The Power Of Three
A Pro Tech Shows Off How SFX, Enttec and Light Factory Work In Harmony During A Production
By Ra Byn Taylor

What: Integration of sound cues and light cues on one machine, single go button.

Where: Jubilee Theater, Ft Worth, TX   USA

Who: Audio/Lighting Consultant Ra Byn Taylor and house technician Michael Pettigrew

When: 2008-2009

How:  Using SFX from Stage Research and Light Factory from Enttec, plus various Enttec hardware interfaces, the board op can press a single go button to take lighting and sound cues, and there is redundancy for both programs on a second identical machine.

Jubilee Theater has been in operation for 28 years. Most of the shows written and produced by the company are musicals, generally including a live band. In 1993 the company moved from its original location to a small 147 seat theater at the center of downtown Fort Worth in Sundance Square.

Ra Byn Taylor recalls how he got involved in there:

"One day in 2007, I received a call from the sole tech/operator/carpenter/ld/sound person/scenic artist/etc..Michael Pettigrew, requesting my help in relocating their speakers to the ceiling of Jubilee Theater. When I arrived I was surprised to see that he was using a 2 scene ETC console to run month long show runs. His only sound playback hardware was a 5 disc CD changer. He was located in a booth along with the 24 channel ETC sensor rack behind glass which made an incredible amount of noise due to it's cooling fan.

Anyone who has ever run a show on a 2 scene light console knows you have little time to do anything else, much less trigger sound cues, mix a band, etc.. So I went about formulating a plan to relocate the speakers but also had many thoughts about how their production rig might be upgraded & with minimal cost.

Running lights from behind glass maybe fine but running sound from behind glass is not, so  I suggested that we might move his rig out of the booth and just behind the last row of seats.  The problem was that the 36 channel ETC console was too big to fit the available space along with the other gear that needed to be there. So space was the first issue, and  the next issue was that Michael had never used a computer.


I had heard about PC-based DMX lighting control a while back and went searching on eBay for an option. I found many, but the one that seemed ideal as far as price and features was the Enttec Light Factory Starter Pack Pro kit. It came with a 36 channel license and the hardware needed to control the existing dimmer rack. I purchased it and when it arrived, we tested it and it worked perfectly. We now had the ability to control the lights in a footprint that would fit the available space.  This is good news because the very next show brought  in a freelance lighting designer who expected to be be able to program the lights and not just give Michael some notes about basic looks. In fact we realized that that lighting design would have been impossible without some sort of automated lighting control.

There was also the issue of sound playback.  I'd been using SFX (made by Stage Research) for quite a while and was excited to realize that SFX & LF would talk to each other. This combination offered a rare chance to integrate the separate cue lists (lights & sound) & run a show from a single GO button in SFX.  I loaned my SFX license / dongle & along with the newly acquired Enttec/LF starter kit & set about teaching Michael to program the next show on an old Dell laptop donated by someone in the office.  I wondered if the old laptop had enough resources to run both applications but it worked fine. We literally ran the rest of the season with both applications running side by side on this same PC with no issues.

For those of you who might be interested in integrating SFX & LF in a similar fashion, I'll describe how we've successfully done it & say that there are probably other methods that would work.
 

First, we program the light cues in LF just as if the show was to be run in LF.  At first Michael & I would go thru in SFX & build X amount of LF cues via the TELNET feature. For example, if we needed 90 LF cues, we'd build one LF cue, test & then copy it 89 times. Then we'd have to go back thru the cue list in SFX & change each command line to specify each cue. Before doing this, all 90 cues would all trigger LF cue 1. After we finished, we'd have 90 cues that all trigger a specific LF cue, 1 thru 90.  After doing this manually a few too many times, we built a 100 LF cue SFX cue list. Meaning that we only had to do this one time. From then on, we just start by loading our LF cue list template. Then we drag & drop our sound cues where ever they go within the LF cues.

On our first attempt to control LF from SFX, we found that IF a LF cue wasn't complete & we attempted to trigger the next LF cue, LF would ignore it.  This was a major issue because it meant that the timing of LF cues triggered in SFX was dictated by how they were programmed in LF. Fortunately, LF provided a work around that solved the issue. Instead of triggering the LF cue list directly from SFX, we loaded the cue list into what LF calls a show runner. This required a slight adjustment to the TELNET command line of each LF cue within SFX but worked perfectly. Now LF cues could overlap without any trouble.

The specific telnet command to trigger a specific cue via a LF show runner is:

crunner 1 1 ignore the parenthesis
(show runner cue list 1, cue 1)
crunner 1 50 ignore the parenthesis
(show runner cue list 1, cue 50)

If you're going to run both applications on the same PC, you need to set up an internal IP address. Typically this would be 127.0.0.1. This address would be selected in LF under File/System Properties/Network Interface & in SFX, you would be entered the same IP address of 127.0.0.1 into the TELNET

To make a long story short, the show came & went without a hitch & Jubilee purchased their own SFX license & dongle.  Keep in mind that both applications were running side by side on the same 5 year old Dell laptop. This was the case for the rest of that season."

The Jubilee ran for over a season with the combination of LightFactory and SFX, running both on the same computer, showing that the resources being used up are not too great for a medium priced laptop.  Now, however, they are trying to integrate the two computers to have a live tracking backup for each program. There are a variety of ways to do this, but Ra byn believes that they have finally settled on the one which will be most practical and intuitive to the operator who would have to swap between them in the event of a failure.

Hardware List:

(2) modern PC computers

Jubilee chose laptops due to cost, space and the onboard battery backup.

(2) Enttec ODEs
(2) Light Factory Limited 36 channel licenses
(2) SFX licenses
(1) Linksys wifi router

The new solution which is now finding favor incorporates the HTP Merge capability built into firmware 1.6 and higher of the ODE.  This allows for merging the output from the two Light Factory licensed computers into one DMX output, which then goes to the dimmer rack down a single cable. They can mute the sound coming out of the backup computer (SFX) and have the Grand Master down on the LightFactory rig, and only bring those up if they need to swap over.

This frees up the extra ODE they originally bought for a different scenario to act as an input device, allowing many submaster handles to be used when writing the cues using the old ETC console that has been collecting dust in the closet. Ra Byn says, This is good because now he has the best of both worlds: a consistent show from night to night; but also the hands-on control during setup & tech. Having the console inputting also allows for visiting lighting designers to have access to the dimmer rack without having to learning Light Factory. So far, no one has had any problem learning Light Factory though.

He plans to construct a white paper with detailed descriptions of the many steps they took along the way to this goal, that can be used as a roadmap by other theaters to achieve the same goals.