running their own stuff as usual, and we didn't pay that much attention because the tech party was off and rolling by then. But this touches on one thing that minorly bugged me about the weekend in general: Teseracte took over a lot of it, and more importantly a lot of our space, despite trying to accomodate them with the tight packing job over in "box land". By the end of the weekend, a lot of that room was taken up by Teseracte's props and they *didn't* clear it out when we needed, i.e. before strike began. They were also a bit too free with throwing up more drape and making the stage opening even smaller and more light-obscuring. If they play in our yard again next year, we need to have a chat with their people and set a few expectations and schedules. On the plus side, they didn't carelessly knock stuff around like they've done in previous years.

Snow over the Charles
[shot by Demetri from the window during the tech party]

Sunday we had the final band in C/D, which played some interesting stuff reminiscent of King Crimson and was woefully underattended. 10AM on the last day of a con is apparently the 100% wrong time to schedule a band, no matter how good they are! But they played their full set, aka "having a nice little rehearsal", and at noon we swung fairly seamlessly into teardown mode. The first move of which was to shoot the Colormerge blades all the way *in* with their channels at 255 and then power off the box -- very important, otherwise they are poorly supported inside and can easily break when shipped.

At this point we had lost *three* tech directors -- Spence because of some surprise circumstances, and then Matt and Paul who he had delegated to as they needed to head home. David and I managed to fake up enough "crew chief" brains between us to get cables rolled, trusses down and stripped, the cyc and drape folded, and gear inventoried and it actually all went pretty smoothly. Stuff started disappearing on that night's Logistics runs and the ALPS pile got picked up promptly the next morning. I helped with one unload at Storage and managed to get home with enough daylight left to shovel out the driveway from the *foot* of cumulative snow we'd gotten over the weekend.

Nice plow-ridge to chop through

So overall it was a lot of work, covering for a 4-day con, but it all went pretty smoothly and the only time I got screaming-throwing-things pissed was when I went down on my ass carrying a concrete-filled bucket in that slippery back hallway near the loading dock. I had no idea it was *that* slippery, and it wasn't from ice but rather a mix of kitchen-grease-soaked floor mats and the water tracked in from the snow that created an amazing slimy swill right at that corner. The disgusting pair of mats was little help since it was apparently the source of the grease. Eventually someone from the kitchen came out and sprinkled a bunch of *sea salt* around, saying it would help grip and absorb a lot of the goop. He was right, it did help a lot.