By Chris Fernandez ( Lighting Designer / Programmer )
Lighting is only a small part of the “entertainment & show business” many students graduate expecting a fast track to the big shows because of their school, but the reality is that, Knowledge, speed, accuracy, people skills, and so on are all vitally important but there is no substitute for experience. Real-world experience with many productions is the only way an automated lighting programmer can become successful. Often times students will begin working at lighting companies, and will not understand why they are not going out to the next big U2 concert or live television broadcast as a programmer.
There is a good reason you see the same programmers name on all the big shows: experience.
While anyone can learn to which buttons to push on a lighting console it takes many years programming to learn how to get the most out of your lighting fixtures.
#1 UNDERSTANDING THE FIXTURES
When starting with a new rig you should always study the fixtures digital multiplexing protocol so you understand what happens to the fixture with different dmx values.
#2 BASIC CONSOLE OPERATION
Of course if you do not know much about your console how can you be expected to program it? You don’t have to be a expert but you need to at-least know how to patch create cues, recall cues , network and backup data.
#3 PATCHING & ADDRESSING
Once you have explored your fixtures and understand the consoles features its essential you know how to connect the two together. Properly patching the desk & addressing the fixtures is a skill every programmer must possess. To often I have seen productions where the programmer did not create the patch because they did not know how to navigate it..
#4 MAKING LIGHTS MOVE
The most basic function you should be able to accomplish is to move fixtures from point a to point b using a repeatable method.
#5 LONG HOURS AND LATE NIGHTS
Our industry usually gives the lighting team the late night shift so be prepared to spend many long nights programming on your visualizer or at the venue.
#6 SUBTRACTIVE VS. ADDITIVE COLOR MIXING
The most common color mixing in moving lights uses three graduated dichroic filters: cyan,magenta and yellow also know as CMY. By combining the three you can create plenty of colors. This is usually called subtractive color mixing because you are filtering wavelengths or colors out of a white light. On the other hand additive color mixing is accomplished by adding several sources together to get close to white. For example most light emitting diode (LED) fixtures use that by combining RGB sources red,green,blue.
You would be surprised how many times I’ve encountered new programmers who don’t understand the concept of tracking or knew it existed. Conventional lighting consoles commonly record all values for all channels into every cue. Moving light consoles make use of tracking by recording only channels with changed values in every cue this greatly reduces the amount of data in each cue and enables many tricks for dynamic programming & playback.
#8 PROTECT THE DATA
A good programmer will protect all his or her data in the console with their life. You are hired to enter data into the board and to make sure its protected. proper backup & saving routines are useful. If something goes wrong and all the data is lost. Then you are the only person to blame.
#9 HOW TO ADMIT YOUR FAULTS
If a lighting designer ask for a particular look or effect and you are unsure how to do it or create it.
ADMIT IT! Do not tell your LD or Boss that it is not possible; either find a way to make it happen or tell him or her you dont know how to do it. One LD told me a time when is programmer said he could not select fixtures based on evens or odds. The LD told him that it was possible because his last programmer did it all the time. Again the programmer said it was not possible. The LD called his last programmer to explain it to him over the phone.. Needless to say that was the last time that programmer was ever hired.
#10 WHO TO CALL
Write down support numbers for technical issues, And most importantly network I know a couple of programmers I love to get advice from and ask questions too when dealing with problems or wanting to learn new ways to accomplish certain things.