Intelligent Lighting Usage

- Jul 24, 2017 -


Five moving yokes lighting up a mirror ball

Intelligent lights (now commonly referred to as automated or moving heads), can be used wherever there is a need for powerful lighting which must be capable of rapid and extreme changes of mood and effects. Moving heads would, therefore, be inappropriate in a setting which does not require strong lighting (such as a home) or where the qualityof the light required does not vary excessively (although it may need to be very strong for a venue like a stadium). Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, most notably the use of large numbers of moving heads for international sporting events, such as the Commonwealth Gamesor Olympic Games,where many thousands of separate automated fixtures are often used to light the opening and closing ceremonies. The 2008 Summer Olympics, in Beijing, had a rig of around 2,300 intelligent fixtures which is "the largest single automated lighting system ever assembled for a single event"

Usually, however, the use of intelligent lights is confined to theatre, concerts, nightclubs, and churches where the versatility of these fixtures can be utilised to its best extent. In these applications, the uses of fixtures can be informally grouped into two categories: active and passive (although these are not standardised terms).

Passive use of automated lighting involves utilizing their versatility to perform tasks which would otherwise require many conventional lights to accomplish. For example, six to eight moving heads can create a textured blue nighteffect on the stage floor while applying amber light to the actors during one scene - this can create a sensation of dusk or night. At the flick of a switch, the fixture can change to an animated red fireeffect for the next scene. Attempting this transition with traditional lighting fixtures could require as many as thirty instruments. In this circumstance, the automated fixtures are not doing anything that could not be achieved using conventional fixtures, but they dramatically reduce the number of lights needed in a rig. Other features of automated fixtures, such as rotating gobos, are also possible with conventional fixtures, but are much easier to produce with intelligent fixtures.

A Martin MAC 250 entour (profile - top) and MAC 250 wash (wash - bottom).

Active use of automated lights suggests that the luminaire is used to perform tasks which would otherwise require human involvement, or be simply impossible with conventional fixtures. For instance, a number of moving heads producing tightly focused, pure white beams straight down onto the stage will produce a fantastic effect reminiscent of searchlights from a helicopter (especially if a smoke machine or hazer is used to make the beams visible). To recreate such an effect without intelligent lights would require at least one human operator seated directly above the stage with a followspot, which would generally be considered to be too expensive for such a small effect.

Moving head fixtures are often divided into spot, wash lights and beam lights. They vary in use and functions, but many companies offer profile and wash versions of the same model of light. Profile lights generally contain features like gobos and prisms, whereas wash lights have simpler optics and a wider beam aperture resulting in wider beam angle, which may be altered by internal lenses or frost effects. Wash lights are more likely to have CMY colour mixing although it is common for high-end spot lights to have such features too. Spot units are generally used for their beam effect (usually through smoke or haze) and the ability to project texture, whereas wash lights tend to be used for providing a stage wash

A Martin MAC 250 Entour (profile - top) and MAC 250 wash) wash - bottom). Notice the difference in beam characteristics caused by the gobo of the Entour and the wider beam angle of the wash.

Beam lights are often built much like the spot in terms of functionality aside from one key difference, beam lights use a wide lens to make an even more extreme beam. A typical spot has a beam angle from 15 to 35 degrees, whereas an average spot has a beam angle of three to seven degrees with some high end companies producing lights with zero degree beams. Such beam effects are less seen in the theatre industry and more in the club and concert industry.


· Not all the light fixtures that have movement can be defined as intelligent. Basic club lighting is not controllable beyond a choice of on or off. This lack of features makes these lights only a small step above a conventional stage lighting instrument.

· Moving mirrors are faster than moving head fixtures. However moving heads are visually more interesting and have a far larger range of movement. The movement from mirror lights tends to be rectilinear, because the center of movement for both axes is usually in the same place, while one axis of a moving head luminaire describes a circle (usually called "pan") and the other (the "tilt") changes the diameter of the circular movement. In early luminaires a pseudo rotating gobo effect could be achieved by moving the tilt in line with the other axis and then moving the pan from end stop to end stop.

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