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Richard Knight – Flying Pig Systems Archive
Richard Knight, Clothes Show Live, 1993 - photo LSI archive
Wholehog Memories

Richard Knight

How/when were you introduced to the Wholehog?

At the PLASA Show, in September 1992. Earlier that year I’d done a show which had included some [High End Systems] Intellabeams and I’d had to use the only control option available at that time, the High End console designed for that purpose. Well, it wasn’t, by a long way, intelligent enough for those notionally intelligent lights.

But that first go with Moving Mirrors was an interesting experience. They were capable of creating a different set of looks to moving yokes. Plus, they moved really fast! Also, compared to the available moving yokes of the day they seemed very reliable, which matters when under time pressure.

Stan Snape (then of the BBC) had been asked by Roger Casstles, the producer of The BBC’s Clothes Show, to do the live show. Stan had then asked me to do the automated lighting and we’d begun to discuss alternatives to Vari*Lites – which we had consistently used previously on BBC shows – partly, for reasons I cannot now recall, because Vari*Lites had somehow managed to piss us off on a previous show.

As a consequence, I was on the lookout for a console that could handle DMX units in a professional fashion and then – Hey Presto! – there it was . . .

What was your first impression of it?

My very first impression was: ‘this must be really good because there’s a big crowd around it’. So I wandered about and waited for an opportunity to get closer. The next impression was ‘these guys know what they’re doing, especially this Nick bloke’. My last impression was ‘this is exactly what I need’.

So, I asked Stan if it might be possible to give it a go. I hadn’t a clue how to programme it at that stage but hey, life is a series of experiments conducted in order to see what, for better or worse, subsequently happens. Stan said yes.

What show did you first use it on?

So our first use was on The Clothes Show Live, 1992 at Earls Court, which was its biggest outing at that point in time.

Which firm supplied it?

Meteorlites. They had been our consistent supplier (along with Vari*Lite) for the various shows Stan and I had previously done together for the BBC. I don’t know if they bought it or sub-hired it in, nor do I know where the 48 Intellabeams came from. I do know it all turned up, complete with Tom, Nick and, initially, Nils.

What other shows/tour did you use it on?

All subsequent Clothes Show Lives until 1996. For that one I ‘Upgraded’ to a Hog 2 (which had come out in 95) as that now had a Wing unit available, which was important to me as it allowed for a continuation of the ‘Busk it live’ style Stan and I had developed for the Clothes Show.

What we’d (perhaps accidentally) invented as a consequence of doing what we thought was appropriate for what was being put in front of us, was ‘Rock n Roll Fashion’. Therefore  I wanted to keep the looseness of a Live performance under my fingers. If the kids messed up, or something else changed (and no-one could be bothered to tell us in advance) I could respond instantly.

Also, with Simon Tapping LD and Nick Moran as show operator, we used it on the 1994 Torvill & Dean ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’ touring ice show. Timecode had recently been added to the Hog 1 – though initially it hadn’t been perfectly implemented – which allowed for perfect syncing with the Music playback and also enabled the creation of cues that would be too tricky to operate manually.

What did it do to make your job easier/better?

It seemed to have what we now would call ‘Open Architecture’ though I don’t think that phrase existed back then. It had tremendous flexibility in that you could combine many things together. You could play it like an instrument.

What was the best thing about it?

The unique innovations. There was a rudimentary Effects Engine (the first in the world I would think), which as far as I can remember was called Synth Stack. It was only rudimentary, with the benefit of hindsight, but it was still a vast improvement on having to make absolutely everything involved in a chase yourself. This thing did stuff for you! Select this set of parameters, then that one, then another one, then add another poke at a button and see what occurred! Not right yet? Then tweak it a bit and try again.

I don’t think in truth anyone ever became an expert at controlling it (except possibly Nick) but it certainly generated ideas and informed the shape of future Effects Engines. Artificial Assistance had arrived and was here to stay.

One of the ‘Synth’ effects amongst many others was ‘Stagger To’ and another was ‘Stagger From’. These were quite literally staggering effective effects! Another innovation was that the sequence in which a group was created was reflected in how that group selection responded in a look, which in turn affected the outcome of Synth effects. Most interesting! Lots of potential in that idea . . . Do not imagine for one moment that the GrandMA came out of a vacuum!

There were also (I think perhaps 10) scene buttons above each fader, but they were independent from the playback below. The essential thing was you could make them be any look you wanted. And on a new page they could become something else again.

The Playbacks had faders, as you’d expect, but the Scenes Buttons above could still have an intensity time programmed in. Conversely, the Playbacks could be ‘Cut’, both forwards and backwards, meaning the programmed time no longer applied. The flexibility this created was incredible.

What was the worst thing about it?

It was very heavy, definitely a two-man lift and better with four. Also, I’ve never liked patching – which I find a complete pain in the neck – and with a Vari*Lite system I didn’t need to do it. But the grinding precision required for that, and also the new notion of deciding which mode was best to use for a particular type of light, was a small price to pay.

What is your favourite Wholehog memory of that time?

The 92 Clothes Show Live had 6 shows a day for 6 days. About halfway through 92’s sequence there was an extra late evening show scheduled. This was produced by a design outfit called ‘Red or Dead’ and was for charity. It had different content to our normal show and so required making yet more looks. Excellent, as apparently practice makes perfect and subsequent to my baptism by fire making our main show I felt I was on my way to being almost competent at this new device.

I decided to take the attitude that providing we didn’t accidentally plunge into a Blackout; and Stan had hold of the ‘Fat lights’ (lots and lots of precisely chosen and positioned Par 64s) on his console, I could let rip during this show and go as completely bonkers as I could with my ‘Skinny lights’. So, that is what I did. There was no rehearsal so it was wing and a prayer time. What the hell! What could possibly go wrong?

Somehow, either Red, or Dead, (being the Designers Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway) had managed to persuade Marie Helvin and Jerry Hall to appear. Well, I can tell you for free that no matter how many bonkers looks you have managed to stuff up your sleeves in the time available ready to sling at an unsuspecting and entirely innocent audience who are doing absolutely the right thing by supporting a charity, it is very hard to concentrate on doing any cues at all while that pair are sashaying down the catwalk!

Either side of their jaw-dropping appearance, all my wing and a prayer stuff went perfectly. Sometimes you do get lucky.

The other burnt-in memory of that show was of Tom [Thorne] in the Green Room (there was no other space available for him to work) surrounded by, but completely oblivious to, scantily clad models refuelling between shows.

How it worked in the beginning was Nick would be hovering on the control tower behind me and every now and then I’d turn and ask (with varying degrees of desperation) “How do I do this?” because we really were making it up on the spot. He’d then either show me or say “It can’t do that”.

Sometimes though, he would add the word “Yet.” Also, and there is no other way to do it, occasionally we would come across something it should be able to do but wasn’t doing – we’d uncovered a bug.

What Tom was doing in the Green Room was writing new code to accommodate Nick’s interpretation of what he thought I had earlier asked for, plus doing the debugging. When Tom decided that “Confidence was high” we’d upload his new software (which was burnt onto what I think was called an ‘Eprom’) and then I’d give it a go on the next show. And guess what, it didn’t go wrong! Given what disasters could descend on your show as a consequence of a Vari*Lite software update, it Not Going Wrong was a novel experience.

The Clothes Show Live 92 demonstrated outstanding service, done on the fly which does seem entirely fitting for an outfit called Flying Pig, and set the mould for later developments.

When did you last see a Wholehog 1 desk?

Dec 1996 I think. After that I kept getting stuck abroad, mostly on Broadway, and so reluctantly I became unavailable for one of my favourite shows. It would have been the Hog 1 Stan was using. When I upgraded that year to a Hog 2 with a Wing, Stan also upgraded (from a Celco, I think) to a Hog 1 to get better control of his Colour Faders, but mainly because some ‘Fat Lights’ had morphed into VL5s. As a consequence of plural Hogs on the control tower it became known as ‘The Pig Pen’.

Anything else that springs to mind?

It seemed to me obvious that the advent of the Wholehog 1 was going to democratise the Automated Lighting genre. At the time of the creation of the Wholehog 1 most of the previous Automated Lighting Systems used their own protocols and so were closed. Previously Vari*Lite, Tasco and Cameleon (with their excellently idiosyncratic Telescans) were all system-based. Vari*Lites in particular were, in effect, ‘Plug & Play’ – but you could only plug in and play their equipment on their system. The Vari-Lite VLD, which did allow for conventionals to be controlled by an Artisan, didn’t yet exist, and so all the Automated Lighting systems were essentially closed at this time.

There is nothing wrong with closed systems and they can be a good business model (Apple, for example). But why I referred to the notion of ‘Open Architecture’ earlier is because Automated Lighting had now been opened up to alternative innovations created by smaller players. What the Wholehog 1 did was level the playing field so a manufacturer (perhaps, with a niche product in mind, and with limited resources) could decide to make a DMX-based light that did something new and as yet unseen. Now they stood a chance of succeeding in the marketplace because their unit could be made to perform all its new tricks perfectly via a Hog 1.

Once a manufacturer had made their new unit all they needed to then do was tell Flying Pigs which DMX channel did what (and there were certain protocol directions they were guided towards in that respect) and the new unit’s parameters would then be mapped into the Hog 1’s library. Bingo! It would then appear in the patch options and then LDs could (and if it was any good they would) add it to their new designs.

Somewhere around about 1995’s Clothes Show Live Stan [Snape] specified some new Lightning Strike units (supplied by Meteorlites, courtesy of the excellent John Coppen, who also introduced Cracked Oil Hazers to the UK, also extensively used on Clothes Show Live) and we stuck them on the end of my Hog 1. They only did one thing but did it shockingly well. They were so incredibly bright there was a significant danger of getting Arc eye by looking at them! As a consequence, on the last show of a long week all the Models we’d previously been torturing on the Catwalk with these remarkable units came out wearing sunglasses, which was very excellent and extremely funny.

And it was an excellent experience wandering along the path the Wholehog 1 created, because for me it (re)introduced the element of fun and sheer enjoyment of playing with light(s) that perhaps had gone missing due to overly prescriptive consoles. The Hog 1 was full of fresh ideas which made it a pleasure to play with. Surely entertainment is supposed to be enjoyable and fun?

Three guys changed things forever because they chose to give it a go via their genuinely disruptive technology. Their digital manipulation of lighting control enhanced what could then be created.

I’m very happy indeed to have helped them out a little on their way forward because what they made certainly helped me get back to enjoying creating with light.

Who’s going to give it a go next?