Technical Theatre/Lighting/Automated Lights

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Automated lighting is very popular within the industry because of how versatile it is. Instead of having to rig and focus many generic (non-automated) fittings with different coloured gels or gobos, designers can now use one light to get the colours they desire, with the benefit of having many more features. (Such as gobos, the ability to move the lights for visual effect.) Combining the differing properties in different ways gives the user the ability to create different looks, feel and effects using just one fitting. Originally, automated lights were commonly known as "intelligent" lights. Many in the lighting industry felt this was mis-leading as this type of fitting does not do any "thinking", they do what they are "told" to by the control desk. This is done via the DMX512 protocol.


Almost all automated lights have many and various functions and capabilities. For example, an automated light might have several different colours, pan and tilt functions, zoom, gobos, and shutter options. Usually each of these properties is assigned a DMX512 channel by the firmware in the light itself. Eg.


+0 = Intensity (Usually acheived with a shutter.)
+1 = Colour (Usually, dichoric glass colours placed on the outside of a wheel.)
+2 = Pan (Side to side movement.)
+3 = Tilt (Up/down movement.)
+4 = Gobo (A beam shapng device.)
+5 = Zoom
+6 = Focus
+7 = Control (Lamp ON/OFF, Reset.)

Firstly, the fitting must be assigned a DMX number, eg 10. This means when the control desk changes the value of channel 10, the intensity of the light (shown as an example above) will change also. Channel 11 will change the colour, 12 will make the light move left and right, 13 will tilt the light, 14 will change the gobo and 15 will change the zoom.

Exactly how the changes are made and to what degree vary from light to light, manufacturer to manufacturer.


There are many pros to using automated lighting:

  • Time saving:
    • Focus can be done from the desk.
    • Fewer fitting required to rig as gobo washes or specials.
    • Fewer power cables to run.
  • Aesthetics:
    • Far more looks available to the operator or designer, this is the major reason for using them.


There are also a few cons to consider:

  • Expense: automated lighting costs far more than generics to purchase or hire. An experienced technician is required to program automated lights.
  • Weight: usually far heavier than an average generic.
  • Reliance on a DMX chain: one malfunctioning DMX lead can prevent an entire rig from functioning.
  • High maintenance: automated lights have many moving parts and so require a good maintenance schedule.