ETCnomad console – a Monstrous review.

If you’re a lighting design student or want to become and are debating whether or not to buy the “ETCnomad Educational package here are some pros and cons that I experience from using it on a regular basis to build the Creek monster habitat.

Pros

  • Your laptop is the console.

“You can program and run shows anywhere.”

Or in our case, a computer from the department of theatre and dance that lived in our lovely control shack. Take a look of this great video of me opening it:

control-shack-CM

The convenience of having the full capability of a console in a single USB key was a great advantage as we couldn’t have a board in the woods for obvious reasons.

ETC USB key and software for HOG, EOS and Cobalt picture by ETC

Besides, you can download the software on any computer and work on creating your color palettes, effects, magic sheets, etc offline allowing the programmer and designer to multitask.

LIVE magic sheet
  • The educational version includes the Gadget II

The Gadget II allows you to spit 512 channels (one universe) at a time with the two-port DMX/RDM to USB it has. Ideal for small to medium shows, installations, and events

Gadget II picture by ETC

The ETC website reads:

“It includes a base ETCnomad lighting controller key and a Gadget II 2-universe USB to DMX/RDM interface. The tiny USB key plugs into a computer, turning it into a flexible controller that runs Eos-family software; ETC Cobalt-family software, HighEnd Systems Hog software. The Gadget connects the computer to your lighting system’s DMX/RDM devices.”

Which brings me to the next PRO,

  • You have full access to the HOG PC software

If you want to get more experience with HOG now you can as the key allows you to use it as a console as well

  • Affordable

Hardware and software for lighting are expensive, but students and educators only pay the $250 cost of the Gadget II

“The recommended retail price for the ETCnomad Education package is $250 (+ tax), which is the usual retail price of a Gadget.”

Here are the cons of the Educational package

Cons

ETC says the base version of the nomad, which is the one included in the student package, unlocks 1024 outputs or channels. However, it only allows you to control 512 at a time. I do not remember if it was because its the student version or if it’s the gadget that only allows 512 at a time.

ETCnomad is available in a base or unlocked version. The base unit supports 1024 outputs while the unlocked version supports 6144. 

  • You can’t use the High-End Systems super widget

Since ETC bought High-End one would assume you can use High-End products with the ETCnomad, but you can’t. You only have those 2 DMX outputs unless you buy or rent another gadget or a DMX brain.

Final Thoughts

Even with the few cons, the educational package of the ETCnomad was perfect for our needs. The price is very attractive for students, the portability depends on how big your computer is, and the versatility is something that I wish more companies would provide. Just keep in mind that you only have 512 channels available and 2 outputs when you’re designing/programming.

I’m definitely one with my next paycheck.

Reflections on Leaves, illusion, and interactivity.

Standing under the trees watching thousands of people emerge from the creek path and view our Monster Habitat for the first time gave me perspective on the process of creating this exhibit. The ground cloth, that I had been staring at up close under bright fluorescents for the last six weeks, transformed under blacklight to the glowing sea of leaves it was always meant to be.

 In the scenic studio

The fully lit installation

Young children played joyously in the blue glow. They tossed loose leaves and chased each other back and forth across the leaf cloth–until one of them tripped and fell.

We created an illusion of real leaves, an effective mirage, and we invited the public to interact with it. The illusion worked a little too well. The young guests wanted to drag their feet through the leaves, to kick them up in the air. The adults wanted to see how every aspect of the installation worked, to tug and pry at the illusion. As a theatre technician, it is my job to help create the appearance of reality on stage for the delight of audiences, but only knowing participants have physical contact with my work. The actors who interact with the things I build are aware of the illusion and take pains to maintain it. Perhaps the results of audience participation in the illusion should not have surprised me, but they did.

At first I was saddened by the crying child and the ongoing deterioration of the leaf cloth and other parts of the installation. However, the tears dried up, and my classmates and I patched up our creation. The tripping children were not careless; they were taken in by the mirage. Even the adults were not willfully destructive; they acted childishly out of curiosity. Sure, next time I work on an interactive exhibit, I will strive to make it stronger and safer. For now, I think the ability to play and wonder is worth a few tears and some elbow grease.

Working at the installation site

ETCnomad console – a Monstrous review.

If you’re a lighting design student or want to become and are debating whether or not to buy the “ETCnomad Educational package here are some pros and cons that I experience from using it on a regular basis to build the Creek monster habitat.

Pros

  • Your laptop is the console.

“You can program and run shows anywhere.”

Or in our case, a computer from the department of theatre and dance that lived in our lovely control shack. Take a look of this great video of me opening it:

control-shack-CM

The convenience of having the full capability of a console in a single USB key was a great advantage as we couldn’t have a board in the woods for obvious reasons.

ETC USB key and software for HOG, EOS and Cobalt picture by ETC

Besides, you can download the software on any computer and work on creating your color palettes, effects, magic sheets, etc offline allowing the programmer and designer to multitask.

LIVE magic sheet
  • The educational version includes the Gadget II

The Gadget II allows you to spit 512 channels (one universe) at a time with the two-port DMX/RDM to USB it has. Ideal for small to medium shows, installations, and events.

Gadget II picture by ETC
  • The ETC website reads:

“It includes a base ETCnomad lighting controller key and a Gadget II 2-universe USB to DMX/RDM interface. The tiny USB key plugs into a computer, turning it into a flexible controller that runs Eos-family software; ETC Cobalt-family software, HighEnd Systems Hog software. The Gadget connects the computer to your lighting system’s DMX/RDM devices.”

Which brings me to the next PRO,

  • You have full access to the HOG PC software

If you want to get more experience with HOG now you can as the key allows you to use it as a console as well

  • Affordable

Hardware and software for lighting are expensive, but students and educators only pay the $250 cost of the Gadget II

“The recommended retail price for the ETCnomad Education package is $250 (+ tax), which is the usual retail price of a Gadget.”

Here are the cons of the Educational package

Cons

ETC says the base version of the nomad, which is the one included in the student package, unlocks 1024 outputs or channels. However, it only allows you to control 512 at a time. I do not remember if it was because its the student version or if it’s the gadget that only allows 512 at a time.

ETCnomad is available in a base or unlocked version. The base unit supports 1024 outputs while the unlocked version supports 6144. 

  • You can’t use the High-End Systems super widget

Since ETC bought High-End one would assume you can use High-End products with the ETCnomad, but you can’t. You only have those 2 DMX outputs unless you buy or rent another gadget or a DMX brain.

Final Thoughts

Even with the few cons, the educational package of the ETCnomad was perfect for our needs. The price is very attractive for students, the portability depends on how big your computer is, and the versatility is something that I wish more companies would provide. Just keep in mind that you only have 512 channels available and 2 outputs when you’re designing or programming.

I’M DEFINITELY BUYING ONE WITH MY NEXT PAYCHECK.

If you are ready too, click here.

10 Weeks Later…

To say the least, this was one monster project…(*ba-dum-tssss*)

I recall our first official class this previous September: I was totally overwhelmed by our tight timeline, the scale of our project (compared to the size of our class), and quite frankly whether we were going to be able to pull off a project like this, period. Prior to this Creek Monster class, I had never worked on a project that required so much time, attention, coordination/cooperation, money, resources, etc. I am a Studio Artist by trade- therefore, I am accustomed to working independently, and on a MUCH smaller scale. I think that is part of the reason I was so interested in signing up for the class. I didn’t have a clue about production design or fabrication, and my knowledge of 3-Dimensional art was limited. I had taken one wood-shop class my Freshman year of College where I designed and hand-crafted a breakfast tray…that’s a lot different than a 10 ft tall monster Habitat. However, despite my lack of knowledge in these areas, I knew that this class was an opportunity that I couldn’t resist. So I went for it!

The most valuable thing I was taught, (or rather was burned into my brain), during this class, was the art of prototyping. I honestly don’t think I could tell you how many prototypes our class made collectively..but believe me when I tell you that it was a lot! Working as an independent artist, I never understood the importance of prototyping. Let me clarify: I always made sketches before starting a project, just so I have some initial direction. But that’s the thing: when you work independently, you can change your direction relatively easily AND whenever YOU want to. This mindset was very difficult for me to overcome. Honestly, that was the greatest challenge I faced during this class: to learn how to communicate, cooperate, and find time to work with my classmates and the eye team, (which I was part of). Unlike most classes at UT, this class wasn’t just a random group of students, it was a team. And without each team-member playing his or her essential part, there was no way this project could have been pulled off. It takes great responsibility, ownership, and maturity to understand this and take action. 

In my opinion, one of the greatest takeaways from this project is the experience. This class has given me the opportunity to create a project, (one that is larger than I have ever made), for an audience of over 50,000 people. The experience of working with such a fun, creative, dedicated team is something that I am very grateful for. I am thankful for the Texas Applied Arts program for creating this amazing class. In all honesty, I don’t think I would ever have the opportunity to work on a project like Creek Monster without this program. To be able to say that I was part of creating the Creek Monster Habitat for the 2019 Waller Creek Show is a great honor. 

Thank you to all the classmates, mentors, professors, guest artists, and volunteers that came together to make our Creek Monster Habitat such a successful exhibit. Cheers!

Creating a Voice for the Monster

At the start of this project, I felt like I was drowning. There was so much to do, so much direction to follow (or little depending on how you look at it), and so little time. Creative liberty can be a blessing and a curse. I have never had to work on such a large-scale project with so little direction as to just “make the sounds”. So many things can result from this, particularly a lot of ideas being scrapped or adjusted along the way. My journey as an artist has been very independent up until this point: I have always created for myself and have been guided by my own desires for the most part. Detaching from this mindset and having the flexibility to adapt to what was needed for the overall vision is perhaps one of the most important things that I have taken away from this, a learning experience for sure.

Trees above the entrance to the monster den.

I worked specifically on creating the entrance music for the exhibit. Coming up with the concept for the soundscape was not too difficult, but the collaboration and coordination between everyone else and myself was something I was not necessarily prepared for. It is hard to hear that what you made is not what the creative lead was looking for, but that’s just a part of the process. Pushing towards perfection is not easy when you are trying to portray someone else’s vision, but listening and taking in things you might not have thought of before can create something new and beautiful.

Image result for sea lion
A sea lion.

My team, the sound team, was tasked with creating a voice for the monster as well, something quite high pressure in the grand scheme of our work. We went through many iterations, always looking for the perfect sound and continually failing at it. Some were adequate, but we still needed something more. It wasn’t until a suggestion by guest artist James Ortiz that we honed in on what exactly we needed. He suggested sea lions, something I would have never thought of, and I found a great sample that I was able to transform to what is now the voice of our creek monster. Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places from the strangest of ideas, and I’m grateful that this was able to become my mark on this project.

This project has been one of the best experiences I’ve had the chance to partake in as a creative, musician, and aspiring professional. So many moving parts contributed to what would become an amazing exhibit that really defined what being a student at UT is all about. In the end, I believe everyone has a creek monster within them, some just might need a bit of commitment and direction to find its voice.

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Habitat and Homelessness

There is a strange phenomena in the art world, where in many instances, the created work begins to reflect current issues that may not have been part of the original aim of the project. I feel like this was the case with the Creek Monster Habitat (CMH) installation for this years Creek Show, where the intent to draw attention to ecological themes related to Waller Creek began to highlight deeper issues of homelessness and displacement in Austin. Especially the need for people to recognize the term “homelessness” as somewhat of a misnomer. 

It really wasn’t until we got to our load in day on site that I realized the “habitat” we were highlighting is much more than a home for flora and fauna residing in and around the creek. As I watched people, who obviously lived along the creek, walk up from the wooded trails, past our installation, and out into the city beyond, The idea of habitat became much more far reaching. All of a sudden, the habitat we were calling attention to was also a home for human beings. 

With this realization, it began to feel somewhat surreal to be setting up an art installation celebrating the development of a park that surely will have consequences on land values near its boundaries. Unfortunately, displacement is not restricted to homeless populations, blue collar workers, or even affluent tech entrepreneurs, and as Austin continues to attract more and more wealth, it will become progressively more difficult to find affordable housing. Maybe I am overthinking things, or looking too deep into the meaning of the CMH, but in reality, this is what art is all about. Finding personal meaning in the unexpected. In this case, being in such close proximity to the creation, setup, and execution of the Creek Show event provided me an unforeseen perspective on the idea of habitat extending to the growing homeless population in Austin. 

I’d say it was the first night of the event, as I sat huddled near the warmth of the command station on site that I realized just how metaphorical the CMH had become. No longer was the habitat simply a final stop for the annual Creek Show. Instead, the installation represented a social commentary on the common idea of home, and place, as being something other than a habitat. But isn’t that was a home is? A habitat? And isn’t it true then that a person residing along Waller Creek, or even on the streets of Austin, should have their place of residence respected just as someone who might live in a brick and mortar? 

These are very complex questions, and I can see how they could be easily misconstrued. I am not picking sides, nor am I trying to make any grand statements on the solution to homelessness in Austin. I am simply reflecting on my experience with the CMH, and the thoughts that arose as I took part in the course. If I had to make a suggestion though, it would be this. Maybe the term “homeless” or “homelessness” is too loaded a term. What if instead we found a way to describe those who don’t live in what is normally considered a home as still living in a habitat. I mean, we talk about habitat restoration all day long in Austin, and the Waterloo Greenway is in many ways an ecologically driven plan, but there is something amiss. Personally, there is still much reflection to be done on my experience with the CMH, but I have walked away with a new respect and appreciation for all life that call Waller Creek their home.

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Troubleshooting with a Master

Working with Davin Huston as a guest artist was an excellent experience.  As a fellow electrician, maker, tinker and fixer, it was amazing to see kindred spirit join the team to help us solve some of our hardest problems. 

                Davin is an Assistant Professor of Practice at Purdue University in the School of Engineering Technology, Purdue Polytechnic, as well as in the Department of Theatre.  Davin was kind enough to be involved early in the process through Slack and Skype.  When we had to switch directions on our eye control, he was the one who shinned the light down the Raspberry Pi path.  When we found out that the sources, I choose weren’t bright enough, he was the one who came up with the plan to fix it with LED tape. 

                It was great to work so closely with someone who is a master in their field and in the skill of troubleshooting.  While I learned a lot from Davin while he was in the trenches with us, the most important lesson was how to have such an amazing attitude under pressure.  And pressure was the one thing we had a surplus of.

I look forward to the possibility of working with him in the future on another crazy project!

Davin Huston

Cheers to you Davin!

humbly submitted by Bill Rios

Creating the Circuitry of the Monster Eyes

Now that the code is done, we need a way to turn the bits into actual light! This ended up being a much more complicated task than I had anticipated.Since we decided to use Node RED on a Raspberry Pi, the LEDs would be controlled by the the output pins on the board. I originally thought that we could use a consumer product to power the LEDs, but after some research, I couldn’t find any products that would be as versatile as we needed them to be for our particular application. This required me to design my own solution.

A schematic of the LED circuit.

Using knowledge I had learned in a previous class, I designed this circuit, using a driver chip called a Darlington Pair transistor array. This is essentially just a set of switches that can be controlled by the output pins on the Raspberry Pi which is exactly what we need. This also allows us to use whatever power source we need to drive the high powered LEDs we planned on using.

The power distribution board completed.

After many hours of soldering, I finally completed the final power distribution board, which is basically the circuit above, times 8. I decided to use RJ-45 jacks as the output of the board so we could use standard ethernet cables to run the power from the control box at the base of the nest to the eyes mounted on the side. The actual LEDs were mounted on small boards with another RJ-45 jack mounted to it, and the wires soldered together.

Testing the final product!

It works! Well kinda… The reason we ended up not using this system on the final product is that I unfortunately miscalculated the voltage that the LEDs required to achieve the brightness necessary for the design. They needed to be very bright not only to shine through the plastic and paint of the actual eye, but also to not get drowned out by the theatrical lighting. In the end we used extra LED tape we had lying around controlled by the DMX controllers used for the nest lighting. All was not lost though. We still used the Raspberry Pi’s and accompanying code to control the small eye boxes which were plenty bright enough as is.

If I were to start the project over again, I would have done many things differently. I really enjoyed using Node RED so I would definitely used it again. However, I would have used a higher voltage power supply to drive the LEDs and used resistors to drop the voltage to the exact amount that each color of the LED required for full brightness. I would have also used an actual custom designed printed circuit board (PCB). This would have reduced the amount of time needed to solder all of the circuits immensely.

I would like to thank everyone that helped me with this process, Bill, Adri, Chris, and especially our incredible guest artist Davin Huston. Not only did he help out in the design process, but he also was in town for the entire installation process. He greatly helped troubleshoot all of the problems that we had with my original design and he came up with the alternate solution that we ended up using in the end. I learned so much from him and can’t thank him enough.

I would also like to thank Karen and Delena for making this whole project happen and giving me the opportunity to learn and work with all of the great artists in the class.

Bringing the Monster Eyes to Life With Node RED

Creating a living, breathing environment for the Creek Monster Habitat is a fundamental design element that will be achieved through lighting and music. One very important part of the lighting system is the monster eyes.

Originally, the plan was to use an Arduino to control the multiple eyes of the design. After consulting our wonderful guest artist Davin Huston, we decided to use a Raspberry Pi running the Node RED software instead. This platform is much easier to program with, since it’s a graphical code editor.

This program takes a CSS color input as a string, and outputs its red, green, and blue components to individual output pins.

In addition to this RGB LED driver code, we need a way to tell each set of eyes when to trigger, and what color they should be. Sending the commands over our on-site network using the OSC protocol, a central control Raspberry Pi orchestrates the effect of the monster popping up in one place at a time.

This portion of code activates an eye set one at a time at random, continually looping.

Since this was the first time I had used Node RED, there was a little bit of a learning curve. Previously, I had only used low level programming languages such as C, and this graphical version of Java is much more complicated than I am used to. After getting to know the interface and watching a ton of tutorials though, I was able to put together a program that met the design requirements.

The code is only one half of this system though, and the actual hardware to make the eyes light up will be its own major challenge. Stay tuned for my next post on how all of the LED circuitry will be designed and built!

Feeling Comfortable in Our Skin

Upon entering the Creek Monster classroom for the first time, I expected to be following a blue print that had already been laid out for me of what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. I was in for a total shock. I quickly realized that I would be learning how to build this monster along side my professor and TA. This little tidbit terrified me.

When my teammate and I were assigned to each other with the task of creating the nest skin for our structure, we felt more than a little in over our heads. In the beginning, we were pretty sure we would have to weave the base of the skin ourselves, and for a two person team, this was very daunting. Ultimately, with a little help from our Professor, we found a great alternative! Bamboo sheeting!

The next two months were filled with splinters, sculpting with nontraditional materials (our different plant species that made up our nest walls), and being a little too brave on ladders. Our biggest struggle was trying to find time when we two chronically busy, artsy people could get together, but we ultimately made time on Saturdays and early mornings before class.

We accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time for two very short people and I could not be more proud!