Mindscape Laser Shows – Deep Dive
This article is aimed at those of you who are interested in learning more about the technical details and set up of our industry leading laser shows.
With the national shutdown of events throughout 2020, here at Mindscape we decided to dedicate many hundreds of hours into designing and building a laser show for real-time playback and in this article we will do a deep dive into some of the features and interfaces we have developed. This includes everything from wiring to operation.
Lasers & Control
We are currently running 8 full colour lasers, with a power range of 3.5w to 10w. Each laser is paired with a Pangolin Laser controller known as ‘FB3’ & ‘FB4’, it is this 1 to 1 pairing that allows us to produce our complex beat synced laser shows.
It is common to run many lasers from a single FB3, by daisy chaining multiple lasers together, however when doing this each laser in the chain will be doing the exact same thing.
Here at Mindscape, we run our lasers on a 1 to 1 pairing, that means a separate FB3 or FB4 for each laser. This allows us to control each laser individually and produce shows that have multiple levels of movement, colour and intensity. It also allows for each laser to be individually tuned for 'Colour Balance' and 'Scan Speed', further refining the quality of the show.
Standard Daisy Chain Set Up: 1 Controller + 5 Lasers
Mindscape 1 to 1 Set Up: 5 Controllers + 5 Lasers
Running lasers and controllers on a 1 to 1 pairing requires significant set up complexity.
Each of the controllers must be connected to the laser control software via USB (FB3) or Network (FB4) and each controller then must be connected to a laser via an ILDA cable. Additionally each connection must be paired correctly for the show to work.
All this leads to a lot of cabling and with each laser needing: USB, FB3, ILDA, Power & Interlock (Safety Shutoff) cables and 8 lasers on show, that is a total of over 40 separate cables.
To solve this problem mindscape has developed a sophisticated distribution system for signal and power.
The RE-B3 is a very rare and unique laser distribution box produced by 'The Science Of Light' (only 5 of these where ever produced). At the heart of a the RE-B3 is a special implementation of USB over CAT 5, designed to allow 4 FB3 controllers to be connected with a single cable and at distances up to 100 Meters.
Unlike other USB over CAT 5 systems, the RE-B3 sends the USB over just 2 of the 8 cores available in a CAT 5 cable. The Remaining cores are used for: Remote Power On/Off, Interlock (Safety Shut Off) and DMX Out/Audio In.
This massively reduces the amount of cables and time needed to set up a laser show, while in addition allowing the laser to be controlled from up to 100 meters away.
We where able to modify the RE-B3 so that it can be connected to an additional 4 FB3 laser controllers. This allows us to plug a second Laser distribution box into the RE-B3 and control a total of 8 lasers, Interlocks, Remote Power, and Audio In, with a single Cat 5 cable.
Safety Interlock & Remote Power
Critical to the safe deployment of any laser show, is the ability for the operator to stop the output to the lasers.
Built directly into our distros is the ability for the laser operator to manually control both the laser output (Interlock) and power. These are physical analogue controls that will not be affected by a computer crash or WiFi outage.
In addition to this, the entire show has been designed with 'fail safe' in mind, this means that should any part of the signal chain fail, output to the laser will shut off automatically.
Software – Pangolin Beyond Advanced
There are few laser control software programmes that allow for the customisation needed to run laser shows like ours, ‘Pangolin Beyond - Advanced’ was our choice.
All Pangolin software comes with a default set of Laser Cues and a Control interface, this is very good, however this standard show has been used hundreds of times all around the world by Laserist and hire companies.
We wanted something that would allow us to produce unique show with much deeper live control features, fortunately the Beyond software has powerful tools for creating such a custom interface. Starting from a totally blank slate we designed and built our own control interface screens, midi maps, custom controls, FXs and laser cues.
The Beyond software comes with it's own scripting language 'Pango-Script' this is the tool that has allowed us to build a custom control interface for live shows, allowing the operator real time flexibility and control over the show, including custom 'Cue Level FX', LR Mirrors, Speed Controls, Zone Groups and much more.
Midi Layout and Custom Controls
Our show operates using dual controllers and a custom interface designed and built by us, using many hundreds of lines of Pango-Script code. This interface is completely unique to Mindscape and is designed specifically for live playback with our lasers.
The following is a broad overview of how the controllers are laid out.
Controller 1 (Left)
5x Custom Quick FX Layers: Including Audio Triggered FX.
Each Layer Contains real time FX Speed and Bypass controls.
Multi FX Grid: (Time Offset FX).
Scan Speed Override Control.
Global Brightness Control.
FX Stop Control.
Stop All Quick FX Layers.
Stop All Multi FX.
Stop All FX.
Stop All FX on trigger of next cue.
Controller 2 (Right)
Cue Speed Controls.
Reset to System BPM.
Laser Group Selection (allows the operator to select a groups of lasers).
5 Laser Group FX Sliders – Group targeted FX.
Cue FX – We have developed a method of building imbedded FX directly into a cue, which can be manually manipulated during live playback.
Transition FX Select and Duration – This allows the operator to select a transition FX and duration.
This article has hopefully given you an insight into the unique and custom laser show we have designed throughout 2020.
Like the rest of you we have our fingers crossed that in 2021 we will be able to once again be able to bring our show out to a club or festival near you.
For more information and bookings. Please get in contact.
Article: Taking Our Lasers Beyond