How to create a lighting or special effects system.
What do I need to light my space?
Lighting systems for a themed retail environment, a haunted house, or a theatrical event all require the same basic set of parts, connected in a similar way. We often consult with clients who are looking to create exciting effects, and the the question we get asked is, “So what gear do I need?”
What do I need? Simple answer- Lights, effects (like a VaporFlame), Data Cable, lighting board, and power.
The basic parts of your specialized lighting system
Lights- They are available in a dizzying array of types, and selecting the right fixtures for your application can be overwhelming.
Lights come in two basic styles - “spot” and “wash”. Spot lights have a hard edge and focus light very directly. Wash lights are a more broad and will throw light across a general area. LED (or light emitting diode) lights are the most common and easily accessible lights these days. The are also the lights of choice for creating effects due to their ability to change color. LED lights are often described as “RGB.” This refers to the three colors of LED’s that make up the light. Red, Blue and Green. With these three primary colors of light, you can mix nearly any color imaginable.
LED lights can also be combined with fog or fake flame effects like VaporFlame for stunning effects.
Lighting console or controller- This allows you to control and program your lights and special effects. Using your lighting controller you can mix colors in your lights or trigger effects. These are specialized pieces of hardware, that range in price and complexity. Simple controllers that are easy to use can generally be purchased for a few hundred dollars, while complex controllers or can take years of training to master and cost tens of thousands of dollars. A simple setup can be put together and mastered by nearly anyone. Themed retail spaces and halloween creators can build systems consisting of small lighting controllers, LED Lights, and special effects easily. The simplest lighting controllers look like a bank of faders or sliding switches that bring lights and effects up and down.
Data & Data cables- These refer to the cables that carry the Data signal from the lighting console to the light or special effect. Think of it as a network cable that carries a load of information out to the lighting system. Each light or effect is then told what information controls them by the start address. Theatrical lighting systems and effects use a data protocol called DMX or DMX 512. When choosing your lights and controller, if they are marked with DMX or DMX 512, then they will all work together. Lights and special effects will use either 5 pin DMX cables or 3 pin DMX cables. These two types of cables can be interconnected with “turn-arounds” or adapters that have 5 pin at one end and 3 pins on the other. It is really best to use as few adapters as possible giving fewer points of possible failure in your system.
Power- Plug it in. Lights, effects and controllers need to be powered. The data does not need separate power, except in special cases.
How do I make it all…do?
Lighting fixtures and special effects like VaporFlame use DMX channels to separate the information sent by the lighting console. Channels can be used to separate any function of the light or effect. For instance, an LED light with red, blue, and green LED’s might have three channels of control. One for red, one for blue, and one for green. VaporFlame that uses air and water, has two channels of control. One for air, and one for water. On any DMX fixture, there will be a starting address. This is the first channel the fixture should respond to. Remember the simple console with its bank of sliding switches? Each one controls one channel.
A three-channel light set to start at channel one might actually use channel one to control red, channel two to control blue, and channel three to control green. A VaporFlame, (that uses two channels) set to channel one would use channel one to control air and channel two to control water.
More than one fixture can be set to the same starting address. For instance, if you had several VaporFlame Effect Fixtures, and set all of them to a starting address of channel 1, then they will all respond together. Bringing up channel 1 on the controller will make the air channels on ALL of the VaporFlames respond. In order to have each effect unit or light function independently they would each need to have their own starting address. For example If you have one LED light and one VaporFlame effect unit, you would set the VaporFlame to start at channel 1 and the light to start at channel 3. The VaporFlame takes two channels- (channels 1 and 2.) The next free address is then channel 3, so you would set the light to channel 3.
This is usually the point where we see confusion. Each manufacturer uses their own number of channels for their lights, and are usually more complicated than the above example. Check the manual with your lights and effects. This will tell you how many channels you lights need, and what each channel does.
Power your lights. Power your controller. Each light, effect and controller need power. LED lights and VaporFlame Effects take very little power and so many of them can be placed on the same electrical circuit without overloading the circuit, but it’s best to check the manufacturers manuals for more information.
Lights and effects are connected to the controller through the DMX cables. Think of the DMX cable as a path that needs to begin with the controller (where the information starts) and continue to each light and effect. Each light and effect has a DATA IN and a DATA OUT. This lets you connect all of the lights and effects in a singe, long, unbroken chain.
Connect your first DMX cable to the DATA out on the lighting controller, to the DATA IN on your first light or effect unit. Then, connect the next DMX cable to the DATA OUT of your first light or effect to the DATA IN of your next light or effect. Continue connecting each fixture together with the DMX cables. The data coming from the controller should be able to flow into and out of each fixture. The last fixture in you line will have an empty DATA OUT connection. This is where you would add more lights in the future.
How To Address me!
Each light or fixture that you want to control independently needs its own unique start address number.
(Remember our example above? The VaporFlame was set to address 1 and the light was set to address 3.)
Set your DMX addresses using the menu buttons on each fixture. Every manufacturer has their own way of organizing this so check your manual. For VaporFlame we use the MENU button to get to the ADDR display. Press ENTER, and then you can use the UP or DOWN arrows to change the starting address. Press ENTER again and the address is set. Most lighting companies work under a similar system, but check the manual that comes with your gear to be sure.
You do not have unlimited channels to use. Each DMX pathway (interconnected DMX cables) has a maximum of 512 channels. That’s why we call it DMX 512!
Fire it up!
Bringing up channel 1 on you lighting console will bring up the air channel on your VaporFlame,. Bringing up channel 2 will add the water channel. Bring them both up together to get your effect. Adding channels one at a time will let you change colors, and effects.
Simple and Safe.
Be safe when connecting your power. The rest of the system is pretty simple.
Power your lights
Power your lighting controller
Connect all of your lights and effects in a long chain to the lighting controller
Set your DMX start addresses
Bring your channels (slider switches) up on your lighting controller.