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Old 12th September 2005, 06:40 AM   #1
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Default DIY Stage Lighting?

This may seem like an odd idea. I'm in a trio and we've got this idea to make a stage lighting system. At this point, hiring or training a lighting technician is not an option. Another advantage to this project is that it's portable and we can use it anywhere such as community centers, halls, etc. where kids of all ages can go and do not already provide adequate lighting. I know exactly what I want, but maybe someone here can shine some light on the situation. My system consists of two parts, the controller and the rig.

The controller will be a flat pad with on/off switches. Think Dance Dance Revolution or the giant piano in the movie Big. The difference is that those are momentary switches and I want toggle action. The controller will basically be a floor mat I can activate with a tap of my foot. I will look silly... at the expense of great showmanship.

The "rig"... right now... my idea is to have a rubber strip that lines the edge of the stage. The strip contains strings of numberous LEDs pointed diagonally to light the band. Unlike overhead spotlighting, this won't light the stage itself. But with a proper arrangement, we can get close to full coverage. Because this strip is lightweight, it might be possible to tape it to the ceiling (just an idea). Another thing that just popped into my head is how to light the audience... y'know... those annoying beams that always get you in the eye. If the rig/strip is on the floor, there's no way it can cover the audience above their knees.

In addition to the LED dim/mood-lighting, it would be nice to tie in conventional lighting such as typical high output lighting cans. Anybody have any ideas, constructive crit, or just to tell me it's not worth it?
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Old 12th September 2005, 05:44 PM   #2
Previously: Kuei Yang Wang
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Default Re: DIY Stage Lighting?

Konnichiwa,

The manual control rig sounds fun, but be sure to build a simple "chaser" (perhaps with some additional patterns and 8 Channels) with a simple beat controlled Sound to light and a classic "light organ" style sound to light controller into this, for when the feet get tired. A good idea is usally to have the foot (or hand) controller as "override", which allows you to lock in the whole rig onto one colour.

Secondly, the lights.

Bright LEDS, I'm not sure this will fly well enough and be bright enough, cost aside.

Here is what we used to do in the "old days", when near "no money" conditions.

Option one

Especially good for bands is to use the outdoor Halogen Floodlights, you can take four left & four right and bolt them to a crossbeam that fits onto a standard speaker stand, very portable, fairly small and a LOT of light. You can get fairly cheap lighting gel foils to colour the these, just fit between glass and frame. Use Red, Green and Blue to allow any mix colour and add any fourth that you particulary fancy.

The downside is that these will operate at mains voltages.

Option two is much safer and adds the option to choose "spotlights", but means you have to deal with huge currents, which might exclude electronic switching. For that you get the cheapest 12V add on Car Spotlights (as spots) and Car Fog Lights (as a more of a "flood" type light. Again, bolt to a suitable crossbar that fits onto standard speaker stands and due to the 12V you are really, really safe.

If you get electronic halogen lighting transformers with build in dimmer via control voltage you can just use a bunch of these and a very simple DC voltage based controller. Again, you can use commercial lighting gel foils to colour these lights.

I used to use similar systems way back for small gigs with flightcases that came apart as two identical size pieces with the car spots bolted against the walls and with transformers on board (so still using mains based controllers). These Flightcase pieces used standard speakerstand hardware (socket for stand) and where about the same as a speaker in size, so you used only one lot of standardised size hardware, interchangable stands and all that.

If you want to manage without stands than making the Lights vertical columns that stand on the floor can work well too, you would need some fold-out feet to make sure they don't fall over.

Anyway, this may give you some ideas....

Sayonara
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Old 12th September 2005, 07:45 PM   #3
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We've already started working on a system for the drummer. My friend made a device with a piezo pickup that will be able to light something every time the kick drum is hit. And it has an on/off switch because there's only certain parts where we want this. I like that better than "sound-activated" because I'm not exactly sure which sounds will activate the lights. This is physical and provides light when we need it.

Also, the same guy came up with an idea to make two pedals. One to control the tempo and one to step through the sequence of lights. This would be useful because it will sync up to the different tempos we play. And all the sequences would be preprogrammed. At show time, he can tap in the delay and then let it run through its program. I think my manual foot pad can override this.

If I'm working with main voltages, how do I go about switching them on/off? Do I just place a switch between the light and the power plug? And then just leave the light on, using the switch to activate it?

I didn't provide my budget earlier, but you got the right idea. I'm going for cheap and simple. This is just a gimmick that we may or may not stick with.
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Old 12th September 2005, 08:19 PM   #4
Schaef is offline Schaef  United States
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Well, here are my thoughts, and this comes from a) doing theatrical lighting design and b) working with a professional lighting designer.

First, if you want cheap, LEDs are definately NOT the way to go. They won't throw enough light if there's any ambient light around. You'd need 50 or more per color, to get the equivalent of one lighting instrument. Kuei's idea of using spotlights, is much better for this.

Secondly, your idea of using only foot lighting, unless you're a goth or death metal band, is also a bad idea. Lighting from a low angle like that will give you a sinister look with very odd shadows. So, unless you're looking for this look, you'll want higher lighting angles.

Thirdly, the controller idea isn't bad, but, again I agree with Kuei, you'll want some form of automated controls as well. If you want some ideas, do a search for stage lighting dimmer packs, some of the companies put their schematics online. In particular, I know Leprecon portable dimming packs are online. (That's what we use in the theatre I work with) You can see how they control the mains current, and just change the microcontroller end from DMX to whatever you want. You could even do a MIDI controller on there, and if you have a keyboard player, they could control it.

Finally, you should check out what's available for DJ equipment, if not necessarily to purchase, but to get ideas of how they do things. The biggest concern I would have with some of your ideas are your and your audience's safety. Remember, this equipment needs to work well in lots of situations, several of which won't be the best (in fact, probably most) situations to be working in. Not to mention ease of tear down and set up.

Okay, I lied, I had another thought after typing the above. Taking Kuei's idea of floods a little further, you can make a poor-man's par can quite easily. Get your hands on the big cans of ground coffee, drink the coffee, and after your hands quit jittering, cut the top and bottom off one can, the top of a second. Cut a hole in the bottom of that can, mount a standard incandescant lamp fixture in the bottom, run power out the back to a standard grounded plug. Tape the second can (now a tube) to the open end of the first can, paint the whole thing flat black. You now have a lighting instrument that can be aimed and cost you just two cans of coffee, one lighting socket, some tape, and some wire!

Hope all of this gives you some ideas and help!
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Old 12th September 2005, 09:52 PM   #5
Previously: Kuei Yang Wang
 
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Konnichiwa,

First, you really need to some reading up on lighting in general and projects, plus electrical safety.

Start here:

http://www.epanorama.net/links/lights.html

Working with mains based lights and controls can be done quite safely, but you must know what you are doing.

You can pick up a really cheap 300VA diecast aluminum floodlight including bulb for around 10 Bucks, like Homedepot.com Model WQ300.

You can get (I hope, we used to) lightbulb colouring lacquer, the high temperature version quite cheaply and you can literally laquer the glass, or you can get colour gels for commercial stage lighting.

If you use a red, a green and a blue floodlight and you point them so that coverage mainly converges you can use dimmers to "mix" any colour light you wish.

You do need to get the switching and dimming at mains levels handeled SAFELY, there is an implication of responsibility and culpability.

Somewhat more expensive but also more flexible (mix flood/fog lights with spots) are Car/Auto "driving lights", "headlights", "angel eyes" et al. Just find the cheapest discounter or get them from car scrapyard. You usually can find, or get included matching soneguards which are excellent to hold on colour gels.

As these spots tend to be 12V/55W you can, once you have the commercial 300VA++ 12V Halogen light transformer with CE and UL safety rating for portable use, do pretty much anything you like, safely as you are using only low voltage.

True, currents are way up, around 5A per 12V spot , but you can of course use standard car relays to control them, if you don't mind the noise (I do). But even at 5A using Triacs (BTW, triacs are the electronic AC switches usable for both low and high voltages, look them up) is not a big deal.

Past that, light from below is indeed a bad idea, unless you have some from above, how many stage shows have you seen with lights from below? Equally, even very basic lighting used sensibly can imeasurably boost the appeal and experience of live music, especially if it is a bit dark.

Now that we have agreed on light at the very least from the front but better from above and given you a choice of "safe but fairly expensive 12V" and "dangerous unless implemented to strict safety guidelines but inexpensive 120V" a last bit.

I have, in use small band gigs the following functions usefull.

A modern lighting control desk (even a small one) will usually have all these functions or at least most, in my days behind the Iron curtain we had to make our own.

1) A number of lighting "szenes", that means a preset combination of the various spots/floodlights which can give the stage (and band) a fixed combination of lighting where you do not want "blinken-lights". This may slow or ballade type songs, small pauses between songs, announcements and during other integrated programs. I found 3 - 4 scenes selectable via a foot controller a good choice.

2) Sound 2 Light in a way where low frequencies drive one colour set of lights, mid another and treble another, based on sound intensity. These used to be known as "Light Organs" and you can still find simple kits and plans for these on the net.

3) Sound 2 Light "Chaser", that means the lights are turned on sequentially where usualy the "bass kick" from the drum triggers the switchover.

I could think of a simple system that would use a flightcase with 3 of the dicast floodlights mounted and readily available controllers with chase and S2L functions of the stand alone kind, with a build in microphone and fully insulated, (these are often cheap and available from "semi-pro" or better "bedroom" DJ Supplies) build directly into the flightcase, together with a set of domestic in wall rotary dimmers (3 or better 6).

Then control with suitable relays (standard mains lighting types) the selections between "Chase", "S2L" and "Scene 1" and "Scene 2" and "Off" via low voltage foot switches. Ideally all the controlers are build into the flightcase and have no metal parts touchable by the users, then all you add is a suitable mains cable and the 5-Wire multicore (low voltage) to the foot controller.

The light scenes are set on the stadard dimmers, the chaser and S2L sort themselves out by having on-board microphones, so no connections to the sound system is needed.

I think a job like that could be assembels at less than $ 200 (budget stands included), if you use kits for S2L & Chaser and work hard to keep the flightcase cost minimal. And the whole thing could be made to be VERY safe, electrically speaking.

Sayonara
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Old 12th September 2005, 10:03 PM   #6
Previously: Kuei Yang Wang
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Konnichiwa,

Quote:
Originally posted by Schaef
Okay, I lied, I had another thought after typing the above. Taking Kuei's idea of floods a little further, you can make a poor-man's par can quite easily.
The Actual genuine "PAR" Lamps are usuable in simple "cans" by virtue of including a reflector. The black can only helps to get rid of some scatter light. Real PAR Aircraft Landing Light Lamps are quite expensive (especially PAR64), when I did stage light we had them all replaced by just metal reflectors with replacable cheap halogen bulbs to safe cost & weight, but such "Par-Can's" give rise to serious safety concerns nevertheless as they all are mains powered.

The ones you suggest would require reflector bulbs and would be of questionable electrical safety on stage.

Something some guys I knew did (we oureslves NEVER did that) was to string 10pcs 24V Car Spots in series and run them directly of the mains (in the US you could use cheaper 12V Bulbs)!!!!! Given that the way Car Spots are build it is near impossible to insulate the lightbubb from the spots metal parts the solution was to bolt them to the frame with plasti bolts and washers and leave the metal parts LIFE!!!! and just covered somewhat, somehow and after a few month on the road much less so....

So please, if improvising light fixtures stick to 12V transformer insulated approaches.

Sayonara
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Old 12th September 2005, 10:16 PM   #7
Previously: Kuei Yang Wang
 
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Konnichiwa,

Here a quite advanced, but quite cheaply to make 8-channel Lightning board, using 0-10V interface technology:

http://sound.westhost.com/project62.htm

Sayonara
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Old 12th September 2005, 11:16 PM   #8
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Good stuff, guys.

My intended use for the floor controller was for "scenes". I'm not trying to go all out with sweep effects or chasing (maybe in the future). I just want there to be ambient light (not plain white house lighting) with powerful floods here and there for emphasis. There will not be any rapid-fire strobes or complex dimming procedures. Maybe have a panel (square foot in size) that will cycle through my predetermined colors. Then have another panel/pedal that activates the flood or effect light. I'm not sure how to make the actual panel/switch though. It needs to be fairly flat (don't want to trip over it). And it will be connected by a wire to a main control unit somehow.

Okay, the ground effects and LEDs are no longer being considered. Although I think LEDs would work fine in near-complete darkness, ambient light will ruin that. I was just trying to come up with non-conventional methods.

I have no problem building my own cans and retrofitting bulbs into them. But I'd just like to mention I want to use as little power as possible. I like the monitor stand idea. For the band, I'm thinking red and yellow on one side of the stage and blue and white on the other. I think the colors would mix well in the center. I could probably spring for some cheap moving lights on the audience side, what do you think?

We do have a keyboard player. He mentioned something about a MIDI to CV convertor? He's an engineer, so we have some experience with microcontrollers. But we're clueless about how to build the controller and then controlling it between the three of us.

I'm going through all these links and trying to get some ideas.
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Old 12th September 2005, 11:42 PM   #9
Previously: Kuei Yang Wang
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Konnichiwa,

Quote:
Originally posted by noodles
My intended use for the floor controller was for "scenes".
Then you need a dimmer per lamp which can be controlled by a well insulated voltage and the ability to switch between several scenes, that is banks of Pot's (commercial gear tends to use sliders, but no reason why you cannot use rotary controls, which keeps cost and work on frontpanels to a sensible limit.

The Midi to Voltage boxes are a good possibility, in that case you can sequence the whole light stuff, but they are not that easy to build and you need 0-10V controllable dimmer packs.

From experience, use at least two lightening sets, left & right of the stage each with 3 - 4pcs $ 10 Floodlights.

With 3 each side in close proximity the colour mixing works MUCH better than with very widely spaced lightsources. Having a fourth light "spare" means you can use a seperate colour or indeed white on top of the RGB matrix.

Quite frankly, $ 80 on 8 pcs of stage lights is small enough money.

Quote:
Originally posted by noodles
I'm not trying to go all out with sweep effects or chasing (maybe in the future).
Funny, that is actually the "easy stuff".

Quote:
Originally posted by noodles
I just want there to be ambient light (not plain white house lighting) with powerful floods here and there for emphasis.
That would suggest a basic "lowish light" scene via dimmers with an override for each floodlight to get single colours, again these can be put on "autopilot".

Quote:
Originally posted by noodles
I'm not sure how to make the actual panel/switch though. It needs to be fairly flat (don't want to trip over it). And it will be connected by a wire to a main control unit somehow.
The way this is done professionally is to have the actual controller which sets different scenes and has chaser effects, S2L etc.

You then have the actual dimmer packs, which control the light intensity from nothing to full tilt and get their control signal from the controller.

The various "over-ride" footswitches are connected to the controller and actually merely tell it what of it's on board effects to select.

Quote:
Originally posted by noodles
But I'd just like to mention I want to use as little power as possible.
Then you get very little light, or you need to make a lateral move.

You could use traditional fluorescent lighting tubes as on/off or dimmable light sources, simply wrap gel foils around them, but the lack of light direction control and the fragility compared to lightbulbs makes this exceedingly problematic.

Quote:
Originally posted by noodles
I could probably spring for some cheap moving lights on the audience side, what do you think?
There is very little that makes a lot of sense and reasonably affordable.

Quote:
Originally posted by noodles
We do have a keyboard player. He mentioned something about a MIDI to CV convertor?
This means you tie the light control directly into the sequencer/keyboard system.

Sayonara
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Old 13th September 2005, 01:39 AM   #10
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You may not be able to build a fully portable, fully functional lighting package. However you may not need a full fledge system but rather interesting "sweeteners" to what a house might already provide, this would have the advantage of being more fun (in terms of building and implementation) and have a slightly more reachable goal.

12v MR16 lamps using LED's http://www.superbrightleds.com/MR16_specs.htm have a good deal of output but not as much as a halogen. You'll spend a good deal in car batteries if you use a lot of these but they will give good light and they fit into little theatrical mr16 parcan fixtures that are very inexpensive. Also you can just get the base and because the reflector is part of the lamp, you can mount them to anything you want.

If you want to switch linelevel power from a footplate or similar you may want to look into using good quality relays, they are another cost but it might be useful to cut down on high voltage wiring underfoot.

You could incorporate http://tomscarff.tripod.com/midi_lig...controller.htm into midi triggers placed underfoot and attached to drums and such, then control it through a sequencer. This gives you the ability to run sequences with different switches rather than just changing colors. Also the switches would then be low voltage without the need for relays.

Its a big but fun job. Look online for a topic called "ShowControl" which may have interesting information regarding midi triggering lights.

Milo

edit: Computer froze and now slightly out of date.

In the world of lighting, like sound, or music. you get what you pay for. Dont get cheep intelligent lights, they aren't that intelligent.
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