Atari in Lights
Theater lighting designer's Atari C.A.D.by MICHAEL CIRAOLO, Antic Associate Editor
Brentano is the stage lighting designer and lecturer for the Drama Department
of U.C. Berkeley. He has also been a dedicated Atari hacker since he bought
his 800 back in the days when it cost $800.
When you think about it, designing the lighting for a theatrical production is a highly information-intensive task. You have to combine dozens of color filters, lights, cables and dimmers in order to get the job done.
"A typical show will require 150-200 lights. For each light you must keep track of the following-name or label, any one of several hundred colors, circuit which plugs the unit into the control board, a dimmer switch and stage focus spot where the light is aimed. Also each light unit will have different level settings for up to 200 cues, Brentano said.
Designing the lighting for a show traditionally requires extensive drafting of diagrams and long lists of each light's location, focus and so on. For each show, lights, cables and other material also have to be ordered-more paperwork.
Brentano now uses his Atari to handle the entire process. He wrote a BASIC routine to draw the lighting characters in Graphic 8, and uses Graphics Master software to produce a design layout template.
He also uses SynFile + to keep track of lighting information which can be sorted-by focus, type of light, etc.
COMPUTER AIDED DESIGN
Brentano isn't content to simply turn the paperwork over to his Atari. He's planning to unite his lighting programs and utilities in one system, a computer aided design (CAD) package for the Atari.
"Nobody has yet developed a system where you're simultaneously hooked into the stage cues and all the lighting unit information," Brentano said.
"For the price of two IBM graphics boards and a whistle, I can produce a package with an Atari, dot-matrix printer, disk drives and the software to do all the CAD lighting work," Brentano figured. All for around $1,000.
"Ideally you'd have onscreen a picture of the lighting diagram, and you'd use a light pen or mouse to circle and call up all the information on given unit."
After producing a package to do CAD lighting design, the next step is direct computer control of the lighting board. "The technology of light board computers is primitive-the interface to all the knobs and controls is expensive," the designer explained.
The light board Brentano uses at U.C. Berkeley costs $37,000, not including the dimmers. "That's ridiculous when an Atari costs $120," Brentano said.
"LET'S MAKE A SHOW"
"It's surprising how many stagehands own Ataris-they like to play games. And we all play this game together, "Let's go make a show". Backstage crafts simply offer bigger and more expensive toys."
Brentano maintains that the Atari appeals to stagehands because of the machine's game tradition and because it's not hard to get inside the computer and play with it.
"You can do a lot of this design with the Macintosh and File Vision" Brentano admitted. FileVision is a visual database which lets you design icons that can be moved around the screen. Each icon also represents detailed information, such as the focus, location and type of each light.
"But Apple has a certain snobbishness I object to," said Brentano, who believes that the Atari is the best 8-bit machine on the market. "Pong is the greatest thing since sliced bread."
Brentano's dedication to the Atari has made it the computer of choice for a theatrical bulletin board he's starting.
Based on an Atari 800, an MPP 1000C modem and two disk drives, Brentano's bulletin board will cater to the theatrical lighting community. It will have classified ads for jobs, equipment and so on. The board will also feature electronic mail, hints and tips for lighting designers, product reviews and comments.
"Eventually, I want to be able to dump a show's files to the bulletin board, so rental companies can log on, look at the file, and give me a price."
"A problem with theater is that we spend $10-20,000 per show Any way to share information saves money, Brentano said. "There's a need for a clearinghouse of information."
Brentano's board will be the only Atari theater BBS in the country-and only the second theater board of any kind. It is called JCN (James' Computer Network). The phone number is (415) 562-3364.
"JCN-it's like HAL in '2001.' HAL was from one letter before IBM. JCN is one letter after."
The map and key above are used to tell theater electricians where to hang certain lights, what kinds of lights to use, and what focus each light requires.