Lighting System Update

It's been a few months since we finished the largest lighting system upgrade I've ever been a part of, so I thought I'd give you an update. For those not familiar, our original lighting system was bought used over 10 years ago. Not  in great shape from day 1, and having been installed by well-meaning but less skilled volunteers, it was on it's last legs. Of the 72 installed channels of dimming, 42 of them still worked. And many of the house light dimmers, when turned up to full would intermittently turn off. And we had a single line of DMX running from the booth to Fleenor opti-splitter on stage, and then everywhere else. It was a mess.

We had electricians in the building for almost 12 weeks running completely new wiring. I don't know how many feet of 3/4" conduit they bent, but the original bundle of pipe was as big as my car. We are now wired for 144 channels of dimming, 120 of which is accessible via 20 Socapex outlets they installed. The remaining 24 went to house and utility lighting. They also installed a bunch of Cat5 for the ETC Net3 control system. Net3 will handle all modern lighting protocols, including up to 64 universes of DMX on the single Cat5. I figured that would be enough for a while. We have a mixture of Net3 gateways and dedicated DMX ports installed throughout the room, making it easy to get the right universe of DMX right where we want it. Each of the ports is easily configurable as well via software.

Finally, we installed the Paradigm architectural control system. Whereas we used to have an old conventional lighting board in the tech booth for the sole purpose of turning on and off the house lights without needing to fire up the Hog, we now have two 10-button switches; one in the back of the room, one on stage. In the booth is a cool new LCD touch screen. The 10-keys have 9 presets plus Off available so facilities can come in and work without needing to fire up the conventional board. We can even run our mid-week services from the presets. In the booth, we added a bunch of functionality to the touch screen, such as the ability to lock the 10-keys out and six additional programmable presets for simple events. We can also control our stage area lights, color back lights and ColorBlasts via the touch screen. It's now easy to whip up a simple look for a memorial or other outside event without even firing up the Hog.

Paradigm will also do timed events, and as such, we have one event set up that turns all the lights off automatically every night at 11 PM; it also unlocks the 10-keys at 1 AM (in case we forgot to), and if we need other events set, we can easily create them via a web-based interface. To say we are happy with the new system is an understatement. We're thrilled. Because we can run the house lights at full (and because of the new Extra-Wide lenses we put on them), our room is almost twice as bright as it was. We no longer have a rat's nest of power and DMX cable running all over the place, and we have much more control over the system. Here's a bit of a pictorial tour of the journey.

Old Truss Wiring This is a glimpse into what our truss once looked like.Because we had so few dimming circuits over the stage, and because of their location, we had extension cords running everywhere. Many of the lights were tied together with two-fers, and some of them had melted together. There were DMX cords everywhere as well.

Some of the cords we pulled This is about 20% of the cords we pulled out of the catwalk & truss.Based on the size of the pile of wiring once we stacked it all up, I'd guess we pulled well over a quarter mile of cable out of the house, truss, and catwalk. We're still trying to figure out what to do with it all...

The empty truss We pulled everything down.We decided to just pull all the lights and cable out of the truss, and then do some re-configuring of the truss itself. We had a couple of 10' sections that extended over the wings that weren't useful, so we hung them downstage. We dismantled a couple of pretty sketchy pipe drops that held some of our side lights and moved those instruments to the newly hung truss segments. It looks much better now.

Conduit Our electricians were artists.This is the main "highway" of new conduit. It's our projection room. The guys from CSI Electric did an amazing job and were fantastic to work with. Anytime we hit any kind of a snag, we were always able to work out a solution. "We can't do that," was never in their vocabulary. Having great electricians is not a luxury on a project of this scope.

Conduit bends This is my favorite section of conduit in the place.I just love how those guys took such care to make it all beautiful as well as functional.

Old wiring Here's a glimpse into the old world.Behind the beautiful new conduit, you can see that bundle of wires hanging out of the wire chase. That was the old lighting system. We have hundreds of feet of wire chase up in the ceiling, much of it looking like this. Rather than run conduit, which is the right (albeit harder) way, they just ran wire chase. Someday, we'll take the sawzall to that...

ETC Sensor Racks It all ends here.All that wiring drops into the big gutter above the racks. The rack on the left is home to the Paradigm controller, a POE network switch and a patch bay. We have 20+ network outlets in the house & stage and can easily route DMX or any other protocol to any of them.

It would take another 20 pictures to really do the new system justice. However, trust me that it's wonderfully done. My goal with the design was to create a system that would last Coast Hills for 10-15+ years without any significant upgrade, and I think we accomplished that goal. We even planned ahead so that when we're able to make the switch to LED lighting in the house and stage, we're ready for it. The final phase of the project, in my mind anyway) is to replace the Hog with something a little more volunteer friendly, like a Jands Vistsa. But that's another post...