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Remote Controlled Spotlights

Designed for The Playmill Theatre (2022)

Hardware/Software Engineer

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

An ADJ FocusSpot 5Z moving light being used for remove-controlled spotlights.

lighting configurations. Without spotlights, we are severely restricted by what we can accomplish through lighting, especially when wanting to create darker scenes where spotlights would normally be essential.

Something I’ve learned as a designer and tinkerer is to create a blue-sky “dream” design and then invent the technology to accomplish it. This is something that I’ve always been encouraged to do at The Playmill Theatre.

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.

Here is a demo of a scene showing what the two spotlight operators saw while running a song in Disney’s Tarzan.

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.

Spotlights - dual spots.png
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