Recently I had a chance to speak with Michael Lee from Terminal Design, a lighting company working in the television industry. Michael's using MIDI Designer Pro to control his DMX lighting system on the set of a major network TV show!
A Grim Omen
Here is a picture of MIDI Designer on the set! I'm not allowed to tell you what show, or even the network, that this is going on at. The network is being weird, and I don't want to cause any trouble for Michael. I can say that the network is the same one that's brought us some of the best original comedies in the last 10 years, one of which they repeatedly fucking canceled. The show Michael works on is a "police fantasy" drama. Check your local listings.
My conversation with Michael was eye opening. I had no idea how much effort was involved in the lighting for TV and film. While the industry can get away with a lot of effects in post-production, it remains the domain of the lighting crew to get many things right; such as shadows from an explosion, or gun shot, or the illumination of a distant lightning bolt across an actor's face.
Whenever you see an actor flipping a light switch, that light switch isn't attached to anything. No one trusts an actor to flip a light switch correctly. With the massive crews involved in any major production, if something goes wrong it can cost the studio hundreds of thousands of dollars in a very short amount of time. You aren't going to leave that shit up to the fickle whims of some actor.
To make sure you turn on a light when you really need that light to turn on, you have professionals do it. Firstly you need gaffers, and you need those gaffers communicating to folks like Michael. At the end of the chain that kicks off as soon as actor reaches out for the light switch, it is Michael who really "flips" the switch. Michael does that on an iPad running MIDI Designer!
Trade Secrets: 1 for $3, 2 for $5
While MIDI Designer only speaks CoreMIDI, the setup between the iPad running MIDI Designer and the DMX system is proprietary. Michael really doesn't want me talking about that either. So much secrecy in the TV industry! You'll have to take my word for it, it's quite cool. I was surprised to learn how he handles the communication. It isn't a simple ad hoc WIFI connection!
In addition to lighting the stages at unnamed TV shows for unnamed TV networks, Terminal Designs also handles live events. There Michael also makes use of MIDI Designer, and in a more creative capacity. He's able to mix colors on the LED lights in the same way we mix audio channels. Once again with the mobility afforded to him by an iPad. What a great use of existing technology to do new and unconventional things!