Three Automated Fixtures Put to The Test
By David Martin Jacques

Copyright © 2001 by David Jacques

Published in the October, 2001, issue of Church Production Magazine


In past articles I have discussed various options for integrating automated lighting fixtures into your church (February and May/June, 2001). We examined high, moderate, and low-cost automated lighting options. Although a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of these fixtures is helpful in educating the first-time user, nothing compares to a thorough test in a professional production environment to prove the value of automated lighting.

This summer I had the opportunity to test three different automated lighting fixtures at the Central City Opera in Central City, Colorado. Three radically different fixtures in capabilities and price were put through their paces. These fixtures included the Rosco I-Cue moving mirror and City Theatrical Auto Yoke (fixtures that attach to existing incandescent spotlights), and the High End Studio Spot (a dedicated automated fixture with it's own HMI light source).

As these three fixtures are so different in capabilities and price, this review is not meant to be a "head-to-head" comparison. In fact, these fixtures were chosen by me to fill specific needs in the lighting design for the opera season and each has their advantages and disadvantages depending on the design requirements. That is one reason why there are so many different models of automated lights.

The Central City Opera repertory light plot must accommodate a very tight turn-around schedule. Three different operas with three different designs are scheduled to run in repertory. One show could have a matinee performance with a different show performing the same evening. The third show could have a matinee on the following day. The scenery and lighting could have as little as ninety minutes to change from one show to another.

Due to this quick turn-around it is necessary to efficiently refocus and recolor the lighting in a very short amount of time. This is where automated lighting can help tremendously. Instead of manually refocusing conventional spotlights between shows, the various focuses and colors are preprogrammed into the lighting console and the automated lights can move to their new focuses instantaneously. In addition, due to their focusing flexibility, automated lighting also reduces the amount of separate lighting fixtures dedicated to special uses like highlighting specific moments.

As I only had a total of six automated lighting fixtures (two of each type), I specified the fixtures to be hung on the farthest downstage pipe or 1st Electric. This was to allow for the optimum focusing flexibility for special uses (see picture #1). From left to right: The Rosco I-Cue, City Theatrical Auto-Yoke, High End Studio Spot, a Pani Projector used for the opera Glorianna, the second Studio Spot, Auto-Yoke, and I-Cue.

I based the review criteria on certain critical factors. The overall dependability of the fixtures is a very important quality. We were able to thoroughly test this as the Central City season runs from June through August with two performances a day plus technical rehearsals. The fixtures experienced a great deal of "real-world" use in a very short period of time. I also factored in the set-up time, flexibility, accuracy, noise, and ease of use for each fixture.

Rosco I-Cue
Rosco Laboratories introduced the I-Cue this year to rave reviews. Rosco was able to develop a low-cost automated option for churches and theatre companies with moderate lighting budgets. As discussed in my previous article for Church Production Magazine, the I-Cue is a relatively simple automated device consisting of a moving mirror that can be attached to an existing ellipsoidal reflector spotlight.

The I-Cue setup was simple. The attachment fits easily on a standard Source Four, or in this case, Altman Shakespeare spotlight (see picture #2). There is a cable that attaches to a power supply and a DMX cable that sends positioning data from the lighting console. After setting up the proper addresses, the I-Cue is easily controlled using two channels on the lighting console.

The I-Cue has a bonnet above the mirror that masks unwanted spill light that misses the mirror. Unfortunately, this bonnet is not big enough to mask all the light when you use a spotlight larger than a 30-degree beam-spread. It was necessary to extend the bonnet with black-wrap so all the spill light would be masked (see picture #3).

Two weeks into the production one of the I-Cues started to periodically twitch, causing the beam of light to suddenly jerk across the stage. This was diagnosed as a bad connection in the power-supply and a replacement remedied this problem. However, a more serious problem occurred four weeks into the season. During a lighting session we lost control of one of the I-Cues. When we brought the pipe in we discovered that the two screws that hold the mirror motor assembly to the fixture had worked their way loose a quarter of an inch (see picture #4). We replaced this fixture with a spare and have not had this problem re-occur. We sent the fixture back to Rosco so they may determine why this happened. As the other I-Cue has not experienced this problem, I assume that this was just an anomaly.

On the positive side the I-Cue proved to be an outstanding performer--especially considering its price! The fixture was extremely fast, silent, and accurate. Although limited to just the basic pan and tilt parameters, the I-Cues were useful in filling in areas of the stage with washes of light. I was able to delete twelve spotlights from my original light design with just two I-Cues, and still have the flexibility to tweak the focuses from scene to scene.

City Theatrical Auto-Yoke
I must state that this fixture was the "Star of the Show"! The Auto-Yoke is a device that you attach to an existing spotlight (in this case a Source Four) and will remotely pan and tilt, focus, and iris the fixture. In addition, we installed a color-scroller on the front of the light, which enabled us to remotely change colors (see picture #5).

Setup of this light was quite painless. Due to its multiple control devices (yoke, iris, focus, and color-scroller), more time was necessary for initial assembly. All the separate devices in the Auto-Yoke system daisy-chain into each other and into a central power-supply. The protocol set-up was easily loaded into the lighting console, making the operator control intuitive.

What makes this fixture so impressive is its silent operation and extreme accuracy and dependability. We had no problems at all with these fixtures and they proved to be the workhorses of the design. Their focus and iris control allowed us to use them for both area washes and specials. We could create a tight focus and iris to a pin-spot, or open the iris and soften the light to create a soft area wash. Its movement was extremely smooth and accurate as it routinely hit its marks from show to show. Surprisingly, it is also quite fast for an automated yoke.

High End Studio Spot
The Studio Spot has been around for some time now (see Picture #6). Unlike the I-Cue and Auto-Yoke, the Studio Spot is not an accessory that you mount on an existing spotlight. It has its own self-contained 575-watt HMI source, making it a very powerful light indeed. I specified this fixture because unlike many of its competitors, the Studio Spot has a wide-angle lens option that is ideal for the small stage at Central City. The Studio Spot also has an intensity control douser, multiple rotating gobos, dichroic color wheels, automated zoom, iris, focus, and pan and tilt. Due to these features it is also significantly more expensive than the I-Cue or Auto-Yoke.

The Studio Spot is used by many of the leading designers for good reason--it is dependable. Other than replacing the lamps, we had no problems with these fixtures. Again, set-up was a piece of cake. The fixture protocol was already pre-loaded in our lighting console. It's just a matter of setting the switches and go! We used these fixtures for everything from special gobo pattern washes to tight, intense specials (see Picture #7). The color correction filter worked wonderfully-allowing us to transparently mix the arc source into the incandescent sea of light (see Picture #8). It helped that I color-corrected the area light closer to the HMI source to begin with--but that's another article.

The Studio Spot is also a silent performer. The ventilation system uses exceptionally quiet cooling fans (necessary in an arc-source fixture). The operation of the fixture at the console is also user-friendly-considering the many DMX channels required to control this light.

One additional comment regarding this test: We used an ETC Expression 3X for our lighting controller with its automated lighting software installed. There are several lighting controllers available with this capability to choose from. I strongly suggest that you engage a professional consultant before committing to a specific lighting controller to insure that it will keep up with this technology.

The I-Cues, Auto-Yokes, and Studio Spots added a significant amount of flexibility to the lighting design for this year's Central City Opera season. This was the first time in the 140-year history of this opera house that such advanced technological lighting fixtures were used. All three models performed admirably, and due to their performance, I am certain that they will be incorporated in future productions at Central City.