Kinetic Lighting: Offering Numerous Options For Design

The movement that can be created with kinetic lights isn't found in any other production element. Large synchronized movements can be very impressive and feed into the energy of the room.

Ever wonder, "How did they do that!"?  Kinetic lighting is one of those gorgeous lighting tools, that until recently, has been hard to break into.

A good hoist design can play off of depth, creating not only multiple heights of fixtures, but also corresponding rows of fixtures.

In the past, it has required a huge budget and a ton of expertise.

We are going to delve into what kinetic lighting is, how to create amazing kinetic designs, how to work with kinetic lights, and how to fix issues when they arise.

Kinetic lighting is an awesome design fusion. A DMX-controlled motor lifts a DMX controlled LED luminaire. This allows for a moving orb, column, or dot of light that can change position vertically on the stage. This makes it incredibly easy to create lots of different sets or positions, with a small number of fixtures. These movements can be programmed to follow a specific path and are able to create incredible movements that are amazingly energetic!

There are a few different DMX hoist manufacturers, but most kinetic lights are built in a similar fashion. They are built around a central shaft that is moved by a low voltage motor. A Kevlar-coated cable then winds around this shaft. This cable does the lifting of the LED orb. At the end of this lift cable, there is a connector to attach the LED and a circular stop. This stop helps the motor set its position.

At startup, the hoist will retract its lift line, until the circular stop forces a momentary switch on the bottom of the hoist to engage. This sets the top limit for the motor. Within the Kevlar-coated cable, there are low voltage wires that drive the LEDs that are attached to the bottom. All of the electrical components for the LEDs, other than the diodes themselves, are built into the box that houses the motor. This keeps the weight low on the hoist, enabling it to move faster.

The flexibility of Kinetic lights helps to create lots of incredible options for design.

The movement that can be created with kinetic lights isn't found in any other production element. Large synchronized movements can be very impressive and feed into the energy of the room. The places these shine even better, though, is in the slow subtle movement they achieve. Imagine a wide, tall look. One that has lots of high beams of light, with bright orbs near the ceiling in a celebratory song. Then that song transitions into an acapella chorus. The lighting slowly fades to a low light with the hoist moving very slowly into a lower position. This lower position creates a visual ceiling. The 3,000-seat room you are in can quickly appear as a small room with low ceilings.

For more energetic moments, effects using the height of the hoist can create visual waves, fan outs, and convergences. Further than that, with some good effects building, you can create effects that look like endless movement up or down, by alternating dimming and height effects.

One key consideration to design with DMX hoists, is depth. As with other forms of lighting, the more depth you have, the more visual options you will be afforded in your design.

A good hoist design can play off of depth, creating not only multiple heights of fixtures, but also corresponding rows of fixtures. For example, a back row could be at 5 feet, a middle row at 10 feet and a front row at 15 feet, which creates a raked feel to the stage. Intermix this with some lighting, and you can have an outstandingly moving visual.

One of the keys with depth, however, is to ensure there are adequate numbers of fixtures to communicate the visual. Having too few fixtures will create a sparse look, one that can feel out of place.

Another consideration for kinetic lighting design is height. It is almost always best to have the hoist motors hung on the same elevation.

Since the lift cable winds around a central point, much more lift line is dropped in the first few revelations, compared to the last few. When hanging fixtures at multiple heights, it becomes nearly impossible to move groups of fixtures at the same speed.

Sightlines should also be considered in your hoist design. These fixtures should be evaluated along their entire travel. Many times a hoist or hoist cable can intersect with a front projection cone, creating awkward shadowing on screens. The same can be true for front lighting, but this is typically less of an issue.

Along with the incredible opportunity to create with kinetic lighting there are a few challenges that must be overcome. In many rooms height can be an issue. It is possible to program heights to ensure hoists do not travel fully to the floor. This takes a bit more setup and programing time, but can save a potentially bad day.

DMX hoists are designed to have constant tension on their lift lines. This tension holds the lift line in place around the motor shaft. If there becomes a slack in the line, it can, and most of the time will, become tangled. A tangle in the line creates a maintenance nightmare, which requires the entire motor to be disassembled in order to respool the line.

Sadly, speaking from experience, it does not take long to learn to pay extra close attention to how much tension the hoist has at all times. When in use, the LED luminaire holds plenty of tension to keep the line taught. During installation, setup, and strike, the lift line is typically zip-tied to the motor hosing, to keep tension.

Some kinetic fixtures operate on a proprietary control system that has fail safes built directly into their protocol. These electronic signals (referred to as checksums) ensure that only the correct information is transmitted to the hoists.

When a checksum does not match the data the fixture should be getting, the entire data packet is discarded and no change in control happens. However, many fixtures do operate on DMX instead. This is a much easier way to control, manipulate, and integrate hoists within your design.

One thing to note is that DMX does not have a checksum, so in operation there is a chance that the hoist could receive incorrect information. The best way to prevent this issue is to ensure that the entire data chain for the system is set up using best practices for DMX wiring. The control setup should include a DMX data cable with the correct resistance, DMX termination, and limited fixtures being feed from an opto isolated splitter.

Along with this, it is best to limit the area access in proximity to the hoists. As with any item being rigged from a ceiling, people should not be located underneath during movement.

Since the hoists can technically move at any time, there should be a "safe zone" established onstage to ensure no one/nothing could potentially be harmed, if a failure were to occur.

Kinetic lighting opens a realm of possibilities in stage lighting! This unique element may not be right for every church, but in the right setting can be a visual tool that changes lives!

Want to see some DMX hoists in action? Visit ModScenes.

Looking to learn more, reach out to Steven via email:

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