How do I setup my console? How do I program? Where do I begin? How can I make the lights wiggle? How do I make effects? What are palletes/presets? All of us at one point of our career had the same questions. Although each brand or make of lighting consoles is unique, the logic and nature of programming is quite similar. I hope to answer most questions and leave you with a few to think about for the future.
The console's purpose is to control the lighting fixtures. It is the central processor (you the programmer are the brain) of the lighting system and issues 1-way commands via DMX (and sometimes other protocols) to the fixtures. Before moving lights things were simple. 1 dimmer = 1 fader/handle. For example, fader 1 controls the intensity or level or dimmer 1 and so on. You could then group (on a submaster, or in the patch) multiple dimmers on a single fader. A submaster is a grouping of channels (that is dimmers) at a given intensity. Patching assigns dimmer(s) to a channel. Now-a-days, things a bit more involved. We have multi-channel fixtures like moving lights and media servers. We need a personality in the console to define these multi-channel fixtures. A moving light may have pan, tilt, intensity, gobo, color, strobe, and many more. The purpose of the personality is to do the dmx mapping for the programmer. Instead of the programmer assigning each channel to each attribute for each fixture, it simplifies it drastically. It enables us to patch entire fixtures just as we would patch a dimmer. I must mention that the fixture dmx address must match what we have patched for things to work right. In addition, the personality must be accurate or you will have problems.
Disclaimer/Note: If you have never made a personality before, please don't as you are setting yourself for disaster. Personality building and writing is an advanced concept and not an required skill for programmers. Most manufacturers will write a personality if it doesn't exist, but in most cases they have it available for download.
A few more notes on patching. Each fixture has a dmx address and must be assigned to the correct corresponding dmx universe. In addition, the fixture will have a reference number (fixture number or user number) which is how the programmer will call the given fixture. If you have many fixtures, it is crucial to have this list be very organized. (I wrote an entire blog on this before and will post a link to it in the comments).
After everything is patched, it's time to makes the lights wiggle. In the programmer or command line, you can enter a fixture number and all the associated attributes will become available. You can make the fixture move, change color, lamp on, etc... Don't forget about syntax and command line inclusions and exclusions (thru, +, -) like 1 thru 10 - 8. That will give you fixtures 1 thru 7 and 9 thru 10. Get it? Once everything is responding correctly you can play around before you actually record anything. I usually take some time to play to see what my lighting rig can do. This will get you familiar with the rig when it comes time to start recording.
Next is probably the most confusing step in programming. How do I record looks? The answer is many different ways but depends. Let me elaborate. You can record looks into a playback in very few steps. Select the fixtures, set all the attributes, push record and select the playback or fader you want to store the look in. Done. It gets more complicated when you need to record a bunch of stuff. You have to ask yourself what type of show are you doing? Is it a theatrical show where you typically have one cue stack? Is it rock and roll or a club where you are going to run the show manually (we call this punting or busking)? After you decide one way or another you have a basis to continue programming. Typically theatrical style shows will have one main cue stack. Here is where you will store all your looks for the show. Lights up, lights down, blackout, move cues, color change cues, etc... If you are doing everything on the fly, then you typically program the playbacks to be useful, quick, easily accessible looks and tasks. Things like intensity, movements, colors, effects, etc...
Palletes? Presets? These are two commons synonyms. These are typically items that get programmed first (before the playbacks). They can be time consuming to make, but can save you more time then you can imagine if you need to change or adjust your programming. Palletes/Presets are programmed points for attributes which can be stored into cues. For example, if you spend 15 minutes on getting all your moving lights to the exact position you want them, you can store them in a position pallete for future use. It is an easy and quick way to get all your lights back to this same position without referencing a programmed cue. Typically, palletes/presets are seperated by attribute type. For example, all color attributes are stored in the color pallete and all movement is stored in the position pallete. There are ways to get around this when needed, but when left to default, only color will be recorded into the color pallete. The console will sift out all the extraneous information. Palletes can be programmed into any cue or playback. The great thing about programming this way is if you need to update a pallete, any cues that reference it will also be updated. This is where the time saving comes into play!
Make sure your patch window is nice and organized. Your fixture numbering must be intuitive and make sense. Always record palletes/presets and then store them into cues and playbacks. I didn't talk about effects engines or generators, but each console's effects looks a little different. Reference the manual to get a better idea, but basically effects can be applied after the fixtures are selected. Effects can be applied to any attribute but most noticeably applied to movement and color.
Why would you record non-like attributes in the same pallete? Do you know any consoles that have a preset/pallete for all attributes? What console has the best effects?