Author: jeromyhopgood

It’s All in the Timing: Recording A Cue Sequence in QLab 4

One of the more exciting new features in QLab 4 is the Record Cue Sequence tool. This function enables you to play through a cue sequence manually while recording your precise playback timing. This process creates a Group Cue with Start Cues imbedded within to trigger your cue sequence. These Start Cues have pre-waits attached to them that enable an exact playback to match your timing. To use this function, click on “Record Cue Sequence” in your Tools menu. This will open a window that gives you two recording options.

fig1.jpg

The Record Cue Sequence window, with both recording options shown.

Both settings create a Group Cue populated with Start Cues to trigger cues in your workspace. The first setting enables all of the Start cues to fire simultaneously with the appropriate pre-waits attached to them to match your original timing. The second option creates a Group Cue that triggers the first Start Cue and then goes to the next cue with pre-waits and auto-continues attached in the appropriate locations. Both will result in identical playback, but you may find one method better suits the needs of your programming preferences.

fig2

Recording Setting 1: Group with Start Cues and Pre-Waits (all children fire simultaneously)

fig3

Recording Setting 1: Group with Start Cues and Pre-Waits (Fire first child, enter into group with Auto-Continues)

It’s important to note that the Group Cue created by this process only contains Start Cues. It does not have the cues necessary for playback of your media or triggering lights. In the interest of keeping an organized workspace, it might be wise to create another Group Cue inside which you place your cues and triggers. Another option is to create a new cue list and drag these files into that list. The important detail here is that your original media cannot be deleted, or the Start Cues will have nothing to trigger. It can take a bit of getting used to, but it certainly opens up a number of options for programming.

Follow this link to watch a screen capture video showing playback of a recorded Audio Cue sequence. Keep checking in for more tips in the coming months and stay tuned for more news about my upcoming QLab 4 book.

Advertisements

QLab 4: Now with Lights*

The last several years have been a period of exciting growth for the rapidly expanding team at Figure 53, the makers of QLab and other show solutions. If you look at the Company statement on their website, this pretty much sums up their business approach: “We work on shows to be together for something special, and we love helping people do that in ways they couldn’t before.” This November, Figure 53 took a huge leap forward in the realm of helping people do shows in a way they couldn’t before with their highly anticipated new release of QLab 4. While there are a lot of features to be excited about in this new release, the biggest new change is the addition of lighting control.

QLab 4 brings along all of the wonderful components that have made it an industry standard in media playback and show control – sound control, video playback and effects, and show control integration through MIDI and OSC networks. The addition of lighting control, though, is a game changer for how designers and technicians approach QLab as a tool. QLab 4 allows for the control of lighting instruments and devices by using the Art-Net protocol over a network. This is either accomplished by directly “talking” to your lighting equipment through Art-Net, or sending the message through a node that translates Art-Net into a DMX signal. For those of you hoping to use a USB to DMX converter, you’re out of luck here. Art-Net nodes are currently the only type of interface recognized by QLab 4.

You should know out of the gate that QLab isn’t going to replace your high end lighting console or work well with a modern rig with hundreds of movers and complex fixtures (at least not yet). Currently, it works best with a rig featuring conventional fixtures, dimmers, and simple RGB-style LED fixtures. I could really see this being an innovative control option for storefront theatres, site specific work, houses of worship, club settings, and industry / trade show installations. The biggest perk in my mind is the fact that it builds on the QLab cue system, so those who are already familiar with creating a workspace should be able to jump right in and experiment with lighting control pretty quickly.

Lighting control is done through the use of a Lighting Cue within your workspace. For those familiar with QLab, this is just another cue type (like Audio Cues, Video Cues, Fade Cues, etc.) that can be combined into your workspace with all of your other cue types. This Lighting Cue contains all of the data for communicating with your equipment. Unlike traditional QLab cue types, however, Lighting Cue parameters are not changed by the use of a Fade Cue. Instead, values will be changed with additional Lighting Cues, or through the use of the new Light Dashboard. The dashboard shows you the live status of all currently running cues in your workspace and allows you to manipulate them in real time. This can be accomplished by using the built in sliders or tiles, or by using a command line that allows you to type in a textual control language.

 

Like any other lighting console, QLab also has a patch system. In Qlab’s Light Patch, you create the instrument and patch them to their appropriate real-world Art-Net/DMX addresses. In QLab, an instrument represents any light or dimmer in your rig that you want to control. Each instrument that is added to your workspace becomes a part of the Definitions Tab, where you can  assign instrument information and parameters (such as intensity, color, position, etc.). These parameters are then controllable by using the sliders or tiles assigned to it in the Light Cue.

 

You can also create Groups within the patch for ease in controlling more than one instrument. In the example shown below, Cue 1.7 is controlling Group 1, a group with all front lighting instruments combined. The second image shows how the Light Dashboard would represent this visually.

 

In addition to adding lighting, there are quite a few changes to workflow and programming that will save you on programming time. One of the big new changes is what they are calling “Fancy Paste” that allows the programmer to copy and paste multiple cue properties from the clipboard onto one or more cues in your workspace. You can also customize your defaults for workspaces by using Cue Templates. My personal favorite is the Record Cue Sequence function, which watches and records a cue sequence as you play through it manually. Once you stop the recording, QLab will automatically create a Group Cue populated with Start Cues that match the playback timing of what you recorded.

There are lots of things to be excited about in this new version of QLab. Like previous versions, I have no doubt that the folks at Figure 53 will continue to tweak their toolset and functions in response to user feedback. It’s possible that, in the right setting, a single computer running QLab could replace thousands of dollars worth of other equipment. This no doubt leads to all sorts of logistical questions (not the least of which being the amount of time and planning that would go into cueing a show if there were multiple designers on the same computer), but it will be interesting to see how this new component develops over the coming years and the ways in which the industry embraces it.

Stay tuned for some future posts on here about QLab 4 functions and my forthcoming QLab 4 Show Control book.

*As always, the fine print still applies. I am not an employee of Figure 53 and my views are exclusively my own. I’m just a guy who appreciates useful software and believes in sharing with others.

Drafty Interview – part 2

Welcome back to the second installation of my interview with Lucas Krech, one of the creators of Drafty, a new online CAD application. If you haven’t read Part One, you can do so by clicking here.


 

4. I notice that the program is delivered as a web app through your web browser. Why did you take that route?

Ease of deployment.

Our first paid customer was the Technical Design program at Bath-Spa University in the UK. We were still in Beta and had a ton of bugs. Being web-based we could see errors appear on our server logs and analyze the problem in real time. Fix the problem in real time. Deploy a software patch to our servers that the browser picks up automatically in real time. And then watch the errors disappear from the logs as each work station grabbed the new code. All in real time. 20 plus users every Tuesday working hard with Drafty for like two hours. It was amazing.

There are also a ton of ancillary benefits. Imagine your fancy computer crashes the day before you are about to go on tour with a ballet company (happened to me once). Or worse you are on tour and have no time to get to a store. Currently you are out at least a $1000 on hardware and better hope your software works with the current OS or you may be out thousands there too. With Drafty you just grab any old laptop, open an Incognito window in Chrome to keep all your info private, and keep drafting. Also, because it leverages the web you don’t need to pay for those top end graphics cards to support the 3D engine you are never going to use anyhow. So Drafty works as well on a $400 laptop from Best Buy as it does on a fully tricked out MacPro Tower. Just another way we can save our users a few dollars.

Also cloud sharing. All the Google Drive file sharing tools work for Drafty. Make a pre-plot and share with your assistant to finish off the data entry. Share the plot with your electricians and let them enter all the dimming and circuit information. No more “Passing the football.” You just work.

dancingLights

5. Is there a mobile app for Drafty?

It is on our development list but currently you need a laptop or desktop. That computer can work on or off-line and Drafty syncs to the cloud as soon as it has an internet connection again.

6. I know that the program is still quite new. Do you have any ”big names” using it yet?

Richard Pilbrow. I met him at USITT this year. He’s a real advocate for new technology which is wonderful to have in a field so reliant on technological advancements. When we met, he seemed almost more excited to meet me than I was to meet him. “You’re Lucas who made Drafty? Brilliant!” His enthusiasm is so infectious I forgot to be nervous.

He really put us to the test. The largest file I had tested with Drafty before he got on board was in the 400-450 unit range. He was putting out a plot well over 600 units. We added a bunch of symbols for him too. The Robert Juliat 700 Series? You can thank Richard for wanting those.
7. How does the program deal with generating paperwork? I know it creates lighting paperwork, but are there other applications for sound or video?

Our Signal Flow tool is getting a fair bit of attention. Simple drag and drop interface for doing all your signal routing diagrams. We have a rack builder on deck but it may be a couple months yet to really get it right.

We just partnered with Sam Kusnetz of Team Sound NYC, makers of Go Box for QLab, to deliver high-quality real-world accurate speaker symbols available as an in-app purchase in Drafty. Those ought to go live very soon.

teamsoundpr-01.png

A few examples of the Team Sound-generated speaker symbols

We will be deploying a Screen tool for Projector calculations with our next revision at the end of May. Again, simple drag and drop to resize your screen and move the screen and Projector independently with a real time readout of the minimum lens necessary.

We have a one-click Hook-Up generator for lighting that outputs a pre-formatted Channel Hookup and Instrument Schedule. On our development list is a similar set of paperwork for Audio. I hope to see it live some time this summer. We have a long list and a small team.

The application is in very active development. We are on a monthly revision cycle and try to provide a solid combination of performance enhancements and feature additions with each release. Sound and video design paperwork tools in general are not as sophisticated as what lighting designers have available to them. We are actively closing that gap.

8. What is process like to transfer work from another CAD program?
You can import PDF currently. Most CAD programs have some kind of ‘viewer’ tool that will let you format the native file into a proper PDF to draft a plot.
DXF I/O is on the list. But honestly redrawing a plot is probably your best bet because it really is that fast. Chances are you would spend more time on cleanup of an old file than just drafting it new. There’s a learning curve as with any piece of software but it’s a shorter curve with Drafty than most other graphics programs, and once you get the swing of it, making a lightplot is at least 3-6 times as fast as other CAD programs.

Tools of the Trade: Drafty (part 1)

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 1.28.30 PM

Drafting has always been one of those important catch all skills that is important to people in a wide range of design / tech jobs in the entertainment industry. Lighting designers, scenic designers, technical directors, props artists, even sound guys will all have to generate some type of mechanical draftings at some point in their careers. Traditionally speaking, this meant hours spent hunched over a drafting table with a T-square, triangles, pencils, and high threshold for pain and frustration. With computers becoming a ubiquitous tool in every design studio, most designers these days have left behind their drafting boards and traded them in for some type of a CAD (computer aided drafting) solution. While there have been dozens of programs over the years to offer a digital replacement for hand drafting, in the entertainment industry the two most commonly used programs are AutoCAD by Autodesk and Vectorworks made by Nemetschek. Both of these programs are robust, powerful CAD solutions that offer 3D rendering capabilities and a wide range of add-ons for just about every use one could imagine. Not surprisingly, both of these applications are as expensive – in the thousands of dollars – as their options are extensive .

Recently, a newcomer to the field called Drafty is challenging the notion that a CAD solution has to be either bulky or costly. The Drafty model is to offer a computerized drafting solution that feels like as much like the old pencil and paper model as possible. I recently sat down for a chat with Lucas Krech, one of the creators of the software, to chat a bit about their program and what makes it unique. The following questions are the first half of that interview.


1. If you had to sum up Drafty in an elevator pitch, what would you say?

 Drafty brings the ease of hand-drafting and the precision of CAD to the 21st century mobile designer living in the cloud… Is this your floor?

layers

2. What are the origins of the program?

I used MiniCAD and then its rebranded Vectorworks incarnation, becoming a power user up to and including having my 3D drafting featured in several getting started guides. I remember the excitement when they came out with their ‘Spotlight’ module as it appeared they were giving real attention to theatrical designers. Sadly, it turned out that despite the additional cost of those tools you still needed to spend hundreds of dollars on 3rd party plug-ins just to make it mostly work. And it was still slower than drafting by hand a lot of the time. Certainly for beam sections and layouts.

Plus the cost of the software is just unreasonable for a theatrical designer. It is priced for their core market of architects who make hefty 6-figure salaries. And I can respect that. But, I’ll tell you a secret, I’ve never made 6 figures with my design work. I know people regularly working on Broadway who don’t. So how can I justify paying for software aimed at that market? I can’t. We did it because there were no other viable options. But I wanted to see a good, dependable tool for the hardworking artists out there who may be taking gigs for $500 or $1,000 dollars. Or less! You shouldn’t have to work hard for two months creating art to barely afford a tool that you then need to rebuy in a year or two because they don’t do patches for OS upgrades.

I’ve also done some teaching and seen really bright, intelligent students with an affinity for light become blocked when presented with traditional CAD programs. I wanted to remove that barrier. I wanted it to be easier to draw a light and a pipe and have them intuitively relate to each other in a way a novice could understand.

Further, in a real world scenario I would use, as a power user, maybe 10% of the tools. If I only need 10% of the tools why not make a program that has the 10% I actually need, is built from the ground up to make a plot, and costs 1/10th the price? And that’s the seed of Drafty.

I know a lot of people in the software industry. My wife is a lifelong tech veteran having worked for OSC, Apple, and others. She also develops independent apps for iPad. Watching her work on her iPad App, The Recipe Box, got me thinking about an easier interface for drafting. I knew what should be possible, I just didn’t have the skills to do it.

I stewed on the idea for about three years and then chatted up my friend Max, who I knew had a keen interest in graphics programming, while we were out camping last summer. I pitched him the idea and he told me to send him a functional spec. I dutifully went home, researched “What is a functional spec?” and “How do you write a functional spec?”, wrote one up and sent it off. He took a look, thought it could be a fun project, and we began prototyping.
3. There are a lot of solid, time-tested drafting applications on the market. What sets Drafty apart from those?
I would actually flip this question around and ask what makes every other graphics program on the market the same? Vectorworks, AutoCAD, CorelDraw, Photoshop, SketchUp, Illustrator, you name it, all do more or less the same thing. Sure, the tool sets are slightly different and they are optimized for different versions of precision (pixels, inches, percentages) but they are all essentially a big box of pencils, pens, drawing templates, and paper.
devices

Drag and drop one or more lighting fixtures at the click of a button

Drafty is an HB Pencil, Drafting Table with Drafting Machine, and a Lighting Template. You can’t really do much with Drafty other than make light and sound plots really really fast. This is by design. A lightplot, with very few exceptions, is actually an incredibly simple document. Broadway, Grand Opera, touring Ballet all happened with a pencil and paper until very recently. My favorite plot I ever got from a designer was literally sketched on a napkin with a Papermate Flair pen. We offer a napkin to sketch on at our landing page too. 🙂

Dimensions

Dimensions are a snap, literally.

We don’t have arcane graphics relating to myriad versions of the same tool for slightly different purposes. We have a button called ‘Pipe’ which you press and get a rectangle whose length can be scaled and whose depth is fixed at 2.5”. We have a button called ‘Light’ which you press and get a realistic looking outline of a Source-4. Grab the light, move it on to the pipe. It snaps into place and gets numbered ‘1’. Duplicate the light and the copy is numbered ‘2’ and duplicates along the pipe by default.  Drag the pipe, its lights follow.  Students can begin learning the basics of graphic layout for Lighting Design by using the program because we intentionally made it hard to do your paperwork wrong. We have a ton of overrides, and more coming, for users who want more control or to cover edge cases but 90% of the time the tool just does what you want it to do and saves you a bunch of time on data entry.

SymbolKey

The symbol key updates seamlessly when you add fixtures

4. I notice that the program is delivered as a web app through your web browser. Why did you take that route?

Ease of deployment.

Our first paid customer was the Technical Design program at Bath-Spa University in the UK. We were still in Beta and had a ton of bugs. Being web-based we could see errors appear on our server logs and analyze the problem in real time. Fix the problem in real time. Deploy a software patch to our servers that the browser picks up automatically in real time. And then watch the errors disappear from the logs as each work station grabbed the new code. All in real time. 20 plus users every Tuesday working hard with Drafty for like two hours. It was amazing.

There are also a ton of ancillary benefits. Imagine your fancy computer crashes the day before you are about to go on tour with a ballet company (happened to me once). Or worse you are on tour and have no time to get to a store. Currently you are out at least a $1000 on hardware and better hope your software works with the current OS or you may be out thousands there too. With Drafty you just grab any old laptop, open an Incognito window in Chrome to keep all your info private, and keep drafting. Also, because it leverages the web you don’t need to pay for those top end graphics cards to support the 3D engine you are never going to use anyhow. So Drafty works as well on a $400 laptop from Best Buy as it does on a fully tricked out MacPro Tower. Just another way we can save our users a few dollars.

Also cloud sharing. All the Google Drive file sharing tools work for Drafty. Make a pre-plot and share with your assistant to finish off the data entry. Share the plot with your electricians and let them enter all the dimming and circuit information. No more “Passing the football.” You just work.


Thanks for reading. If you like what you’re reading, please share it with a friend and follow my blog. In part 2, we will be talking with Lucas about paperwork, signal flow, and importing from other CAD programs. There’s also news about Drafty’s new partnership with Team Sound and Field Template for high quality CAD symbols available through Drafty as in-app purchases. See you then.

 

 

Dance Photography Closeup: NYC Dance Project

If you have never spent an afternoon cursing under your breath while trying to photograph the rapidly movement of a body under dim lighting at just the perfect fraction of a second required to get a well composed photo, you may not realize how very difficult it can be to capture that one simple moment of dance. If you have, chances are you developed a deep appreciation for those photographers whose work seems to effortlessly capture the spirit of the dancer in flight. During the process of writing my Dance Production book, I had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of these talented photographers.

When I saw the work  of the NYC Dance Project, formed by Ken Browar and Deborah Ory, I was immediately struck by their ability to capture the essence of the dancer in motion. NYC Dance Project is a collaboration between Deborah, Ken, and some of the top dancers working in the industry to create some truly stunning works of art. Each photo shoot is prepared as though it were it’s own dance production, with attention paid to costumes, locale, movement, and lighting. Over the last few years, Browar and Ory’s work has been on fire, showcased in some amazing publications – most recently the March 2016 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, featuring photos of American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancer Misty Copeland posing in Degas-inspired scenes for the magazine. You can find more of their work online at nycdanceproject.com or on their Facebook page. In addition, they are publishing a book of their work with Black Dog & Leventhal/Hachette Books in September 2016.

I interviewed Deborah in 2014 regarding the process of dance photography. The chapter it was associated with was cut during my editing process, leaving me without a logical place for it in the book. I always hoped there would be a good place to showcase it, and I thought this might be a good platform in which to do so. I’ve included the interview below:

Tell me a bit about your background – do you come from the dance world?

I have a background in dance, I was a dance major at the University of Michigan. I danced professionally before I became a photographer.  Ken came from a fashion photography background, but had photographed some dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet early in his career for a magazine and also an advertising campaign.  He only dances with my children in the morning making them breakfast!  He is currently completely immersed in the dance world, seeing performances and meeting choreographers and dancers.

How did you get your start as a dance photographer?

My freshman year of college I was injured and was unable to start the semester.  My father had just bought a camera and had not even taken it out of the box.  I had to go to watch the rehearsals of the pieces I was supposed to dance in and brought my new camera with me.  It seemed like a completely natural transition.  After I graduated, I did commercial work for magazines and did not have time to work on dance photography.  I had 2 children and was very busy with commercial work.

After I met Ken and moved to NYC, my children began dancing at the American Ballet Theatre school.  We were redecorating my daughter’s bedroom and were searching for dance photos for the walls.  We both decided we needed to take them ourselves!  We decided to start NYC Dance Project and began photographing dancers together.

How does storytelling factor into your dance photography?

We are trying to tell stories with our photos, they are capturing a moment in time.  We are looking to capture the personality of the dancer, the feeling and emotion of the movement and the way that particular dancer moves. We feel Martha Graham says it best in this quote:  ‘To me, the body says what words cannot. I believe that dance was the first art. I believe that dance was first because it’s gesture, it’s communication. That doesn’t mean it’s telling a story, but it means it’s communicating a feeling, a sensation to people. Dance is the hidden language of the soul, of the body.’Martha Graham, 1985 

What does your typical session entail?

For us it is a little like a performance – there is hair/makeup, costume decisions, lighting, music and movement.  The dancers often tell us our sessions are harder than a performance, they have to be completely on the entire time.  We collaborate on the choreography together, or sometimes watch them improvise and stop them when we see a movement we want to work with.

Do you find a need for different photography techniques connected to certain styles of dance?

Not exactly.  We bring in a special floor for pointe work and we adjust the lights according to the movement.  We really adapt to each dancer individually, regardless of if they are a ballet or modern dancers.

What are some of the primary concerns in photographing dance for the stage?

You lose a lot of control when you photograph a dress rehearsal.  It’s no longer your shoot and you can’t control the lighting, movement, etc.  You really can only document what is happening.  You don’t get to work directly with dancers and it has a completely different feeling – the photos are about the particular dance and not about the dancer.

Is there any specialty equipment you use for dance vs. other types of photo shoots?

We still work with a large format camera, which really slows us down.  Ken wanted to work this way, and I resisted at first, but now see the advantage to working slower.  You really have to pay more attention and you need to know exactly what you want to capture.

Yes, no, maybe…

Many people have heard of the guiding principle of improvisational acting called “yes, and…” This philosophy goes something like this – when in an improv situation, never say no, negate, or disagree with your partner. Instead, listen to what they offer and then add to it to keep the action moving along.

There has also been a lot of conversation in recent years about the “power of no,” particularly regarding the prevalence of creative people and their tendency to say no with a high frequency. The argument is that highly creative and successful people are, by their very nature, busy folks. As a direct correlation to this, they often are so busy that they have to say no in order to maintain that busy schedule their creativity has generated in their lives. Much of my professional design work is in collaboration with actors, directors, choreographers, and fellow designers who all fall in the the creative and busy camp. In the performing arts, however, it seems like many of us have still not taken the note that it is ok to say no (sometimes necessary, even).

In my design work, I always try to be someone who listens before I speak. I want to hear what the director has to say about the script or the choreographer’s vision for the dance piece. Designers function as therapists of sort for productions. We listen to the director’s ideas –  their hopes and dreams, their fears – and synthesize all of that into an approach to the production. Like a good therapist, a designer often sees patterns or nuances to the director’s ideas that aren’t necessarily articulated in any concept statement. The successful designer learns to connect the dots and find ways to bring the production to life in a way that complements the director’s vision.

For me, that means that sometimes it is my job to say no, even though it goes against what the director might be asking for. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case: budget, access to resources, timeline, or just a philosophical difference of opinions on what works for the design. All of these and many more are justifiable reasons for saying no during the production process. Hopefully, you’re working in a production team that respects one another to the point that this is a given. Yes is good. It enables us to pursue our dreams. No is good, too. It keeps us grounded in the reality of what we can achieve. If you approach collaboration in the right way, you will find that no leads you to a wonderful third option (my personal favorite) called maybe. Maybe is the root of our creative collaboration. Once we reach maybe, it allows us to explore new ground that is often a by-product of more than one person’s ideas. That’s where the magic happens! A little of your thoughts, sprinkled with a spark of an idea from me, and feedback from the group is a recipe for success.

So, whether you’re a student, a professional designer, the director, or an intern, next time you find yourself in a collaborative project take a little time to listen and don’t be afraid to respond with a yes, no, or maybe. Empowering, isn’t it?