Remote Controlled Spotlights
Created for The Playmill Theatre (2022)
The Playmill Theatre has an incredible history as a small and intimate theatre, but one thing we are always lacking is space. We have always had to find creative solutions for all staging and technical problems that originate from the building being too small. I’ve redesigned the entire technical system multiple times at The Playmill—including projection, sound, and lighting systems—but I’ve always wanted something in particular… spotlights.
Of course, traditional spotlights don’t work in our space… we don’t even have the luxury of having our sound mixer run the show in the house, so we definitely don’t have room for spotlight operators. We have always been limited by the capability of lighting at The Playmill due to spacing and lighting configurations. Without spotlights, we are severely
An ADJ FocusSpot 5Z moving light being used for remove-controlled spotlights.
restricted by what we can accomplish through lighting, especially when wanting to create darker scenes where spotlights would normally be essential.
With that in mind, I created a software package to remotely control moving-head lights. Each light was outfitted with an infrared webcam (secured with a mount designed and 3D-printed by Sam Merrill) connected to the main technical booth. On the computer was software I had written to translate Xbox controller input into movements and controls for the lighting fixtures. Each spotlight had its own monitor showing information about the light (such as brightness, connectivity, and zoom levels).
Control for each aspect and parameter of the light could be granted or locked through the main lighting console. Even in complete darkness, the infrared cameras and monitor crosshairs allowed operators to be incredibly precise in their positions and movements.
I’m very proud of the work done to take the technology featured at The Playmill Theatre to the next level. This new addition allowed us numerous opportunities to increase our storytelling capabilities while expanding our toolset.
I am currently in the works of creating a software package that could be rented out to other small venues that face a similar situation.
Below is a demo of a scene showing what the two spotlight operators saw while running a song in Disney’s Tarzan.
A video demonstrating how the spotlight operators follow each actor during a scene of Disney's Tarzan. The Playmill Theatre, 2022.
Another example of the user interface for each spotlight during a moment of the pre show at The Playmill Theatre.
I'm a live entertainment designer, composer, computer programmer, and frozen treat enthusiast with lots of stories to tell and a wide variety of ways I like to tell them.