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Studio/DMX lighting info


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#1 Marque DeWinter

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Posted 20 September 2009 - 01:19 AM

Does anyone know where to find information (websites, books, etc.) on how to setup DMX systems? I've been asked to design a studio from the ground up and while I understand film lighting, dimmer boards and other theatre type systems I've never learned about.

Thanks,
Marque
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#2 Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh

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Posted 20 September 2009 - 09:41 AM

Hi Marque,


(I apologies in advance that the following might be a bit European but the basic are the same)

1st things first when it comes to DMX, you have 5 kinds of fixtures:

1) Dumb fixtures, eg normal tungsten film and theater lights, to control these over DMX you plug them into a DMX controlled dimmer pack

2) DMX aware film fixtures such as some Kino Flo ballasts, Lite panels and some electronic hmi ballasts

3) Intelligent DMX lights, The moving lights that are so beloved of concert goers and game show hosts

4) DMX controlled funky stuff such as smoke machines, colour changers, pan and tilt heads etc.

5) DMX unfriendly fixtures, such as standard fluorescent ballasts, put these on a circuit controlled by a dimmer and they will be very unhappy. That answer to this is to use DMX controlled switchers



Starting with the dumb stuff, this one is probably the easiest to sort out:

For this you need a desk (console) which can be as simple as this:

Mini desk

Or something computer controlled and dedicated to the film industry

Light by Numbers

or any where in-between.

Medium desk

But be aware that a good easy to use desk is much more useful that a fabulous one that you need a PhD to work, unless your going to have a dedicated operator for it.

Next you need dimmers, normally in Europe these are 6x10a 19” rack mounting units (As in they have six circuits and control six lights to a max of 10amp per channel, 60 amp total) So you can hang 6x 2Ks or 12x 1Ks (2 per channel) etc. They run on either single or 3 phase power.

6Ch Dimmer

You will also find bigger dimmers for 5k and 10k lights and little portable ones, I have mini 4x 5a units that are really handy for small location shoots.

The dimmers will have some way so set the start address. This is the channel number of the 1st channel on the dimmers, eg If you set the start address to 1, then the dimmer will be controlled by desk channels 1,2,3,4,5,6 . If you set the start address to 192, then the dimmer will be controlled by desk channels 192,193,194,195,196,197

(Standard lights desks can address 512 channels, or one Universe, bigger systems can control multiple Universes, each of 512 channels; who says lighting guys don’t have a God complex… B) )

You connect the dimmers to the desk with XLR cables (either 5pin or 3pin, the 5 pins XLRs normally only have 3pin connected)

Nearly all DMX controllable kit will have both a DMX IN to receive the signal and a DMX OUT so you can ‘daisy-chain’ (link) to the next unit. The last link in the chain should be terminated with a special terminator XLR . Also there are limits to how many units you can reliable daisy-chain, depending on the quality of the electronic, length of cable, phase of the moon, etc. I normally try to keep it under 10 on any one chain and use an active DMX splitter if I need more 10 units on one universe

DMX Splitter / Distro

Next the DMX aware fixtures such as those DMX controlled kino and HMI ballasts I mentioned earlier. Like the dimmers, these let you set their start address and hey presto, remote control of your kinos from any lighting desk. On bigger systems these will be run as one universe to make patching easier.

Kino DMX Ballast

Intelligent lighting fixtures, such as moving heads:

These can be loads of fun and are been used more and more in the film industry in quite diverse movies like ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

Basically what happens here is that fixture will use a number of channels to offer control of their different functions such as, Pan, Tilt, Colour, Shutter, Gobo, etc
On the simple little guys these can be 4 or 5 channels, while at the top end market it can be 16 – 24 channels. The exact order of what channel controls what function is important and can be stored as a personality for the fixture in more advanced desks.

Mac 2000

DMX controlled ‘Funky’ stuff.
Because DMX originally came from the theater world it can be used to fire off other stuff on ‘cue’ like smoke machines, strobe lights, colour scrollers, pan and tilt units for conventional fixtures etc. Just like the other kit, you just set the start address on the unit and off you go. Again like the intelligent fixtures, bigger desks will have personality files for what ever it is you want to control.

DMX Pan & Tilt

Last but by no means least, what I refer to as DMX unfriendly fixtures, I normally put all these together on a DMX controlled switch pack and control them from their own little universe. You can set most DMX controlled dimmers to work as switchers but believe me one day you’ll forget and it will bite you….

Obviously that only scratches the very surface of the subject but it should give you a start.

Also check out Blue room a great place for DMX info.

Regards
Rupert Mac
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#3 Marque DeWinter

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Posted 21 September 2009 - 08:10 AM

Thanks for the help! We don't need anything complicated, just a control desk for basic dimming functionality of lights on the grid, no programming or anything. Most of the lights will be "dumb" basic Par64s, some cycs, 650/1k fresnels, maybe a few kinoflos but nothing that would require pan/tilt/etc. While much of what you said I did already know, my biggest issue right is 1) finding a desk that is super super simple to use and 2) finding somewhat affordable dimmers.

Thanks,
Marque
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#4 Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh

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Posted 21 September 2009 - 01:34 PM

Thanks for the help! We don't need anything complicated, just a control desk for basic dimming functionality of lights on the grid, no programming or anything. Most of the lights will be "dumb" basic Par64s, some cycs, 650/1k fresnels, maybe a few kinoflos but nothing that would require pan/tilt/etc. While much of what you said I did already know, my biggest issue right is 1) finding a desk that is super super simple to use and 2) finding somewhat affordable dimmers.

Thanks,
Marque


Hi Marque
If your on a small budget, then I would go for stuff designed for small theater installations, Just don't let people drag it off on location.

Maybe something like this dimmer and this desk. A 48ch A/B scene desk, is really a 24ch if your not doing much programming and the dimmer would eat up half the channels, leaving you some for kinos. The dimmer will handle all the lights you mentioned, just don't (obviously) hang anything bigger than a 1k off it!

Also budget for a patch panel unless you are going to wire it straight to the grid or stage boxes (I'd go with a patch panel either way really, its neater, quicker when your rigging and safer) A 19" rack would also be a good plan on the neatness / safety front. Also make sure you have enough power to comfortably run the dimmer (120a single / 40a 3-phase) plus a nice healthy reserve.

With a bit of googling the whole lot should cost you a little over $2k, you could get stuff that is even cheaper, but you know the story about the peanuts and the monkeys.

This stuff is no substitute for the fully pro stuff from ETC or ARRI but its more than capable of controlling a small studio set-up
Regards
Rupert Mac
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#5 Marque DeWinter

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Posted 21 September 2009 - 10:26 PM

The budget isn't so low..but I can't spend $2k on one dimmer to handle a fixture that only costs $900. Most of the dimmers that I've found so far that are reasonably priced won't support more than 600w/channel or so. I appreciate all the help.

Thanks,
Marque
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#6 Marque DeWinter

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 02:54 AM

I think this is what I've come up with...

2x Elation Scene Setter 24 Channel boards (I'd do the 48 channel but I want to keep them simple and the studio is already divided into 2 different sections for light)
6x 6 Channel Lex Products edison dimmer for 1200w each channel
1x 12 Channel Lex Products 1500w edison dimmer

I've got 1.5k Cycs running on the 1500w/channel dimmer (10 of them) and I'll run 2 of the 6 channel to that grid and leave those available. I've got two 16'x16' with 4x4 spacing grids that I'll give 12 channels of the 1200w/channel each to.

The studio is already going to have 200amp service via cam lock with distro to 100amp bates and lunch boxes to 20a edison so I'm not too concerned about putting very high wattage into the grid. Its a fixed grid that we're putting up with a few Par64s, Source4 elips, and each 16x16 will have two Mega 4Bank kinos

Thanks,
Marque
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#7 Patrick Nuse

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 05:15 AM

beware that you must use the correct cable to connect the whole thing. If you use the wrong impedance cable the lights will behave erratically. Proper termination is also very important. I fixed the setup in a small local theater that was having problems and it turned out they were using microphone cable to connect the lights together. Microphone cable is 600 ohms, DMX cable is 100 ohms.

just FYI
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#8 Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 08:52 AM

Hi Marque
What you have speced should work fine, one advantage of would actually be a level of redundancy in two separted rig. And just to echo what Patrick said about DMX cables, make sure they are the real thing not mic cable, people make that mistake all the time and then blame the system or what ever, because it works fine and then starts acting up.
Regards
Rupert Mac
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#9 Marque DeWinter

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Posted 23 September 2009 - 07:09 AM

Hi Marque
What you have speced should work fine, one advantage of would actually be a level of redundancy in two separted rig. And just to echo what Patrick said about DMX cables, make sure they are the real thing not mic cable, people make that mistake all the time and then blame the system or what ever, because it works fine and then starts acting up.
Regards
Rupert Mac



Thanks to everyone for the help. I know about the cable issue and I'll be sure to get the correct cables and the terminators as well. Again thanks for all the help.

~Marque
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