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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dance Production companion website

Just a quick note to let my readers know that the companion website for my newest book Dance Production: Design & Technology is live. There are a number of wonderful components to the site, such as free downloadable web-chapters. These two chapters feature information on non-traditional performances and touring your show. Like the print chapters, they feature examples of contemporary work in the field as well as easy-to-follow commentary on the process of producing a live performance. In addition to web-chapters, you will also find videos, a great web resource directory for finding dance and design/tech information online, and instructional projects. These projects are a favorite for teachers looking for supplemental assignments to assist in the classroom. One great benefit of the website is that all of the content is FREE, so this is an excellent opportunity to share some information without the obligation of buying the book (of course, I would be thrilled if you decided to pick up a copy, as well)!

I hope you find this website useful and enjoyable. Feel free to share it with some friends.

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Indispensable Products – Go Box

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A few years back, I posted the first of what I planned on being an ongoing series called “Indispensable – Great Products We Can’t Live Without.” Fast forward in time and I still haven’t added a second installation to this series (if you can call one item a series)… Well, I’ve got good excuses for how long it has taken me (dozens of shows, a new family member, a new book) but I won’t bore you with the details. The bottom line is, I recently had the pleasure of working with a new toy that made me think, “everyone needs to know about this!”

Team Sound has recently released the Go Box, a wonderful MIDI interface to work with QLab and your other MIDI-capable programs. For those of you who use programs like QLab or SFX, this is a wonderful solution to automating control of your system at the touch of a button. Instead of pressing the space bar hundreds of times for every show, you can simply plug in one of these interfaces and save the stress on your keyboard.

There are currently two different boxes, the Go Box 4 and Go Box 6. Each one is a designed using the highest quality parts to make the Go Box a road-worthy addition to any rig. The buttons are made from arcade-style switches rated for half a million cycles. The boxes are made from powder-coated aluminum, so they are light weight and durable. The USB jacks are equipped with Neutrik locking connectors that, when used in conjunction with a locking USB cable, really stay put so there are no worries of accidentally pulling the cable out (I’m told that they hope to offer 5 meter locking cables very soon through their website). This week, Team Sound released a second edition of the Go Box 6 featuring a new die cast enclosure with fewer seams, two Neutrik USB connectors, and a low-light LED connection / power power indicator on the back of the unit. These addition make an already strong tool even more appealing. A few more details about each unit is included below:

The Go Box 4 features four buttons, and the Go Box 6 has six. Each model works in a similar fashion, with the buttons serving as MIDI remote triggers. There is no driver software required, either, so it is a remarkably simple setup. Each button sends a MIDI signal through the USB on channel 16. The signal is a Note On message with a velocity of 127 when the button is pressed (notes 1-4 on the Go Box 4, and notes 1-6 on the Go Box 6) and a velocity of 0 when the button is released.

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If you are using QLab, you can even download pre-configured QLab 3 workspaces from the Team Sound website here. In the basic workspace for the Go Box 4, Note 1 is “Go,” Note 2 is “Panic All” which stops all cues over a duration determined by the user, Note 3 is “Select previous cue,” and Note 4 is “Select next cue.”

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The Go Box 6 is ideally suited for a redundancy rig. A redundancy rig is a collection of two show control computers running their workspaces simultaneously. Both are connected to output to your system, typically including a manual switch to change output from one unit to another should the need arise. The Go Box 6 features two USB connectors, meaning that each button sends MIDI signals to both computers simultaneously. By using this unit, there is no need for a separate go button for each show control computer.

This summer, I got to help my wife Kate Hopgood set up a new QLab rig for The Michigan Shakespeare Festival, where we are both Artistic Associates. Kate’s preferred setup is to have a tech table in the auditorium networked to the show sound computer running QLab. By using screen sharing, she can sit with the Stage Manager at the remote computer. This gives her the opportunity to make changes as necessary while the SM gets used to calling the show and running QLab, but from the relative comfort of the auditorium. This year, we integrated a Go Box 4 into the system and the Stage Manager loved it. No more accidental bumping of the space bar or worrying about the double click. The best part was the setup, though. The only aspect that had to be changed was making sure the remote computer was running a QLab workspace (pro version) with OSC commands pre-programmed into it. The Go Box was plugged into the USB port of this computer, which then triggered OSC cues to be sent through the Ethernet cable to trigger cues in the show computer’s QLab workspace. Once tech was done, striking the tech table was basically coiling up the network cable and plugging the Go Box into the show computer in the booth!

For those of you looking to simplify your sound or show control setup, I would highly recommend the Go Box.

Full disclaimer – having written a book on QLab 3 show control, I have gotten to know a lot of the Figure 53 gang pretty well. Team Sound is the work of Brooklyn, NY based sound and projections designer Sam Kusnetz, who also happens to work for Figure 53. Neither I, nor Team Sound, are affiliated with Figure 53, LLC. As Sam puts it on the Team Sound website, we’re awfully big fans, though.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAM SOUND NYC

*Editorial note: I made a few minor corrections to this post after the first upload.