Popularity has its price, at least in terms of the misconceptions that spring up around an idea that suddenly becomes widely embraced. Such is the case with pixel mapping. Although mapping is in the forefront of lighting design, it’s also often misunderstood.
In this interview, CHAUVET Professional senior product manager Ford Sellers takes an in depth look at pixel mapping, clarifying its meaning and correcting some common myths along the way, while providing us with a guide to pixel mapping friendly products. Sellers also places pixel mapping in the context of a larger trend that is seeing lighting design evolve into visual design in a wide variety of applications. Regardless of your experience level with pixel mapping, we’re confident you’ll find his comments insightful.
Ok, so let’s start at the beginning. How would you define pixel mapping?
“I guess that I’d say that pixel mapping is using individual light sources to make a pattern, or picture. Each light source is a dot or pixel. When you setup an array of dots, to create different patterns or pictures, you are mapping an image. So using an array of light sources to build an image by turning the lights on and off is called pixel mapping.”
Are there any common misconceptions that people have about pixel mapping?
“Yes, lots of them! For starters, many people think that you need special fixtures to do any sort of pixel mapping. This isn’t exactly true. Pixel mapping has been done with all sorts of lights. Some fixtures like our Nexus and ÉPIX Series products were designed specifically for pixel mapping, but others, such as our COLORado and COLORdash Battens, and our STRIKE Series, can be used in pixel arrays, even though they’re more often used for general illumination. Really, what fixtures are used for mapping is limited only by the imagination of the designer, and by constraints of budget and time. It’s much easier to use fixtures like the COLORdash Batten Series, than it is to build an array of par cans. And it is easier still to build a wall of Nexus panels than it is to rig up a large array of battens for mapping.”
Speaking of easy, how difficult is pixel mapping?
“That’s another misconception – the idea that it’s difficult to pixel map. Nothing is further from the truth. At Chauvet, we recognize that pixel mapping is here to stay, and we’re finding ways to make it as easy as possible to open this creative avenue to our customers.
There are so many tools available to designers and programmers for pixel mapping – the biggest challenge may be how to select the right technology for your needs.
For our dedicated pixel mapping products, we have added several features to make pixel mapping easy. Firstly, because we recognize that controlling all of these pixels independently requires a lot of control channels, we added ArtNet to several of our products. This allows the end user to send thousands of control channels down a single cable.
“Once we tackled the limitation of DMX, we focused on tracking and organizing the information. So we partnered with ArKaos to add Kling-Net to our products, as well. Kling-Net allows a fixture to tell the control software (Media Master Express) what size, shape, and how many pixels it has. It then makes drag and drop icons so that you can easily overlay your lighting fixtures over video content. It does a lot of the hard work, especially when you have empty space, and/or irregular shapes in your design, and it comes with a ton of pre-built content to show on your pixel mapped lights.”
You talked about some of the pixel mappable products in the Chauvet line already and you’ve noted that many fixtures can be pixel mapped, but can you give us a brief rundown of the products Chauvet has developed that are specifically geared toward pixel mapping?
“At Chauvet, we started thinking about pixel control a long time ago. LED technology especially acts as an enabler for pixel mapping, because most fixtures are now made with several light sources, anyway. So I would say that the majority of our non-par fixtures could be used in pixel mapping arrays.
“If we describe pixel mappable fixtures as those that have been specifically designed for Pixel mapping, we cut the number of choices down some, but we still have a lot of options. We have three product lines specifically designed around the concept of Pixel control; the ÉPIX, Nexus, and Next series of fixtures.
“If you include fixtures which allow individual pixel control, we would add the Battens from our COLORDash Line (individually controlled Quad and Hex LEDs), the COLORado 4 and Batten Quad-9 to our list. If we added in products with zones of control, that could be used for lower resolution pixel mapping, many of our moving head wash fixtures from the Rogue, Q Series, and Legend lines, and the rest of our COLORado battens would also be included. Even the blinders and strobes in our STRIKE line have pixel and zone control options.”
Why so many different products?
“Pixel and video have become a much larger part of what our industry is doing. We’re seeing a transition from Lighting Design to Visual Design. Lighting is being incorporated into scenic elements, into architecture, into regular lighting, and even into costumes. This means that the potential number of applications for lighting and specifically pixel design are huge.”
Ok so what would you say are the two most common pixel mapping applications?
“The first application that jumps to mind when we think of pixel mapping is live concerts, from club installations to arena tours and EDM shows – and even to small road bands who may only have a limited number of lights that they can carry from show-to-show. Our next biggest demand comes from an application that might surprise some readers — architectural, specifically house of worship installations.”
Can you elaborate on that last point?
“More and more, modern houses of worship are looking for ways to engage their congregations. Using pixel mapping products like the ÉPIX, fixtures allows them to find creative ways to communicate their message. Often, in this application, it is not a question of mapping out letters and words (though sometimes that’s the case) instead, the pixel products are used to move a specific look or emotional value from the focal point out into the audience. This helps to engage people and make them feel like they’re part of the message being presented by the worship leader.”
What are some of the other applications?
“You can see pixel mapping almost anywhere, nowadays. For instance, many restaurants have lighting displays and cove lighting which carry a color change from one end of a room to the other. Television shows, especially award shows, and music shows, use pixel mapping all the time to create huge looks for the camera that carry throughout a theatre or soundstage. For example, on The Voice, you may see large Nexus arrays, but you may also notice that the entire back wall is built with pixel mapped COLORdash Battens, and ÉPIX products run throughout the audience. This allows the lighting designer a huge amount of flexibility. Live sporting events also use pixel mapping to generate excitement by generating movement and low resolution video.”
Are the different pixel mappable products designed to be used together?
“Absolutely. When you are looking directly at pixel mapping fixtures, they work best if they have similar characteristics. For instance, the big, soft, bright pods of light generated by the Nexus 4×4 look great when they carry across a space as large as an arena, and the ÉPIX products also help LDs carry looks and effects throughout a stage, or an installation.
“However you also have to be careful and use your judgment when mixing effects. For example, the sheer power of the Nexus products can easily overpower the subtle effects that you can generate with the ÉPIX. Color must also be considered. For example, the warm white effect that many designers are creating using the Nexus Aw 7×7 looks fantastic, but if you mix in colored units in the same effect, you might not get the result you’re looking for. However, with proper planning, choosing products with similar characteristics to use together in the same effect will definitely help your pixel mapping designs look better.”
What trends do you see in pixel mapping?
“We have been hearing for a decade about the merging of lighting and video via pixel mapping. Now that LEDs make creating individually controlled pixels relatively easy, and computing technology has made the control aspect much easier for designers with products like Media Master, and video servers, this concept is really becoming a reality.
Looking into the future, I believe that we will see more and more designers at every level using pixel mapping to communicate with their audiences.
“We are definitely going to see more pixel mapping not just in big displays, but also in more subtle background lighting. Pixel mapping is an emerging tool that is now easily accessible to lighting artists at every level, and because LEDs can be individually controllable, we are just beginning to see the creative wave of pixel mapping. It has not even begun to crest. This tool is now accessible to everyone, so there will be a lot more use of pixel mapping in all aspects of lighting and visual design, which I suspect will give rise to more and more cool new ways to use this technology!”