Backstage Heritage Collection – Talks – March 2015

Computers in Entertainment – Rob Halliday

Thursday 12 March 2015 7.30pm
National Museum of Computing, Bletchley, Milton Keynes


Entertainment lighting for theatre, television, concerts and spectaculars has long adopted and then pushed the boundaries of other technologies for its own purposes, whether that technology be gas, salt water, or modified Compton organs…

From the late 1950s, lighting started embracing computer technology for the advantages it brought – particularly instant storage and recall of lighting states. Strand Electric, the British company that had long been the leading supplier of stage lighting equipment world-wide, had to jump from developing electro-mechanical control to computer control – a move at which it ultimately triumphed, though the cost led to the company being taken over by the larger Rank organisation.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the technology as implemented by pioneering engineers at Strand and their rival, Thorn, and a few other pioneers around the world managed to stay just ahead of the very particular demands of lighting professionals as lighting rigs grew more complex and shows more demanding with the advent of colour television studios, rock shows, the arrival of the National Theatre in London and, beyond that, with the rise to prominence of moving lights and enormous arrays of LED lighting fixtures.

In this talk, Rob Halliday will look at how computers moved into entertainment lighting, from pioneering systems such as Strand’s IDM up to the remarkable Lightboard created for the National Theatre, which still has some tricks that the current generation of PC-based control systems in use today can’t replicate. The common link across all of these systems: lighting’s critical need for things to happen right now, right on the beat of the music or the snap of an actor’s fingers, not a few moments later when the computer decides it’s ready.

The Speaker:
Rob has spent more than twenty years working as a lighting programmer – making the technology deliver the desired lighting on stage – and lighting designer on shows around the world. He also writes about the technology that has shaped the entertainment industry for Lighting & Sound International magazine, and is one of the founders of the Backstage Heritage Collection, which is attempting to preserve and document this kind of historic lighting equipment. Before running away to the theatre he actually completed a BSc in Computer Science; his attempt to escape that has been somewhat thwarted by the rise of computers in the entertainment world!


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