The Student Perfoming Arts Shop is the home of a small Computer Lab, the function of which is to support students in the study and practice of Design for the Theatre and the research and development of computer based design tools to enhance dramatic lighting in live performance.
Virtual Lighting Design Lab
What is it?
The Virtual Lighting Design Lab is powered by a suite of unix programs known as Radiance. Given a description of the physical objects and light sources in a particular scene, Radiance
performs ray-tracing operations to generate a realistic rendition of the scene. The more detailed the description, the better the quality of Radiance's output.
A number of interfaces have been developed for Radiance in the Virtual Lighting Design Lab that enable users to model theatrical lighting designs without the need to learn the complex commands used to run Radiance. These interfaces attempt to mimic real life experiences in the way they operate. Virtual Lighting control consoles (BoardX and Textboard) are modeled after real control consoles found in various campus theaters. The tools used to place and aim lighting fixtures (Electrician, getpos.lsp) show the stage from the point of view that students would have if they were on a ladder or up in the grid, hanging and focusing instruments in the theater space.
Why is The Virtual Lighting Design Lab necessary?
Each semester, Penn sees as many as 50 performances by cultural and performing arts groups on stages all over campus. In addition to actors, singers and dancers, each performance needs a trained technical staff to handle lighting, sound, and other backstage needs.
The most effective way for students to gain skill and experience with lighting techniques is hands-on. Unfortunately, installing and preparing the lighting for a large production is both expensive and time-consuming, and students are rarely afforded the opportunity to correct their mistakes and apply the knowledge they acquire to works in progress.
Working with Virtual Lighting Design, students can gain practical lighting design experience without access to physical resources. When working on actual productions, virtual mistakes can be corrected before any lighting instruments are rented or configured. The Virtual Lighting Design Lab provides educational opportunities that were previously impossible, and greatly reduces the amount of physical labor involved in preparing for a production.
AutoCad, a design and drafting application, and other computer modeling tools begin the process. An AutoCad blueprint for set pieces and lighting instruments can be transformed directly into a Radiance description. More sophisticated features can be introduced into to the process, such as the ability to add movable human figures to generated scenes.
After the model of the scenery has been input, the designer can then "focus" and color the lighting fixtures using the Electrician interface. The designer can then begin building "cues" by adjusting the number and intensity of the fixtures used with BoardX or TextBoard.
With the right combination of tools, Radiance makes a powerful tool for learning about lighting design. Students can create their scenes in AutoCad, add lighting effects, and see realistic previews of the action without ever setting foot on a stage.
What is LightWeb?
LightWeb is a web-based tool for rendering theatrical scenes under controllable lighting conditions. LightWeb is part of an extensive virtual theatrical toolkit currently being developed under the supervision of Peter Whinnery of the Theater Arts department.
How does LightWeb help?
LightWeb provides a single, uniform, user-friendly front-end to Radiance's lighting features. A browser-based tool, LightWeb is accessible from anywhere in the world, and no complicated commands are required. Designers can generate scenes from their own productions, and students can use pre-generated template scenes. Once the scene model is complete, LightWeb provides control over all of the lighting instruments used in the scene. The LightWeb user can control the intensity, color, and type of each instrument. This provides designers with the ability to preview scenes exactly as they will appear on stage. If colors blend poorly,shadows are cast in inappropriate places, or coverage of the stage is uneven, the designer can simply change the position of the lighting instruments used in the scene, and see their changes reflected on screen immediately.
How does LightWeb work?
LightWeb is implemented as a set of Perl scripts that interact with the Radiance rendering toolkit utilities. The entire system currently runs under Linux. The LightWeb Perl script generates JavScript which in turn renders the control console in a browser. When a user clicks the Render button, LightWeb uses Radiance to generate the requested scene, and sends the image back to the browser for the user to review and make additional changes.
The PAC Shop Computer Lab consists of:
- Twofer - a duel 600 Mhz Pentium computer that acts as Web Server, File Server, and main rendering engine.
- Flyrail and Leko - 733 Mhz Workstations running Linux and Windows NT respectively
- Parcan and Sidearm - 233 Mhz Workstations providing printing services and additional terminals to Twofer.
- Stagescrew - 486 w/ 133Mhz upgrade chip. The Autocad box.
- Tophat - PowerMac 7100 - Fax, Word Processor, email
- CD Burner (Leko)
- HP DesignJet 450C - Large Scale Plotter
- HP Deskjet 1600 - Printer
All the computers are on a LAN and connected to the Internet via DSL through a Netopia router.