The
Story

In 1992 a brilliant young team of innovators introduced a landmark new control system for live entertainment lighting. Remarkably, the product had been created, from concept to completion, in less than a year. Such were the challenges of this seemingly impossible task that the three founders named their company – with typical youthful exuberance – Flying Pig Systems. Their product kept to the porcine theme with the name Wholehog. It too was an apt name, as it did nothing by halves.

 

Unveiled at the PLASA Show at Earls Court 2 in September 1992, it blew everyone away, collecting PLASA’s Lighting Product of the Year Award. For the three founding Pigs – Nick Archdale, Nils Thorjussen and Tom Thorne – it was a vindication, a triumph of ingenuity, determination and just being too naïve to know when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.

The three founders were destined to be high-flyers long before they became Flying Pigs. Archdale was a British lighting operator and engineering whizz-kid, an Imperial College drop-out whose experience of controlling the new breed of automated lights on the rave scene had led him to the concept for Wholehog. Thorne, a brilliant software engineer and Cambridge graduate, had collaborated with Archdale on a previous lighting control desk, the DLD6502, and was redrafted for the Wholehog project. Thorjussen, a graduate of the University of Austin, Texas, who had subsequently met Thorne at Stanford University Business School, brought his pin-sharp business brain to the mix.

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Partly funded by Peter Miles and Tim Baylis of The Spot Company, with whom they shared a base at 53 Northfield Road, London W13, the trio embarked on a whirlwind year of productivity. The control system they eventually created would be a genuine leap forward in lighting control. While Wholehog could, naturally, handle all the usual conventional dimmer channels and scrollers, its raison d’être was its simplification of the control of multi-parameter automated lights.

Wholehog was a powerful beast. It could handle pretty much any lighting fixtures, but its stand-out ability was in its sophisticated control of the then rapidly proliferating new breed of multi-parameter automated lights via its ‘Fixture Library’ and ‘LTP+’ priority system. It also introduced LCD labelling of palettes and playbacks, graphical patch, MIDI and timecode control, macros and the ‘Stack Synthesizer’ for rapid creation of dynamic looks which would otherwise require marathon, headache-inducing programming sessions.

Perhaps most remarkably for its time, it offered over 6,000 channels of DMX control. So far ahead of the game was it, in fact, that its world-beating successor, the Wholehog II, narrowed its channel count down to a far more reasonable 2,048 when it was launched in 1995.

 

The Wholehog was a classic example of a disruptive technology, properly worthy of the epithet ‘ground-breaking’. As lighting designer Richard Knight wrote in Lighting&Sound International magazine in March 1994, “The Wholehog appears to be an intuitive response to the problems raised in automated lighting, and does not seem to owe any preceding lighting console any great debt . . .”

By the time Richard wrote those words, of course, the Wholehog had already earned its chops. Taking the top end of the rock and roll touring market by storm, it had been specified on tours including The Grateful Dead, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, Prince, Lenny Kravitz, The Rolling Stones, Sting and Pink Floyd. And let’s not forget Torvill & Dean.

The Founders

Q&A’s with the founders of the
Wholehog – Thom Thorne, Nick
Archdale and Nils Thorjussen.

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